Poem Themes Х
Random Poem Х
The Rating of Poets Х The Rating of Poems
Poem by Edwin Arnold
The Light of Asia: Book the Second
Now, when our Lord was come to eighteen years, The King commanded that there should be built Three stately houses, one of hewn square beams With cedar lining, warm for winter days; One of veined marbles, cool for summer heat; And one of burned bricks, with blue tiles bedecked, Pleasant at seed-time, when the champaks bud - Subha, Suramma, Ramma, were their names. Delicious gardens round about them bloomed, Streams wandered wild and musky thickets stretched, With many a bright pavilion and fair lawn In midst of which Siddârtha strayed at will, Some new delight provided every hour; And happy hours he knew, for life was rich, With youthful blood at quickest; yet still came The shadows of his meditation back, As the lake's silver dulls with driving clouds. Which the King marking, called his Ministers: Bethink ye, sirs! how the old Rishi spake,' He said, 'and what my dream-readers foretold. This boy, more dear to me than mine heart's blood, Shall be of universal dominance, Trampling the neck of all his enemies, A King of kings - and this is in my heart; - Or he shall tread the sad and lowly path Of self-denial and of pious pains, Gaining who knows what good, when all is lost Worth keeping; and to this his wistful eyes Do still incline amid my palaces. But ye are sage, and ye will counsel me; How may his feet be turned to that proud road Where they should walk, and all fair signs come true Which gave him Earth to rule, if he would rule?' The eldest answered, 'Maharaja! love Will cure these thin distempers; weave the spell Of woman's wiles about his idle heart. What knows this noble boy of beauty yet, Eyes that make heaven forgot, and lips of balm? Find him soft wives and pretty playfellows; The thoughts ye cannot stay with brazen chains A girl's hair lightly binds.' And all thought good, But the King answered, 'If we seek him wives, Love chooseth ofttimes with another eye; And if we bid range Beauty's garden round, To pluck what blossom pleases, he will smile And sweetly shun the joy he knows not of.' Then said another, 'Roams the barasingh Until the fated arrow flies; for him, As for less lordly spirits, some one charms, Some face will seem a Paradise, some form Fairer than pale Dawn when she wakes the world, This do, my King! Command a festival Where the realm's maids shall be competitors In youth and grace, and sports that Sâkyas use. Let the Prince give the prizes to the fair, And, when the lovely victors pass his seat, There shall be those who mark if one or two Change the fixed sadness of his tender cheek; So we may choose for Love with Love's own eyes, And cheat his Highness into happiness.' This thing seemed good; wherefore upon a day The criers bade the young and beautiful Pass to the palace, for 'twas in command To hold a court of pleasure, and the Prince Would give the prizes, something rich for all, The richest for the fairest judged. So flocked Kapilavastu's maidens to the gate, Each with her dark hair newly smoothed and bound, Eyelashes lustred with the soorma-stick, Fresh-bathed and scented; all in shawls and cloths Of gayest; slender hands and feet new-stained With crimson, and the tilka-spots stamped bright. Fair show it was of all those Indian girls Slow-pacing past the throne with large black eyes Fixed on the ground, for when they saw the Prince More than the awe of Majesty made beat Their fluttering hearts, he sate so passionless, Gentle, but so beyond them. Each maid took With down-dropped lids her gift, afraid to gaze; And if the people hailed some lovelier one Beyond her rivals worthy royal smiles, She stood like a scared antelope to touch The gracious hand, then fled to join her mates Trembling at favor, so divine he seemed, So high and saint-like and above her world. Thus filed they, one bright maid after another, The city's flowers, and all this beauteous march Was ending and the prizes spent, when last Came young Yasôdhara, and they that stood Nearest Siddârtha saw the princely boy Start, as the radiant girl approached. A form Of heavenly mould; a gait like Parvati's; Eyes like a hind's in love-time, face so fair Words cannot paint its spell; and she alone Gazed full - folding her palms across her breasts - On the boy's gaze, her stately neck unbent. 'Is there a gift for me?' she asked, and smiled. 'The gifts are gone,' the Prince replied, 'yet take This for amends, dear sister, of whose grace Our happy city boasts;' therewith he loosed The emerald necklet from his throat, and clasped Its green beads round her dark and silk-soft waist; And their eyes mixed, and from the look sprang love. Long after - when enlightenment was full - Lord Buddha - being prayed why thus his heart Took fire at first glance of the Sâkya girl, Answered, 'We were not strangers, as to us And all it seemed; in ages long gone by A hunter's son, playing with forest girls By Yamun's springs, where Nandadevi stands, Sate umpire while they raced beneath the firs Like hares at eve that run their playful rings; One with flower-stars crowned he, one with long plume Plucked from eyed pheasant and the jungle-cock, One with fir-apples; but who ran the last Came first for him, and unto her the boy Gave a tame fawn and his heart's love beside. And in the wood they lived many glad years, And in the wood they undivided died. Lo! as hid seed shoots after rainless years, So good and evil, pains and pleasures, hates And loves, and all dead deeds, come forth again Bearing bright leaves or dark, sweet fruit or sour. Thus I was he and she Yasôdhara; And while the wheel of birth and death turns round, That which hath been must be between us two.' But they who watched the Prince at prize-giving Saw and heard all, and told the careful King How sate Siddârtha heedless, till there passed Great Suprabuddha's child, Yasôdhara; And how - at sudden sight of her - he changed, And how she gazed on him and he on her, And of the jewel-gift, and what beside Passed in their speaking glance. The fond King smiled: Look! we have found a lure; take counsel now To fetch therewith our falcon from the clouds. Let messengers be sent to ask the maid In marriage for my son.' But it was law With Sâkyas, when any asked a maid Of noble house, fair and desirable, He must make good his skill in martial arts Against all suitors who should challenge it; Nor might this custom break itself for kings. Therefore her father spake: 'Say to the King, The child is sought by princes far and near; If thy most gentle son can bend the bow, Sway sword, and back a horse better than they, Best would he be in all and best to us: But how shall this be, with his cloistered ways?' Then the King's heart was sore, for now the Prince Begged sweet Yasôdhara for wife - in vain, With Devadatta foremost at the bow, Ardjuna master of all fiery steeds, And Nanda chief in sword-play; but the Prince Laughed low and said, 'These things, too, I have learned; Make proclamation that thy son will meet All comers at their chosen games. I think I shall not lose my love for such as these.' So 'twas given forth that on the seventh day The Prince Siddârtha summoned whoso would To match with him in feats of manliness, The victor's crown to be Yasôdhara. Therefore, upon the seventh day, there went: The Sâkya lords and town and country round Unto the maidân; and the maid went too Amid her kinsfolk, carried as a bride, With music, and with litters gayly dight, And gold-horned oxen, flower-caparisoned. Whom Devadatta claimed, of royal line, And Nanda and Ardjuna, noble both, The flower of all youths there, till the Prince came Riding his white horse Kantaka, which neighed, Astonished at this great strange world without: Also Siddârtha gazed with wondering eyes On all those people born beneath the throne, Otherwise housed than kings, otherwise fed, And yet so like - perchance - in joys and griefs. But when the Prince saw sweet Yasôdhara, Brightly he smiled, and drew his silken rein, Leaped to the earth from Kantaka's broad back, And cried, 'He is not worthy of this pearl Who is not worthiest; let my rivals prove If I have dared too much in seeking her.' Then Nanda challenged for the arrow-test And set a brazen drum six gows away, Ardjuna six and Devadatta eight; But Prince Siddârtha bade them set his drum Ten gows from off the line, until it seemed A cowry-shell for target. Then they loosed, And Nanda pierced his drum, Ardjuna his, And Devadatta drove a well-aimed shaft Through both sides of his mark, so that the crowd Marvelled and cried; and sweet Yasôdhara Dropped the gold sari o'er her fearful eyes, Lest she should see her Prince's arrow fail. But he, taking their bow of lacquered cane, With sinews bound, and strung with silver wire, Which none but stalwart arms could draw a span, Thrummed it - low laughing - drew the twisted string Till the horns kissed, and the thick belly snapped: 'That is for play, not love,' he said; 'hath none A bow more fit for Sâkya lords to use?' And one said, 'There is Sinhahânu's bow, Kept in the temple since we know not when, Which none can string, nor draw if it be strung.' 'Fetch me,' he cried, 'that weapon of a man!' They brought the ancient bow, wrought of black steel Laid with gold tendrils on its branching curves Like bison-horns; and twice Siddârtha tried Its strength across his knee, then spake - 'Shoot now With this, my cousins!' but they could not bring The stubborn arms a hand's-breadth nigher use; Then the Prince, lightly leaning, bent the bow, Slipped home the eye upon the notch, and twanged Sharply the cord, which, like an eagle's wing Thrilling the air, sang forth so clear and loud That feeble folk at home that day inquired 'What is this sound?' and people answered them, 'It is the sound of Sinhahânu's bow, Which the King's son has strung and goes to shoot;' Then fitting fair a shaft, he drew and loosed, And the keen arrow clove the sky, and drave Right through that farthest drum, nor stayed its flight, But skimmed the plain beyond, past reach of eye. Then Devadatta challenged with the sword, And clove a Talas-tree six fingers thick; Ardjuna seven; and Nanda cut through nine; But two such stems together grew, and both Siddârtha's blade shred at one flashing stroke, Keen, but so smooth that the straight trunks upstood, And Nanda cried, 'His edge turned!' and the maid Trembled anew seeing the trees erect, Until the Devas of the air, who watched, Blew light breaths from the south, and both green crowns Crashed in the sand, clean-felled. Then brought they steeds, High-mettled, nobly-bred, and three times scoured Around the maidân, but white Kantaka Left even the fleetest far behind - so swift, That ere the foam fell from his mouth to earth Twenty spear-lengths he flew; but Nanda said, 'We too might win with such as Kantaka Bring an unbroken horse, and let men see Who best can back him!' So the syces brought A stallion dark as night, led by three chains, Fierce-eyed, with nostrils wide and tossing mane, Unshod, unsaddled, for no rider yet Had crossed him. Three times each young Sâkya Sprang to his mighty back, but the hot steed Furiously reared, and flung them to the plain In dust and shame; only Ardjuna held His seat awhile, and, bidding loose the chains, Lashed the black flank, and shook the bit, and held The proud jaws fast with grasp of master-hand, So that in storms of wrath and rage and fear The savage stallion circled once the plain Half-tamed; but sudden turned with naked teeth, Gripped by the foot Ardjuna, tore him down, And would have slain him, but the grooms ran in Fettering the maddened beast. Then all men cried, 'Let not Siddârtha meddle with this Bhût, Whose liver is a tempest, and his blood Red flame;' but the Prince said, 'Let go the chains, Give me his forelock only,' which he held With quiet grasp, and, speaking some low word, Laid his right palm across the stallion's eyes, And drew it gently down the angry face, And all along the neck and panting flanks, Till men astonished saw the night-black horse Sink his fierce crest and stand subdued and meek, As though he knew our Lord and worshipped him. Nor stirred he while Siddârtha mounted, then Went soberly to touch of knee and rein Before all eyes, so that the people said, 'Strive no more, for Siddârtha is the best.' And all the suitors answered 'He is best!' And Suprabuddha, father of the maid, Said, 'It was in our hearts to find thee best, Being dearest, yet what magic taught thee more Of manhood 'mid thy rose-bowers and thy dreams Than war and chase and world's work bring to these. But wear, fair Prince, the treasure thou hast won.' Then at a word the lovely Indian girl Rose from her place above the throng, and took A crown of môgra-flowers and lightly drew The veil of black and gold across her brow, Proud pacing past the youths, until she came To where Siddârtha stood in grace divine, New lighted from the night-dark steed, which bent Its strong neck meekly underneath his arm. Before the Prince lowly she bowed, and bared Her face celestial beaming with glad love; Then on his neck she hung the fragrant wreath, And on his breast she laid her perfect head, And stooped to touch his feet with proud glad eyes, Saying, 'Dear Prince, behold me, who am thine!' And all the throng rejoiced, seeing them pass Hand fast in hand, and heart beating with heart, The veil of black and gold drawn close again. Long after - when enlightenment was come - They prayed Lord Buddha touching all, and why She wore this black and gold, and stepped so proud, And the World-honored answered, 'Unto me This was unknown, albeit it seemed half known; For while the wheel of birth and death turns round, Past things and thoughts, and buried lives come back. I now remember, myriad rains ago, What time I roamed Himâla's hanging woods, A tiger, with my striped and hungry kind; I, who am Buddh, couched in the kusa grass Gazing with green blinked eyes upon the herds Which pastured near and nearer to their death Round my day-lair; or underneath the stars I roamed for prey, savage, insatiable, Sniffing the paths for track of man and deer. Amid the beasts that were my fellows then, Met in deep jungle or by reedy jheel, A tigress, comeliest of the forest, set The males at war; her hide was lit with gold, Black-broidered like the veil Yasôdhara Wore for me; hot the strife waxed in that wood With tooth and claw, while underneath a neem The fair beast watched us bleed, thus fiercely wooed. And I remember, at the end she came Snarling past this and that torn forest-lord. Which I had conquered, and with fawning jaws Licked my quick-heaving flank, and with me went Into the wild with proud steps, amorously. The wheel of birth and death turns low and high.' Therefore the maid was given unto the Prince A willing spoil; and when the stars were good - Mesha, the Red Ram, being Lord of heaven - The marriage feast was kept, as Sâkyas use, The golden gadi set, the carpet spread, The wedding garlands hung, the arm-threads tied, The sweet cake broke, the rice and attar thrown, The two straws floated on the reddened milk, Which, coming close, betokened 'love till death;' The seven steps taken thrice around the fire, The gifts bestowed on holy men, the alms And temple offerings made, the mantras sung, The garments of the bride and bridegroom tied. Then the grey father spake : 'Worshipful Prince, She that was ours henceforth is only thine; Be good to her, who hath her life in thee.' Wherewith they brought home sweet Yasôdhara, With songs and trumpets, to the Prince's arms, And love was all in all. Yet not to love Alone trusted the King; love's prison-house Stately and beautiful he bade them build, So that in all the earth no marvel was Like Vishramvan, the Prince's pleasure-place. Midway in those wide palace-grounds there rose A verdant hill whose base Rohini bathed, Murmuring adown from Himalay's broad feet, To bear its tribute into Gunga's waves. Southward a growth of tamarind trees and sâl, Thick set with pale sky-colored ganthi flowers, Shut out the world, save if the city's hum Came on the wind no harsher than when bees Hum out of sight in thickets. Northwards soared The stainless ramps of huge Himâla's wall, Ranged in white ranks against the blue - untrod, Infinite, wonderful - whose uplands vast, And lifted universe of crest and crag, Shoulder and shelf, green slope and icy horn, Riven ravine, and splintered precipice, Led climbing thought higher and higher, until It seemed to stand in heaven and speak with gods. Beneath the snows dark forests spread, sharp laced With leaping cataracts and veiled with clouds: Lower grew rose-oaks and the great fir groves Where echoed pheasant's call and panther's cry, Clatter of wild sheep on the stones, and scream Of circling eagles: under these the plain Gleamed like a praying-carpet at the foot Of those divinest altars. Fronting this The builders set the bright pavilion up, Fair-planted on the terraced hill, with towers On either flank and pillared cloisters round. Its beams were carved with stories of old time - Radha and Krishna and the sylvan girls - Sita and Hanuman and Draupadi; And on the middle porch God Ganesha, With disc and hook - to bring wisdom and wealth - Propitious sate, wreathing his sidelong trunk. By winding ways of garden and of court The inner gate was reached, of marble wrought, White with pink veins; the lintel lazuli, The threshold alabaster, and the doors Sandal-wood, cut in pictured panelling; Whereby to lofty halls and shadowy bowers Passed the delighted foot, on stately stairs, Through latticed galleries, 'neath painted roofs And clustering columns, where cool fountains - fringed With lotus and nelumbo - danced, and fish Gleamed through their crystal, scarlet, gold, and blue. Great-eyed gazelles in sunny alcoves browsed The blown red roses; birds of rainbow wing Fluttered among the palms; doves, green and grey, Built their safe nests on gilded cornices; Over the shining pavements peacocks drew The splendors of their trains, sedately watched By milk-white herons and the small house-owls. The plum-necked parrots swung from fruit to fruit; The yellow sunbirds whirred from bloom to bloom, The timid lizards on the lattice basked Fearless, the squirrels ran to feed from hand, For all was peace: the shy black snake, that gives Fortune to households, sunned his sleepy coils Under the moon-flowers, where the musk-deer played, And brown-eyed monkeys chattered to the crows. And all this house of love was peopled fair With sweet attendance, so that in each part With lovely sights were gentle faces found, Soft speech and willing service, each one glad To gladden, pleased at pleasure, proud to obey; Till life glided beguiled, like a smooth stream Banked by perpetual flow'rs, Yasôdhara Queen of the enchanting Court. But innermost, Beyond the richness of those hundred halls, A secret chamber lurked, where skill had spent All lovely fantasies to lull the mind. The entrance of it was a cloistered square - Roofed by the sky, and in the midst a tank Of milky marble built, and laid with slabs Of milk-white marble; bordered round the tank And on the steps, and all along the frieze With tender inlaid work of agate-stones. Cool as to tread in summer-time on snows It was to loiter there; the sunbeams dropped Their gold, and, passing into porch and niche, Softened to shadows, silvery, pale, and dim, As if the very Day paused and grew Eve In love and silence at that bower's gate For there beyond the gate the chamber was, Beautiful, sweet; a wonder of the world! Soft light from perfumed lamps through windows fell Of nakre and stained stars of lucent film On golden cloths outspread, and silken beds, And heavy splendor of the purdah's fringe, Lifted to take only the loveliest in. Here, whether it was night or day none knew, For always streamed that softened light, more bright Than sunrise, but as tender as the eve's; And always breathed sweet airs, more joy-giving Than morning's, but as cool as midnight's breath; And night and day lutes sighed, and night and day Delicious foods were spread, and dewy fruits, Sherbets new chilled with snows of Himalay, And sweetmeats made of subtle daintiness, With sweet tree-milk in its own ivory cup. And night and day served there a chosen band Of nautch girls, cup-bearers, and cymballers, Delicate, dark-browed ministers of love, Who fanned the sleeping eyes of the happy Prince, And when he waked, led back his thoughts to bliss With music whispering through the blooms, and charm Of amorous songs and dreamy dances, linked By chime of ankle-bells and wave of arms Of musk and champak and the blue haze spread From burning spices soothed his soul again To drowse by sweet Yasôdhara; and thus Siddârtha lived forgetting. Furthermore, The King commanded that within those walls No mention should be made of death or age, Sorrow, or pain, or sickness. If one drooped In the lovely Court - her dark glance dim, her Faint in the dance - the guiltless criminal Passed forth an exile from that Paradise, Lest he should see and suffer at her woe. Bright-eyed intendants watched to execute Sentence on such as spake of the harsh world Without, where aches and plagues were, tears and fears, And wail of mourners, and grim fume of pyres. 'Twas treason if a thread of silver strayed In tress of singing-girl or nautch-dancer; And every dawn the dying rose was plucked, The dead leaves hid, all evil sights removed: For said the King, 'If he shall pass his youth Far from such things as move to wistfulness, And brooding on the empty eggs of thought, The shadow of this fate, too vast for man, May fade, belike, and I shall see him grow To that great stature of fair sovereignty When he shall rule all lands - if he will rule - The King of kings and glory of his time.' Wherefore, around that pleasant prison-house - Where love was gaoler and delights its bars, But far removed from sight - the King bade build A massive wall, and in the wall a gate With brazen folding-doors, which but to roll Back on their hinges asked a hundred arms; Also the noise of that prodigious gate Opening, was heard full half a yôjana. And inside this another gate he made, And yet within another - through the three Must one pass if he quit that Pleasure-house. Three mighty gates there were, bolted and barred, And over each was set a faithful watch; And the King's order said, 'Suffer no man To pass the gates, though he should be the Prince: This on your lives - even though it be my son.'
Edwin Arnold's other poems:
English Poetry. E-mail email@example.com