Ancient Ballads of Hindustan - Part 2

PART II

Great joy in Madra. Blow the shell

The marriage over to declare!

And now to forest-shades where dwell

The hermits, wend the wedded pair.

The doors of every house are hung

With gay festoons of leaves and flowers;

And blazing banners broad are flung,

And trumpets blown from castle towers!

Slow the procession makes its groundAlong the crowded city street:

And blessings in a storm of sound

At every step the couple greet.

Past all the houses, past the wall,

Past gardens gay, and hedgerows trim,

Past fields, where sinuous brooklets small

With molten silver to the brim

Glance in the sun's expiring light,

Past frowning hills, past pastures wild,

At last arises on the sight,

Foliage on foliage densely piled,

The woods primeval, where reside

The holy hermits; — henceforth here

Must live the fair and gentle bride:

But this thought brought with it no fear

Fear! With her husband by her still?

Or weariness! Where all was new?

Hark! What a welcome from the hill!

There gathered are a hermits few

Screaming the peacocks upward soar;

Wondering the timid wild deer gaze;

And from Briarean fig-trees hoar

Look down the monkeys in amaze

As the procession moves along;

And now behold, the bridegroom's sire

With joy comes forth amid the throng; —

What reverence his looks inspire!

Blind! With his partner by his side!

For them it was a hallowed time!

Warmly they greet the modest bride

With her dark eyes and front sublime!

One only grief they feel. — Shall she

Who dwelt in palace halls before,

Dwell in their huts beneath the tree?

Would not their hard life press her sore; —

The manual labour, and the want

Of comforts that her rank became,

Valkala robes, meals poor and scant,

All undermine the fragile frame?

To see the bride, the hermits' wives

And daughters gathered to the huts,

Women of pure and saintly lives!

And there beneath the betel-nuts

Tall trees like pillars, they admire

Her beauty, and congratulate

The parents, that their hearts' desire

Had thus accorded been by Fate,

And Satyavan their son had found

In exile lone, a fitting mate:

And gossips add, — good signs abound;

Prosperity shall on her wait.

Good signs in features, limbs, and eyes,

That old experience can discern,

Good signs on earth and in the skies,

That it could read at every turn.

And now with rice and gold, all bless

The bride and bridegroom, — and they go

Happy in others' happiness,

Each to her home, beneath the glow

Of the late risen moon that lines

With silver, all the ghost-like trees,

Sals, tamarisks, and South-Sea pines,

And palms whose plumes wave in the breeze.

False was the fear, the parents felt,

Savitri liked her new life much;

Though in a lowly home she dwelt

Her conduct as a wife was such

As to illumine all the place;

She sickened not, nor sighed, nor pined;

But with simplicity and grace

Discharged each household duty kind.

Strong in all manual work, — and strong

To comfort, cherish, help, and pray,

The hours past peacefully along

And rippling bright, day followed day

At morn Satyavan to the wood

Early repaired and gathered flowers

And fruits, in its wild solitude,

And fuel, — till advancing hours

Apprised him that his frugal meal

Awaited him. Ah, happy time!

Savitri, who with fervid zeal

Had said her orisons sublime,

And fed the Bramins and the birds,

Now ministered. Arcadian love,

With tender smiles and honeyed words,

All bliss of earth thou art above!

And yet there was a sceptre grim,

A skeleton in Savitri's heart,

Looming in shadow, somewhat dim,

But which would never thence depart.

It was that fatal, fatal speech

Of Narad Muni. As the days

Slipt smoothly past, each after each,

In private she more fervent prays.

But there is none to share her fears,

For how could she communicate

The sad cause of her hidden tears?

The doom approached, the fatal date.

No help from man. Well, be it so!

No sympathy, — it matters not!

God can avert the heavy blow!

He answers worship. Thus she thought.

And so, her prayers, by day and night,

Like incense rose unto the throne;

Nor did she vow neglect or rite

The Veds enjoin or helpful own.

Upon the fourteenth of the moon,

As nearer came the time of dread,

In Joystee, that is May or June,

She vowed her vows and Bramins fed.

And now she counted e'en the hours,

As to Eternity they past;

O'er head the dark cloud darker lowers,

The year is rounding full at last

To-day, — to-day, — with doleful sound

The word seem'd in her ear to ring!

O breaking heart, — thy pain profound

Thy husband knows not, nor the king,

Exiled and blind, nor yet the queen;

But One knows in His place above

To-day, — to-day, — it will be seen

Which shall be victor, Death or Love!

Incessant in her prayers from morn,

The noon is safely tided, — then

A gleam of faint, faint hope is born,

But the heart fluttered like a wren

That sees the shadow of the hawk

Sail on, — and trembles in affright,

Lest a downrushing swoop should mock

Its fortune, and o'erwhelm it quite.

The afternoon has come and gone

And brought no change; — should she rejoice?

The gentle evening's shades come on,

When hark! — She hears her husband's voice!

" The twilight is most beautiful!

Mother, to gather fruit I go,

And fuel, — for the air is cool, —

Expect me in an hour or so. "

" The night, my child, draws on apace, "

The mother's voice was heard to say,

" The forest paths are hard to trace

In darkness, — till the morrow stay "

" Not hard for me, who can discern

The forest-paths in any hour,

Blindfold I could with ease return,

And day has not yet lost its power. "

" He goes then, " thought Savitri, " thus

With unseen bands Fate draws us on

Unto the place appointed us;

We feel no outward force, — anon

We go to marriage or to death

At a determined time and place;

We are her playthings; with her breath

She blows us where she lists in space

What is my duty? It is clear,

My husband I must follow; so,

While he collects his forest gear

Let me permission get to go. "

His sire she seeks, — the blind old king,

And asks from him permission straight.

" My daughter, night with ebon wing

Hovers above; the hour is late.

My son is active, brave, and strong,

Conversant with the woods, he knows

Each path; methinks it would be wrong

For thee to venture where he goes,

Weak and defenceless as thou art,

At such a time. If thou wert near

Thou might'st embarrass him, dear heart,

Alone, he would not have a fear. "

So spake the hermit-monarch blind,

His wife too, entering in, exprest

The self-same thoughts in words as kind,

And begged Savitri hard, to rest

" Thy recent fasts and vigils, child,

Make thee unfit to undertake

This journey to the forest wild. "

But nothing could her purpose shake.

She urged the nature of her vows,

Required her now the rites were done

To follow where her loving spouse

Might e'en a chance of danger run.

" Go then, my child, — we give thee leave,

But with thy husband quick return,

Before the flickering shades of eve

Deepen to night, and planets burn,

And forest-paths become obscure,

Lit only by their doubtful rays.

The gods, who guard all women pure,

Bless thee and keep thee in thy ways,

And safely bring thee and thy lord! "

On this she left, and swiftly ran

Where with his saw in lieu of sword,

And basket, plodded Satyavan

Oh, lovely are the woods at dawn,

And lovely in the sultry noon,

But loveliest, when the sun withdrawn

The twilight and a crescent moon

Change all asperities of shape,

And tone all colours softly down,

With a blue veil of silvered crape!

Lo! By that hill which palm-trees crown,

Down the deep glade with perfume rife

From buds that to the dews expand,

The husband and the faithful wife

Pass to dense jungle, — hand in hand.

Satyavan bears beside his saw

A forked stick to pluck the fruit,

His wife, the basket lined with straw;

He talks, but she is almost mute,

And very pale. The minutes pass;

The basket has no further space,

Now on the fruits they flowers amass

That with their red flush all the place

While twilight lingers; then for wood

He saws the branches of the trees,

The noise, heard in the solitude,

Grates on its soft, low harmonies.

And all the while one dreadful thought

Haunted Savitri's anxious mind,

Which would have fain its stress forgot;

It came as chainless as the wind,

Oft and again: thus on the spot

Marked with his heart-blood oft comes back

The murdered man, to see the clot!

Death's final blow, — the fatal wrack

Of every hope, whence will it fall?

For fall, by Narad's words, it must;

Persistent rising to appall

This thought its horrid presence thrust.

Sudden the noise is hushed, — a pause!

Satyavan lets the weapon drop —

Too well Savitri knows the cause,

He feels not well, the work must stop

A pain is in his head, — a pain

As if he felt the cobra's fangs,

He tries to look around, — in vain,

A mist before his vision hangs;

The trees whirl dizzily around

In a fantastic fashion wild;

His throat and chest seem iron-bound,

He staggers, like a sleepy child.

" My head, my head! — Savitri, dear,

This pain is frightful. Let me lie

Here on the turf. " Her voice was clear

And very calm was her reply,

As if her heart had banished fear:

" Lean, love, thy head upon my breast, "

And as she helped him, added — " here,

So shalt thou better breathe and rest. "

" Ah me, this pain, — 'tis getting dark,

I see no more, — can this be death?

What means this, gods? — Savitri, mark,

My hands wax cold, and fails my breath. "

" It may be but a swoon. " " Ah! no —

Arrows are piercing through my heart, —

Farewell my love! for I must go,

This, this is death. " He gave one start

And then lay quiet on her lap,

Insensible to sight and sound,

Breathing his last. ... The branches flap

And fireflies glimmer all around;

His head upon her breast; his frame

Part on her lap, part on the ground,

Thus lies he. Hours pass. Still the same,

The pair look statues, magic-bound.

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