Ancient Ballads of Hindustan - Part 4

Part IV.

As still Savitri sat beside
Her husband dying, — dying fast,
She saw a stranger slowly glide
Beneath the boughs that shrunk aghast.
Upon his head he wore a crown
That shimmered in the doubtful light;
His vestment scarlet reached low down,
His waist, a golden girdle dight.
His skin was dark as bronze; his face
Irradiate, and yet severe;
His eyes had much of love and grace,
But glowed so bright, they filled with fear.

A string was in the stranger's hand
Noosed at its end. Her terrors now
Savitri scarcely could command.
Upon the sod beneath a bough,
She gently laid her husband's head,
And in obeisance bent her brow.
" No mortal form is thine, " — she said,
" Beseech thee say what god art thou?
And what can be thine errand here? "
" Savitri, for thy prayers, thy faith,
Thy frequent vows, thy fasts severe,
I answer, — list, — my name is Death.

And I am come myself to take
Thy husband from this earth away,
And he shall cross the doleful lake
In my own charge, and let me say
To few such honours I accord,
But his pure life and thine require
No less from me. " The dreadful sword
Like lightning glanced one moment dire;
And then the inner man was tied,
The soul no bigger than the thumb,
To be borne onwards by his side: —
Savitri all the while stood dumb.

But when the god moved slowly on
To gain his own dominions dim,
Leaving the body there — anon
Savitri meekly followed him,
Hoping against all hope; he turned
And looked surprised. " Go back, my child! "
Pale, pale the stars above them burned,
More weird the scene had grown and wild;
" It is not for the living — hear!
To follow where the dead must go,
Thy duty lies before thee clear,
What thou shouldst do, the Shasters show.

The funeral rites that they ordain
And sacrifices must take up
Thy first sad moments; not in vain
Is held to thee this bitter cup;
Its lessons thou shalt learn in time!
All that thou canst do, thou hast done
For thy dear lord. Thy love sublime
My deepest sympathy hath won
Return, for thou hast come as far
As living creature may. Adieu!
Let duty be thy guiding star,
As ever. To thyself be true! "

" Where'er my husband dear is led,
Or journeys of his own free will,
I too must go, though darkness spread
Across my path, portending ill,
'Tis thus my duty I have read!
If I am wrong, oh! with me bear;
But do not bid me backward tread
My way forlorn, — for I can dare
All things but that; ah! pity me,
A woman frail, too sorely tried!
And let me, let me follow thee,
O gracious god, — whate'er betide.

By all things sacred, I entreat,
By Penitence that purifies,
By prompt Obedience, full, complete,
To spiritual masters, in the eyes
Of gods so precious, by the love
I bear my husband, by the faith
That looks from earth to heaven above,
And by thy own great name. O Death,
And all thy kindness, bid me not
To leave thee, and to go my way,
But let me follow as I ought
Thy steps and his, as best I may.

I know that in this transient world
All is delusion, — nothing true;
I know its shows are mists unfurled
To please and vanish. To renew
Its bubble joys, be magic bound
In Maya's network frail and fair,
Is not my aim! The gladsome sound
Of husband, brother, friend, is air
To such as know that all must die,
And that at last the time must come,
When eye shall speak no more to eye
And Love cry, — Lo, this is my sum.

I know in such a world as this
No one can gain his heart's desire,
Or pass the years in perfect bliss;
Like gold we must be tried by fire;
And each shall suffer as he acts
And thinks, — his own sad burden bear!
No friends can help, — his sins are facts
That nothing can annul or square,
And he must bear their consequence.
Can I my husband save by rites?
Ah, no, — that were a vain pretence,
Justice eternal strict requites.

He for his deeds shall get his due
As I for mine: thus here each soul
Is its own friend if it pursue
The right, and run straight for the goal;
But its own worst and direst foe
If it choose evil, and in tracks
Forbidden, for its pleasure go.
Who knows not this, true wisdom lacks,
Virtue should be the aim and end
Of every life, all else is vain,
Duty should be its dearest friend
If higher life, it would attain. "

" So sweet thy words ring on mine ear,
Gentle Savitri, that I fain
Would give some sign to make it clear
Thou hast not prayed to me in vain
Satyavan's life I may not grant,
Nor take before its term thy life,
But I am not all adamant,
I feel for thee, thou faithful wife!
Ask thou aught else, and let it be
Some good thing for thyself or thine,
And I shall give it, child, to thee,
If any power on earth be mine. "

" Well, be it so. My husband's sire
Hath lost his sight and fair domain,
Give to his eyes their former fire,
And place him on his throne again "
" It shall be done. Go back, my child,
The hour wears late, the wind feels cold,
The path becomes more weird and wild,
Thy feet are torn, there's blood, behold!
Thou feelest faint from weariness,
Oh try to follow me no more;
Go home, and with thy presence bless
Those who thine absence there deplore. "

" No weariness, O Death, I feel,
And how should I, when by the side
Of Satyavan? In woe and weal
To be a helpmate swears the bride.
This is my place; by solemn oath
Wherever thou conductest him
I too must go, to keep my troth;
And if the eye at times should brim,
'Tis human weakness, give me strength
My work appointed to fulfil,
That I may gain the crown at length
The gods give those who do their will

The power of goodness is so great
We pray to feel its influence
For ever on us. It is late,
And the strange landscape awes my sense;
But I would fain with thee go on,
And hear thy voice so true and kind;
The false lights that on objects shone
Have vanished, and no longer blind,
Thanks to thy simple presence. Now
I feel a fresher air around,
And see the glory of that brow
With flashing rubies fitly crowned

Men call thee Yama — conqueror,
Because it is against their will
They follow thee, — and they abhor
The Truth which thou wouldst aye instil.
If they thy nature knew aright,
O god, all other gods above!
And that thou conquerest in the fight
By patience, kindness, mercy, love,
And not by devastating wrath,
They would not shrink in childlike fright
To see thy shadow on their path,
But hail thee as sick souls the light "

" Thy words, Savitri, greet mine ear
As sweet as founts that murmur low
To one who in the deserts drear.
With parched tongue moves faint and slow,
Because thy talk is heart-sincere,
Without hypocrisy or guile;
Demand another boon, my dear,
But not of those forbad erewhile,
And I shall grant it, ere we part:
Lo, the stars pale, — the way is long,
Receive thy boon, and homewards start,
For ah, poor child, thou art not strong. "

" Another boon! My sire the king
Beside myself hath children none,
Oh grant that from his stock may spring
A hundred boughs. " " It shall be done.
He shall be blest with many a son
Who his old palace shall rejoice. "
" Each heart-wish from thy goodness won,
If I am still allowed a choice,
I fain thy voice would ever hear,
Reluctant am I still to part,
The way seems short when thou art near
And Satyavan, my heart's dear heart.

Of all the pleasures given on earth
The company of the good is best,
For weariness has never birth
In such a commerce sweet and blest;
The sun runs on its wonted course,
The earth its plenteous treasure yields,
All for their sake, and by the force
Their prayer united ever wields
Oh let me, let me ever dwell
Amidst the good, where'er it be,
Whether in lowly hermit-cell
Or in some spot beyond the sea.

The favours man accords to men
Are never fruitless, from them rise
A thousand acts beyond our ken
That float like incense to the skies;
For benefits can ne'er efface,
They multiply and widely spread,
And honour follows on their trace
Sharp penances, and vigils dread,
Austerities, and wasting fasts,
Create an empire, and the blest
Long as this spiritual empire lasts
Become the saviours of the rest. "

" O thou endowed with every grace
And every virtue, — thou whose soul
Appears upon thy lovely face,
May the great gods who all control
Send thee their peace. I too would give
One favour more before I go;
Ask something for thyself, and live
Happy, and dear to all below,
Till summoned to the bliss above
Savitri ask, and ask unblamed " —
She took the clue, felt Death was Love,
For no exceptions now he named,

And boldly said, — " Thou knowest, Lord,
The inmost hearts and thoughts of all!
There is no need to utter word,
Upon thy mercy sole, I call.
If speech be needful to obtain
Thy grace, — oh hear a wife forlorn,
Let my Satyavan live again
And children unto us be born,
Wise, brave, and valiant. " " From thy stock
A hundred families shall spring
As lasting as the solid rock,
Each son of thine shall be a king. "

As thus he spoke, he loosed the knot
The soul of Satyavan that bound,
And promised further that their lot
In pleasant places should be found
Thenceforth, and that they both should live
Four centuries, to which the name
Of fair Savitri, men would give, —
And then he vanished in a flame.
" Adieu, great god! " She took the soul,
No bigger than the human thumb,
And running swift, soon reached her goal,
Where lay the body stark and dumb.

She lifted it with eager hands,
And as before, when he expired,
She placed the head upon the bands
That bound her breast which hope newfired,
And which alternate rose and fell;
Then placed his soul upon his heart
Whence like a bee it found its cell,
And lo, he woke with sudden start!
His breath came low at first, then deep,
With an unquiet look he gazed,
As one awaking from a sleep
Wholly bewildered and amazed.
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