Toru Dutt: Poetry

Toru Dutt: Poetry Poem Text

Our Casuarina Tree

Like a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
And oft at nights the garden overflows
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.

When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter,—on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.

But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
It is the tree’s lament, an eerie speech,
That haply to the unknown land may reach.

Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:
And every time the music rose,—before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.

Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose,—
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!
Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees—like those in Borrowdale,
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
“Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse.


"Hark! Lakshman! Hark, again that cry!
It is,—it is my husband's voice!
Oh hasten, to his succour fly,
No more hast thou, dear friend, a choice.
He calls on thee, perhaps his foes
Environ him on all sides round,
That wail,—it means death's final throes!
Why standest thou, as magic-bound?

Is this a time for thought,—oh gird
Thy bright sword on, and take thy bow!
He heeds not, hears not any word,
Evil hangs over us, I know!
Swift in decision, prompt in deed,
Brave unto rashness, can this be,
The man to whom all looked at need?
Is it my brother, that I see!

Ah no, and I must run alone,
For further here I cannot stay;
Art thou transformed to blind dumb stone!
Wherefore this impious, strange delay!
That cry,—that cry,—it seems to ring
Still in my ears,—I cannot bear
Suspense; if help we fail to bring
His death at least we both can share."

"Oh calm thyself, Videhan Queen,
No cause is there for any fear,
Hast thou his prowess never seen?
Wipe off for shame that dastard tear!
What being of demonian birth
Could ever brave his mighty arm?
Is there a creature on the earth
That dares to work our hero harm?

The lion and the grisly bear
Cower when they see his royal look,
Sun-staring eagles of the air
His glance of anger cannot brook,
Pythons and cobras at his tread
To their most secret coverts glide,
Bowed to the dust each serpent head
Erect before in hooded pride.

Rakshases, Danavs, demons, ghosts,
Acknowledge in their hearts his might,
And slink to their remotest coasts,
In terror at his very sight.
Evil to him! Oh fear it not,
Whatever foes against him rise!
Banish for aye, the foolish thought,
And be thyself,—bold, great, and wise.

He call for help! Canst thou believe
He like a child would shriek for aid
Or pray for respite or reprieve—
Not of such metal is he made!
Delusive was that piercing cry,—
Some trick of magic by the foe;
He has a work,—he cannot die,
Beseech me not from hence to go.

For here beside thee, as a guard
'Twas he commanded me to stay,
And dangers with my life to ward
If they should come across thy way.
Send me not hence, for in this wood
Bands scattered of the giants lurk,
Who on their wrongs and vengeance brood,
And wait the hour their will to work."

"Oh shame! And canst thou make my weal
A plea for lingering! Now I know
What thou art Lakshman! And I feel
Far better were an open foe.
Art thou a coward? I have seen
Thy bearing in the battle-fray
Where flew the death-fraught arrows keen,
Else had I judged thee so to-day.

But then thy leader stood beside!
Dazzles the cloud when shines the sun,
Reft of his radiance, see it glide
A shapeless mass of vapours dun;
So of thy courage,—or if not,
The matter is far darker dyed,
What makes thee loth to leave this spot?
Is there a motive thou wouldst hide?

He perishes—well, let him die!
His wife henceforth shall be mine own!
Can that thought deep imbedded lie
Within thy heart's most secret zone!
Search well and see! one brother takes
His kingdom,—one would take his wife!
A fair partition!—But it makes
Me shudder, and abhor my life.

Art thou in secret league with those
Who from his hope the kingdom rent?
A spy from his ignoble foes
To track him in his banishment?
And wouldst thou at his death rejoice?
I know thou wouldst, or sure ere now
When first thou heardst that well-known voice
Thou shouldst have run to aid, I trow.

Learn this,—whatever comes may come,
But I shall not survive my Love,—
Of all my thoughts here is the sum!
Witness it gods in heaven above.
If fire can burn, or water drown,
I follow him:—choose what thou wilt,
Truth with its everlasting crown,
Or falsehood, treachery, and guilt.

Remain here, with a vain pretence
Of shielding me from wrong and shame,
Or go and die in his defence
And leave behind a noble name.
Choose what thou wilt,—I urge no more,
My pathway lies before me clear,
I did not know thy mind before,
I know thee now,—and have no fear."

She said and proudly from him turned,—
Was this the gentle Sita? No.
Flames from her eyes shot forth and burned,
The tears therein had ceased to flow.
"Hear me, O Queen, ere I depart,
No longer can I bear thy words,
They lacerate my inmost heart
And torture me, like poisoned swords.

Have I deserved this at thine hand?
Of lifelong loyalty and truth
Is this the meed? I understand
Thy feelings, Sita, and in sooth
I blame thee not,—but thou mightst be
Less rash in judgement. Look! I go,
Little I care what comes to me
Wert thou but safe,—God keep thee so!

In going hence I disregard
The plainest orders of my chief,
A deed for me,—a soldier,—hard
And deeply painful, but thy grief
And language, wild and wrong, allow
No other course. Mine be the crime,
And mine alone,—but oh, do thou
Think better of me from this time.

Here with an arrow, lo, I trace
A magic circle ere I leave,
No evil thing within this space
May come to harm thee or to grieve.
Step not, for aught, across the line,
Whatever thou mayst see or hear,
So shalt thou balk the bad design
Of every enemy I fear.

And now farewell! What thou hast said,
Though it has broken quite my heart,
So that I wish that I were dead—
I would before, O Queen, we part
Freely forgive, for well I know
That grief and fear have made thee wild,
We part as friends,—is it not so?"
And speaking thus,—he sadly smiled.

"And oh ye sylvan gods that dwell
Among these dim and sombre shades,
Whose voices in the breezes swell
And blend with noises of cascades,
Watch over Sita, whom alone
I leave, and keep her safe from harm,
Till we return unto our own,
I and my brother, arm in arm.

For though ill omens round us rise
And frighten her dear heart, I feel
That he is safe. Beneath the skies
His equal is not,—and his heel
Shall tread all adversaries down,
Whoever they may chance to be.—
Farewell, O Sita! Blessings crown
And Peace for ever rest with thee!"

He said, and straight his weapons took
His bow and arrows pointed keen,
Kind,—nay, indulgent,—was his look.
No trace of anger there was seen,
Only a sorrow dark, that seemed
To deepen his resolve to dare
All dangers. Hoarse the vulture screamed,
As out he strode with dauntless air.

The Sower

Sitting in a porchway cool,
Sunlight, I see, dying fast,
Twilight hastens on to rule.
Working hours have well-nigh past.

Shadows run across the lands:
But a sower lingers still,
Old, in rags, he patient stands.
Looking on, I feel a thrill.

Black and high, his silhouette
Dominates the furrows deep!
Now to sow the task is set.
Soon shall come a time to reap.

Marches he along the plain
To and fro, and scatters wide
From his hands the precious grain;
Muse I, as I see him stride.

Darkness deepens. Fades the light.
Now his gestures to mine eyes
Are august; and strange, - his height
Seems to touch the starry skies

The Young Captive

The budding shoot ripens unharmed by the scythe,
Without fear of the press, on vine-branches lithe,
Through spring-tide the green clusters bloom.
Is’t strange, then, that I in my life's morning hour,
Though troubles like clouds on the dark present lower,
Half-frighted shrink back from my doom?

Let the stern—hearted stoic run boldly on death!
I—I weep and I hope; to the north wind's chill breath
I bend,—then erect is my form!
If days there are bitter, there are days also sweet,
Enjoyment unmixed where on earth may we meet?
What ocean has never a storm?

Illusions the fairest assuage half my pain,
The walls of a prison enclose me in vain,
The strong wings of hope bear me far;
So escapes from the net of the fowler the bird,
So darts he through ether, while his music is heard
Like showers of sweet sound from a star.

Comes Death unto me? I sleep tranquil and calm,
And Peace when I waken stands by with her balm,
Remorse is the offspring of crimes;
My welcome each morning smiles forth in all eyes,
My presence is here, to sad brows, a surprise
Which kindles to pleasure at times.

The end of my journey seemed so far to my view;
Of the elm-trees which border the long avenue,
The nearest are only past by;
At the banquet of life I have barely sat down,
My lips have but pressed the bright foaming crown
Of the wine in my cup bubbling high,

I am only in spring,—the harvest I'd see,
From season to season like the sun I would be
Intent on completing my round;
Shining bright in the garden,—its honour and queen;
As yet but the beams of the morning I've seen,
I wait for eve's stillness profound.

O Death, thou canst wait; leave, leave me to dream,
And strike at the hearts where Despair is supreme,
And Shame hails thy dart as a boon!
For me, Pales has arbours unknown to the throngs,
The world has delights, the Muses have songs,
I wish not to perish too soon.

A prisoner myself, broken-hearted and crushed,
From my heart to my lips all my sympathies rushed,
And my lyre from its slumbers awoke;
At these sorrows, these wishes, of a captive, I heard,
And to rhyme and to measure I married each word
As softly and simply she spoke.

Should this song of my prison hereafter inspire
Some student with leisure her name to inquire,
This answer at least may be given,—
That grace marked her figure, her action, her speech,
And such as lived near her, blameless might teach
That life is the best gift of heaven.

The Lotus

Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. 'The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien' -
'But is the lily lovelier?' Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
'Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride' -
But of what color?' - 'Rose-red,' Love first chose,
Then prayed - 'No, lily-white - or, both provide;'
And Flora gave the lotus, 'rose-red' dyed,
And 'lily-white' - the queenliest flower that blows.


A sea of foliage girds our garden round,
But not a sea of dull unvaried green,
Sharp contrasts of all colors here are seen;
The light-green graceful tamarinds abound
Amid the mango clumps of green profound,
And palms arise, like pillars gray, between;
And o'er the quiet pools the seemuls lean,
Red-red, and startling like a trumpet's sound.
But nothing can be lovelier than the ranges
Of bamboos to the eastward, when the moon
Looks through their gaps, and the white lotus changes
Into a cup of silver. One might swoon
Drunken with beauty then, or gaze and gaze
On a primeval Eden, in amaze.

My Vocation

A waif on this earth,
Sick, ugly and small,
Contemned from my birth
And rejected by all,
From my lips broke
Where - oh where shall I fly?
Who comfort will bring?
Sing, - said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.

By Wealth's coach besmeared
With dirt in a shower,
Insulted and jeered
By the minions of power,
Where—oh where shall I fly?
Who comfort will bring?
Sing—said God in reply,
Chant, poor little thing.

Life struck me with fright -
Full of chances and pain,
So I hugged with delight
The drudge's hard chain;
One must eat, - yet I die,
Like a bird with clipped wing,
Sing - said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.

Love cheered for a while
My morn with his ray,
But like a ripple or smile
My youth passed away.
Now near Beauty I sigh,
But fled is the spring!
Sing - said God in reply,
Chant poor little thing.

All men have a task,
And to sing is my lot -
No meed from men I ask
But one kindly thought.
My vocation is high -
'Mid the glasses that ring,
Still - still comes that reply,
Chant poor little thing.

The Broken Bell

Tis bitter-sweet on winter nights to note,
Beside the palpitating fire reclined,
The chimes, across the fogs, upon the wind.
Now loud, now low, now near and now remote.
What recollections on that music float!
Blessed the bell that through the darkness blind
Sends honest greetings, consolations kind.
And solemn warnings from its lusty throat
Tis like a wakeful soldier, - mine, alas!
The soul-bell in me, can but give one cry,
Like that, a wounded soldier - o'er whom pass
Riders and horses, and around whom lie
The dead and dying in a tangled mass -
Utters, unable or to move or die.


Upon the crests of tents the day-god threw
His rays oblique; blazed, dazzling to the view,
The tracts of gold that on the air he leaves
When in the sands he sets on cloudless eves,
Purple and yellow clothed the desert plain.
High rose the sterile Nebo: climbed with pain
Moses, the man of God, its rugged side—
No soul more meek, less subject unto pride.
One moment had he stopped to cast a look
Upon the vast horizon, Nature's book.
Pisgah at first he saw with fig-trees crowned,
Then, o'er the mountains as they stood around
Gilead, Ephraim, Manasseh,—lands
Fertile to his right, unvexed with sands,
Then to the south Judah far stretching wild
Its deserts, at whose edge the bright sea smiled.
Then further on, with olives graced, a vale,
Naphtali's portion,—pale, already pale
With twilight's shadows, then in flowers and calm,
Jericho slumbering, city of the palm.
Then Phogor's meadows lengthened out with woods
Of mastic-trees, to Segor's solitudes.
He saw all Canaan, all the promised land
He knew he should not enter: stretched his hand Over the Hebrews, as some words to say,

Then to the mountain top in silence took his way.
The fields of Moab filled a circle vast,
On which the sacred mount its shadow cast,
Nearer, the host of Israel in the vale
Stirred like the blades of corn beneath the gale.
Ere yet on golden sands were dried the drops,
Or the pearls vanished from the maples' tops,
Since dawn, the prophet centenarian, feared
As more than man, and more than man revered,
Had left the camp, to seek the living Lord.
And hear,—oh, wondrous privilege!—His word.
Men traced his march—on, onwards as he went—
By flames that darted from his eyes intent;
And when the mountain's summit he attained,
And his brow pierced the cloud, whence silver-maned
The lightnings ran,—at once the incense smoke
From the stone altars in the valley broke.
Six hundred thousand Hebrews then in dust
Bent down. The perfumed cloud with every gust
Wavered around them, while the sun's last ray
Melted insensibly to sombre grey.
With one voice chanted in the twilight dim
Arose from many hearts the thrilling hymn;
And Levi's sons erect among the crowd,
Stood like a cypress grove 'mid foreheads bowed,
In their skilled hands, clear, loud, the harp-strings rung,
While to the King of kings the people sung.

And in God's presence, Moses took his place
Veiled in the cloud,—and saw Him face to face.

He said,—'O Lord! When shall my journey end?
Where wilt Thou further yet Thy servant send?

Must I live feared and lonely from my birth?

Oh! let me sleep the sleep of all the earth.
What have I done, elected thus to stand?
Lo! I have led Thy people to their land.
Let some one else appear upon the scene
'Twixt Thee and them, like me to intervene.
Wild is Thy courser Israel, O my God!
He needs the iron curb and scorpion rod.
These and my book I gladly shall resign—
But Thou art just: Thy will be done, not mine.

'⁠On all my hopes why still descends a blight?
Why is my ignorance dispelled by light,
Since from mount Horeb unto Nebo mount
Six feet of earth, alas! I cannot count
To rest in? What to him who never dies
Avails it to be wisest of the Wise?
My finger guides a nation's wanderings,
And draws down fire upon the heads of kings,
With signs and portents no man ever saw;
The future on its knees shall take my law;
The dead, in old tombs opened at my choice,
Find a mysterious and prophetic voice;
I stamp upon the nations with my feet;
My hand makes armies triumph or retreat;
I lift up generations; at my frown
From their high place, headlong they tumble down;
Mighty and lonely from, alas! my birth—
Now let me sleep the sleep of all the earth.

'⁠Ah me! The secrets even of the skies
Are known to me, such power Thou gav'st mine eyes;
Night at my voice its dark veil rends afar,
My lips have named and counted every star.

O'er the blue heavens, whene’er those stars I call,

"Present"—they say, and shine out one and all.
I place my hands on clouds with sombre forms,
And from their flanks wring out the latent storms.
Cities I bury in huge piles of sand,
Mountains o'erturn by winds at my command,
My feet ne'er tire when travelling through space,
At my nod rivers change their wonted place,
Ocean itself is silent at my voice,
I make thine Israel in his griefs rejoice.
When he requires new laws, or ease from pains,
I look up unto Thee. Thy Spirit deigns
To visit me; earth trembles to its source
And the sun starts affrighted from its course.
Angels admire me, jealous seem, and fear,
And yet, good Lord, I am not happy here.
Mighty and lonely from, alas! my birth,
Now let me sleep the sleep of all the earth.

'⁠Thy breath inspired the shepherds soul,—men saw
And thought me more than man, and fled in awe.
Bent low their eyes before mine eyes of flame,
For there they saw what thoughts within me came.
I've seen Love die, and Friendship quench his light,
And virgins veil themselves, or faint with fright.
And thus enveloped in a sable cloud,
Alone and sad, I marched before the crowd.
"O lonely heart," I said, "what wilt thou now?
Upon no breast may'st thou e'er lean thy brow,
Thy hand leaves fear upon the hand it meets,
Lightnings and storms on thy lips fix their seats,
Men cannot love thee,—see, they tremble all,
Thou openest arms, and on their knees they fall."

Mighty I've lived and lonely from my birth, Oh, let me sleep the sleep of all the earth.'

The people waited long. They feared God's wrath,
And dared not gaze upon the mountain path.
Whene'er they raised their eyes, the clouds piled black
Redoubled deafening, thunder, storm and wrack,
And sheets of lightning, blinding earth and air,
Made them bow down again in silent prayer.
The mountain top at last from clouds grew free,
But where was Moses? Him they could not see.
They wept his loss. To lead them to their land
Stepped to the front, the sceptre in his hand,
Joshua, God's new Elect, oppressed with care,
Pensive and pale, the weight of rule to bear.

The Death of the Wolf

Across the large disk of the moon the clouds
Ran like the smoke across a bonfire's blaze;
And to the farthest limits of the sky
The woods grew dark. We marched, in silence all,
Upon the humid turf, in dense low furze,
Or higher heath, when under stunted pines
Like those that stud the moors, we dimly traced
The big marks of the claws of wandering wolves
We had already tracked. We stopped and held
Our breath to listen. Neither in the wood,
Nor in the plain far off, nor in the air,
The faintest sound or sigh was audible;
Only the distant village weathercock
Creaked to the firmament as if it mourned;
For high uplifted soared above the earth
The wind, and it grazed only with its wings
The solitary towers and dim-seen spires,
While ancient oaks and other lofty trees,
That leaned their brows against the rocks below,
Seemed wrapt in slumber peaceful and profound.
Amid this silence suddenly crouched down
The oldest of us—hunters on the search— More closely to regard the sand we trod,

For sand it was at present. Soon he rose
And in a low voice said, that thrilled through all—
For never had he been in error yet
On such a subject—that the recent marks
Announced the steady gait and powerful claws
Of two wolves full-grown, followed by two cubs.
We then got ready our broad-bladed knives
And polished guns, and striving to conceal
The flashing lustre of the steel that shone
Too white in the surrounding darkness, moved
Step after step, pushing the boughs aside
That stretched across our path. Three stopped,—and then
While straining to find out what they had seen,
At once I saw two blazing eyes like coals,
And then four forms, agile, and lithe, and gaunt,
That danced in the faint moonlight on the furze
Like joyous greyhounds, such as oft are seen
Clamorous around their master from the chase
At eve returned. Similar was their form
And similar the dance; only the wolves
And cubs gambolled in silence, as though they felt
The neighbourhood of man, their mortal foe.
The male stood on his feet, and farther on,
Against a tree the female wolf reclined—
A marble image, like the one adored
By the old Romans as the heaven-sent nurse
Of Romulus and Remus, demi-gods,
Who from her shaggy side drew nourishment.
A slight noise, and the male wolf was alert,
His hooked nails buried in the sand, he looked
Intent around, then judged himself for lost.
He was surprised, and all retreat cut off!

Then sudden springing forth with flaming jaws, He pounced upon the palpitating throat
Of the bold dog that rashly had drawn near;
Nor did he loose his terrible iron grip,
Though rapid shots traversed his heaving flanks,
And sharp knives in his monstrous entrails plunged
Like lightnings crossed, and with each other clashed,
Until faint, gasping—dead, the strangled hound
Rolled at his feet. He left his vanquished foe
And gazed at us. The knives still in his sides
Rested, both buried to their very hilts.
He had been well nigh pinned unto the turf
Which his blood deluged. Still, around our guns
Menaced him, levelled ominously close,
A sinister crescent, but he heeded not.
He looked at us again, and then lay down,
Licking the blood bespattered round his mouth,
And deigning not to know whence death had come,
Shut his large eyes, and died without a cry.


I leaned my forehead on my empty gun
And fell into a train of random thought,
Unwilling, it may be, or unresolved
The she-wolf and her cubs to sacrifice.
These three had waited for the wolf, now dead;
But for her cubs, I verily believe,
The fair and sombre female had done more;
She never would have let him die alone.
But to her heart her duty now was plain:
Her mother's instinct told her she must save The offspring of her bowels with her life If need should be, that she might teach them, grown
To wolf's estate, the duties of a wolf;
To suffer without shrinking hunger's pangs,
Never to enter into terms with man,
(Such as exist between him and the tribes
Of servile animals that bear his yoke,
Or chase the first possessors of the woods
And rocks before him, to obtain a place
To sleep in, and a pittance from his hand,)
And to hold freedom dearer far than life.


Alas! I thought, in despite of the name,
Believed so great, the lofty name of man,
How weak we are, how abject! And I felt
A shame for all our race. Life to forsake,
And all its weight of sorrows and of ills,
With dignity, mute, touching and sublime,
Is known alone to animals contemned.
To see what man, their lord, achieves on earth
And what he leaves untouched, inspires this thought,
—Silence is great alone, and all the rest
Is vanity and weakness here below.
Ah! I have learnt the lesson thou hast taught,
Thou savage denizen of the forests wild,
And thy last look has entered to my heart;
It said:—'If thou canst do it, mortal, strive
So that thy soul attain, through constant thought
And patient study, to the lofty height
Of stoic pride that cares not for events; That height to which, born free in pathless woods, I, without effort, from the first have reached.
To groan, to cry, to seek for any aid
Is cowardice. With energy and strength
Perform the long and often heavy task,
And walk in singleness of heart along
The way where fate has placed thee, whether smooth
Or rough it be. Fulfil thy calling high;
Then after that, like me, without complaint,
Suffer and die, nor care to leave a name.'

The Retreat from Moscow

It snowed. A defeat was our conquest red:
For the first time the eagle hung down its head.
Sombre days! The Emperor slowly came back,
Leaving behind him Moscow smoking and black.
Like an avalanche winter burst amain,
One white plain past, spread another white plain.
Nor banner nor chief any order could keep,
Late the grand army, now bewildered sheep.
The wings from the centre could hardly be known.
It snowed. Dead horses and carts overthrown
Sheltered the wounded. Bivouacs forlorn
Displayed strange sights, sometimes, as broke the morn
Trumpeters were seen, upright at their post,
Mute, on the saddle, and covered with frost;
Trumpets of copper that gave out no tone,
Fixed, as for ever, unto lips of stone.
Bullets, grape-shot and shells, mixed with the snow,
Rained as from heaven upon the troops below.
Surprised to find themselves trembling with cold,
Who ne'er trembled from fear, these veterans bold
Marched pensive; on their grey moustaches clung
The hoar-frost; torn above the banners hung. It snowed,—it snowed continuous. The chill breeze

Whistled upon the glazed frost's endless seas;
With naked feet, on, on they ever went,
No bread to eat, and not a sheltering tent.
They were no more hearts living, troops of war,
They were mere phantoms of a dream, afar
In darkness wandering, amid vapours dim;
A mystery; of shadows a procession grim
Upon a black sky, to its very rim.
Solitude, vast and frightful to behold,
Was everywhere,—a Nemesis mute and cold.
The snow silently as it fell dense,
A shroud immense for this army immense;
And every soul felt as if left alone
In a wide wilderness, where no light shone,
To die, with none to pity or to see.
From this sad empire shall we e'er get free?
Two foes—the Czar, the North. The North is worst.
Cannon were thrown away in haste accurst
To burn the frames and make the scant fire high;
Those who lay down woke not, or woke to die.
Sad and confused, the groups that wildly fled,
Devoured them all the desert still and dread.
'Neath the white folds the blinding snow had raised
Whole regiments slept. History amazed
Beheld the ruin. What to this retreat,
Was any former downfall or defeat!
What Hannibal's reverses wrapped in gloom!
What Attila's, when whole hordes received their doom!
Fugitives, men wounded, guns, horses, carts,
Tumbrils and waggons, hurried from all parts
In wild confusion; at the bridges oft
The crush was frightful. Vultures wheeled aloft!
Ten thousand men lay down fatigued to sleep,

And then perhaps a hundred woke; a heap

Of corpses had the rest become. One night,
Ney, whom an army followed late, in flight
His watch disputed with three Cossacks wild.
'Who goes! Alert! To arms!' And then defiled
These phantoms with their guns, and o'er and o'er,
Came the same scenes of tumult and of gore.
Our troops beheld upon them headlong fall
Time after time, at some strange trumpet-call,
Frightful, enwrapt with gloom, with cries like those
Of the bald vultures 'mid the boundless snows,
Horrible squadrons, whirlwinds of wild men.
Perished our army, fled our glory then.
The Emperor was there. He stood and gazed
At the wild havoc all around, amazed.
As on a giant tree for ages spared
Falls the rude axe, misfortune now first dared
To strike upon him, and he trembling saw,
He, living oak, his branches fall, with awe.
Chiefs, soldiers, followers died. But with love,
Those that remained, all dastard fear above,
Still watched his tent to see his shadow pass
Backwards and forwards. They believed, alas!
Yet in his star; it could not, could not be;
He had a work to do, a destiny!
To hurl him headlong from his high estate,
Would be high treason in his bondsman Fate.
And all the while he felt himself alone,
Stunned with disasters few have ever known.
Sudden, a fear came o'er his troubled soul,
What more was written in the Future's scroll?
Was this an expiation? It must be so.
For what? From whom could he the meaning know?
The man of glory trembled, weak and pale,

Like some frail reed beneath an autumn gale. Where were his legions? Scattered on the plains,
Or buried in the snow. What now remains?
What hides the future still? Ah, who can say?
He turned to God, for one enlightening ray.
'Is this the vengeance, God of Hosts?' he cried,
And his faint murmur on his pale lips died.
'Is this the vengeance? Must my glory set?'
A pause; his name was called; of flame a jet
Sprang in the darkness; a voice answered, 'No,
Not yet.' Outside still lay the dazzling snow.
Was it a voice indeed, or but a dream?
Hush! hark! No, now, 'tis but the vulture's scream.

The Sleep of the Condor

Beyond the steep ramparts of the high Cordillières,
Beyond the dun fogs where the black eagle's eyrie 's,
Higher, far higher than the bold craters, like funnels,
Whence springs out the lava from its deep boiling tunnels,
With wings that hang down, jagged, red in some places,
The condor looks silent o'er limitless spaces,
Across the New World, to the sun that no longer
Blazes bright in his eyes. The shadows grow stronger.
Night rolls from the east, against mountains in stories,
At whose feet the wild pampas display all their glories,
She darkens o'er Chili, its town, and the ocean
Which slumbers profound, without ripple or motion;
On the continent silent her banner is planted,
From the sands to the boulders, up gorges high-slanted
From crest unto crest, swell, advance her proud surges,
A high-tide of darkness, some power upward urges.
On the peak which is topmost, where still a red lustre
Stains with a blood-streak the glaciers that shimmer,
He waits with a courage he knows how to muster,
Alone, like a spectre, growing dimmer and dimmer
The blackness that threatens like a sea to surround him:
It comes—it is near—at last it has bound him.
In the depths of the heavens, on a sudden there lightens
The Cross of the South—a pale beacon that brightens! There's a rattle of pleasure, his neck is erect, Bare, musculous; he peers his flight to direct.
He stirs, whipping up, the sharp snow of the Andes,
He mounts the blue ether with a hoarse cry that grand is,
Far, far from this globe, by night's banner defended,
Far, far from its noise, from its strife, its endeavour,
A speck, but a speck, and as frozen for ever
He sleeps in the air, with his wings wide-extended.


Three happy children in a darkened room!
What do they gaze on with wide-open eyes?
A dense, dense forest, where no sunbeam pries,
And in its centre a cleared spot.—There bloom
Gigantic flowers on creepers that embrace
Tall trees: there, in a quiet lucid lake
The while swans glide; there, "whirring from the brake,"
The peacock springs; there, herds of wild deer race;
There, patches gleam with yellow waving grain;
There, blue smoke from strange altars rises light.
There, dwells in peace, the poet-anchorite.
But who is this fair lady? Not in vain
She weeps,—for lo! at every tear she sheds
Tears from three pairs of young eyes fall amain,
And bowed in sorrow are the three young heads.
It is an old, old story, and the lay
Which has evoked sad Sîta from the past
Is by a mother sung.… 'Tis hushed at last
And melts the picture from their sight away,
Yet shall they dream of it until the day!
When shall those children by their mother's side
Gather, ah me! as erst at eventide?

The Tree Of Life

Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness!
Mine eyes were closed, but I was not asleep,
My hand was in my father's, and I felt
His presence near me. Thus we often past
In silence, hour by hour. What was the need
Of interchanging words when every thought
That in our hearts arose, was known to each,
And every pulse kept time? Suddenly there shone
A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.
I was awake:—It was an open plain
Illimitable,—stretching, stretching—oh, so far!
And o'er it that strange light,—a glorious light
Like that the stars shed over fields of snow
In a clear, cloudless, frosty winter night,
Only intenser in its brilliance calm.
And in the midst of that vast plain, I saw,
For I was wide awake,—it was no dream,
A tree with spreading branches and with leaves
Of divers kinds,—dead silver and live gold,
Shimmering in radiance that no words may tell!
Beside the tree an Angel stood; he plucked
A few small sprays, and bound them round my head.
Oh, the delicious touch of those strange leaves!
No longer throbbed my brows, no more I felt
The fever in my limbs—"And oh," I cried,
"Bind too my father's forehead with these leaves."
One leaf the Angel took and therewith touched
His forehead, and then gently whispered "Nay!"
Never, oh never had I seen a face
More beautiful than that Angel's, or more full
Of holy pity and of love divine.
Wondering I looked awhile,—then, all at once
Opened my tear-dimmed eyes—When lo! the light
Was gone—the light as of the stars when snow
Lies deep upon the ground. No more, no more,
Was seen the Angel's face. I only found
My father watching patient by my bed,
And holding in his own, close-prest, my hand.


"Ho! Master of the wondrous art!
Instruct me in fair archery,
And buy for aye,—a grateful heart
That will not grudge to give thy fee."
Thus spoke a lad with kindling eyes,
A hunter's low-born son was he,—
To Dronacharjya, great and wise,
Who sat with princes round his knee.

Up Time's fair stream far back,—oh far,
The great wise teacher must be sought!
The Kurus had not yet in war
With the Pandava brethren fought.
In peace, at Dronacharjya's feet,
Magic and archery they learned,
A complex science, which we meet
No more, with ages past inurned.

"And who art thou," the teacher said,
"My science brave to learn so fain?
Which many kings who wear the thread
Have asked to learn of me in vain."
"My name is Buttoo," said the youth,
"A hunter's son, I know not Fear;"
The teacher answered, smiling smooth,
"Then know him from this time, my dear."

Unseen the magic arrow came,
Amidst the laughter and the scorn
Of royal youths,—like lightning flame
Sudden and sharp. They blew the horn,
As down upon the ground he fell,
Not hurt, but made a jest and game;—
He rose,—and waved a proud farewell,
But cheek and brow grew red with shame.

And lo,—a single, single tear
Dropped from his eyelash as he past,
"My place I gather is not here;
No matter,—what is rank or caste?
In us is honour, or disgrace,
Not out of us," 'twas thus he mused,
"The question is,—not wealth or place,
But gifts well used, or gifts abused."

"And I shall do my best to gain
The science that man will not teach,
For life is as a shadow vain,
Until the utmost goal we reach
To which the soul points. I shall try
To realize my waking dream,
And what if I should chance to die?
None miss one bubble from a stream."

So thinking, on and on he went,
Till he attained the forest's verge,
The garish day was well-nigh spent,
Birds had already raised its dirge.
Oh what a scene! How sweet and calm!
It soothed at once his wounded pride,
And on his spirit shed a balm
That all its yearnings purified.

What glorious trees! The sombre saul
On which the eye delights to rest,
The betel-nut,—a pillar tall,
With feathery branches for a crest,
The light-leaved tamarind spreading wide,
The pale faint-scented bitter neem,
The seemul, gorgeous as a bride,
With flowers that have the ruby's gleam,

The Indian fig's pavilion tent
In which whole armies might repose,
With here and there a little rent,
The sunset's beauty to disclose,
The bamboo boughs that sway and swing
'Neath bulbuls as the south wind blows,
The mangoe-tope, a close dark ring,
Home of the rooks and clamorous crows,

The champac, bok, and South-sea pine,
The nagessur with pendant flowers
Like ear-rings,—and the forest vine
That clinging over all, embowers,
The sirish famed in Sanscrit song
Which rural maidens love to wear,
The peepul giant-like and strong,
The bramble with its matted hair,

All these, and thousands, thousands more,
With helmet red, or golden crown,
Or green tiara, rose before
The youth in evening's shadows brown.
He passed into the forest,—there
New sights of wonder met his view,
A waving Pampas green and fair
All glistening with the evening dew.

How vivid was the breast-high grass!
Here waved in patches, forest corn,—
Here intervened a deep morass,—
Here arid spots of verdure shorn
Lay open,—rock or barren sand,—
And here again the trees arose
Thick clustering,—a glorious band
Their tops still bright with sunset glows.—

Stirred in the breeze the crowding boughs,
And seemed to welcome him with signs,
Onwards and on,—till Buttoo's brows
Are gemmed with pearls, and day declines.
Then in a grassy open space
He sits and leans against a tree,
To let the wind blow on his face
And look around him leisurely.

Herds, and still herds, of timid deer
Were feeding in the solitude,
They knew not man, and felt no fear,
And heeded not his neighbourhood,
Some young ones with large eyes and sweet
Came close, and rubbed their foreheads smooth
Against his arms, and licked his feet,
As if they wished his cares to soothe.

"They touch me," he exclaimed with joy,
"They have no pride of caste like men,
They shrink not from the hunter-boy,
Should not my home be with them then?
Here in this forest let me dwell,
With these companions innocent,
And learn each science and each spell
All by myself in banishment.

"A calm, calm life,—and it shall be
Its own exceeding great reward!
No thoughts to vex in all I see,
No jeers to bear or disregard;—
All creatures and inanimate things
Shall be my tutors; I shall learn
From beast, and fish, and bird with wings,
And rock, and stream, and tree, and fern."

With this resolve, he soon began
To build a hut, of reeds and leaves,
And when that needful work was done
He gathered in his store, the sheaves
Of forest corn, and all the fruit,
Date, plum, guava, he could find,
And every pleasant nut and root
By Providence for man designed,

A statue next of earth he made,
An image of the teacher wise,
So deft he laid, the light and shade,
On figure, forehead, face and eyes,
That any one who chanced to view
That image tall might soothly swear,
If he great Dronacharjya knew,
The teacher in his flesh was there.

Then at the statue's feet he placed
A bow, and arrows tipped with steel,
With wild-flower garlands interlaced,
And hailed the figure in his zeal
As Master, and his head he bowed,
A pupil reverent from that hour
Of one who late had disallowed
The claim, in pride of place and power.

By strainèd sense, by constant prayer,
By steadfastness of heart and will,
By courage to confront and dare,
All obstacles he conquered still;
A conscience clear,—a ready hand,
Joined to a meek humility,
Success must everywhere command,
How could he fail who had all three!

And now, by tests assured, he knows
His own God-gifted wondrous might,
Nothing to any man he owes,
Unaided he has won the fight;
Equal to gods themselves,—above
Wishmo and Drona,—for his worth
His name, he feels, shall be with love
Reckoned with great names of the earth.

Yet lacks he not, in reverence
To Dronacharjya, who declined
To teach him,—nay, with e'en offence
That well might wound a noble mind,
Drove him away;—for in his heart
Meek, placable, and ever kind,
Resentment had not any part,
And Malice never was enshrined.

One evening, on his work intent,
Alone he practised Archery,
When lo! the bow proved false and sent
The arrow from its mark awry;
Again he tried,—and failed again;
Why was it? Hark!—A wild dog's bark!
An evil omen:—it was plain
Some evil on his path hung dark!

Thus many times he tried and failed,
And still that lean, persistent dog
At distance, like some spirit wailed,
Safe in the cover of a fog.
His nerves unstrung, with many a shout
He strove to frighten it away,
It would not go,—but roamed about,
Howling, as wolves howl for their prey.

Worried and almost in a rage,
One magic shaft at last he sent,
A sample of his science sage,
To quiet but the noises meant.
Unerring to its goal it flew,
No death ensued, no blood was dropped,
But by the hush the young man knew
At last that howling noise had stopped.

It happened on this very day
That the Pandava princes came
With all the Kuru princes gay
To beat the woods and hunt the game.
Parted from others in the chase,
Arjuna brave the wild dog found,—
Stuck still the shaft,—but not a trace
Of hurt, though tongue and lip were bound.

"Wonder of wonders! Didst not thou
O Dronacharjya, promise me
Thy crown in time should deck my brow
And I be first in archery?
Lo! here, some other thou hast taught
A magic spell,—to all unknown;
Who has in secret from thee bought
The knowledge, in this arrow shown!"

Indignant thus Arjuna spake
To his great Master when they met—
"My word, my honour, is at stake,
Judge not, Arjuna, judge not yet.
Come, let us see the dog,"—and straight
They followed up the creature's trace.
They found it, in the selfsame state,
Dumb, yet unhurt,—near Buttoo's place.

A hut,—a statue,—and a youth
In the dim forest,—what mean these?
They gazed in wonder, for in sooth
The thing seemed full of mysteries.
"Now who art thou that dar'st to raise
Mine image in the wilderness?
Is it for worship and for praise?
What is thine object? speak, confess."

"Oh Master, unto thee I came
To learn thy science. Name or pelf
I had not, so was driven with shame,
And here I learn all by myself.
But still as Master thee revere,
For who so great in archery!
Lo, all my inspiration here,
And all my knowledge is from thee."

"If I am Master, now thou hast
Finished thy course, give me my due.
Let all the past, be dead and past,
Henceforth be ties between us new."
"All that I have, O Master mine,
All I shall conquer by my skill,
Gladly shall I to thee resign,
Let me but know thy gracious will."

"Is it a promise?" "Yea, I swear
So long as I have breath and life
To give thee all thou wilt." "Beware!
Rash promise ever ends in strife."
"Thou art my Master,—ask! oh ask!
From thee my inspiration came,
Thou canst not set too hard a task,
Nor aught refuse I, free from blame."

"If it be so,—Arjuna hear!"
Arjuna and the youth were dumb,
"For thy sake, loud I ask and clear,
Give me, O youth, thy right-hand thumb.
I promised in my faithfulness
No equal ever shall there be
To thee, Arjuna,—and I press
For this sad recompense—for thee."

Glanced the sharp knife one moment high,
The severed thumb was on the sod,
There was no tear in Buttoo's eye,
He left the matter with his God.
"For this,"—said Dronacharjya,—"Fame
Shall sound thy praise from sea to sea,
And men shall ever link thy name
With Self-help, Truth, and Modesty."


The sky is dark, the snow descends:
Ring, bells, ring out your merriest chime!
Jesus is born; the Virgin bends
Above him. Oh, the happy time!

No curtains bright-festooned are hung,
To shield the Infant from the cold;
The spider-webs alone are slung
Upon the rafters bare and old.

On fresh straw lies the little One,
Not in a palace, but a farm,
And kindly oxen breathe upon
His manger-bed to keep it warm.

White wreaths of snow the roofs attire,
And o'er them stars the blue adorn,
And hark! In white the angel-quire
Sings to the Shepherds, 'Christ is born.'