Now woe to Umá, for young Love is slain,
Her Lord hath left her, and her hope is vain.
Woe, woe to Umá! how the Mountain-Maid
Cursed her bright beauty for its feeble aid!
‘Tis Beauty’s guerdon which she loves the best,
To bless her lover, and in turn be blest.
Penance must aid her now—or how can she
Win the cold heart of that stern deity?
Penance, long penance: for that power alone
Can make such love, so high a Lord, her own.
But, ah! how troubled was her mother’s brow
At the sad tidings of the mourner’s vow!
She threw her arms around her own dear maid,
Kissed, fondly kissed her, sighed, and wept, and prayed:
‘Are there no Gods, my child, to love thee here?
Frail is thy body, yet thy vow severe.
The lily, by the wild bee scarcely stirred,
Bends, breaks, and dies beneath the weary bird.’
Fast fell her tears, her prayer was strong, but still
That prayer was weaker than her daughter’s will.
Who can recall the torrent’s headlong force,
Or the bold spirit in its destined course?
She sent a maiden to her sire, and prayed
He for her sake would grant some bosky shade,
That she might dwell in solitude, and there
Give all her soul to penance and to prayer.
In gracious love the great Himálaya smiled,
And did the bidding of his darling child.
Then to that hill which peacocks love she came,
Known to all ages by the lady’s name.
Still to her purpose resolutely true,
Her string of noble pearls aside she threw,
Which, slipping here and there, had rubbed away
The sandal dust that on her bosom lay,
And clad her in a hermit coat of bark,
Rough to her gentle limbs, and gloomy dark,
Pressing too tightly, till her swelling breast
Broke into freedom through the unwonted vest.
Her matted hair was full as lovely now
As when ’twas braided o’er her polished brow.
Thus the sweet beauties of the lotus shine
When bees festoon it in a graceful line;
And, though the tangled weeds that crown the rill
Cling o’er it closely, it is lovely still.
With zone of grass the votaress was bound,
Which reddened the fair form it girdled round:
Never before the lady’s waist had felt
The ceaseless torment of so rough a belt.
Alas! her weary vow has caused to fade
The lovely colours that adorned the maid.
Pale is her hand, and her long finger-tips
Steal no more splendour from her paler lips,
Or, from the ball which in her play would rest,
Made bright and fragrant, on her perfumed breast.
Rough with the sacred grass those hands must be,
And worn with resting on her rosary.
Cold earth her couch, her canopy the skies,
Pillowed upon her arm the lady lies:
She who before was wont to rest her head
In the soft luxury of a sumptuous bed,
Vext by no troubles as she slumbered there,
But sweet flowers slipping from her loosened hair.
The maid put off, but only for awhile,
Her passioned glances and her witching smile.
She lent the fawn her moving, melting gaze,
And the fond creeper all her winning ways.
The trees that blossomed on that lonely mount
She watered daily from the neighbouring fount:
If she had been their nursing mother, she
Could not have tended them more carefully.
Not e’en her boy—her own bright boy—shall stay
Her love for them: her first dear children they.
Her gentleness had made the fawns so tame,
To her kind hand for fresh sweet grain they came,
And let the maid before her friends compare
Her own with eyes that shone as softly there.
Then came the hermits of the holy wood
To see the votaress in her solitude;
Grey elders came; though young the maid might seem,
Her perfect virtue must command esteem.
They found her resting in that lonely spot,
The fire was kindled, and no rite forgot.
In hermit’s mantle was she clad; her look
Fixt in deep thought upon the Holy Book.
So pure that grove: all war was made to cease,
And savage monsters lived in love and peace.
Pure was that grove: each newly built abode
Had leafy shrines where fires of worship glowed.
But far too mild her penance, Umá thought,
To win from heaven the lordly meed she sought.
She would not spare her form, so fair and frail,
If sterner penance could perchance prevail.
Oft had sweet pastime wearied her, and yet
Fain would she match in toil the anchoret.
Sure the soft lotus at her birth had lent
Dear Umá’s form its gentle element;
But gold, commingled with her being, gave
That will so strong, so beautifully brave.
Full in the centre of four blazing piles
Sate the fair lady of the winning smiles,
While on her head the mighty God of Day
Shot all the fury of his summer ray;
Yet her fixt gaze she turned upon the skies,
And quenched his splendour with her brighter eyes.
To that sweet face, though scorched by rays from heaven,
Still was the beauty of the lotus given,
Yet, worn by watching, round those orbs of light
A blackness gathered like the shades of night.
She cooled her dry lips in the bubbling stream,
And lived on Amrit from the pale moon-beam,
Sometimes in hunger culling from the tree
The rich ripe fruit that hung so temptingly.
Scorched by the fury of the noon-tide rays,
And fires that round her burned with ceaseless blaze,
Summer passed o’er her: rains of Autumn came
And throughly drenched the lady’s tender frame.
So steams the earth, when mighty torrents pour
On thirsty fields all dry and parched before.
The first clear rain-drops falling on her brow,
Gem it one moment with their light, and now
Kissing her sweet lip find a welcome rest
In the deep valley of the lady’s breast;
Then wander broken by the fall within
The mazy channels of her dimpled skin.
There as she lay upon her rocky bed,
No sumptuous roof above her gentle head,
Dark Night, her only witness, turned her eyes,
Red lightnings flashing from the angry skies,
And gazed upon her voluntary pain,
In wind, in sleet, in thunder, and in rain.
Still lay the maiden on the cold damp ground,
Though blasts of winter hurled their snows around,
Still pitying in her heart the mournful fate
Of those poor birds, so fond, so desolate,—
Doomed, hapless pair, to list each other’s moan
Through the long hours of night, sad and alone.
Chilled by the rain, the tender lotus sank:
She filled its place upon the streamlet’s bank.
Sweet was her breath as when that lovely flower
Sheds its best odour in still evening’s hour.
Red as its leaves her lips of coral hue:
Red as those quivering leaves they quivered too.
Of all stern penance it is called the chief
To nourish life upon the fallen leaf.
But even this the ascetic maiden spurned,
And for all time a glorious title earned.
Aparná—Lady of the unbroken fast—
Have sages called her, saints who knew the past.
Fair as the lotus fibres, soft as they,
In these stern vows she passed her night and day.
No mighty anchoret had e’er essayed
The ceaseless penance of this gentle maid.
There came a hermit: reverend was he
As Bráhmanhood’s embodied sanctity.
With coat of skin, with staff and matted hair,
His face was radiant, and he spake her fair.
Up rose the maid the holy man to greet,
And humbly bowed before the hermit’s feet.
Though meditation fill the pious breast,
It finds a welcome for a glorious guest:
The sage received the honour duly paid,
And fixed his earnest gaze upon the maid.
While through her frame unwonted vigour ran,
Thus, in his silver speech, the blameless saint began:
‘How can thy tender frame, sweet lady, bear
In thy firm spirit’s task its fearful share?
Canst thou the grass and fuel duly bring,
And still unwearied seek the freshening spring?
Say, do the creeper’s slender shoots expand,
Seeking each day fresh water from thy hand,
Till like thy lip each ruddy tendril glows,
That lip which, faded, still outreds the rose?
With loving glance the timid fawns draw nigh:
Say dost thou still with joy their wants supply?
For thee, O lotus-eyed, their glances shine,
Mocking the brightness of each look of thine.
O Mountain-Lady, it is truly said
That heavenly charms to sin have never led,
For even penitents may learn of thee
How pure, how gentle Beauty’s self may be.
Bright Gangá falling with her heavenly waves,
Himálaya’s head with sacred water laves,
Bearing the flowers the seven great Sages fling
To crown the forehead of the Mountain-King.
Yet do thy deeds, O bright-haired maiden, shed
A richer glory round his awful head.
Purest of motives, Duty leads thy heart:
Pleasure and gain therein may claim no part.
O noble maid, the wise have truly said
That friendship soon in gentle heart is bred.
Seven steps together bind the lasting tie:
Then bend on me, dear Saint, a gracious eye.
Fain, lovely Umá, would a Bráhman learn
What noble guerdon would thy penance earn.
Say, art thou toiling for a second birth,
Where dwells the great Creator? O’er the earth
Resistless sway? Or fair as Beauty’s Queen,
Peerless, immortal, shall thy form be seen?
The lonely soul bowed down by grief and pain,
By penance’ aid some gracious boon may gain.
But what, O faultless one, can move thy heart
To dwell in solitude and prayer apart?
Why should the cloud of grief obscure thy brow,
‘Mid all thy kindred, who so loved as thou?
Foes hast thou none: for what rash hand would dare
From serpent’s head the magic gem to tear?
Why dost thou seek the hermit’s garb to try,
Thy silken raiment and thy gems thrown by?
As though the sun his glorious state should leave,
Rayless to harbour ‘mid the shades of eve.
Wouldst thou win heaven by thy holy spells?
Already with the Gods thy father dwells.
A husband, lady? O forbear the thought,
A priceless jewel seeks not, but is sought.
Maiden, thy deep sighs tell me it is so;
Yet, doubtful still, my spirit seeks to know
Couldst thou e’er love in vain? What heart so cold
That hath not eagerly its worship told?
Ah! could the cruel loved one, thou fair maid,
Look with cold glances on that bright hair’s braid?
Thy locks are hanging loosely o’er thy brow,
Thine ear is shaded by no lotus now.
See, where the sun hath scorched that tender neck
Which precious jewels once were proud to deck.
Still gleams the line where they were wont to cling,
As faintly shows the moon’s o’ershadowed ring.
Now sure thy loved one, vain in beauty’s pride,
Dreamed of himself when wandering at thy side,
Or he would count him blest to be the mark
Of that dear eye, so soft, so lustrous dark.
But, gentle Umá, let thy labour cease;
Turn to thy home, fair Saint, and rest in peace.
By many a year of penance duly done
Rich store of merit has my labour won.
Take then the half, thy secret purpose name;
Nor in stern hardships wear thy tender frame.’
The holy Bráhman ceased: but Umá’s breast
In silence heaved, by love and fear opprest.
In mute appeal she turned her languid eye,
Darkened with weeping, not with softening dye,
To bid her maiden’s friendly tongue declare
The cherished secret of her deep despair:
‘Hear, holy Father, if thou still wouldst know,
Why her frail form endures this pain and woe,
As the soft lotus makes a screen to stay
The noontide fury of the God of Day.
Proudly disdaining all the blest above,
With heart and soul she seeks for Śiva’s love.
For him alone, the Trident-wielding God,
The thorny paths of penance hath she trod.
But since that mighty one hath Káma slain,
Vain every hope, and every effort vain.
E’en as life fled, a keen but flowery dart
Young Love, the Archer, aimed at Śiva’s heart.
The God in anger hurled the shaft away,
But deep in Umá’s tender soul it lay;
Alas, poor maid! she knows no comfort now,
Her soul’s on fire, her wild locks hide her brow.
She quits her father’s halls, and frenzied roves
The icy mountain and the lonely groves.
Oft as the maidens of the minstrel throng
To hymn great Śiva’s praises raised the song,
The lovelorn lady’s sobs and deep-drawn sighs
Drew tears of pity from their gentle eyes.
Wakeful and fevered in the dreary night
Scarce closed her eyes, and then in wild affright
Rang through the halls her very bitter cry,
‘God of the azure neck, why dost thou fly?’
While their soft bands her loving arms would cast
Hound the dear vision fading all too fast.
Her skilful hand, with true love-guided art,
Had traced the image graven on her heart.
‘Art thou all present? Dost thou fail to see
Poor Umá’s anguish and her love for thee?’
Thus oft in frenzied grief her voice was heard,
Chiding the portrait with reproachful word.
Long thus in vain for Śiva’s love she strove,
Then turned in sorrow to this holy grove.
Since the sad maid hath sought these forest glades
To hide her grief amid the dreary shades,
The fruit hath ripened on the spreading bough;
But ah! no fruit hath crowned her holy vow.
Her faithful friends alone must ever mourn
To see that beauteous form by penance worn,
But oh! that Śiva would some favour deign,
As Indra pitieth the parching plain!’
The maiden ceased: his secret joy dissembling,
The Bráhman turned to Umá pale and trembling:
‘And is it thus, or doth the maiden jest?
Is this the darling secret of thy breast?’
Scarce could the maid her choking voice command,
Or clasp her rosary with quivering hand:
‘O holy Sage, learned in the Vedas’ lore,
‘Tis even thus. Great Śiva I adore.
Thus would my steadfast heart his love obtain,
For this I gladly bear the toil and pain.
Surely the strong desire, the earnest will,
May win some favour from his mercy still.’
‘Lady,’ cried he, ‘that mighty Lord I know;
Ever his presence bringeth care and woe.
And wouldst thou still a second time prepare
The sorrows of his fearful life to share?
Deluded maid, how shall thy tender hand,
Decked with the nuptial bracelet’s jewelled band,
Be clasped in his, when fearful serpents twine
In scaly horror round that arm divine?
How shall thy robe, with gay flamingoes gleaming,
Suit with his coat of hide with blood-drops streaming?
Of old thy pathway led where flowerets sweet
Made pleasant carpets for thy gentle feet.
And e’en thy foes would turn in grief away
To see these vermeil-tinted limbs essay,
Where scattered tresses strew the mournful place,
Their gloomy path amid the tombs to trace.
On Śiva’s heart the funeral ashes rest,
Say, gentle lady, shall they stain thy breast,
Where the rich tribute of the Sandal trees
Sheds a pure odour on the amorous breeze?
A royal bride returning in thy state,
The king of elephants should bear thy weight.
How wilt thou brook the mockery and the scorn
When thou on Śiva’s bull art meanly borne?
Sad that the crescent moon his crest should be:
And shall that mournful fate be shared by thee?
His crest, the glory of the evening skies,
His bride, the moonlight of our wondering eyes!
Deformed is he, his ancestry unknown;
By vilest garb his poverty is shown.
O fawn-eyed lady, how should Śiva gain
That heart for which the glorious strive in vain
No charms hath he to win a maiden’s eye:
Cease from thy penance, hush the fruitless sigh!
Unmeet is he thy faithful heart to share,
Child of the Mountain, maid of beauty rare!
Not ‘mid the gloomy tombs do sages raise
The holy altar of their prayer and praise.’
Impatient Umá listened: the quick blood
Rushed to her temples in an angry flood.
Her quivering lip, her darkly-flashing eye
Told that the tempest of her wrath was nigh.
Proudly she spoke: ‘How couldst thou tell aright
Of one like Śiva, perfect, infinite?
‘Tis ever thus, the mighty and the just
Are scorned by souls that grovel in the dust.
Their lofty goodness and their motives wise
Shine all in vain before such blinded eyes.
Say who is greater, he who strives for power,
Or he who succours in misfortune’s hour?
Refuge of worlds, O how should Śiva deign
To look on men enslaved to paltry gain?
The spring of wealth himself, he careth naught
For the vile treasures that mankind have sought.
His dwelling-place amid the tombs may be,
Yet Monarch of the three great worlds is he.
What though no love his outward form may claim,
The stout heart trembles at his awful name.
Who can declare the wonders of his might?
The Trident-wielding God, who knows aright?
Whether around him deadly serpents twine,
Or if his jewelled wreaths more brightly shine;
Whether in rough and wrinkled hide arrayed,
Or silken robe, in glittering folds displayed;
If on his brow the crescent moon he bear,
Or if a shrunken skull be withering there;
The funeral ashes touched by him acquire
The glowing lustre of eternal fire;
Falling in golden showers, the heavenly maids
Delight to pour them on their shining braids.
What though no treasures fill his storehouse full,
What though he ride upon his horned bull,
Not e’en may Indra in his pride withhold
The lowly homage that is his of old,
But turns his raging elephant to meet
His mighty Lord, and bows before his feet,
Right proud to colour them rich rosy red
With the bright flowers that deck his prostrate head.
Thy slanderous tongue proclaims thy evil mind,
Yet in thy speech one word of truth we find.
Unknown thou call’st him: how should mortal man
Count when the days of Brahmá’s Lord began?
But cease these idle words: though all be true,
His failings many and his virtues few,
Still clings my heart to him, its chosen lord,
Nor fails nor falters at thy treacherous word.
Dear maiden, bid yon eager boy depart:
Why should the slanderous tale defile his heart?
Most guilty who the faithless speech begins,
But he who stays to listen also sins.’
She turned away: with wrath her bosom swelling,
Its vest of bark in angry pride repelling:
But sudden, lo, before her wondering eyes
In altered form she sees the sage arise;
‘Tis Śiva’s self before the astonished maid,
In all his gentlest majesty displayed.
She saw, she trembled, like a river’s course,
Checked for a moment in its onward force,
By some huge rock amid the torrent hurled
Where erst the foaming waters madly curled.
One foot uplifted, shall she turn away?
Unmoved the other, shall the maiden stay?
The silver moon on Śiva’s forehead shone,
While softly spake the God in gracious tone:
‘O gentle maiden, wise and true of soul,
Lo, now I bend beneath thy sweet control.
Won by thy penance, and thy holy vows,
Thy willing slave Śiva before thee bows.’
He spake, and rushing through her languid frame,
At his dear words returning vigour came.
She knew but this, that all her cares were o’er,
Her sorrows ended, she should weep no more!