Bramin – Canto I


THE BRAMIN.

IN TWO CANTOS,

Canto I.

MORNING.


There sacred Ganges rolls his awful tide

Through Indian realms, magnificent and

wide;

In ghastly desarts works his mournful way,

Where pestilence and twilight blast the day;

Or gayly wantons o’er the smiling plains,

Where the full sun in boundless splendour reigns;

Like human life, the winding waters flow,

Thro’ fields of pleasure, and thro’ vales of woe!

— There on the summit of a mountain high,

Whose flowery skirts perfumed the breathing sky,

A living temple of majestic trees,

In green luxuriance, quivering to the breeze,

With branchy arms, embracing close, displayed

A calm, delicious, cool, inviting shade.

A spring, that wept itself into a rill,

Refreshed the grove, and tinkled down the hill;

On beauty’s bloom-enamelled cheek appears,

Meandering thus, a glistening stream of tears.

The enchanted air with sweetest music rung;

The choral birds from morn till even sung;

And Philomel, in night’s enamoured shade,

Charmed the deep silence with her serenade.

 

Here, in a calm and flourishing old age,

A reverend Bramin dwelt, a learned sage!

Who, having bade the restless world farewell,

Lived in a mossy grotto’s tranquil cell.

But, though from scenes of giddy life retired,

Unbounded tenderness his heart inspired;

Like æther pure, expansive as the pole,

And bountiful, as nature, was his soul:

Benevolence, the friend of all distresst,

Had built her temple in his holy breast;

He healed the sick, the drooping spirit cheered,

Grief shunned his eye, and anguish disappeared:

He spoke; — despair, like midnight, fled away:

He smiled; — and comfort brightened, like the

day.

Wide, as the beams of morning, spread his fame;

Admiring crouds from distant regions came;

On all his bounty fell, in cordial showers,

As living dews refresh the fainting flowers.

 

Once at the hour when, blushing like a bride,

Young morning bathes in Ganges’ hallowed tide;

Fresh, as the new-born dawn, the Bramin rose,

From dreams delightful, and serene repose;

Forth from the grove he stepped, in thin array,

Dipped in the stream, and hailed the lord of day:

Then, on the mountain’s balmy lap reclined,

Unlocked the radiant treasures of his mind;

Pure from his lips, sublime instruction came,

As the blest altar breathes celestial flame:

A band of youths and virgins round him pressed,

Whom thus the prophet and the sage addressed.

 

“Thro’ the wide universe’s boundless range,

All that exist decay, revive and change:

No atom torpid or inactive lies;

A being, once created, never dies.

The waning moon, when quenched in shades of

night,

Renews her youth with all the charms of light:

The flowery beauties of the blooming year

Shrink from the shivering blast, and disappear;

Yet, warmed with quickening showers of genial

rain,

Spring from their graves, and purple all the plain.

As day the night, and night succeeds the day,

So death reanimates, so lives decay:

Like billows on the undulating main,

The swelling fall, the falling swell again;

Thus on the tide of time, inconstant, roll

The dying body and the living soul.

In every animal, inspired with breath,

The flowers of life produce the seeds of death; —

The seeds of death, though scattered in the

tomb,

Spring with new vigour, vegetate and bloom.

 

 

“When wasted down to dust the creature

dies,

Quick, from its cell, the enfranchised spirit flies;

Fills, with fresh energy, another form,

And towers an elephant, or glides a worm;

The awful lion’s royal shape assumes;

The fox’s subtlety, or peacock’s plumes;

Swims, like an eagle, in the eye of noon,

Or wails, a screech owl, to the deaf, cold moon;

Haunts the dread brakes, where serpents hiss and

glare,

Or hums, a glittering insect, in the air!

The illustrious souls of great and virtuous men,

In noble animals revive again:

But base and vicious spirits wind their way,

In scorpions, vultures, sharks and beasts of prey.

The fair, the gay, the witty, and the brave,

The fool, the coward, courtier, tyrant, slave;

Each, in congenial animals, shall find

An home and kindred for his wandering mind.

 

“Even the cold body, when enshrined in

earth,

Rises again in vegetable birth:

From the vile ashes of the bad proceeds

A baneful harvest of pernicious weeds;

The relics of the good, awaked by showers,

Peep from the lap of death, and live in flowers;

Sweet modest flowers, that blush along the vale,

Whose nectared lips embalm the kissing gale.

 

“Now, with your own admiring eyes, behold

Examples of the mysteries I unfold.

 

 

“Where the proud mountain overawes the

land,

A bearded lion takes his princely stand:

O’er the broad landscape, and incumbent skies,

He rolls the suns of his majestic eyes;

Flashed from their lids resplendent lightnings

play,

Swift as the arrows of the dawning day;

While, from his cloud embosomed throne, around

He views his realms, by air and ocean bound.

His mantling mane, with undulation bright,

Like a broad volume of dishevelled light,

Beams round his front; where, ranged in mortal

rows,

The pointed terrors of his jaws unclose:

Lolling his foamy tongue, he pants for breath,

And opens, with a yawn, the gates of death!

Strength in his sinewy limbs with speed com-

bines;

Sublime dominion on his forehead shines:

Though wrath and vengeance seem to heave his

chest,

Justice and mercy triumph in his breast.

Hark! — ’tis his voice! — with peals redoubling

round,

It whelms in thunder every humbler sound!

See the wild cattle scud along the plain,

Thick as the volleying darts of frozen rain;

The timid birds, on pinions towering high,

Drop the weak wing, and shiver from the sky;

Earth reels upon her centre while he roars;

Even holy Ganges shudders from his shores!

 

“Thus when of yore, in human flesh ar-

rayed,

His awful arm the Indian sceptre swayed;

His sword through prostrate Asia bore his fame,

Till bleak Siberia trembled at his name;

Kingdoms and empires, ancient and renowned,

Stood, while he smiled — but vanished, when he

frowned:

Yet justice, heavenly justice! was his pride;

He lived an hero, and a GOD he died!

Temples, not sepulchres, to him were raised,

And grateful India all one altar blazed.

 

“A ghaunt hyæna, from the forest’s gloom;

A jealous fiend, whose maw’s a living tomb;

An hermit-monster, gorged with horrid prey,

Yet ravening still, to Ganges winds his way:

Mark, as the murderer moves along the strand,

His gory footsteps print with blood the sand.

Arrived, he reels toward the giddy brink,

Then bends incumbent o’er the stream to drink;

But back recoils, transfixed with chill affright,

And strains each agonizing orb of sight;

While, in the living wave, the frantic elf

Starts from the grisly image — of himself!

Shame, wrath, confusion in his visage glare;

He bursts with rancour, shivers with despair:

Now all his frame with mortal madness burns,

Again impatient to the stream he turns;

Again the watery phantom blasts his eyes,

With tenfold horror all the features rise!

He springs to rend the monster with his feet,

And the mock-monster springs his rage to meet;

He roars — he foams — he plunges in the flood,

— The phantom vanishes in rolling mud!

Victorious then the fiend triumphant lands,

And round his head, in whirlwinds, spurns the

sands;

But glancing o’er the stream his thirsty eyes,

Again beholds his rival self arise;

Headlong and blind, he cleaves the foaming

tides;

Again the phantom from his vengeance glides:

In vain he struggles with the waves, in vain

He spends his might; — he floats towards the

main:

There shall his wild impatient soul embark,

And navigate the ocean in a shark!

 

“That dæmon filled a blood besprinkled

throne;

Upheld by rapine, as by murder won:

But when sterne conscience, like yon holy tide,

Shewed him himself, — on his own sword he died!

 

“Now from the monster turn your aching

eyes,

Where softer scenes, more pleasing prospects rise.

See, in light gambols, tripping o’er the lawn,

Yon beauteous doe, and wildly wanton fawn;

Swift as fantastic meteors sweep the sky,

They spring, they charge, they turn, retire or

fly.

In this delightful valley dwelt the pair,

A gentle mother and her daughter fair.

That stately deer, whose branching honours

spread

High o’er his nodding brows and graceful head,

Once shone the glory of the rural scene,

The gallant monarch of the village green;

He wooed yon doe to his enamoured arms,

A virgin then, in all her spring of charms.

That playful fawn, so beautiful and young,

An only child, from their embraces sprung.

Twelve circling suns renewed their bright career,

And found the lovers happier every year;

While each fond parent in the daughter’s face,

The other’s budding features loved to trace.

“Soft as the dulcet fumes of spices flow

From Ceylon’s groves, when evening breezes

blow;

Mild as the sunshine of a vernal day,

Their gliding moments sweetly stole away.

But, ah! my sorrowing bosom bleeds to tell,

How, warm in youth, the vigorous husband fell;

Fell; as the cedar; flourishing on high,

Stoops to the fierce red bolt that splits the sky;

The prostrate ruins load the mournful ground,

And all its blasted glories perish round.

Thus set the bridegroom from the noon of life;

Nor long survived the self-devoted wife!

I saw the mourner mount his funeral pyre,

Kiss the cold corpse, and triumph in the fire;

One farewell tear to parting life she shed,

Sunk on his breast, and bowed her dying head:

So were the sun extinguished from his sphere,

The widowed moon would perish on his bier!

The daughter next, in beauty’s morning bloom,

Wept o’er their loss, then followed to the tomb:

Thus fades an orphan violet on the plain,

When the plough shares the parent-roots in twain!

Now changed to Deer, renewed the lovers find

All the soft happiness they left behind.

 

“But lo! the sun’s impetuous fervors beam,

In floods of fire on Ganges’ glittering stream;

Retire we now till evening smile in dew,

Then in the cool mild hour our pleasing theme

pursue.”

 

Castle of York, April 14, 1796.