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Poem by Edwin Arnold
The Youth of Buddha
This reverence Lord Buddha kept to all his schoolmasters, Albeit beyond their learning taught; in speech Right gentle, yet so wise; princely of mien, Yet softly mannered; modest, deferent, And tender-hearted, though of fearless blood: No bolder horseman in the youthful band E'er rode in gay chase of the shy gazelles; No keener driver of the chariot In mimic contest scoured the palace courts: Yet in mid-play the boy would oft-times pause, Letting the deer pass free; would oft-times yield His half-won race because the laboring steeds Fetched painful breath; or if his princely mates Saddened to lose, or if some wistful dream Swept o'er his thoughts. And ever with the years Waxed this compassionateness of our Lord, Even as a great tree grows from two soft leaves To spread its shade afar; but hardly yet Knew the young child of sorrow, pain, or tears, Save as strange names for things not felt by kings, Nor ever to be felt. But it befell In the royal garden on a day of spring, A flock of wild swans passed, voyaging north To their nest-places on Himala's breast. Calling in love-notes down their snowy line The bright birds flew, by fond love piloted; And Devadatta, cousin of the Prince, Pointed his bow, and loosed a willful shaft Which found the wide wing of the foremost swan Broad-spread to glide upon the free blue road, So that it fell, the bitter arrow fixed, Bright scarlet blood-gouts staining the pure plumes. Which seeing, Prince Siddartha took the bird Tenderly up, rested it in his lap,-- Sitting with knees crossed, as Lord Buddha sits,-- And, soothing with a touch the wild thing's fright, Composed its ruffled vans, calmed its quick heart, Caressed it into peace with light kind palms As soft as plantain leaves an hour unrolled; And while the left hand held, the right hand drew The cruel steel forth from the wound, and laid Cool leaves and healing honey on the smart. Yet all so little knew the boy of pain, That curiously into his wrist he pressed The arrow's barb, and winced to feel it sting, And turned with tears to soothe his bird again. Then some one came who said, 'My Prince hath shot A swan, which fell among the roses here; He bids me pray you send it. Will you send?' 'Nay,' quoth Siddartha: 'If the bird were dead, To send it to the slayer might be well, But the swan lives; my cousin hath but killed The godlike speed which throbbed in this white wing.' And Devadatta answered, 'The wild thing, Living or dead, is his who fetched it down; 'Twas no man's in the clouds, but fallen 'tis mine. Give me my prize, fair cousin.' Then our Lord Laid the swan's neck beside his own smooth cheek And gravely spake:--'Say no! the bird is mine, The first of myriad things which shall be mine By right of mercy and love's lordliness. For now I know, by what within me stirs. That I shall teach compassion unto men And be a speechless world's interpreter, Abating this accursed flood of woe. Not man's alone; but if the Prince disputes, Let him submit this matter to the wise And we will wait their word.' So was it done; In full divan the business had debate, And many thought this thing and many that, Till there arose an unknown priest who said, 'If life be aught, the savior of a life Owns more the living thing than he can own Who sought to slay; the slayer spoils and wastes, The cherisher sustains: give him the bird.' Which judgment all found just; but when the King Sought out the sage for honor, he was gone; And some one saw a hooded snake glide forth. The gods come oft-times thus! So our Lord Buddha Began his works of mercy. Yet not more Knew he as yet of grief than that one bird's, Which, being healed, went joyous to its kind. But on another day the King said, 'Come, Sweet son! and see the pleasaunce of the spring, And how the fruitful earth is wooed to yield Its riches to the reaper; how my realm-- Which shall be thine when the pile flames for me-- Feeds all its mouths and keeps the King's chest filled. Fair is the season with new leaves, bright blooms, Green grass, and cries of plow-time.' So they rode Into a land of wells and gardens, where, All up and down the rich red loam, the steers Strained their strong shoulders in the creaking yoke, Dragging the plows; the fat soil rose and rolled In smooth dark waves back from the plow; who drove Planted both feet upon the leaping share To make the furrow deep; among the palms The tinkle of the rippling water rang, And where it ran the glad earth 'broidered it With balsams and the spears of lemon-grass. Elsewhere were sowers who went forth to sow; And all the jungle laughed with nesting-songs, And all the thickets rustled with small life Of lizard, bee, beetle, and creeping things, Pleased at the springtime. In the mango-sprays The sunbirds flashed; alone at his green forge Toiled the loud coppersmith; bee-eaters hawked, Chasing the purple butterflies; beneath, Striped squirrels raced, the mynas perked and picked, The nine brown sisters chattered in the thorn, The pied fish-tiger hung above the pool, The egrets stalked among the buffaloes, The kites sailed circles in the golden air; About the painted temple peacocks flew, The blue doves cooed from every well, far off The village drums beat for some marriage feast; All things spoke peace and plenty, and the Prince Saw and rejoiced. But, looking deep, he saw The thorns which grow upon this rose of life: How the swart peasant sweated for his wage, Toiling for leave to live; and how he urged The great-eyed oxen through the flaming hours, Goading their velvet flanks: then marked he, too, How lizard fed on ant, and snake on him, And kite on both; and how the fish-hawk robbed The fish-tiger of that which it had seized; The shrike chasing the bulbul, which did chase The jeweled butterflies; till everywhere Each slew a slayer and in turn was slain, Life living upon death. So the fair show Veiled one vast, savage, grim conspiracy Of mutual murder, from the worm to man, Who himself kills his fellow; seeing which-- The hungry plowman and his laboring kine, Their dewlaps blistered with the bitter yoke, The rage to live which makes all living strife-- The Prince Siddartha sighed. 'Is this,' he said, 'That happy earth they brought me forth to see? How salt with sweat the peasant's bread! how hard The oxen's service! in the brake how fierce The war of weak and strong! i' th' air what plots! No refuge e'en in water. Go aside A space, and let me muse on what ye show.' So saying, the good Lord Buddha seated him Under a jambu-tree, with ankles crossed, As holy statues sit, and first began To meditate this deep disease of life, What its far source and whence its remedy. So vast a pity filled him, such wide love For living things, such passion to heal pain, That by their stress his princely spirit passed To ecstasy, and, purged from mortal taint Of sense and self, the boy attained thereat Dhyana, first step of 'the Path.'
Edwin Arnold's other poems:
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