Henry Hart Milman Poems >>
The Death Of Yajnadatta
This extract from the Ramayana has been edited by M. Chezy,
with a free translation into French prose by M. Bournouf, a
literal version into Latin, and a grammatical commentary and
notes by the editor.
Through the arts of one of his wives Kaikeyi, to whom he had
made an incautious vow to grant her demand, Dasaratha is
obliged to send his victorious son Rama into banishment at
the very moment of his marriage with the beautiful Sita. Rama
is accompanied in his exile by Lakshmana. The following
episode describes the misery and distress of the father,
deprived of his favourite son.
THE DEATH OF YAJNADATTA.
Scarce Rama to the wilderness--had with his younger brother gone,
Abandoned to his deep distress--king Dasaratha sate alone.
Upon his sons to exile driven--when thought that king, as Indra bright,
Darkness came o'er him, as in heaven--when pales th' eclipsed sun his light.
Six days he sate, and mourned and pined--for Rama all that weary time,
At midnight on his wandering mind--rose up his old forgotten crime.
His queen Kausalya, the divine--addressed he, as she rested near:
"Kausalya, if thou wak'st, incline--to thy lord's speech thy ready ear.
Whatever deed, or good or ill--by man, oh blessed queen, is wrought,
Its proper fruit he gathers still--by time to slow perfection brought.
He who the opposing counsel's weight--compares not in his judgment cool,
Or misery or bliss his fate--among the sage is deemed a fool.
As one that quits the Amra bower--the bright Palasa's pride to gain,
Mocked by the promise of its flower--seeks its unripening fruit in vain.
So I the lovely Amra left--for the Palasa's barren bloom,
Through mine own fatal error 'reft--of banished Rama, mourn in gloom.
Kausalya! in my early youth--by my keen arrow at its mark,
Aimed with too sure and deadly truth--was wrought a deed most fell and dark.
At length the evil that I did--hath fallen upon my fatal head,
As when on subtle poison hid--an unsuspecting child hath fed;
Even as that child unwittingly--hath made the poisonous fare his food,
Even so in ignorance by me--was wrought that deed of guilt and blood.
Unwed wert thou in virgin bloom--and I in youth's delicious prime,
The season of the rains had come--that soft and love-enkindling time.
Earth's moisture all absorbed, the sun--through all the world its warmth
Turned from the north, its course begun--where haunt the spirits of the
Gathering o'er all th' horizon's bound--on high the welcome clouds
Exulting all the birds flew round--cranes, cuckoos, peacocks, flew and
And all down each wide-water'd shore--the troubled, yet still limpid floods,
Over their banks began to pour--as o'er them hung the bursting clouds.
And, saturate with cloud-born dew--the glittering verdant-mantled earth,
The cuckoos and the peacocks flew--disputing as in drunken mirth.
In such a time, so soft, so bland--oh beautiful! I chanced to go,
With quiver, and with bow in hand--where clear Sarayu's waters flow.
If haply to the river's brink--at night the buffalo might stray,
Or elephant, the stream to drink,--intent my savage game to slay,
Then of a water cruise, as slow--it filled, the gurgling sound I heard,
Nought saw I, but the sullen low--of elephant that sound appeared.
The swift well-feathered arrow I--upon the bowstring fitting straight,
Toward the sound the shaft let fly--ah, cruelly deceived by fate!
The winged arrow scarce had flown--and scarce had reached its destined aim,
'Ah me, I'm slain,' a feeble moan--in trembling human accents came.
'Ah whence hath come this fatal shaft--against a poor recluse like me,
Who shot that bolt with deadly craft--alas! what cruel man is he?
At the lone midnight had I come--to draw the river's limpid flood,
And here am struck to death, by whom?--ah whose this wrongful deed of blood.
Alas! and in my parent's heart--the old, the blind, and hardly fed,
In the wild wood, hath pierced the dart--that here hath struck their
Ah, deed most profitless as worst--a deed of wanton useless guilt;
As though a pupil's hand accurs'd--his holy master's blood had spilt.
But not mine own untimely fate--it is not that which I deplore,
My blind, my aged parents state--'tis their distress afflicts me more.
That sightless pair, for many a day--from me their scanty food have earned,
What lot is theirs, when I'm away--to the five elements returned?
Alike all wretched they, as I--ah, whose this triple deed of blood?
For who the herbs will now supply--the roots, the fruit, their blameless
My troubled soul, that plaintive moan--no sooner heard, so faint and low,
Trembled to look on what I'd done--fell from my shuddering hand my bow.
Swift I rushed up, I saw him there--heart-pierced, and fall'n the stream
That hermit boy with knotted hair--his clothing was the black deer's hide.
On me most piteous turned his look--his wounded breast could scarce respire,
'What wrong, oh Kshatriya, have I done--to be thy deathful arrow's aim,
The forest's solitary son--to draw the limpid stream I came.
Both wretched and both blind they lie--in the wild wood all destitute,
My parents, listening anxiously--to hear my home-returning foot.
By this, thy fatal shaft, this one--three miserable victims fall,
The sire, the mother, and the son--ah why? and unoffending all.
How vain my father's life austere--the Veda's studied page how vain,
He knew not with prophetic fear--his son would fall untimely slain.
But had he known, to one as he--so weak, so blind, 'twere bootless all,
No tree can save another tree--by the sharp hatchet marked to fall.
But to my father's dwelling haste--oh Raghu's son, lest in his ire,
Thy head with burning curse he blast--as the dry forest tree the fire.
Thee to my father's lone retreat--will quickly lead yon onward path,
Oh haste, his pardon to entreat--or ere he curse thee in his wrath.
Yet first, that gently I may die--draw forth the barbed steel from hence,
Allay thy fears, no Brahmin I--not thine of Brahmin blood the offence.
My sire, a Brahmin hermit he--my mother was of Sudra race.'
So spake the wounded boy, on me--while turned his unreproaching face.
As from his palpitating breast--I gently drew the mortal dart,
He saw me trembling stand, and blest--that boy's pure spirit seemed to part.
As died that holy hermit's son--from me my glory seemed to go,
With troubled mind I stood, cast down--t' inevitable endless woe.
That shaft that seemed his life to burn--like serpent venom, thus drawn out,
I, taking up his fallen urn--t' his father's dwelling took my route.
There miserable, blind, and old--of their sole helpmate thus forlorn,
His parents did these eyes behold--like two sad birds with pinions shorn.
Of him in fond discourse they sate--lone, thinking only of their son,
For his return so long, so late--impatient, oh by me undone.
My footsteps' sound he seemed to know--and thus the aged hermit said,
'Oh, Yajnadatta, why so slow?--haste, let the cooling draught be shed.
Long, on the river's pleasant brink--hast thou been sporting in thy joy,
Thy mother's fainting spirits sink--in fear for thee, but thou, my boy,
If aught to grieve thy gentle heart--thy mother or thy sire do wrong,
Bear with us, nor when next we part--on the slow way thus linger long.
The feet of those that cannot move--of those that cannot see the eye,
Our spirits live but in thy love--Oh wherefore, dearest, no reply?'
My throat thick swollen with bursting tears--my power of speech that
seemed to choke,
With hands above my head, my fears--breaking my quivering voice, I spoke;
'The Kshatriya Dasaratha I--Oh hermit sage, 'tis not thy son!
Most holy ones, unknowingly--a deed of awful guilt I've done.
With bow in hand I took my way--along Sarayu's pleasant brink,
The savage buffalo to slay--or elephant come down to drink.
A sound came murmuring to my ear--'twas of the urn that slowly filled,
I deemed some savage wild-beast near--my erring shaft thy son had killed.
A feeble groan I heard, his breast--was pierced by that dire arrow keen:
All trembling to the spot I pressed--lo there thy hermit boy was seen.
Flew to the sound my arrow, meant--the wandering elephant to slay,
Toward the river brink it went--and there thy son expiring lay.
The fatal shaft when forth I drew--to heaven his parting spirit soared,
Dying he only thought of you--long, long, your lonely lot deplored.
Thus ignorantly did I slay--your child beloved, Oh hermit sage!
Turn thou on me, whose fated day--is come, thy all-consuming rage.'
He heard my dreadful tale at length--he stood all lifeless, motionless;
Then deep he groaned, and gathering strength--me his meek suppliant did
'Kshatriya, 'tis well that thou hast turned--thy deed of murder to rehearse,
Else over all thy land had burned--the fire of my wide-wasting curse.
If with premeditated crime--the unoffending blood thou'dst spilt,
The Thunderer on his throne sublime--had shaken at such tremendous guilt.
Against the anchorite's sacred head--hadst, knowing, aimed thy shaft
In th' holy Vedas deeply read--thy skull in seven wide rents had burst.
But since, unwitting, thou hast wrought--that deed of death, thou livest
Oh son of Raghu, from thy thought--dismiss all dread of instant ill.
Oh lead me to that doleful spot--where my poor boy expiring lay,
Beneath the shaft thy fell hand shot--of my blind age, the staff, the stay.
On the cold earth 'twere yet a joy--to touch my perished child again,
(So long if I may live) my boy--in one last fond embrace to strain.
His body all bedewed with gore--his locks in loose disorder thrown,
Let me, let her but touch once more--to the dread realm of Yama gone.'
Then to that fatal place I brought--alone that miserable pair;
His sightless hands, and hers I taught--to touch their boy that slumbered
Nor sooner did they feel him lie--on the moist herbage coldly thrown,
Both with a shrill and feeble cry--upon the body cast them down.
The mother as she lay and groaned--addressed her boy with quivering tongue,
And like a heifer sadly moaned--just plundered of her new-dropped young:
'Was not thy mother once, my son--than life itself more dear to thee?
Why the long way hast thou begun--without one gentle word to me.
One last embrace, and then, beloved--upon thy lonely journey go!
Alas! with anger art thou moved--that not a word thou wilt bestow?'
The miserable father now--with gentle touch each cold limb pressed,
And to the dead his words of woe--as to his living son, addressed:
'I too, my son, am I not here?--thy sire with thy sad mother stands;
Awake, arise, my child, draw near--and clasp each neck with loving hands.
Who now, 'neath the dark wood by night--a pious reader shall be heard?
Whose honied voice my ear delight--with th' holy Veda's living word?
The evening prayer, th' ablution done--the fire adored with worship meet,
Who now shall soothe like thee, my son--with fondling hand, my aged feet?
And who the herb, the wholesome root--or wild fruit from the wood shall
To us the blind, the destitute--with helpless hunger perishing?
Thy blind old mother, heaven-resigned--within our hermit-dwelling lone,
How shall I tend, myself as blind--now all my strength of life is gone!
Oh stay, my child, Oh part not yet--to Yama's dwelling go not now,
To-morrow forth we all will set--thy mother, and myself, and thou:
For both, in grief for thee, and both--so helpless, ere another day,
From this dark world, but little loath--shall we depart, death's easy prey!
And I myself, by Yama's seat--companion of thy darksome way,
The guerdon to thy virtues meet--from that great Judge of men will pray.
Because, my boy, in innocence--by wicked deed thou hast been slain,
Rise, where the heroes dwell, who thence--ne'er stoop to this dark world
Those that to earth return no more--the sense-subdued, the hermits wise,
Priests their sage masters that adore--to their eternal seats arise.
Those that have studied to the last--the Veda's, the Vedanga's page,
Where saintly kings of earth have passed--Nahusa and Yayati sage;
The sires of holy families--the true to wedlock's sacred vow;
And those that cattle, gold, or rice--or lands with liberal hands bestow;
That ope th' asylum to th' oppressed--that ever love, and speak the truth,
Up to the dwellings of the blest--th' eternal, soar thou, best loved youth.
For none of such a holy race--within the lowest seat may dwell;
But that will be his fatal place--by whom my only offspring fell.'
So groaning deep, that wretched pair--the hermit and his wife, essayed
The meet ablution to prepare--their hands their last faint effort made.
Divine, with glorious body bright--in splendid car of heaven elate,
Before them stood their son in light--and thus consoled their helpless
'Meed of my duteous filial care--I've reached the wished for realms of
And ye, in those glad realms, prepare--to meet full soon your dear-loved
My parents, weep no more for me--yon warrior monarch slew me not,
My death was thus ordained to be;--predestined was the shaft he shot."
Thus, as he spoke, the anchorite's son--soared up the glowing heaven afar,
In air his heavenly body shone--while stood he in his gorgeous car.
But they, of that lost boy so dear--the last ablution meetly made,
Thus spoke to me that holy seer--with folded hands above his head.
'Albeit by thy unknowing dart--my blameless boy untimely fell,
A curse I lay upon thy heart--whose fearful pain I know too well.
As sorrowing for my son I bow--and yield up my unwilling breath,
So, sorrowing for thy son shalt thou--at life's last close repose in death.'
That curse, dread sounding in mine ear--to mine own city forth I set,
Nor long survived that hermit seer--to mourn his child in lone regret.
This day that Brahmin curse fulfilled--hath fallen on my devoted head,
In anguish for any parted child--have all my sinking spirits fled.
No more my darkened eyes can see--my clouded memory is o'ercast,
Dark Yama's heralds summon me--to his deep, dreary, realm to haste.
Mine eye no more my Rama sees--and grief o'erburns, my spirits sink,
As the swollen stream sweeps down the trees--that grow upon the crumbling
Oh, felt I Rama's touch, or spake--one word his home-returning voice,
Again to life should I awake--as quaffing nectar draughts rejoice,
But what so sad could e'er have been--celestial partner of my heart,
Than, Rama's beauteous face unseen,--from life untimely to depart.
His exile in the forest o'er--him home returned to Oudes high town,
Oh happy those, that see once more--like Indra from the sky come down.
No mortal men, but gods I deem--moonlike, before whose wondering sight,
My Rama's glorious face shall beam--from the dark forest bursting bright.
Happy that gaze on Rama's face--with beauteous teeth and smile of love,
Like the blue lotus in its grace--and like the starry king above.
Like to the full autumnal moon--and like the lotus in its bloom,
That youth who sees returning soon--how blest shall be that mortal's doom.
Dwelling on that sweet memory--on his last bed the monarch lay,
And slowly, softly, seemed to die--as fades the moon at dawn away.
"Ah, Rama! ah, my son!" thus said--or scarcely said, the king of men,
His gentle hapless spirit fled--in sorrow for his Rama then,
The shepherd of his people old--at midnight on his bed of death,
The tale of his son's exile told--and breathed away his dying breath.
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