Rev. Wm. H. Channing, London.
[Extract from a Letter to a Friend in Concord, Mass.]
"The Light of Asia " is a poem in which the effort is made to bring before our modern age, in the Western world, that sublime embodiment of the finest genius of the Orient, in its prime, whom we call BUDDHA, in living form, and to sketch this outline of his speculative and ethical systems in vivid pictorial representation. And marvellously successful has the effort of the poet proved. Those who are most familiar with the semi-historical, semi-legendary biographies of Prince Siddârtha Gautama, will be the most prompt to admit that never has the image of the serene and heroic, saintly and gentle sage been more beautifully portrayed than in this poem; and from infancy, through youth and manhood, to his new birth in extreme age, his whole growth towards perfection is so glowingly brought before the reader, that he feels as if lifted into personal communion with this grand and lovely teacher of the "Way to Peace." Buddha lives and moves and speaks again in these pages, as he lived and moved and taught amid the sacred groves of India.
But one of the chief charms of the poem is the singularly vital reality with which the very scenery and climate, the people and the communities, the manners, dwellings, and actual society of Hindostan, two thousand years or more ago, is made to pass, as if in palingenesia, before and around us. The long-buried past is reanimated at the poet's touch. And from the midst of the rush and turmoil of our restless modern age we enter, behind a lifted veil, into the tranquil stillness, calm dignity, and meditative quiet of the East, as if from sultry, dusty, summer noon we could bathe our fevered brows, in the fresh, sweet, dewy air of a spring morning. And the contrast rejuvenates our fagged and weary powers delightfully.
One is the more surprised, in reading this poem, to learn that the writer has created this lovely work of art, not in the stilness of a country solitude, nor amid the cloistered aisles of universities, but right in the throng and uproar of this bustling metropolis. For the poet is one of the most indefatigable editors of the daily press in London, and every morning, week in, week out, addresses the largest circle of readers approached by any writer of "leaders" in Great Britain, or probably in Christendom; for Edwin Arnold is editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, which has an average circulation of a quarter of a million of copies, with probably four readers a copy. And certainly no editor writes on a wider range of topics, political, social, scientific, &c. That, amidst the responsibilities, interruptions, anxieties, harassing cares, and ever-varying distractions of such a life, a poet could evoke, in his few hours for quiet thought, an epic in eight books, on one of the loftiest themes for spiritual contemplation, and one of the purest ideal types of a heavenly human life known in history, is certainly a surprising instance of concentrated power.
my experience, or my acquaintance with literary efforts, no greater success
of this kind has been attained; for to my certain knowledge this book was
only conceived and begun last September, and has been perfected and published
in one of the most disturbed and trying periods that this nation has passed
through for this generation at least.
This effort, indeed, has been a labor of love, and so a rest and refreshment to the poet; for Edwin Arnold is an impassioned lover of India, and has for years been a loving admirer of Buddha. So the poem wrote itself out of his memory and imagination. Trained at Oxford, where he won honors as a classic, and gained the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, after publishing a small volume of poems, Mr. Arnold went in early life to Hindostan, where he was appointed as Principal of the Deccan College at Poona. Here he resided for seven years, acquiring a knowledge of the Sanscrit and other Indian languages, and translating the very interesting "Book of Good Counsels," the "Hitopordesa," which has long been a valued text-book for Sanscrit scholars, as it is accompanied with an interlinear text and vocabulary, &c. In India be became the friend of Lord Dalhousie, John Lawrence (the saviour of the Punjaub, afterward Lord Lawrence), and other leading statesmen; and was on the road to preferment when he was compelled to leave his much-loved India by the death of a child and the illness of his young wife. After his return, he wrote and published, in two volumes, an important and instructive "History of Lord Dalhousie's Administration," and printed another volume of poems, and a translation of one of the books of Herodotus.
Becoming then engaged as a sub-editor in the Telegraph, where during our civil war he defended the cause of freedom and confidently predicted the triumph of the Republic, he gradually rose to higher influence, until, after the death of Thornton Hunt, he was advanced to the responsible post of editor-in-chief, and has become greatly distinguished as a writer of powerful "leaders." But amidst his incessant toil, he has still found leisure for literary work, having translated a volume of the poets of Greece, accompanied by biographical and critical notices, and an exquisitely beautiful version of the "Indian Song of Songs," -- one of the most characteristic productions of Hindoo literature. And now, at length, he has found a fit sphere for his poetic genius in this representation of Buddha, in which he has embodied his own highest ideals and aspirations.
In speaking thus warmly, and enthusiastically even, of this poem, it is nowise my wish or end to indorse Mr. Arnold's view of Buddha and his system; for, in several very important and even essential points my estimate of Gautama differs very widely from the poet's, both as to the character of the MAN, and the principles and tendency of his philosophical and moral SYSTEM. But Goethe's prime rule of criticism has long been my guide, -- "Before passing judgment on a book, a work of art, a scheme of doctrine, or a person, first give yourself up to a sympathetic appreciation of them." Now Mr. Arnold has conceived and composed his poem as a HINDOO BUDDHIST. In that spirit let this beautiful book be read, -- and then criticised.
(2) DR. RIPLEY, in the New York Tribune.
The fruits of an earnest study of Oriental literature and of a personal residence of several years in India are embodied in this stately poetical romance. From the dim and shadowy legends of the princely founder of the great religion of the East, scanty and uncertain as they prove to be under the hand of critical research, Mr. Arnold has constructed a poem, which for affluence of imagination, splendor of diction, and virile descriptive power, will not be easily matched among the most remarkable productions in the literature of the day. His starting-point is the historical importance of the Buddhist faith, which has existed during twenty-four centuries, and now surpasses in the number of its followers and the extent of its prevalence any other form of religious belief. Not less than four hundred and seventy millions of our race live and die in the tenets of Gautama. His spiritual dominions at the present time reach from Nepaul and Ceylon over the whole Eastern Peninsula to China, Japan, Thibet, Central Asia, Siberia, and even Swedish Lapland. "More than a third of mankind, therefore," Mr. Arnold remarks, "owe their moral and religious ideas to this illustrious Prince, whose personality, thought imperfectly revealed in the existing sources of information, cannot but appear the highest, gentlest, holiest, and most beneficent, with one exception, in the history of Thought." Not a single act or word is recorded "which mars the perfect purity and tenderness of this Indian teacher, who united the truest princely qualities with the intellect of a sage and the passionate devotion of a martyr."
The author has put his poem into the mouth of an Indian Buddhist, because the spirit of Asiatic thought must be regarded from an Oriental point of view, in order to gain a correct appreciation of its significance. After relating the circumstances attending the birth of Prince Siddârtha (known as the founder of a religion by the name of Buddha), the poet proceeds to describe his education under the discipline provided by his wise and liberal father, who spared none of the resources of an Oriental monarchy for the training and culture of the youthful Prince. He early displayed a precocity of intellect and character, which surpassed the highest skill of his teachers, and presaged a future of marvellous import: --
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 contests scoured the Palace-courts;
Yet in mid-play the boy would oftfimes pause,
Letting the deer pass free; would ofttimes 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.
The poet then relates an instance illustrating the early development of the "quality of mercy" in the bosom of the Prince. It happened one vernal day that a wild swan was shot by an idle courtier as the flock flew near the palace, and the wounded bird fell into the hands of Siddârtha. As he soothed the frightened, fluttering bird with tender touch, and drew the arrow from its side, he pressed the barb into his own wrist to make trial of the pain: --
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 Siddârtha, "if the bird were dead
To send it to the slayer might be well,
But the swan lives; my cousin hath but killed
The god-like speed which throbbed in this white wing."
And Devadatta answered, "The wild thing,
Living or dead, is his who fetched it down;
'T was no man's in the clouds, but fall'n 't is 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 saviour 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 ofttimes thus! So our Lord Buddh
Began his works of mercy.
His experience of human suffering upon a visit with his father to different scenes in the royal domain, is greatly enlarged by the suggestive spectacle, and a fresh impulse is given to his already deep sympathy with the woes of his kind: --
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 plough-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 ploughs; the fat soil rose and rolled
In smooth dark waves back from the plough; 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 Spring-time. In the mango-sprays
The sun-birds 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 jewelled 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 ploughman and his laboring kine,
Their dewlaps blistered with the bitter yoke,
The rage to live which makes all living strife --
The Prince Siddârtha 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."
Upon the attainment of his eighteenth year by the Prince, three sumptuous palaces were built by command of his father, surrounded with delicious blooming gardens, diversified with sportive streams and odorous thickets, in which Siddârtha strayed at will, with a new pleasure for every hour. The lad was happy, life was rich, and his youthful blood moved quickly in his veins: --
The shadows of his meditation back,
As the lake's silver dulls with driving clouds.
The heart of the King was troubled at these signs, and he consulted his ministers as to the course to be pursued with the son, dearer to him than his heart's blood, and destined to trample on the neck of all his enemies, in the sway of universal dominion. A shrewd old fox among the counsellors recommended the power of love as the cure for the waywardness of the boy: --
him soft wives and pretty playfellows,
Eyes that make heaven forget, and lips of balm."
King feared lest the dainty boy should not find a wife to his mind, if
permitted to range the garden of Beauty at will, and accepted the advice
of another counsellor that a festival should be appointed in which the
maids of the realm should contend for the palm of youth
and grace: --
the Prince give the prizes to the fair,
And, when the lovely victors pass his seat,
There shall be those who mark if one or two
Change the fixed sadness of his tender cheek;
So we may choose for Love with Love's own eyes,
And cheat his Highness into happiness."
This thing seemed good; wherefore upon a day
The criers bade the young and beautiful
Pass to the palace, for 't was in command
To hold a court of pleasure, and the Prince
Would give the prizes, something rich for all,
The richest for the fairest judged. So flocked
Kapilavastu's mailens to the gate,
Each with her dark hair newly smoothed and bound,
Eyelashes lustred with the soorma-stick,
Fresh-bathed and scented; all in shawls and cloths
Of gayest; slender hands and feet new-stained
With crimson, and the tilka-spots stamped bright.
Fair show it was of all those Indian girls
Slow-pacing past the throne with large black eyes
Fixed on the ground, for when they saw the Prince
More than the awe of Majesty made beat
Their fluttering hearts, he sate so passionless,
Gentle but so beyond them. Each maid took
With down-dropped lids her gift, afraid to gaze;
And if the people hailed some lovelier one,
Beyond her rivals worthy royal smiles,
She stood like a scared antelope to touch
The gracious hand, then fled to join her mates
Trembling at favor, so divine he seemed,
So high and saint-like and above her world.
Thus filed they, one bright maid after another,
The city's flowers, and all this beauteous march
Was ending and the prizes spent, when last
Came young Yasôdhara, and they that stood
Nearest Siddârtha saw the princely boy
Start, as the radiant girl approached. A form
Of heavenly mould; a gait like Parvati's;
Eyes like a hind's in love-time, face so fair
Words cannot paint its spell; and she alone
Gazed full -- folding her palms across her breasts --
On the boy's gaze, her stately neck unbent.
"Is there a gift for me?" she asked, and smiled.
"The gifts are gone," the Prince replied, "yet take
This for amends, dear sister, of whose grace
Our happy city boasts;" therewith he loosed
The emerald necklet from his throat, and clasped
Its green beads round her dark and silk-soft waist;
And their eyes mixed, and from the look sprang love.
King determined to send messengers to demand the maiden of her father in
marriage for his son; but it was the law of the country that, when any
one asked a maid of a noble house, he should make good his claim by martial
and athletic arts against all challengers. The father accordingly replied
that his child was sought by princes far and near, and if her lover could
bend the bow, or wield the sword, or back a horse better than they, it
would be the best thing for all; but he was afraid that such a cloistered
youth would have no chance in so grave a contest. But the Prince only laughed
at this, and declared that he was ready to meet all comers at their chosen
games. The day at length came, and Siddârtha won the prize at shooting
with the bow, and cleaving trees with the sword, when the turn came for
the trial of
brought they steeds,
High-mettled, nobly bred, and three times scoured
Around the maidan, but white Kantaka
Left even the fleetest far behind -- so swift,
That ere the foam fell from his mouth to earth
Twenty spear-lengths he flew; but Nanda said,
"We too might win with such as Kantaka;
Bring an unbroken horse, and let men see
Who best can back him." So the syces brought
A stallion dark as night, led by three chains,
Fierce-eyed, with nostrils wide and tossing mane,
Unshod, unsaddled, for no rider yet
Had crossed him. Three times each young Saky
Sprang to his mighty back, but the hot steed
Furiously reared, and flung them to the plain
In dust and shame; only Ardjuna held
His seat awhile, and, bidding loose the chains,
Lashed the black flank, and shook the bit, and held
The proud jaws fast with grasp of master-hand,
So that in storms of wrath and rage and fear
The savage stallion circled once the plain
Half-tamed; but sudden turned with naked teeth,
Gripped by the foot Ardjuna, tore him down,
And would have slain him, but the grooms ran in
Fettering the maddened beast. Then all men cried,
"Let not Siddârtha meddle with this Bhut,
Whose liver is a tempest, and his blood
Red flame;" but the Prince said, "Let go the chains,
Give me his forelock only," which he held
With quiet grasp, and, speaking some low word,
Laid his right palm across the stallion's eyes,
And drew it gently down the angry face,
And all along the neck and panting flanks,
Till men astonished saw the night-black hors
Sink his fierce crest and stand subdued and meek,
As though he knew our Lord and worshipped him.
Nor stirred he while Siddârtha mounted then
Went soberly to touch of knee and rein
Before all eyes, so that the people said,
"Strive no more, for Siddârtha is the best."
The maid was thus given to the Prince, the marriage-feast was kept, the gifts bestowed on holy men, the alms and temple-offerings made, and the garments of the bride and bridegroom tied. The old gray father spoke to the Prince to be good to her whose life was now to be only in him. The sweet Yasôhara was brought home, with songs and trumpets, to the Prince's arms, and "Love was all in all": --
not to love
Alone trusted the King; love's prison-house
Stately and beautiful he bade them build,
So that in all the earth no marvel was
Like Vishramvan, the Prince's pleasure-place.
Midway in those wide palace-grounds there rose
A verdant hill whose base Rohini bathed,
Murmuring adown from Himalay's broad feet,
To bear its tribute into Gunga's waves.
Southward a growth of tamarind-trees and sal,
Thick set with pale sky-colored ganthi flowers,
Shut out the world, save if the city's hum
Came on the wind no harsher than when bees
Hum out of sight in thickets. Northwards soared
The stainless ramps of huge Himala's wall,
Ranged in white ranks against the blue -- untrod,
Infinite, wonderful -- whose uplands vast,
And lifted universe of crest and crag,
Shoulder and shelf, green slope and icy horn,
Riven ravine, and splintered precipice
Led climbing thought higher and higher, until
It seemed to stand in heaven and speak with gods.
Beneath the snows dark forests spread, sharplaced
With leaping cataracts and veiled with clouds
Lower grew rose-oaks and the great fir groves
Where echoed pheasant's call and panther's cry
Clatter of wild sheep on the stones, and scream
Of circling eagles: under these the plain
Gleamed like a praying-carpet at the foot
Of those divinest altars. Fronting this
The builders set the bright pavilion up,
Fair-planted on the terraced hill, with towers
On either flank and pillared cloisters round.
Its beams were carved with stories of old time --
Radha and Krishna and the sylvan girls --
Sita and Hanuman and Draupadi;
And on the middle porch God Ganesha,
With disc and hook -- to bring wisdom and wealth --
Propitious sate, wreathing his sidelong trunk.
By winding ways of garden and of court
The inner gate was reached, of marble wrought,
White with pink veins; the lintel lazuli,
The threshold alabaster, and the doors
Sandal-wood, cut in pictured panelling;
Whereby to lofty halls and shadowy bowers
Passed the delighted foot, on stately stairs,
Through latticed galleries, 'neath painted roofs
And clustering columns, where cool fountains -- fringed
With lotus and nelumbo -- danced, and fish
Gleamed through their crystal, scarlet, gold, and blue.
Great-eyed gazelles in sunny alcoves browsed
The blown red roses; birds of rainbow wing
Fluttered among the palms; doves, green and gray,
Built their safe nests on gilded cornices;
Over the shining pavements peacocks drew
The splendors of their trains, sedately watched
By milk-white herons and the small house-owls.
The plum-necked parrots swung from fruit to fruit
The yellow sunbirds whirred from bloom to bloom,
The timid lizards on the lattice basked
Fearless, the squirrels ran to feed from hand,
For all was peace: the shy black snake, that gives
Fortune to households, sunned his sleepy coils
Under the moon-flowers, where the musk-deer played,
And brown-eyed monkeys chattered to the crows.
And all this house of love was peopled fair
With sweet attendance, so that in each part
With lovely sights were gentle faces found,
Soft speech and willing service, each one glad
To gladden, pleased at pleasure, proud to obey
Till life glided beguiled, like a smooth stream
Banked by perpetual flow'rs, Yasôdhara
Queen of the enchanting Court.
The interior of the palace is described as the scene of Oriental luxury and delight, on which the author lavishes all the resources of his art to present the strange contrast between the effeminate indulgences of Siddârtha's youth and the subsequent austere, lonely years of preparation in which he receives the holy anointing as a chosen prophet of humanity: --
Beyond the richness of those hundred halls,
A secret chamber lurked, where skill had spent
All lovely fantasies to lull the mind.
The entrance of it was a cloistered square --
Roofed by the sky, and in the midst a tank --
Of milky marble built, and laid with slabs
Of milk-white marble; bordered round the tank
And on the steps, and all along the frieze
With tender inlaid work of agate-stones.
Cool as to tread in summertime on snows
It was to loiter there; the sunbeams dropped
Their gold, and, passing into porch and niche,
Softened to shadows, silvery, pale, and dim,
As if the very Day paused and grew Eve
In love and silence at that bower's gate;
For there beyond the gate the chamber was,
Beautiful, sweet; a wonder of the world!
Soft light from perfumed lamps through windows fell
Of nakre and stained stars of lucent film
On golden cloths outspread, and silken beds,
And heavy splendor of the purdah's fringe,
Lifted to take only the loveliest in.
Here, whether it was night or day none knew.
For always streamed that softened light, more bright
Than sunrise, but as tender as the eve's;
And always breathed sweet airs, more joy-giving
Than morning's, but as cool as midnight's breath;
And night and day lutes sighed, and night and day
Delicious foods were spread, and dewy fruits,
Sherbets new chilled with snows of Himalay,
And sweetmeats made of subtle daintiness,
With sweet tree-milk in its own ivory cup.
And night and day served there a chosen band
Of nautch girls cup-bearers, and cymballers,
Delicate, dark-browed ministers of love,
Who fanned the sleeping eyes of the happy Prince,
And when he waked, led back his thoughts to bliss
With music whispering through the blooms, and charm
Of amorous songs and dreamy dances, linked
By chime of ankle-bells and wave of arms
And silver vina-strings; while essences
Of musk and champak and the blue haze spread
From burning spices soothed his soul again
To drowse by sweet Yasôdhara; and thus
Siddârtha lived forgetting.
But no enchantment of earth's delights could stay the soaring spirit which sought the crown of renunciation, the sacrifice of self for the deliverance of the race. The fated hour of consummation now struck. Standing by the couch of his sleeping wife, Siddârtha announces his resolution: --
will depart," he spake; "the hour is come!
Thy tender lips, dear sleeper, summon me
To that which saves the earth but sunders us;
And in the silence of yon sky I read
My fated message flashing. Unto this
Came I, and unto this all nights and days
Have led me; for I will not have that crown
Which may be mine: I lay aside those realms
Which wait the gleaming of my naked sword:
My chariot shall not roll with bloody wheels
From victory to victory, till earth --
Wears the red record of my name. I choose
To tread its paths with patient, stainless feet,
Making its dust my bed, its loneliest wastes
My dwelling, and its meanest things my mates:
Clad in no prouder garb than outcasts wear,
Fed with no meats save what the charitable
Give of their will, sheltered by no more pomp
Than the dim cave lends or the jungle-bush.
This will I do because the woful cry
Of life and all flesh living cometh up
Into my ears, and all my soul is full
Of pity for the sickness of this world
Which I will heal, if healing may be found
By uttermost renouncing and strong strife.
For which of all the great and lesser Gods
Have power or pity? Who hath seen them -- who?
What have they wrought to help their worshippers?
How hath it steaded man to pray, and pay
Tithes of the corn and oil, to chant the charms,
To slay the shrieking sacrifice, to rear
The stately fane, to feed the priests, and call
On Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, who save
None -- not the worthiest -- from the griefs that teach
Those litanies of flattery and fear
Ascending day by day, like wasted smoke?
. . . . . .
If one, then, being great and fortunate,
Rich, dowered with health and ease, from birth designed
To rule -- if he would rule -- a King of kings;
If one, not tired with life's long day but glad
I' the freshness of its morning, one not cloyed
With love's delicious feasts, but hungry still
If one not worn and wrinkled, sadly sage,
But joyous in the glory and the grace
That mix with evils here, and free to choose
Earth's loveliest at his will: one even as I,
Who ache not, lack not, grieve not, save with griefs
Which are not mine, except as I am man; --
If such a one, having so much to give,
Gave all, laying it down for love of men,
And thenceforth spent himself to search for truth,
Wringing the secret of deliverance forth,
Whether it lurk in hells or hide in heavens,
Or hover, unrevealed, nigh unto all:
Surely at last, far off, sometime, somewhere,
The veil would lift for his deep-searching eyes,
The road would open for his painful feet,
That should be won for which he lost the world,
And Death might find him conqueror of death.
This will I do, who have a realm to lose,
Because I love my realm, because my heart
Beats with each throb of all the hearts that ache,
Known and unknown, these that are mine and those
Which shall be mine, a thousand million more
Saved by this sacifice I offer now.
Oh, summoning stars! I come! Oh, mournful earth!
For thee and thine I lay aside my youth,
My throne, my joys, my golden days, my nights,
My happy palace -- and thine arms, sweet Queen!
Harder to put aside than all the rest!
Yet thee, too, I shall save, saving this earth;
And that which stirs within thy tender womb,
My child, the hidden blossom of our loves,
Whom if I wait to bless my mind will fail.
Wife! child! father! and people! ye must share
A little while the anguish of this hour
That light may break and all flesh learn the Law.
Now am I fixed, and now I will depart,
Never to come again till what I seek
Be found -- if fervent search and strife avail."
We need cull no further specimens from this rich Oriental flower-garden to show that Mr. Arnold has presented the world with a poem equally striking for the novelty of its conception, its vigor of execution, and the exquisite beauty of its descriptive passages. The originality of its plan is fully sustained by its power of invention, splendor of coloring, and force of illustration. Mr. Arnold's imaginative gifts are combined with a singularly acute historical sense, and a rare perception of the music of rhythmical harmonies and the curious significance of a felicitous phrase. Nor is his poem to be regarded merely in the light of imagination or history. It forms a grave ethical treatise, shadowing forth in the legendary life of Siddârtha some of the deepest mysteries and loftiest experiences of the human soul.
great doctrine of renunciation, so earnestly insisted on by Goethe and
Carlyle, is in fact the key-note of the poem, and the evolution of character
from an exclusive devotion to self to a tender charity for our kind, which
is so lucidly set forth in the philosophy of Herbert Spencer, is illustrated
with all the charms of a fascinating narrative and the enchantments of
melodious verse. As an exposition of the religious system of Buddha we
reckon this poem as no more successful than the numerous similar attempts
in prose. We have no sufficient data for the solution of the problem. But
as a magnificent work of imagination, and a sublime appeal in the interests
of the loftiest human virtue, we tender it the sincerest welcome, and grasp
the author by the hand as a genuine prophet of the soul.