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Sri Aurobindo

Collected Poems

SABCL - Volume 5

III. Longer Poems

The Vigil of Thaliard

1

Where Time a sleeping dervish is

Or printed legend of Romance

Mid lilies and mid gold-roses

Of mediaeval France,

Where Life, a princely1 servitor

Mid alien faces cast,

Still wears in memory of her

The trappings of the Past,

Sweet Lily’s child, that golden grape

Girl prince of Avelion,

Thaliard by early plucking hap

Star-reaching Princeís2 son,

Kept vigil by the impious pool

Beyond the misty moaning sea

To win from warlock’s weird misrule

His soul’s sweet liberty.

2

For if throughout the monstrous night

Unblest by ave or by creed

By witchèd water Christian wight

Do finger bead by bead

His scarlet rosary of sins

And leave his soul ajar,

What hour the sleepy Evening pins

Her bodice with a star,

Until, the pitchy veil withdrawn

That swathes the looming3 dune,

The crowing trumpeter of dawn

Blows addio to the moon,

The awful record of his soul

Shall by God’s finger blotted be,

And o’er his drownèd past shall roll

Forgiveness like a sea.

3

The warden of the starry waste

Who walks with orange-coloured lamp

And weird eyes nursing fire, paced

Night’s silver-tented camp.

The rose-lipped golden-footed day,

A flower by maiden culled,

Beneath star-blossomed arras lay

In Evening’s4 bosom lulled.

The water seemed a damson crust

With golden sugar poured,

Or mirror caked with purple dust

In lady’s closet stored.

The hour like a weary snake

Coiled slowly gliding serpentine

Or drowsy nun perforce awake

To pace a pillared shrine.

4

The roses shuddered in their sleep,

The lilies drooped their silver fires,

The reeds upon the humming steep

Bowed low their tapering spires;

For tho’ no sob pulsed in the air,

No agony of wind,

Down Heaven’s moonlight-painted stair

Trod angels who had sinned.

Fireflies drizzled in the dark

Like drops of burning rain,

The glow-worm was a crawling spark,

The pool a purple stain;

The stars were grains of blazing sand,

A haunted soul the shadowy lea,

In forest-featured Broceliande

Beyond the echoing sea.

5

Sir Thaliard by the phantom edge

Heard rustling feet behind the trees

And the weird water lapped the sedge

With wistful symphonies:

Sometimes a thrill of voices broke

In runic tongues of old,

Sometimes pale fingers seemed to stroke

His curls of crisping gold:

Thin laughter sobbed he knew not where

Till God’s own candles paled,

Or else out in the moonless air

A golden5 infant wailed.

Now in the moon’s enchanted wake

Wild shadows ran a giant race,

And now the golden glassing lake

Was blotted with a face.

6

But when the naked moon rose clear

Above the ruins of the day,

Childe Thaliard saw a glinting spear

Across the milky way.

And when the white moon’s sliding feet

One rank of stars had passed,

Upon him smote the windy beat

And terror of a blast.

The tempest rippled thro’ the leaves,

New wine of evening sucked,

And at the water-lily sheaves

With nervous fingers plucked.

And in its wind-white arms it bore

A helmeted6 and sceptred thing,

The semblance of a man, that wore

The glory of a king.

7

An argent cincture studded thick

With opal and the blushing stone

Fine wrought of texture Arabic

About his middle shone:

And in its buckled girth did sit,

A fierce and cloudy star,

Of temper fine as poet’s wit

The Orient scimitar.

Morocco gave his wrathful dart,

The spring of widowed tears,

Tempered in Afric’s sultry heart

Or famous far Algiers.

His barb was hued like cedar’s core

In Aramaic7 mountains born,

Wild as the sea on storm-vexed shore

And fronted as the morn.

8

Upon his kingly head the crown

Was eloquent of Iran’s gold

Dropping fine threads of glory down

Upon the turban’s fold.

His eyes were drops of smelted ore

That in a foundry chase:

His lips a cruel promise wore,

A marble pride his face.

As shows thro’ gold caparison

Laburnum dusky-stemmed,

Thro’ silks in Persian harem spun

His gorgeous body gleamed.

Or as a lithe and tropic snake

That from some fine mosaic glares

Or spotted panther by a lake

Beneath the Indian stars.

9

This Orient vision burning bright

Snapped close his bridle silver-lined

Between the moonlight and the night,

The water and the wind.

His cry sang like a stormy shower

Upon a thundering sea:

“O Thaliard, Thaliard, Britain’s flower,

Wilt break a lance with me?

The golden scythe of Mahomet

Gleams crescent on my shield,

My harvest upon thine is set,

A cross in argent field.

Prince-errant, prop of battle styled

And flawless glass of chivalry,

O Thaliard, Thaliard, golden childe,

Wilt break a lance with me?”

10

As trailing thunder dies in heaven

Thro’ silence trailed his latest word,

And fire like the bearded levin

Beneath his eyelids stirred.

Childe Thaliard saw the burning stars

Vermilion grown like blood,

Thrice drew the serpent cross of Mars,

Thrice clamoured where he stood.

But Thaliard saw a milk-white star

Grow large against the moon,

Quelled by whose candid flames, afar

Mars’ ruby paled in a swoon.

“Not here,” he faltered like the wind,

“Not here where murmurs poison sleep,

When haunted memories grown half blind

Their ghastly vigils keep.”

11

“Not here, when drifts past happy shores

From mortal vision far withdrawn

With lustrous sails and dripping8 oars

The hull that brings the dawn.

Seek me, but in the cloudy time

When ruin blazons forth

In sanguine hues the vaporous clime

And champaigns of the North.”

As wine that from the bubbling lips

Of some fine beaker falls,

This honeyed utterance largely slips

Like murmurs in vast halls.

The wimpled moon bent down her ear,

And in the granaries of light

The seedling splendours thrilled to hear,

And all the east grew bright.

12

The phantom like a burning page

Was furrowed with the ploughs of wrath,

And thro’ his wintry orbs white rage

Rolled like the dead sea-froth.

His lance poised slanting like a ray

Of ominous sunlight fell,

Astarte in the milky way

Saw death half-risen from hell:

And soon the cold hooves of his horse

On shivering lilies trod,

Till, yellow anguish borrowing force,

Childe Thaliard cried on God.

The phantom, withering thro’ the bars

Of Being like transitory sound,

Left but the murmur of the stars,

Left but the hush profound.

13

And now the naked wanton moon

Shed languorous glances on the lake

Whose ripples sobbing from their swoon

Grew golden for her sake:

The amorous stars were faint with love;

Earth’s awning seemed so light

That Hesper like a flying dove

Would tremble into sight.

When Thaliard saw in drooping skies

Large drops of beauty burn,

A white-winged chorus did arise,

The prayers that purely yearn.

But Thaliard saw the curling deep

With foamy moon-tints blaze and break,

Till the slack spirit longed to steep

Rich fancies in the lake.

14

The penitent chorus of his prayers

Were mingled with voluptuous speech

Of daedal images and airs

Luxurious wrapping each:

A blue papyrus-leaf designed

With fretted curls of fire,

A purple page with coronet lined

Or labyrinthine spire:

The fiery-coloured bee of night

With folded purple wing,

Or solitary chrysolite

Shut in an emerald ring:

The vellum binding of a book,

A scented volume spiced with Ind,

A magic purse by Genie shook

To loose a murmuring wind.

15

But9 hark! a wailing anguish woke

The silence with a fiery sting:

The foaming gulfs of clamour broke

Around a fallen king:

A distant moan of battle high

Above a phantom land,

And heron-weird a woman’s cry

Went shrilling down the strand.

While terror with a vulture’s force

Was plucking at his throat,

He heard the shrill hooves of a horse

Prick echoes less remote.

And like old accents Night may lend

On lips long hushed in endless sleep,

The voice of a familiar friend

Came shuddering from the deep.

16

“Thaliard, awake; the smiling morn

Forgets the cloud of yesterday:

The sceptre from thy house is torn,

Thy glory washed away.

Amid the reeling battle trod,

As a poppy in the mill,

With white face lifted up to God,

Thy sire lies very still.

Pendragon’s spear has stung him dead,

He sleeps among the slain;

The glorious princes heap his bed,

Like lilies in a plain.

Thy brothers Galert and Gyneth

Like toppling mountains whelmed I saw

Beneath the shadowy winds of death

In the rushing tide of war.

17

“Thy sister, fawn-eyed Guendolen,

Haled captive from thy tottering hall,

Lies helpless in the dragon’s den

Luxurious Gawain’s thrall.

His kisses tremble on her mouth

Like moonbeams on a rose,

For she is water to his drouth,

He sunlight to her snows:

Her flowering body to his love

A pleasance-garden10 sweet;

Her spirit, meeker than a dove,

Fawns blindly at his feet.

And with the pelting words of shame,

Like delicate pigments bleared by storm,

The gorgeous colouring of thy name

Is losing gloss and form.

18

“The night-wind in thy yawning dome

Has made her nest alive with song,

The humming wasps of Aeolus roam,

Low-flying in a throng:

The thunder like a flying stork

Clangs hoarsely but aloof,

And lightning with his vermil fork

Has written on thy roof.

The lion lodges in thy gate,

The werewolf is thy guest,

The night-owl, like a sombre fate,

Wails weirdly without rest.

Thy deeds are grown a haunting rhyme,

A fragment breaking from the past,

An atom, which the meteor, Time,

In his fiery flight has cast.”

19

With sobs of shuddering agony bled

The silence as with stinging whips,

But Thaliard felt slim fingers laid

Upon his writhen lips.

The soul’s redoubts flung each to each

A ringing challenge round,

To clench the ruby gates of speech

On the corridors of sound.

In dancing dithyrambs thro’ each vein

A dizzy echo sang,

While on the anvil of his brain

The steely syllables rang:

And from the avenues of the heart

Thro’ which the river of being pours,

The torpid life with a sudden start

Recoiled upon its doors.

20

The voice was now a violin

Shrill-winding, now a startled bat,

And now as linnet’s warble thin,

Now wailful as a gnat,

But gathered volume as of yore

Until with refluent tide,

Like Ocean ebbing from her shore,

The murmur ebbed and died.

Like beauty losing maidenhood

Astarte debonair11

Undid the crocus-coloured snood

That bound her glimmering hair.

And up the ladder of the moon,

As white smoke curls upon a glass,

He saw with flakes of glory strewn

A radiant figure pass.

21

Again12 the stealthy minutes crept

On tiptoe to the breathless hour

And loud suspense her riot kept

Till budding doom should flower.

The yellow moon, whom Heaven once more

From silver cowl did shake,

With golden letters scribbled o’er

The purple-written lake.

But when to Heaven’s polished breast

Her rounded amulet clung

Below in the blue palimpsest

A slit, a chasm sprung.

A meteor from the purple brink,

A vivid star no eye may lose,

A pictured bowl of nectarous drink,

An apparition rose.

22

And in the bridal pomp of hell

Walked beauty hand in hand with sin,

And Thought, the glorious infidel,

A helmèd Paladin;

When shuttering13 under cloudy bars

Astarte’s radiant eye,

God sowed with multitudinous stars

His peacock in the sky,

The diamonds perished from the deep,

The moon-tints from the edge,

The wrinkled water smoothed in sleep

His locks of ruffled sedge.

Imagination, like a sponge

Wrung very pure of beauty, wept,

As from his pores with a tired plunge

His flakes of fancy leaped.

23

Astarte from her cloudy chair

Paced with her troop of star-sweet girls;

Unfilleted her glorious hair

Hung loose in cowslip curls.

And like the flower-song of a bee

On April’s daffodil skirt,

A whisper from the smiling sea

In her crocus gown did flirt.

The waters quivering to her wiles

Among the rushes whipped,

As thro’ the network of her smiles

Her visible murmur slipped.

But when they wooed her to repeat

Her primrose-painted pilgrimage,

She dipped the white palms of her feet

In beds of bubbling sedge.

24

Her body lapped in cloth of gold

A wave disguised in moonlight seemed,

Whose every curve and curious fold

With opal facets gleamed.

Her nestling mass of rounded curls

Were soft as velvet cloths

Once fingered by Arabian girls

Or piled in Syrian booths.

She was an ebon-framèd lyre

Where wind-waked murmurs dance,

A tinted statue of Desire

In studios of Romance.

Her glowing cheeks just ripe with youth,

The purple passion of her eyes,

Half seemed a splendid mock at truth,

A brilliant mesh of lies.

25

Below with balmy sobs that drank

The must of life thro’ thirsty lips,

Her painèd bosom heaved and sank

Like Ocean-cradled ships.

And as bee-blossoms sapphire-looped,

The humming waves that kiss,

Her creamy forehead almost drooped

Burthened with too much bliss.

The artist Grace who limned her fair

With moist and liberal brush

Painted a glory in her hair

And mixed a gorgeous blush

To tint her cheeks with a flowery14 bloom,

To touch her lips with scarlet fire,–

An empire’s beauty in small room,

A vision of desire.

26

A fairy witch by painful charms

Had burgeoned this refulgent flower,

Embraced by wild and wanton arms

In weird and midnight hour.

She on the amber milk of bees

By magic mother nursed,

In laurel-sheltered libraries

Cons rudiments accurst,

The most familiar things of hell

The mightiest names inherits,

And learns what iron syllable

Compels reluctant spirits.

A perilous thorn on fire with bloom,

A poppied spell, an empress snake,

She rose, the alchemist of doom,

The Lady of the Lake.

(Incomplete)

 

Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volume 2.- Collected Poems.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2009.- 751 p.

1 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: faithful

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2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Madorís

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3 yellow

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4 twilit

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5 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: goblin

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6 diademed

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7 Aramean

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8 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: dipping

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9 In 2009 ed. the part No 22 is placed before this one

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10 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: pleasaunce-garden

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11 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: debonnair

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12 In 2009 ed. the part No 23 is placed before this one

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13 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: shutting

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14 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: with flowery

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