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Sri Aurobindo

Collected Poems

SABCL - Volume 5

III. Longer Poems

Love and Death

In woodlands of the bright and early world,

When love was to himself yet new and warm

And stainless, played like morning with a flower

Ruru with his young bride Priyumvada.

Fresh-cheeked and dew-eyed white Priyumvada

Opened her budded heart of crimson bloom

To love, to Ruru; Ruru, a happy flood

Of passion round a lotus dancing thrilled,

Blinded with his soul’s waves Priyumvada.

To him the earth was a bed for this sole flower,

To her all the world was filled with his embrace.

Wet with new rains the morning earth, released

From her fierce centuries and burning suns,

Lavished her breath in greenness; poignant flowers

Thronged all her eager breast, and her young arms

Cradled a childlike bounding life that played

And would not cease, nor ever weary grew

Of her bright promise; for all was joy and breeze

And perfume, colour and bloom and ardent rays

Of living, and delight desired the world.

Then Earth was quick and pregnant tamelessly;

A free and unwalled race possessed her plains

Whose hearts uncramped by bonds, whose unspoiled thoughts

At once replied to light. Foisoned the fields;

Lonely and rich the forests and the swaying

Of those unnumbered tops affected men

With thoughts to their vast music kin. Undammed

The virgin rivers moved towards the sea,

And mountains yet unseen and peoples vague

Winged young imagination like an eagle

To strange beauty remote. And Ruru felt

The sweetness of the early earth as sap

All through him, and short life an aeon made

By boundless possibility, and love,

Sweetest of all unfathomable love,

A glory untired. As a bright bird comes flying

From airy extravagance to his own home,

And breasts his mate, and feels her all his goal,

So from boon sunlight and the fresh chill wave

Which swirled and lapped between the slumbering fields,

From forest pools and wanderings mid leaves

Through emerald ever-new discoveries,

Mysterious hillsides ranged and buoyant-swift

Races with our wild brothers in the meads,

Came Ruru back to the white-bosomed girl,

Strong-winged to pleasure. She all fresh and new

Rose to him, and he plunged into her charm.

For neither to her honey and poignancy

Artlessly interchanged, nor any limit

To the sweet physical delight of her

He found. Her eyes like deep and infinite wells

Lured his attracted soul, and her touch thrilled

Not lightly, though so light; the joy prolonged

And sweetness of the lingering of her lips

Was every time a nectar of surprise

To her lover; her smooth-gleaming shoulder bared

In darkness of her hair showed jasmine-bright,

While her kissed bosom by rich tumults stirred

Was a moved sea that rocked beneath his heart,

Then when her lips had made him blind, soft siege

Of all her unseen body to his rule

Betrayed the ravishing realm of her white limbs,

An empire for the glory of a God.

He knew not whether he loved most her smile,

Her causeless tears or little angers swift,

Whether held wet against him from the bath

Among her kindred lotuses, her cheeks

Soft to his lips and dangerous happy breasts

That vanquished all his strength with their desire,

Meeting his absence with her sudden face,

Or when the leaf-hid bird at night complained

Near their wreathed arbour on the moonlit lake,

Sobbing delight out from her heart of bliss,

Or in his clasp of rapture laughing low

Of his close bosom bridal-glad and pleased

With passion and this fiery play of love,

Or breaking off like one who thinks of grief,

Wonderful melancholy in her eyes

Grown liquid and with wayward sorrow large.

Thus he in her found a warm world of sweets,

And lived of ecstasy secure, nor deemed

Any new hour could match that early bliss.

But Love has joys for spirits born divine

More bleeding-lovely than his thornless rose.

That day he had left, while yet the east was dark,

Rising, her bosom and into the river

Swam out, exulting in the sting and swift

Sharp-edged desire around his limbs, and sprang

Wet to the bank, and streamed into the wood.

As a young horse upon the pastures glad

Feels greensward and the wind along his mane

And arches as he goes his neck, so went

In an immense delight of youth the boy

And shook his locks, joy-crested. Boundlessly

He revelled in swift air of life, a creature

Of wide and vigorous morning. Far he strayed

Tempting for flower and fruit branches in heaven,

And plucked, and flung away, and brighter chose,

Seeking comparisons for her bloom; and followed

New streams, and touched new trees, and felt slow beauty

And leafy secret change; for the damp leaves,

Grey-green at first, grew pallid with the light

And warmed with consciousness of sunshine near;

Then the whole daylight wandered in, and made

Hard tracts of splendour, and enriched all hues.

But when a happy sheltered heat he felt

And heard contented voice of living things

Harmonious with the noon, he turned and swiftly

Went homeward yearning to Priyumvada,

And near his home emerging from green leaves

He laughed towards the sun: “O father Sun,”

He cried, “how good it is to live, to love!

Surely our joy shall never end, nor we

Grow old, but like bright rivers or pure winds

Sweetly continue, or revive with flowers,

Or live at least as long as senseless trees.”

He dreamed, and said with a soft smile: “Lo, she!

And she will turn from me with angry tears

Her delicate face more beautiful than storm

Or rainy moonlight. I will follow her,

And soothe her heart with sovereign flatteries;

Or rather all tyranny exhaust and taste

The beauty of her anger like a fruit,

Vexing her soul with helplessness; then soften

Easily with quiet undenied demand

Of heart insisting upon heart; or else

Will reinvest her beauty bright with flowers,

Or with my hands her little feet persuade.

Then will her face be like a sudden dawn,

And flower compelled into reluctant smiles.”

He had not ceased when he beheld her. She,

Tearing a jasmine bloom with waiting hands,

Stood drooping, petulant, but heard at once

His footsteps and before she was aware,

A sudden smile of exquisite delight

Leaped to her mouth, and a great blush of joy

Surprised her cheeks. She for a moment stood

Beautiful with her love before she died;

And he laughed towards her. With a pitiful cry

She paled; moaning, her stricken limbs collapsed.

But petrified, in awful dumb surprise,

He gazed; then waking with a bound was by her,

All panic expectation. As he came,

He saw a brilliant flash of coils evade

The sunlight, and with hateful gorgeous hood

Darted into green safety, hissing, death.

Voiceless he sank beside her and stretched out

His arms and desperately touched her face,

As if to attract her soul to live, and sought

Beseeching with his hands her bosom. O, she

Was warm, and cruel hope pierced him; but pale

As jasmines fading on a girl’s sweet breast

Her cheek was, and forgot its perfect rose.

Her eyes that clung to sunlight yet, with pain

Were large and feebly round his neck her arms

She lifted and, desiring his pale cheek

Against her bosom, sobbed out piteously,

“Ah, Love!” and stopped heart-broken; then, “O Love!

Alas the green dear home that I must leave

So early! I was so glad of love and kisses,

And thought that centuries would not exhaust

The deep embrace. And I have had so little

Of joy and the wild day and throbbing night,

Laughter, and tenderness, and strife and tears.

I have not numbered half the brilliant birds

In one green forest, nor am familiar grown

With sunrise and the progress of the eves,

Nor have with plaintive cries of birds made friends,

Cuckoo and rainlark and love-speak-to-me.

I have not learned the names of half the flowers

Around me; so few trees know me by my name;

Nor have I seen the stars so very often

That I should die. I feel a dreadful hand

Drawing me from the touch of thy warm limbs

Into some cold vague mist, and all black night

Descends towards me. I no more am thine,

But go I know not where, and see pale shapes

And gloomy countries and that terrible stream.

O Love, O Love, they take me from thee far,

And whether we shall find each other ever

In the wide dreadful territory of death,

I know not. Or thou wilt forget me quite,

And life compel thee into other arms.

Ah, come with me! I cannot bear to wander

In that cold cruel country all alone,

Helpless and terrified, or sob by streams

Denied sweet sunlight and by thee unloved.”

Slower her voice came now, and over her cheek

Death paused; then, sobbing like a little child

Too early from her bounding pleasures called,

The lovely discontented spirit stole

From her warm body white. Over her leaned

Ruru, and waited for dead lips to move.

Still in the greenwood lay Priyumvada,

And Ruru rose not from her, but with eyes

Emptied of glory hung above his dead,

Only, without a word, without a tear.

Then the crowned wives of the great forest came,

They who had fed her from maternal breasts,

And grieved over the lovely body cold,

And bore it from him; nor did he entreat

One last look nor one kiss, nor yet denied

What he had loved so well. They the dead girl

Into some distant greenness bore away.

But Ruru, while the stillness of the place

Remembered her, sat without voice. He heard

Through the great silence that was now his soul,

The forest sounds, a squirrel’s leap through leaves,

The cheeping of a bird just overhead,

A peacock with his melancholy cry

Complaining far away, and tossings dim

And slight unnoticeable stir of trees.

But all these were to him like distant things

And he alone in his heart’s void. And yet

No thought he had of her so lately lost,

Rather far pictures, trivial incidents

Of that old life before her delicate face

Had lived for him, dumbly distinct like thoughts

Of men that die, kept with long pomps his mind

Excluding the dead girl. So still he was,

The birds flashed by him with their swift small wings,

Fanning him. Then he moved, then rigorous

Memory through all his body shuddering

Awoke, and he looked up and knew the place,

And recognised greenness immutable,

And saw old trees and the same flowers still bloom.

He felt the bright indifference of earth

And all the lonely uselessness of pain.

Then lifting up the beauty of his brow

He spoke, with sorrow pale: “O grim cold Death!

But I will not like ordinary men

Satiate thee with cries, and falsely woo thee,

And make my grief thy theatre, who lie

Prostrate beneath thy thunderbolts and make

Night witness of their moans, shuddering and crying

When sudden memories pierce them like swords,

And often starting up as at a thought

Intolerable, pace a little, then

Sink down exhausted by brief agony.

O secrecy terrific, darkness vast,

At which we shudder! Somewhere, I know not where,

Somehow, I know not how, I shall confront

Thy gloom, tremendous spirit, and seize with hands

And prove what thou art and what man.” He said,

And slowly to the forests1 wandered. There

Long months he travelled between grief and grief,

Reliving thoughts of her with every pace,

Measuring vast pain in his immortal mind.

And his heart cried in him as when a fire

Roars through wide forests and the branches cry

Burning towards heaven in torture glorious.

So burned, immense, his grief within him; he raised

His young pure face all solemnised with pain,

Voiceless. Then Fate was shaken, and the Gods

Grieved for him, of his silence grown afraid.

Therefore from peaks divine came flashing down

Immortal Agni and to the Uswuttha-tree2,

Cried in the Voice that slays the world: “O tree

That liftest thy enormous branches able

To shelter armies, more than armies now

Shelter, be famous, house a brilliant God.

For the grief grows in Ruru’s breast up-piled,

As wrestles with its anguished barricades

In silence an impending flood, and Gods

Immortal grow afraid. For earth alarmed

Shudders to bear the curse lest her young life

Pale with eclipse and all-creating love

Be to mere pain condemned. Divert the wrath

Into thy boughs, Uswuttha – thou shalt be

My throne – glorious, though in eternal pangs,

Yet worth much pain to harbour divine fire.”

So ended the young pure destroyer’s voice,

And the dumb god consented silently.

In the same noon came Ruru; his mind had paused,

Lured for a moment by soft wandering gleams

Into forgetfulness of grief; for thoughts

Gentle and near-eyed whispering memories

So sweetly came, his blind heart dreamed she lived.

Slow the Uswuttha-tree bent down its leaves,

And smote his cheek, and touched his heavy hair.

And Ruru turned illumined. For a moment,

One blissful moment he had felt ’twas she.

So had she often stolen up and touched

His curls with her enamoured fingers small,

Lingering, while the wind smote him with her hair

And her quick breath came to him like spring. Then he,

Turning, as one surprised with heaven, saw

Ready to his swift passionate grasp her bosom

And body sweet expecting his embrace.

Oh, now saw her not, but the guilty tree

Shrinking; then grief back with a double crown

Arose and stained his face with agony.

Nor silence he endured, but the dumb force

Ascetic and inherited, by sires

Fierce-musing earned, from the boy’s bosom blazed.

“O Uswuttha-tree3, wantonly who hast mocked

My anguish with the wind, but thou no more

Have joy of the cool wind nor green delight,

But live thy guilty leaves in fire, so long

As Aryan wheels by thy doomed shadow vast

Thunder to war, nor bless with cool wide waves

Lyric Saruswathi nations impure.”

He spoke, and the vast tree groaned through its leaves,

Recognising its fate; then smouldered; lines

Of living fire rushed up the girth and hissed

Serpentine in the unconsuming leaves;

Last, all Hutashan in his chariot armed

Sprang on the boughs and blazed into the sky,

And wailing all the great tormented creature

Stood wide in agony; one half was green

And earthly, the other a weird brilliance

Filled with the speed and cry of endless flame.

But he, with the fierce rushing-out of power

Shaken and that strong grasp of anguish, flung

His hands out to the sun; “Priyumvada!”

He cried, and at that well-loved sound there dawned

With overwhelming sweetness miserable

Upon his mind the old delightful times

When he had called her by her liquid name,

Where the voice loved to linger. He remembered

The chompuc bushes where she turned away

Half-angered, and his speaking of her name

Masterfully as to a lovely slave

Rebellious who has erred; at that the slow

Yielding of her small head, and after a little

Her sliding towards him and beautiful

Propitiating body as she sank down

With timid graspings deprecatingly

In prostrate warm surrender, her flushed cheeks

Upon his feet and little touches soft;

Or her long name uttered beseechingly,

And the swift leap of all her body to him,

And eyes of large repentance, and the weight

Of her wild bosom and lips unsatisfied;

Or hourly call for little trivial needs,

Or sweet unneeded wanton summoning,

Daily appeal that never staled nor lost

Its sudden music, and her lovely speed,

Sedulous occupation left, quick-breathing,

With great glad eyes and eager parted lips;

Or in deep quiet moments murmuring

That name like a religion in her ear,

And her calm look compelled to ecstasy;

Or to the river luring her, or breathed

Over her dainty slumber, or secret sweet

Bridal outpantings of her broken name.

All these as rush unintermitting waves

Upon a swimmer overborne, broke on him

Relentless, things too happy to be endured,

Till faint with the recalled felicity

Low he moaned out: “O pale Priyumvada!

O dead fair flower! yet living to my grief!

But I could only slay the innocent tree,

Powerless when power should have been. Not such

Was Bhrigu from whose sacred strength I spring,

Nor Bhrigu’s son, my father, when he blazed

Out from Puloma’s side, and burning, blind,

Fell like a tree the ravisher unjust.

But I degenerate from such sires. O Death

That showest not thy face beneath the stars,

But comest masked, and on our dear ones seizing

Fearest to wrestle equally with love!

Nor from thy gloomy house any come back

To tell thy way. But O, if any strength

In lover’s constancy to torture dwell

Earthward to force a helping god and such

Ascetic force be born of lover’s pain,

Let my dumb pangs be heard. Whoe’er thou art,

O thou bright enemy of Death descend

And lead me to that portal dim. For I

Have burned in fires cruel as the fire

And lain upon a sharper couch than swords.”

He ceased, and heaven thrilled, and the far blue

Quivered as with invisible downward wings.

But Ruru passioned on, and came with eve

To secret grass and a green opening moist

In a cool lustre. Leaned upon a tree

That bathed in faery air and saw the sky

Through branches, and a single parrot loud

Screamed from its top, there stood a golden boy,

Half-naked, with bright limbs all beautiful –

Delicate they were, in sweetness absolute:

For every gleam and every soft strong curve

Magically compelled the eye, and smote

The heart to weakness. In his hands he swung

A bow – not such as human archers use:

For the string moved and murmured like many bees,

And nameless fragrance made the casual air

A peril. He on Ruru that fair face

Turned, and his steps with lovely gesture chained.

“Who art thou here, in forests wandering,

And thy young exquisite face is solemnised

With pain? Luxuriously the Gods have tortured

Thy heart to see such dreadful glorious beauty

Agonize4 in thy lips and brilliant eyes:

As tyrants in the fierceness of others’ pangs

Joy and feel strong, clothing with brilliant fire,

Tyrants in Titan lands. Needs must her mouth

Have been pure honey and her bosom a charm,

Whom thou desirest seeing not the green

And common lovely sounds hast quite forgot.”

And Ruru, mastered by the God, replied:

“I know thee by thy cruel beauty bright,

Kama, who makest many worlds one fire.

Ah, wherefore wilt thou ask of her to increase

The passion and regret? Thou knowest, great love!

Thy nymph her mother, if thou truly art he

And not a dream of my disastrous soul.”

But with the thrilled eternal smile that makes

The spring, the lover of Rathi golden-limbed

Replied to Ruru, “Mortal, I am he;

I am that Madan who inform the stars

With lustre and on life’s wide canvas fill

Pictures of light and shade, of joy and tears,

Make ordinary moments wonderful

And common speech a charm: knit life to life

With interfusions of opposing souls

And sudden meetings and slow sorceries:

Wing the boy bridegroom to that panting breast,

Smite Gods with mortal faces, dreadfully

Among great beautiful kings and watched by eyes

That burn, force on the virgin’s fainting limbs

And drive her to the one face never seen,

The one breast meant eternally for her.

By me come wedded sweets, by me the wife’s

Busy delight and passionate obedience,

And loving eager service never sated,

And happy lips, and worshipping soft eyes:

And mine the husband’s hungry arms and use

Unwearying of old tender words and ways,

Joy of her hair, and silent pleasure felt

Of nearness to one dear familiar shape.

Nor only these, but many affections bright

And soft glad things cluster around my name.

I plant fraternal tender yearnings, make

The sister’s sweet attractiveness and leap

Of heart towards imperious kindred blood,

And the young mother’s passionate deep look,

Earth’s high similitude of One not earth,

Teach filial heart-beats strong. These are my gifts

For which men praise me, these my glories calm:

But fiercer shafts I can, wild storms blown down

Shaking fixed minds and melting marble natures,

Tears and dumb bitterness and pain unpitied,

Racked thirsting jealousy and kind hearts made stone:

And in undisciplined huge souls I sow

Dire vengeance and impossible cruelties,

Cold lusts that linger and fierce fickleness,

The loves close kin to hate, brute violence

And mad insatiable longings pale,

And passion blind as death and deaf as swords.

O mortal, all deep-souled desires and all

Yearnings immense are mine, so much I can.”

So as he spoke, his face grew wonderful

With vast suggestion, his human-seeming limbs

Brightened with a soft splendour: luminous hints

Of the concealed divinity transpired.

But soon with a slight discontented frown:

“So much I can, as even the great Gods learn.

Only with death I wrestle in vain, until

My passionate godhead all becomes a doubt.

Mortal, I am the light in stars, of flowers

The bloom, the nameless fragrance that pervades

Creation: but behind me, older than me,

He comes with night and cold tremendous shade.

Hard is the way to him, most hard to find,

Harder to tread, for perishable feet

Almost impossible. Yet, O fair youth,

If thou must needs go down, and thou art strong

In passion and in constancy, nor easy

The soul to slay that has survived such grief –

Steel then thyself to venture, armed by Love.

Yet listen first what heavy trade they drive

Who would win back their dead to human arms.”

So much the God; but swift, with eager eyes

And panting bosom and glorious flushed face,

The lover: “O great Love! O beautiful Love!

But if by strength is possible, of body

Or mind, battle of spirit of5 moving speech,

Sweet speech that makes even cruelty grow kind,

Or yearning melody – for I have heard

That when Saruswathi in heaven her harp

Has smitten, the cruel sweetness terrible

Coils taking no denial through the soul,

And tears burst from the hearts of Gods – then I,

Making great music, or with perfect words,

Will strive, or staying him with desperate hands

Match human strength ’gainst formidable Death.

But if with price, ah God! what easier! Tears

Dreadful, innumerable I will absolve,

Or pay with anguish through the centuries,

Soul’s agony and torture physical,

So her small hands about my face at last

I feel, close real hair sting me with life,

And palpable breathing bosom on me press.”

Then with a lenient smile the mighty God:

“O ignorant fond lover, not with tears

Shalt thou persuade immitigable Death.

He will not pity all thy pangs: nor know

His stony eyes with music to grow kind,

Nor lovely words accepts. And how wilt thou

Wrestle with that grim shadow, who canst not save

One bloom from fading? A sole thing the Gods

Demand from all men living, sacrifice:

Nor without this shall any crown be grasped.

Yet many sacrifices are there, oxen,

And prayers, and Soma wine, and pious flowers,

Blood and the fierce expense of mind, and pure

Incense of perfect actions, perfect thoughts,

Or liberality wide as the sun’s,

Or ruthless labour or disastrous tears,

Exile or death or pain more hard than death,

Absence, a desert, from the faces loved;

Even sin may be a sumptuous sacrifice

Acceptable for unholy fruits. But none

Of these the inexorable shadow asks:

Alone of gods Death loves not gifts: he visits

The pure heart as the stained. Lo, the just man

Bowed helpless over his dead, nor all his virtues

Shall quicken that cold bosom: near him the wild

Marred face and passionate and will not leave

Kissing dead lips that shall not chide him more.

Life the pale ghost requires: with half thy life

Thou mayst protract the thread too early cut

Of that delightful spirit – half sweet life.

O Ruru, lo, thy frail precarious days,

And yet how sweet they are! simply to breathe

How warm and sweet! And ordinary things

How exquisite, thou then shalt learn when lost,

How luminous the daylight was, mere sleep

How soft and friendly clasping tired limbs,

And the deliciousness of common food.

And things indifferent thou then shalt want,

Regret rejected beauty, brightnesses

Bestowed in vain. Wilt thou yield up, O lover,

Half thy sweet portion of this light and gladness,

Thy little insufficient share, and vainly

Give to another? She is not thyself:

Thou dost not feel the gladness in her bosom,

Nor with the torture of thy body will she

Throb and cry out: at most with tender looks

And pitiful attempt to feel move near thee,

And weep how far she is from what she loves.

Men live like stars that see each other in heaven,

But one knows not the pleasure and the grief

The others feel: he lonely rapture has,

Or bears his incommunicable pain.

O Ruru, there are many beautiful faces,

But one thyself. Think then how thou shalt mourn

When thou hast shortened joy and feelst at last

The shadow that thou hadst for such sweet store.”

He ceased with a strange doubtful look. But swift

Came back the lover’s voice, like passionate rain.

“O idle words! For what is mere sunlight?

Who would live on into extreme old age,

Burden the impatient world, a weary old man,

And look back on a selfish time ill-spent

Exacting out of prodigal great life

Small separate pleasures like an usurer,

And no rich sacrifice and no large act

Finding oneself in others, nor the sweet

Expense of Nature in her passionate gusts

Of love and giving, first of the soul’s needs?

Who is so coldly wise, and does not feel

How wasted were our grandiose human days

In prudent personal unshared delights?

Why dost thou mock me, friend of all the stars?

How canst thou be love’s god and know not this,

That love burns down the body’s barriers cold

And laughs at difference – playing with it merely

To make joy sweeter? O too deeply I know,

The lover is not different from the loved,

Nor is their silence dumb to each other. He

Contains her heart and feels her body in his,

He flushes with her heat, chills with her cold.

And when she dies, oh! when she dies, oh me,

The emptiness, the maim! the life no life,

The sweet and passionate oneness lost! And if

By shortening of great grief won back, O price

Easy! O glad briefness, aeons may envy!

For we shall live not fearing death, nor feel

As others yearning over the loved at night

When the lamp flickers, sudden chills of dread

Terrible; nor at short absence agonise,

Wrestling with mad imagination. Us

Serenely when the darkening shadow comes,

One common sob shall end and soul clasp soul,

Leaving the body in a long dim kiss.

Then in the joys of heaven we shall consort,

Amid the gladness often touching hands

To make bliss sure; or in the ghastly stream

If we must anguish, yet it shall not part

Our passionate limbs inextricably locked

By one strong agony, but we shall feel

Hell’s pain half joy through sweet companionship.

God Love, I weary of words. O wing me rather

To her, my eloquent princess of the spring,

In whatsoever wintry shores she roam.”

He ceased with eager forward eyes; once more

A light of beauty immortal through the limbs

Gleaming of the boy-god and soft sweet face,

Glorifying him, flushed, and he replied:

“Go then, O thou dear youth, and bear this flower

In thy hand warily. For thou shalt come

To that high meeting of the Ganges pure

With vague and violent Ocean. There arise

And loudly appeal my brother, the wild sea.”

He spoke and stretched out his immortal hand,

And Ruru’s met it. All his young limbs yearned

With dreadful rapture shuddering through them. He

Felt in his fingers subtle uncertain bloom,

A quivering magnificence, half fire,

Whose petals changed like flame, and from them breathed

Dangerous attraction and alarmed delight,

As at a peril near. He raised his eyes,

But the green place was empty of the God.

Only the faery tree looked up at heaven

Through branches, and with recent pleasure shook.

Then over fading earth the night was lord.

But from Shatudru and Bipasha, streams

Once holy, and loved Iravathi and swift

Clear Chandrabhaga and Bitosta’s toil

For man, went Ruru to bright sumptuous lands

By Aryan fathers not yet paced, but wild,

But virgin to our fruitful human toil,

Where nature lay reclined in dumb delight

Alone with woodlands and the voiceless hills.

He with the widening yellow Ganges came,

Amazed, to trackless countries where few tribes,

Kirath and Poundrian, warred, worshipping trees

And the great serpent. But robust wild earth,

But forests with their splendid life of beasts

Savage mastered those strong inhabitants.

Thither came Ruru. In a thin soft eve

Ganges spread far her multitudinous waves,

A glimmering restlessness with voices large,

And from the forests of that half-seen bank

A boat came heaving over it, white-winged,

With a sole silent helmsman marble-pale.

Then Ruru by his side stepped in; they went

Down the mysterious river and beheld

The great banks widen out of sight. The world

Was water and the skies to water plunged.

All night with a dim motion gliding down

He felt the dark against his eyelids; felt,

As in a dream more real than daylight,

The helmsman with his dumb and marble face

Near him and moving wideness all around,

And that continual gliding dimly on,

As one who on a shoreless water sails

For ever to a port he shall not win.

But when the darkness paled, he heard a moan

Of mightier waves and had the wide great sense

Of Ocean and the depths below our feet.

But the boat stopped; the pilot lifted on him

His marble gaze coeval with the stars.

Then in the white-winged boat the boy arose

And saw around him the vast sea all grey

And heaving in the pallid dawning light.

Loud Ruru cried across the murmur: “Hear me,

O inarticulate grey Ocean, hear.

If any cadence in thy infinite

Rumour was caught from lover’s moan, O Sea,

Open thy abysses to my mortal tread.

For I would travel to the despairing shades,

The spheres of suffering where entangled dwell

Souls unreleased and the untimely dead

Who weep remembering. Thither, O guide me,

No despicable wayfarer, but Ruru,

But son of a great Rishi, from all men

On earth selected for peculiar pangs,

Special disaster. Lo, this petalled fire,

How freshly it blooms and lasts with my great pain!”

He held the flower out subtly glimmering.

And like a living thing the huge sea trembled,

Then rose, calling, and filled the sight with waves,

Converging all its giant crests; towards him

Innumerable waters loomed and heaven

Threatened. Horizon on horizon moved

Dreadfully swift; then with a prone wide sound

All Ocean hollowing drew him swiftly in,

Curving with monstrous menace over him.

He down the gulf where the loud waves collapsed

Descending, saw with floating hair arise

The daughters of the sea in pale green light,

A million mystic breasts suddenly bare,

And came beneath the flood and stunned beheld

A mute stupendous march of waters race

To reach some viewless pit beneath the world.

Ganges he saw, as men predestined rush

Upon a fearful doom foreseen, so ran6,

Alarmed, with anguished speed, the river vast.

Veiled to his eyes the triple goddess rose.

She with a sound of waters cried to him,

A thousand voices moaning with one pain:

“Lover, who fearedst not sunlight to leave,

With me thou mayst behold that helpless spirit

Lost in the gloom, if still thy burning bosom

Have courage to endure great Nature’s night

In the dire lands where I, a goddess, mourn

Hurting my heart with my own cruelty.”

She darkened to the ominous descent,

Unwilling, and her once so human waves

Sent forth a cry not meant for living ears.

And Ruru chilled; but terrible strong love

Was like a fiery finger in his breast

Pointing him on; so he through horror went

Conducted by inexorable sound.

For monstrous voices to his ear were close,

And bodiless terrors with their dimness seized him

In an obscurity phantasmal. Thus

With agony of soul to the grey waste

He came, glad of the pain of passage over,

As men who through the storms of anguish strive

Into abiding tranquil dreariness

And draw sad breath assured; to the grey waste,

Hopeless Patala, the immutable

Country, where neither sun nor rain arrives,

Nor happy labour of the human plough

Fruitfully turns the soil, but in vague sands

And indeterminable strange rocks and caverns

That into silent blackness huge recede,

Dwell the great serpent and his hosts, writhed forms,

Sinuous, abhorred, through many horrible leagues

Coiling in a half darkness. Shapes he saw,

And heard the hiss and knew the lambent light

Loathsome, but passed compelling his strong soul.

At last through those six tired hopeless worlds,

Too hopeless far for grief, pale he arrived

Into a nether air by anguish moved,

And heard before him cries that pierced the heart,

Human, not to be borne, and issued shaken

By the great river accursed. Maddened it ran,

Anguished, importunate, and in its waves

The drifting ghosts their agony endured.

There Ruru saw pale faces float of kings

And grandiose victors and revered high priests

And famous women. Now rose from the wave

A golden shuddering arm and now a face.

Torn piteous sides were seen and breasts that quailed.

Over them moaned the penal waters on,

And had no joy of their fierce cruelty.

Then Ruru, his young cheeks with pity wan,

Half moaned: “O miserable race of men,

With violent and passionate souls you come

Foredoomed upon the earth and live brief days

In fear and anguish, catching at stray beams

Of sunlight, little fragrances of flowers;

Then from your spacious earth in a great horror

Descend into this night, and here too soon

Must expiate your few inadequate joys.

O bargain hard! Death helps us not. He leads

Alarmed, all shivering from his chill embrace,

The naked spirit here. Oh7 my sweet flower,

Art thou too whelmed in this fierce wailing flood?

Ah me! But I will haste and deeply plunge

Into its hopeless pools and either bring

Thy old warm beauty back beneath the stars,

Or find thee out and clasp thy tortured bosom

And kiss thy sweet wrung lips and hush thy cries.

Love shall draw half thy pain into my limbs;

Then we shall triumph glad of agony.”

He ceased and one replied close by his ear:

“O thou who troublest with thy living eyes

Established death, pass on. She whom thou seekest

Rolls not in the accursèd tide. For late

I saw her mid those pale inhabitants

Whom bodily anguish visits not, but thoughts

Sorrowful and dumb memories absolve,

And martyrdom of scourged hearts quivering.”

He turned and saw astride the dolorous flood

A mighty bridge paved with mosaic fire,

All restless, and a woman clothed in flame,

With hands calamitous that held a sword,

Stood of the quaking passage sentinel.

Magnificent and dire her burning face.

“Pass on,” she said once more, “O Bhrigu’s son;

The flower protects thee from my hands.” She stretched

One arm towards him and with violence

Majestic over the horrid arch compelled.

Unhurt, though shaking from her touch, alone

He stood upon an inner bank with strange

Black dreary mosses covered and perceived

A dim and level plain without one flower.

Over it paced a multitude immense

With gentle faces occupied by pain;

Strong men were there and grieving mothers, girls

With early beauty in their limbs and young

Sad children of their childlike faces robbed.

Naked they paced with falling hair and gaze

Drooping upon their bosoms, weak as flowers

That die for want of rain unmurmuring.

Always a silence was upon the place.

But Ruru came among them. Suddenly

One felt him there and looked, and as a wind

Moves over a still field of patient corn,

And the ears stir and shudder and look up

And bend innumerably flowing, so

All those dumb spirits stirred and through them passed

One shuddering motion of raised faces; then

They streamed towards him without sound and caught

With desperate hands his robe or touched his hair

Or strove to feel upon them living breath.

Pale girls and quiet children came and knelt

And with large sorrowful eyes into his looked.

Yet with their silent passion the cold hush

Moved not; but Ruru’s human heart half burst

With burden of so many sorrows; tears

Welled from him; he with anguish understood

That terrible and wordless sympathy

Of dead souls for the living. Then he turned

His eyes and scanned their lovely faces strange

For that one face and found it not. He paled,

And spoke vain words into the listless air:

“O spirits once joyous, miserable race,

Happier if the old gladness were forgot!

My soul yearns with your sorrow. Yet ah! reveal

If dwell my love in your sad nation lost.

Well may you know her, O wan beautiful spirits!

But she most beautiful of all that died,

By sweetness recognisable. Her name

The sunshine knew.” Speaking his tears made way:

But they with dumb lips only looked at him,

A vague and empty mourning in their eyes.

He murmured low: “Ah, folly! were she here,

Would she not first have felt me, first have raised

Her lids and run to me, leaned back her face

Of silent sorrow on my breast and looked

With the old altered eyes into my own

And striven to make my anguish understand?

Oh joy, had she been here! for though her lips

Of their old excellent music quite were robbed,

Yet her dumb passion would have spoken to me;

We should have understood each other and walked

Silently hand in hand, almost content.”

He said and passed through those untimely dead.

Speechless they followed him with clinging eyes.

Then to a solemn building weird he came

With grave colossal pillars round. One dome

Roofed the whole brooding edifice, like cloud,

And at the door strange shapes were pacing, armed.

Then from their fear the sweet and mournful dead

Drew back, returning to their wordless grief.

But Ruru to the perilous doorway strode,

And those disastrous shapes upon him raised

Their bows and aimed; but he held out Love’s flower,

And with stern faces checked they let him pass.

He entered and beheld a silent hall

Dim and unbounded; moving then like one

Who up a dismal stair seeks ever light,

Attained a dais brilliant doubtfully

With flaming pediment and round it coiled

Python and Naga monstrous, Joruthcaru,

Tuxuc and Vasuki himself, immense,

Magic Carcotaca all flecked with fire;

And many other prone destroying shapes

Coiled. On the wondrous dais rose a throne,

And he its pedestal whose lotus hood

With ominous beauty crowns his horrible

Sleek folds, great Mahapudma; high displayed

He bears the throne of Death. There sat supreme

With those compassionate and lethal eyes,

Who many names, who many natures holds;

Yama, the strong pure Hades sad and subtle,

Dharma, who keeps the laws of old untouched,

Critanta, who ends all things and at last

Himself shall end. On either side of him

The four-eyed dogs mysterious rested prone,

Watchful, with huge heads on their paws advanced;

And emanations of the godhead dim

Moved near him, shadowy or serpentine,

Vast Time and cold irreparable Death.

Then Ruru came and bowed before the throne;

And swaying all those figures stirred as shapes

Upon a tapestry moved by the wind,

And the sad voice was heard: “What breathing man

Bows at the throne of Hades? By what force,

Spiritual or communicated, troubles

His living beauty the dead grace of Hell?”

And one replied who seemed a neighbouring voice:

“He has the blood of Gods and Titans old.

An Apsara his mother liquid-orbed

Bore to the youthful Chyavan’s strong embrace

This passionate face of earth with Eden touched.

Chyavan was Bhrigu’s child, Puloma bore,

The Titaness,– Bhrigu, great Brahma’s son.

Love gave the flower that helps by anguish; therefore

He chilled not with the breath of Hades, nor

The cry of the infernal stream made stone.”

But at the name of Love all hell was moved.

Death’s throne half faded into twilight; hissed

The phantoms serpentine as if in pain,

And the dogs raised their dreadful heads. Then spoke

Yama: “And what needs Love in this pale realm,

The warm great Love? All worlds his breath confounds,

Mars solemn order and old steadfastness.

But not in Hell his legates come and go;

His vernal jurisdiction to bare Hell

Extends not. This last world resists his power

Youthful, anarchic. Here will he enlarge

Tumult and wanton joys?” The voice replied:

“Menaca momentary on the earth,

Heaven’s Apsara by the fleeting hours beguiled

Played in the happy hidden glens; there bowed

To yoke of swift terrestrial joys she bore,

Immortal, to that fair Gundhurva king

A mortal blossom of delight. That bloom

Young Ruru found and plucked, but her too soon

Thy fatal hooded snake on earth surprised,

And he through gloom now travels armed by Love.”

But then all Hades swaying towards him cried:

“O mortal, O misled! But sacrifice

Is stronger, nor may law of Hell or Heaven

Its fierce effectual action supersede.

Thy dead I yield. Yet thou bethink thee, mortal,

Not as a tedious evil nor to be

Lightly rejected gave the gods old age,

But tranquil, but august, but making easy

The steep ascent to God. Therefore must Time

Still batter down the glory and form of youth

And animal magnificent strong ease,

To warn the earthward man that he is spirit

Dallying with transience, nor by death he ends,

Nor to the dumb warm mother’s arms is bound,

But called unborn into the unborn skies.

For body fades with the increasing soul

And wideness of its limit grown intolerant

Replaces life’s impetuous joys by peace.

Youth, manhood, ripeness, age, four seasons

Twixt its return and pale departing life

Describes, O mortal,– youth that forward bends

Midst hopes, delights and dreamings; manhood deepens

To passions, toils and thoughts profound; but ripeness

For large reflective gathering-up of these,

As on a lonely slope whence men look back

Down towards the cities and the human fields

Where they too worked and laughed and loved; next age,

Wonderful age with those approaching skies.

That boon wilt thou renounce? Wherefore? To bring

For a few years – how miserably few! –

Her sunward who must after all return.

Ah, son of Rishis, cease. Lo, I remit

Hell’s grasp, not oft-relinquished, and send back

Thy beautiful life unborrowed to the stars.

Or thou must render to the immutable

Total all thy fruit-bearing years; then she

Reblossoms.” But the Shadow antagonist:

“Let him be shown the glory he would renounce.”

And over the flaming pediment there moved,

As on a frieze a march of sculptures, carved

By Phidias for the Virgin strong and pure,

Most perfect once of all things seen in earth

Or Heaven, in Athens on the Acropolis,

But now dismembered, now disrupt! or as

In Buddhist cavern or Orissan temple,

Large aspirations architectural,

Warrior and dancing-girl, adept and king,

And conquering pomps and daily peaceful groups

Dream delicately on, softening with beauty

Great Bhuvanayshwar, the Almighty’s house,

With sculptural suggestion so were limned

Scenes future on a pediment of fire.

There Ruru saw himself divine with age,

A Rishi to whom infinity is close,

Rejoicing in some green song-haunted glade

Or boundless mountain-top where most we feel

Wideness, not by small happy things disturbed.

Around him, as around an ancient tree

Its seedlings, forms august or flame-like rose;

They grew beneath his hands and were his work;

Great kings were there whom time remembers, fertile

Deep minds and poets with their chanting lips

Whose words were seed of vast philosophies –

These worshipped; above this earth’s half-day he saw

Amazed the dawn of that mysterious Face

And all the universe in beauty merge.

Mad the boy thrilled upwards, then spent ebbed back.

Over his mind, as birds across the sky

Sweep and are gone, the vision of those fields

And drooping faces came; almost he heard

The burdened river with human anguish wail.

Then with a sudden fury gathering

His soul he hurled out of it half its life,

And fell, like lightning, prone. Triumphant rose

The Shadow chill and deepened giant night.

Only the dais flickered in the gloom,

And those snake-eyes of cruel fire subdued.

But suddenly a bloom, a fragrance. Hell

Shuddered with bliss: resentful, overborne,

The world-besetting Terror faded back

Like one grown weak by desperate victory,

And a voice cried in Ruru’s tired soul:

“Arise! the strife is over, easy now

The horror that thou hast to face, the burden

Now shared.” And with a sudden burst like spring

Life woke in the strong lover over-tired8.

He rose and left dim Death. Twelve times he crossed

Boithorini, the river dolorous,

Twelve times resisted Hell and hurried down

Into the ominous pit where plunges black

The vast stream thundering, saw, led puissantly

From night to unimaginable night,–

As men oppressed in dreams, who cannot wake,

But measure penal visions,– punishments

Whose sight pollutes, unheard-of tortures, pangs

Monstrous, intolerable mute agonies,

Twisted unmoving attitudes of pain,

Like thoughts inhuman in statuary. A fierce

And iron voicelessness had grasped those worlds.

No horror of cries expressed their endless pain9,

No saving struggle, no breathings of the soul.

And in the last hell irremediable

Where Ganges clots into that fatal pool,

Appalled he saw her; pallid, listless, bare –

O other than that earthly warmth and grace

In which the happy roses deepened and dimmed

With come-and-go of swift enamoured blood!

Dumb drooped she; round her shapes of anger armed

Stood dark like thunder-clouds. But Ruru sprang

Upon them, burning with the admitted God.

They from his touch like ineffectual fears

Vanished; then sole with her, trembling he cried

The old glad name and crying bent to her

And touched, and at the touch the silent knots

Of Hell were broken and its sombre dream

Of dreadful stately pains at once dispersed.

Then as from one whom a surpassing joy

Has conquered, all the bright surrounding world

Streams swiftly into distance, and he feels

His daily senses slipping from his grasp,

So that unbearable enormous world

Went rolling mighty shades, like the wet mist

From men on mountain-tops; and sleep outstretched

Rising its soft arms towards him and his thoughts,

As on a bed, sank to ascending void.

But when he woke, he heard the koïl insist

On sweetness and the voice of happy things

Content with sunlight. The warm sense was round him

Of old essential earth, known hues and custom

Familiar tranquillising body and mind,

As in its natural wave a lotus feels.

He looked and saw all grass and dense green trees,

And sunshine and a single grasshopper

Near him repeated fierily its note.

Thrilling he felt beneath his bosom her;

Oh, warm and breathing were those rescued limbs

Against the greenness, vivid, palpable, white,

With great black hair and real and her cheek’s

Old softness and her mouth a dewy rose.

For many moments comforting his soul

With all her jasmine body sun-ensnared

He fed his longing eyes and, half in doubt,

With touches satisfied himself of her.

Hesitating he kissed her eyelids. Sighing

With a slight sob she woke and earthly large

Her eyes looked upward into his. She stretched

Her arms up, yearning, and their souls embraced;

Then twixt brief sobbing laughter and blissful tears,

Clinging with all her limbs to him, “O love,

The green green world! the warm sunlight!” and ceased,

Finding no words; but the earth breathed round them,

Glad of her children, and the koïl’s voice

Persisted in the morning of the world.


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: forest


2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: uswutth-tree


3 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: uswutth-tree


4 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Agonise


5 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: or


6 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: run


7 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: O


8 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: over-tried


9 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: woe