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Sri Aurobindo

Collected Poems

SABCL - Volume 5

III. Longer Poems

Khaled of the Sea

An Arabic1 Romance

An early work, conceived in twelve cantos with a Prologue and Epilogue, found unrevised and incomplete.

Alnuman and the Peri

Canto 1
The Story of Alnuman and the Emir

Canto 2
The Companions of Alnuman 1

Canto 3
The Companions of Alnuman 2

Canto 4
The Companions of Alnuman 3

Canto 5
The First Quest of the Sapphire Crown

Canto 6
The Quest of the Golden Snake

Canto 7
The Quest of the Marble Queen

Canto 8
The Quest of the Snowbird

Canto 9
The Second Quest of the Sapphire Crown

Canto 10
The Journey of the Green Oasis

Canto 11
The Journey of the Irremeable Ocean

Canto 12
The Journey of the Land without Pity

The Arabian and the Caliph.


Alnuman and the Peri

In Bagdad by Euphrates, Asia’s river,

Euphrates that through deserts must deliver

The voices which of human daybreaks are

Into the dim mysterious surge afar,

The Arabian dwelt; after long travel he

Regions deserted, wastes of silent sea,

Wide Ocean ignorant of ships and lands

Never made glad by toil of mortal hands,

For he had seen the Indian mountains bare

Save of hard snow and the unbreathed huge air

And swum through giant waters and had heard

In those unhuman forests beast and bird,

The peacock’s cry and tiger’s hoarse appeal

Calling to God for prey, marked the vast wheel

Of monstrous birds shadowing whole countries; he

From Singhal through the long infinity

Of southern floods had steered his shuddering ship

Where unknown winds their lonely tumult keep

And he had lived with strong and pitiless men,

Nations unhumanised2 by joy and pain,

And he had tasted grain not sown by man

And drunk strange milk in weird Mazinderan.

Silent he was, as one whom thoughts attend,

Distant whom stiller hearts than ours befriend

He lived with memories only; no sweet voice

Made the mute echoes of his life rejoice;

No lovely face of children brought the dawn

Into his home; but silent, calm, withdrawn,

He watched the ways of men with godlike eyes

Released from trammelling affinities,3

Yet was he young and many women strove

Vainly to win his marble mind to love.

One day when wind had fled to the cool north

And the strong earth was blind with summer, forth

The Arabian rode from great Bagdad and turned

Into the desert. All around him burned

The imprisoned spirit of fire; above his head

The sky was like a tyranny outspread,

The sun a fire in those heavens, and fire

The sands beneath; the air burning desire

And breathless, a plumb weight of flame; yet rode

The Arabian unfeeling like a god.

Three hours he rode and now no more was seen

Bagdad, the imperial city, nor aught green,

But the illimitable sands around

Extend, a silent world waiting for sound,

When in the distance he descried a grace

Of motion beautiful in that dead place.

Wondering he turned, but suddenly the horse

Pricked up his slender ears, swerved from the course

And pawing stood the unwilling air, nor heard

The guiding voice nor the familiar word.

Whinnying with wrath he smote the desert sand

And mocked the rein and raged at the command.

Then raised the man his face and saw above

No cloud with the stark face of heaven strove,

A single blaze of light from pole to pole.

Smiling the Arabian spoke unto his soul.

“Here too then are you strong, O influences

That trouble the earth and air and the strong seas!

Therefore I will not stay your gathering wings

Who watch me from the air, you living things,

But go to find whatever peril or wonder

Wait me of life above the earth or under.

Strange will it be if quiet Bagdad yield

More terror or more sweetness than in field

Has stayed me yet or in untravelled flood

Or mountain or the tiger-throated wood.”

So saying he grasped the strong and shaken mane

And set swift footing on that4 fiery plain.

At once the beast as if by sorcery

Strangely compelled, calmed his impetuous eye:

His angry tremor ceased and bounding wrath

Following unbidden in the Arabian’s path.

But he with silent toil the sands untried

Vanquishing through that luminous world and wide

Went a slow shadow, till his feet untired

The fruit of all his labour long acquired.

Before a mile complete he was aware

Of a strange shape of beauty sitting there

On a sole boulder in the level wild,

Maiden, a marvellous bloom, a naked child;

All like a lily from her leaves escaped

The golden summer kissed her close and wrapped

In soft revealing sunshine,– a sweet bareness,

A creature made of flowers and choicest fairness;

And all her limbs were like a luminous dream,

So wonderfully white they burn and gleam,

Her shoulder ivory richly bathed in gold,

Her sides a snowy wonder to behold,

Marble made amorous; her body fair

Seemed one with the divine, translucent air,

A light within the light, a glorious treasure,

A thing to hold, to press5, to slay with pleasure.

The6 girl was not alone, but with her watched

Two shapes of beauty and of terror hatched,

A strong, fierce snake, round her sweet middle twined,

A tigress at her lovely feet reclined.

Dreaming on those tremendous sands she waited

And often with that splendour miscreated

Played thoughtfully; about her wondrous knees

Binding the brilliant death or would increase

The whiteness of her limbs with its fierce hues

Or twine it in her tresses flowing loose.

Below that other restless evil played,

The fierce, sleek terror on the sands outspread.

First of the wonderful three rose with a bound

Waking the desert from its sleep with sound

The tigress, but the Arabian strode more near

As one who had forgotten how to fear

And frowning like a god with kingly look

He threatened the preparing death and shook

His javelin in the sun. Back crouched the fiend

Amazed nor could the steely light attend

Nor that unconquerable glance; yet lowered

To find her dreadful violence overpowered

By any smaller thing than death; and he

Heeded no more crouched limb nor stealthy eye.

He on that flowerlike shape a moment gazed

As one by strange felicity amazed,

Who, long grown sorrow’s friend his whole life grieves,

Blest beyond expectation, scarce believes

That joy is in his heart, so gazed, so laid

At last upon the white and gleaming maid

The question of his hands. O soft and real

The nakedness he grasped, no marble ideal

Born of the blazing light and infinite air,

A breathing woman with lovely limbs and bare.

Then with a strong melodious voice he cried

And all his cheek was flushed with kingly7 pride.

“Thou then art mine, after long labour mine,

O earthly body and O soul divine,

After long labour and thy sounding home

Hast left and caverns where thy sisters roam,

O dweller where the austral tempest raves!

O daughter of the wild and beautiful waves!

O8 breasts of beauty! O shoulder! my delight!9

O luminously near! O woman white!10

At length I grasp thee11 then and snared at length

The ivory swiftness of thy feet and strength

Of this immortal body shaped for kings,

O memory of sweet and dreadful things!

Ah, welcome to the streets that human tread

Makes musical and joy of human bread

Broken between dry hands and to the sight

Of the untroubled narrow rivers, light

Of lamps and warmth of kindled fires and man.

Fairer shall be thy feet on greensward than

On ocean rocks and O! more bright thy beauty

For human passion and for womanly duty

And softer in my bosom shalt thou sleep

Than lulled by the sublime and monstrous deep.

Much have I laboured; the resplendent face

Of summer I have hated, as the days

Went by and no delightful brook was found

Sprinkling with earth’s cool love the ruthless ground,

And in my throat there was a desert’s thirst

And on my tongue a fire: I have cursed

The spring and all its flowers; the wrathful cry

Of the wild waters and their cruelty

I have endured, labouring with sail and oar

Through the mad tempest for some human shore

And fought with winds and seen vast Hell aflame

Down in the nether flood till I became

Blind with the sight of those abysmal graves

And deaf with the eternal sound of waves

And all my heart was broken alone to be

Day after day with the unending sea.

And much on land I have laboured without moan

Or weakening tears making my heart a stone.

But thou art come and I shall hear no more

By inexorable rocks the Ocean roar,

Nor pine in dungeons far from pity or aid.

But in far other prison, seaborn maid,

Thy limbs shall minister to my delight

Even as an ordinary woman’s might

And I shall hear thy voice around my heart

Like a cool rivulet and shall not start

To see thee ivory gleaming and all night

Shall feel thee in my arms, O darling white –

With after-joys that spring from these; the face

Of childish loveliness shall light my days,

About my doors the feet of children tread

And little heads with jonquils garlanded,

That often to sweetness win war-hardened eyes

And hearts grown iron their soft masteries

Compel and the light touch of little hands

Bend sworded fingers to their sweet commands.

O bright felicity, labour’s dear end,

Into my arms, into my heart descend.”

So as he spoke, the silent desert air

Lived with his gladness, and the maiden there

Listened with downcast lids and a soft flush

Upon her like the coming of a blush.

But when he finished and the air was mute,

She laughed with happy lips most like a flute

Or voice of cuckoo in an Indian grove

Waking the heart to vague delightful love.

And with divine eyes gleaming where strange mirth

A smiling mischief was, the living girth

Of her delicious waist she suddenly

Unbound and by the middle lifting high

Betwixt them shook. Hissed the fierce snake and raised

Its jewelled hood for spotted radiance praised,

Its jewelled hood to the dread leap intended12;

Sad limit of noble life, had that descended.

Since short were his13 breath and evil, who that pang

Experienced; but before the serpent sprang,

Wrathful, the Arabian seized the glittering neck

And twines of bronze burning with many a fleck

Of coloured fire. His angry grasp to quell

Vainly the formidable folds rebel:

Not all that gordian force and slippery strength

Of coils availed. Inanimate at length

The immense destroyer on the Arabian’s wrist

Hung in a ruin loose; and to resist

The14 wrath of love none now might intervene,

Nor she deny him. Yet with tranquil mien

Smiling she sat and swept with noble gesture

Her hair back that had fallen a purple investure

Over her glowing grace. Strong arms he cast

Around her naked loveliness and fast

Showered kisses on her limbs whose marble white

Grew woman with a soft and rosy light

In each kissed place. “Deemedst thou then,” he cried,

“Bright fugitive, lovely wanderer with the tide,

By shaking death before death-practised eyes

My crown to wrest of strenuous enterprise,

Thyself, thyself and beauty? O too sweet

To touch our hard earth with thy faultless feet!

Yet on hard earth must dwell. For with the ground

Thy dreadful guardians who have fenced thee round

Are equalled, and thyself, sweet, though thou shame

The winds with swiftness or like mounting flame

Strive all thy days in my imprisoning arms

Couldst burn thyself no exit. With alarms

Menace and shapes of death; call on the flood

For thy deliverance on these sands to intrude

And lead thee to its jealous waters rude;

But hands that have flung back the swallowing sea

Shall stay and chastise and habituate thee

To yield sweet service due, being my slave15

Bought with hard pains from the reluctant wave,

With pain ineffable bought and deep despair

And passion of impracticable care.”

So saying he seized his lovely prize and grasping

Her fair soft arm in one hand, the other clasping

Her smooth desirèd thighs, from that rude seat,

The grey sun-blistered boulder most unmeet

To bear her snow-white radiance, lifted. She

As to his horse he bore her mightily,

A little strove in his strong arms, but round

Her lithe, reluctant limbs closer he bound

His despot hands and on the saddle set,

Never with such sweet rider burdened yet.

Then to his seat he sprang and musical

His cry in that vast silence, wherewithal

He urged his horse, which delicately went

Arching its neck with joy and proud content.

Great were the Arabian’s labours; many seas

He had passed and borne impossible miseries

And battled with impracticable ills

O’er uncrossed rivers and forbidden hills,

Till nature fainted. Yet too little was this

To merit all the heaven now made his.

For she, earth’s wonder, hard to grasp as fire,

She whom all ocean’s secret depths admire,

Laid her delicious cheek to his and flung

Sweet, bare arms on his neck and round him clung:

Her snowy side was of his being a part;

Her naked breast burdened his throbbing heart,

And all her hair streamed over him and the whiteness

Of her was in his eyes and her soft brightness

A joy beneath his hands to his embrace

And he was clothed with her as in a dress.

Round them the strong recovered coils were rolled

Of the great snake and with imperious fold

Compelled their limbs together, and by their side

Pacing the tigress checked her dangerous stride.

So rode they like a vision. All the time

She murmured accents as of linkčd rhyme

Musical, in a language like the sea,

Accents of undulating melody.

For sometimes it was like a happy noon

Murmuring with waves and sometimes like the swoon

Of calm, a silence heard, or rich by noise

Of rivers pouring with their seaward voice

And leaping laughters and sometimes was wild

And passionate as the sobbing of a child.

But often it was like the cold salt spray

On a health-reddened cheek and glad with day

And life and sad with the far-moaning call

Of wind upon the waters funeral.

Not on the lips of man might fashioned be

A language of such wild variety.

Now of that magic tongue no separate word

Was of Alnuman understood or16 heard,

And yet he knew that of the caves she spoke

Where never earthly light of sunshine woke,

And of unfathomed things beneath the floods

And peopled depths and Ocean solitudes

And mighty creatures of the main and light

Of jewels making a subluminous night

Lower than even the dead may sink; and walls

Of coral and in what majestic halls

The naked sea-born sisters link their dance;

How sometimes on the shores their white limbs glance

In the mysterious moonlight; how they come

To river banks far from their secret home;

And last she spoke of mighty Love that reaches

Resistless arms beyond the long sea-beaches

And mocks the barriers of the storm, and how

Pearls unattainable a human brow

Have decked and man, the child of misery,

Been mated with the sisters of the sea.

So on she murmured like a ceaseless song

Making the weary sands a rapture; long

The patient desert round them waits; nor soon

The sun toiled through the endless afternoon:

But they paced always like a marvellous dream,

And dreamlike in the eyes of man might seem

Such magic vision (had human eyes been found

In the sole desert void of sign or bound),–

The horse that feared its dread companion not,

The kingly man with brow of reaching thought

And danger-hardened strength; fair as the morn,

The radiant girl upon his saddle borne,

Naked, a vision not of earth; the fell

Serpent that twined about them, terrible

With burning hues, and the fierce tigress there

Following with noiseless step the godlike pair.

Nor when to Bagdad and its street17 they came,

Did any eye behold. Only a name

Was in the ears of the grim warders. Straight

Like engines blind of some overmastering18 fate

They rose, the mighty bolts they drew; loud jarred

The doors unhearing with deaf iron barred

And groaned upon their road; then backward swung

Whirling and kissed again with clamorous tongue;

Nor in the streets was any step of man,

Before loud wheels no swift torchbearers ran

Setting the night on fire; bright and rare

The garlanded high-shuttered windows, where

Men revelled and sound into the shadows cast:

All else was night and silence where they passed.

So is the beautiful sea-stranger gone

To her new home, who now no more must run

Upon the bounding waves, nor feel the sun.

On wind-blown limbs, destined a mortal’s bride.

So is the strong Arabian deified

In bliss. Moreover from the wondrous night

When with those small beloved feet grew bright

His lonely house, wealth like a sea swept through

Its doors and as a dwelling of gods it grew

In beauty and in brightness. All that thrives

Costly or fragrant upon earth or lives

Of riches in the hoarding ocean lost

And all bright things with gold or gems embossed

By Indian or by Syrian art refined

And all rich cloths and silks with jewels lined

Regal Bokhara weaves or Samarcand,

Increased and gathered to Alnuman’s hand

And girls of glorious limb and feature he

Bought for his slaves, of rose and ivory,

Sweet Persians with the honey-hiding mouth

And passionate Arab girls and strong-limbed youth

Of Tartar maidens for his harem doors.

For now not vainly the fair child implores

Of Shaikh or of Emir his love for boon,

But with high marriage-rites some prosperous moon

At last has brought into the marble pride

Of that great house for envy edified.

So in Bagdad the Arabian dwelt nor seemed

Other his life than theirs who never dreamed

Beyond earth’s ken, nor made in sun and breeze

Their spirits great with shock of the strong seas,

Nor fortified their hearts with pains sublime

Nor wrestled with the bounds of space and time.

Like common men he lived to whom the ray

Of a new sun but brings another day

Unmeaning, who in their own selves confined

Know not the grandeur which the mightier mind

Inherits when it makes the destinies rude

The chisel by which its marble mass and crude

With God’s or hero’s likeness is indued.

Yet this was also rumoured that within

The sheath of that calm life he sojourned in

An edge of flaming rapture was, that things

Beyond all transitory imaginings

Came to him secret and vast pleasures more

Than frail humanity had dared to feel before.

Since too much joy man’s heart can hardly bear

And all too weak man’s narrow senses were

For raptures that eternal spirits attain

In sensuous heavens ignorant of pain.

Yet even such raptures mortal man’s could be

Wed with the child of the unbounded sea.

Canto I

The Story of Almaimun19 and the Emir’s Daughter

Now in great Bagdad of the Abbasside

The wanderer rests, to peace at last allied,

Whom storm so long had tossed to storm, and grace

Of love dwelt with him and the nobleness

Of hearts made golden by felicity,

Which is earth’s preferable alchemy.

The20 other is from pain the metal wrought,

Anguish and wrestling in the coils of thought.

These strengthen, these the mind as marble hard

Make and as marble pure, which has not feared

To scourge itself with insight; but the stress

Of joy heightened to self-forgetfulness

Is sweeter and to sweeter uses tends.

With such felicity were crowned the friends

And lovers of Almaimun and increase

In the glad strength that grows from boundless peace.

And each as to her orb the sunflower burns

His spirit to his spirit’s image turns.

Such puissance great well-poisèd natures prove

To mould to their own likeness all they love.

But where is she who lit his doubtful morn,

Whose sweet imagined shape each hour new-born

Brightened but to illumine, kindled each

Stray look with godhead and her daily speech

A far ethereal music made, for whom

He sought the wild waves and the peopled gloom

Of the unseen? Must only she make moan?

She in the crowded chambers is alone

And closes eyes kept dry by anguished pride

To wake in tears that hardly will be dried.

Happy the heart and more than earthly blest

That for those hands was meant where ’tis possessed

That to no alien house at the end has come

But winging goes as to its natural home.

The evening bird with no more simple flight

Reaches its one unfailing nest at night.

The heart which Fate not always here perverse

With the one possible home out of an universe,

Makes simply happy there secure shall dwell,

Feeling that to be there is only well

And equal happy whether queenly chair

Her portion or she kneel loose-girdled there

And serve him as a slave. Alike ’tis heaven,

Rule or obedience to the one heart given.

So did not bright Zuleikha deem when she

The temple was of his idolatry.

Impatient of divine subjection, all

Love’s wealth was to her grace imperial

Purple and diadems and earth’s noblest gift

But vantage her disdainful pride to lift.

She was an Emir’s daughter and her sire

Clothed her in jewels and sublime attire,

From silver dishes fed and emerald

And in a world of delicate air installed

So that her nature with these costly things

Being burdened raised in vain its heavenward wings.

From Koraish and the Abbasside he drew

His stern extraction. Yet what brighter grew

About his formidable name accursed

Was a white fire of riches and the thirst

Of poor men gazing with a bitter stealth

On that impossibility of wealth.

“Abdullah, the Emir”, so men would say

Drawing their rags about them, “has display

Of gold and silver and the sunlight fades

At noon in his wide treasury and the shades

Of midnight are more luminous there than birth

Of day upon the ordinary earth.

He has rich garments, would the naked clothe

From Bagdad to the sea, were he not loth;

The leavings of his menials far exceed

In Khorassan the labourer’s sharpened need,

And since by thee this fair display was planned,

O God, yet from the beggar’s outstretched hand

He guards his boundless trust ignobly well,

Just Lord, display to him the fires of Hell.”

And here another pressing from his eye

His children’s pining looks, made sad reply:

“Richer his wealth than widest chambers hold,

Not in the weary heaps of ingots told

Entirely, nor the cloths Damascus yields,

Nor what the seas give up, nor what the fields.

He gathers ever with exhaustless hands:

His camels heave across the endless sands.

Through Balkh when to Caboul or Candahar

The wains go groaning or the evening star

Watches the pomp of the wide caravan

Intend to provinces Arabian,

Half is Abdullah the Emir’s: and he

Gets spices of the south and porphyry;

His are the Chinese silks, the Indian work

Saved hardly from the horsehooves of the Turk;

From Balsora the ships that o’er the bar

Reel into Ocean’s grasp, Abdullah’s are;

Yemen’s far ports are with his ventures full;

Muscat transmits him horses, arms and wool.

The desert rider hopes no richer prize

To handle than Abdullah’s merchandize;

With joy the Malayan sea-robber hails

His argosy and for his western sails

The Moorish pirates all the horizon scan

Upon the far Mediterranean.

Yet though his losses make the desert great

And Ocean a new treasury create

From his sole rapine, yet untouched endure

His riches by that vast expenditure.

He takes but to increase his piles of gold,

He gives but to recover hundredfold.

Thereby the poor increase. Wherefore I trust,

When Azrael shall smite his limbs to dust

And he upon that dolorous bridge is led

Which, lord and peasant, all must one day tread,

The bitter sword that spans the nether hell,

He may be evened with the infidel.”

And one might answer mid these wretched men

Who quiet was from constancy to pain:

“Curse him not either lest the Kazi find

And God loose not the chains that he shall bind.”

For he indeed was mighty in the town,

A man acceptable in his renown.

The Mullahs to his will interpreted

Their books and the law’s lightning from his head

Glanced on the rash accuser; for his word

Was Hédoya before the Kazi heard.

But whence the fountain of his wealth might flow

Well did the sad and toiling peasant know.

For he as governor in Khorassan

Had held the balance betwixt man and man

And justified his rule benevolent

By rape and torture for their own good meant,

The fallen roof-tree and the broken door

And rents wrung from the miserable poor.

And now hemmed in with lustrous things and proud,

Each day a pomp, each night with music loud,

He blazed, however his eye a darkness cast

And pleasure by his sense external passed.

Yet joy he had over his gathered gold

And in that one sweet maiden joy untold.

Daughter of Noureddin the Barmecide

Was she who bore this brightness, but when died

Jaafar and all his house fell like a tower

Loosened in the mutation of an hour,

Abdullah found his foe an outlawed man,

Proscribed, a heretic and Persian

And slew him with the sword juridical

Between his golden house and Allah’s wall.



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: Arabian


2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: unhumanized


3 Large as from commerce with infinities,


4 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: the


5 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: kiss


6 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: This


7 royal


8 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Ah


9 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Ah delicious shoulder!


10 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Leading from bliss to bliss the hands that hold her,


11 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: you


12 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: distended


13 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: short his


14 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: His


15 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2:

To service due.” He said and with the words

The power in his soul increased, as birds

With sounds encourage love and like great waves

Exulting, rose against the breasts he craves,

So he engrossed the lovely limbs. Then grasping


16 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: nor


17 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: streets


18 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: o’ermastering


19 Name changed from “Alnuman” to “Almaimun” in MS. on this page


20 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: For