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Sri Aurobindo

Collected Poems

SABCL - Volume 5

III. Longer Poems

The Tale of Nala

A Fragment Based on the Mahabharata

Nala, Nishadha’s king, paced by a stream

Which ran escaping from solitudes1

To flow through gardens in a pleasant land.

Murmuring it came of the green souls of hills

And of the lawns2 and hamlets it had seen,

The brown-limbed peasants toiling in the sun,

And the tired bullocks in the thirsty fields.

In its bright talk and laughter it recalled

The moonlight and the lapping dangerous tongues,

The sunlight and the skimming wings of birds,

And gurgling jars, and bright bathed limbs of girls

At morning, and its noons and lonely eves.

This memory to the jasmine trees it sang

Which dropped their slow white-petalled kisses down

Upon its haste of curling waves. Far off

A mountain rose, alone and purple vague,

Wide-watching from its large stone-lidded eye

The drowsy noontide earth; vastly outspread

Like Vindhya changed, against the height of heaven

It stood. And on the deep-blue nearness limned3

Its shoulder in a mighty indolence

Reclined for giant rest the Titan paused.

The birds were voiceless on the unruffled boughs,

The spotted lizard in a dull-eyed ease4

Basked on his sentinel stone, a single kite

Circled above; white-headed over rust

Of brown and gold he stained the azure5 noon.

Solitary in the spaces of his mind

Among these sights and sounds King Nala paced

Oblivious of the joy of world and kind6.

Shrill and dissatisfied the wanderer’s cry

Came to his ear; he saw with absent eye7

The rapid waters in their ripple run

Nor marked the ruddy sprouting of the leaves,

Nor heard the dove’s rare cooing on8 the trees.

His thoughts were with a face his dreams had seen

Diviner than the jasmine’s moon-flaked glow;

He listened to a name his dreams had known9

Sweeter than passion of the crooning bird.

The10 delicate syllables yearning through his mind

Repeated longingly their11 soft-wreathed call,

As if some far-off bright forgotten queen

From whom his heart had wandered through the world

Were summoning back to her her truant thrall,

Luring it12 with the music of her name,

Some sovereign magic face of amber pearled13,

Some spirit embodied in a moon-gold flame.

But now a14 look on him he seemed to feel.

The summit self-uplifted to the sky

Mounting the air in act to climb and join

Heaven’s sapphire longing with earth’s green unease

Drew his far gaze, which scanned15 as for a thought

The undecipherable charactery

Of mingled rocks and woods16; but all was lost

In too much light. Dull glared the giant stones;

The woods, fallen sleepy on their mountain couch,

Had nestled in a17 coverlet of haze.

Like dim-seen shapes of virgins stoled in blue

Huddling close-limbed the slumberers lay18.

Then from some covert bosom’s shrouded riches

A revelation came; for like a gleam

Of beauty from some19 purple-guarded breast

A passionate glint of lovely whiteness stole20

Fluttering awhile, then fast towards him fled21

Seeking his vision; and its glowing race

Splintered the sapphire with a22 silvery hue,

And soon23 a flame-bright flock of swans was seen

Flying like one and breasting with its shock

Of faery speed the vastness of the noon.

Not only with an argent flashing ran

The brilliant cohort on its skiey path,

But shaking from its wild24 wings a hail of gold.

Heaven’s lustrous tunic of transparent air

Regretted the bright ornament as they passed.

They flew not like the snowy cranes, a25 wreath26

Of flowers driven in the rain-tide’s27 breath,

When thunder calls them northward, but came fast

Ranked in magnificent and lovely lines

Cleaving the air with splendour. All28 the pride

And rushing glory of their bosoms and wings

Assailed his eyes with silver and with flame.

Over the Nishadhan gardens flying round

They came down whirring softly. Filling29 awhile

With gentle clamour from their liquid throats

The region, they30 disturbed with dipping plumes

The turquoise slumber of the motionless lake

Lulled to unrippling rest by windless noon.

A hundred marvellous31 shapes in mystic crowd

Covered the water like a living robe.

Now32 on the stream were33 spread their glorious breasts.

Each close-ranked by her sweet companion’s side

Floating they came and preened above the flood

Their long and stately necks like curving flowers.

The water petted with enamoured waves

Their bosoms and the slow air swooned along

Their wings, their motion set a wordless chant

To flow against the chidings of the stream.

A song from heaven was that gliding grace34

And hard to speak their beauty, what silver mass

On mass, what flakes and peacock eyes of gold,

What passion of crimson flecked each pure white breast!

It seemed to his charmed sense that in this form

The loveliness of a diviner world

Had come to him winged. Their beauty to tender greed

Moved him of all that living silver and gold.


“For now thy heaven-born pride must learn to range

My gardens of the earth and haunt my streams,

And to my call consent. If thou resist

I will imprison thee in a golden cage

And bind thy beauty with a silver chain.”

A laughter beautiful arose from her

Thrilling her throat with bubbling ecstasies,

Sweet, satisfied because he praised her grace.

And with mysterious mild deep-glowing eyes

In long and softly wreathing syllables

The wonder spoke: “Release me, for no birds

Are we, O mortal, but the moon-bosomed nymphs

Who to the trance-heard music of the gods

Sway in the mystic dances of the sky,

Apsaras, daughters of the tumbling seas.

Shaped by thy fancy is my white-winged form.”

But Nala to his bright prisoner swan replied:

“And now35 thou choosest36 thyself by all thy words,

My divine captive and white-bosomed slave,37

Bird of desire or goddess luminous-limbed

To satisfy my pride and my delight

Thou38 stoopst to me from unattainable heavens.

Thou shalt possess my streams, O white-winged swan,

And dance, O Apsara singing in my halls.

Between the illumined pillars thou shalt glide

When flute and breathing lyre and timbrel call,

Adorning with thy golden rhythmic limbs

The crystalline mosaic of my floors.

What I have seized by force, by force I keep.”

Her eyes now smiled on him; against his bosom39

She laid in all its tender curving grace

The long white wonder of her neck upraised

In suppliant wreaths and flattering his cheek40

With her soft gleaming head sweetly she cried:41

“Because thou art bright and beautiful and bold,

So have I come to thee and thou hast seized

Whom if thou hadst set free, thy joy were lost,

So in42 thy mind from some celestial space

A name and face have come, yet are on earth,

Which if thou hadst not held with yearning’s stays,

Thy mortal life would have been given in vain.

Forced by thy musing in the sapphire noon

Out of the mountain’s breast to thee I flew.43



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: from the solitudes


2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: towns


3 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: leaned


4 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: dull unease


5 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: purple


6 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: outward things


7 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: eyes


8 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: in


9 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: learned


10 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Its


11 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: the


12 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: him


13 In 2009 ed. this line and the next one are absent


14 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: soon some


15 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: conned


16 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: rocks and mingled woods


17 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: their


18 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2:

In huddled grace sleeping close-limbed they lay.


Together clasped in a huddled grace

Sleeping close-limbed the mystic slumberers lay.


19 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: a


20 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2:

One lovely glint of passionate whiteness broke.


21 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: towards him soon it fled


22 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: its


23 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: now


24 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: from wild


25 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: like


26 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: wreaths


27 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: rain-wind’s


28 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: while


29 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: then filled


30 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: and


31 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: wonderful


32 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Next


33 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: they


34 In 2009 ed. this line is absent


35 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: more


36 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: doomst


37 In 2009 ed. this line is placed after the line:

To satisfy my pride and my delight


38 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: Who


39 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: submissively


40 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: against his bosom and pressed


41 In 2009 ed. instead this line there are these two lines:

Flatteringly her silver head upon his cheek

And with her soft alluring voice replied:


42 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: to


43 In 2009 ed. after this line there are four lines:

Unknowing, a heavenly envoy to her heart

That was thy own by glad necessity

Before its beatings in her breast began.

All are the links of one miraculous chain.”