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.”