Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
India: Delhi
The Funeral of Arvalan
Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
(From The Curse of Kehama)

            MIDNIGHT, and yet no eye
    Through all the Imperial City closed in sleep!
            Behold her streets ablaze
    With light that seems to kindle the red sky,
  Her myriads swarming through the crowded ways!        5
      Master and slave, old age and infancy,
              All, all abroad to gaze;
              House-top and balcony
  Clustered with women, who throw back their veils
        With unimpeded and insatiate sight        10
    To view the funeral pomp which passes by,
              As if the mournful rite
  Were but to them a scene of joyance and delight.
 
      Vainly, ye blessed twinklers of the night,
              Your feeble beams ye shed,        15
Quenched in the unnatural light which might outstare
              Even the broad eye of day;
            And thou from thy celestial way
          Pourest, O moon, an ineffectual ray!
      For lo! ten thousand torches flame and flare        20
                Upon the midnight air,
            Blotting the lights of heaven
              With one portentous glare.
        Behold the fragrant smoke in many a fold
          Ascending, floats along the fiery sky,        25
            And hangeth visible on high,
              A dark and waving canopy.
 
      Hark! ’t is the funeral trumpet’s breath!
              ’T is the dirge of death!
        At once ten thousand drums begin,        30
    With one long thunder-peal the ear assailing;
        Ten thousand voices then join in,
        And with one deep and general din
            Pour their wild wailing.
          The song of praise is drowned        35
            Amid the deafening sound;
          You hear no more the trumpet’s tone,
        You hear no more the mourner’s moan,
Though the trumpet’s breath and the dirge of death
    Swell with commingled force the funeral yell.        40
        But rising over all in one acclaim
      Is heard the echoed and re-echoed name,
            From all that countless rout;
                Arvalan! Arvalan!
                Arvalan! Arvalan!        45
  Ten times ten thousand voices in one shout
        Call Arvalan! The overpowering sound
      From house to house repeated rings about,
          From tower to tower rolls round.
 
        The death-procession moves along;        50
    Their bald heads shining to the torches’ ray,
          The Brahmins lead the way,
            Chanting the funeral song.
          And now at once they shout,
                Arvalan! Arvalan!        55
          With quick rebound of sound,
              All in accordant cry,
                Arvalan! Arvalan!
          The universal multitude reply.
      In vain ye thunder on his ear the name;        60
            Would ye awake the dead?
        Borne upright in his palankeen,
              There Arvalan is seen!
        A glow is on his face,—a lively red;
            It is the crimson canopy        65
Which o’er his cheek a reddening shade hath shed;
        He moves,—he nods his head,—
    But the motion comes from the bearers’ tread,
        As the body, borne aloft in state,
  Sways with the impulse of its own dead weight.        70
 
    Close following his dead son, Kehama came,
          Nor joining in the ritual song,
            Nor calling the dear name;
        With head deprest and funeral vest,
        And arms enfolded on his breast,        75
    Silent, and lost in thought he moves along.
    King of the world, his slaves unenvying now
  Behold their wretched Lord; rejoiced they see
          The mighty Rajah’s misery;
  That Nature in his pride hath dealt the blow,        80
  And taught the Master of Mankind to know
Even he himself is man, and not exempt from woe.
 
      O sight of grief! the wives of Arvalan,
      Young Azla, young Nealliny, are seen!
            Their widow-robes of white,        85
            With gold and jewels bright,
            Each like an Eastern queen.
        Woe! woe! around their palankeen,
              As on a bridal day,
        With symphony and dance and song,        90
      Their kindred and their friends come on.
      The dance of sacrifice! the funeral song!
      And next the victim slaves in long array
        Richly bedight to grace the fatal day,
            Move onward to their death;        95
            The clarions’ stirring breath
    Lifts their thin robes in every flowing fold,
            And swells the woven gold,
              That on the agitated air
      Flutters and glitters to the torch’s glare.        100
 
    A man and maid of aspect wan and wild,
Then, side by side, by bowmen guarded, came;
      O wretched father! O unhappy child!
Them were all eyes of all the throng exploring,—
              Is this the daring man        105
        Who raised his fatal hand at Arvalan?
        Is this the wretch condemned to feel
            Kehama’s dreadful wrath?
  Then were all hearts of all the throng deploring;
      For not in that innumerable throng        110
Was one who loved the dead; for who could know
            What aggravated wrong
        Provoked the desperate blow!
 
    Far, far behind, beyond all reach of sight,
    In ordered files the torches flow along,        115
    One ever-lengthening line of gliding light;
            Far—far behind,
    Rolls on the undistinguishable clamor,
      Of horn and trump and tambour;
          Incessant as the roar        120
Of streams which down the wintry mountain pour,
      And louder than the dread commotion
        Of breakers on a rocky shore,
      When the winds rage over the waves,
        And ocean to the tempest raves.        125
 
      And now toward the bank they go,
      Where winding on their way below,
      Deep and strong the waters flow.
      Here doth the funeral pile appear,
    With myrrh and ambergris bestrewed,        130
      And built of precious sandalwood.
  They cease their music and their outcry here,
          Gently they rest the bier;
        They wet the face of Arvalan,
  No sign of life the sprinkled drops excite;        135
    They feel his breast,—no motion there;
        They feel his lips,—no breath;
  For not with feeble nor with erring hand
  The brave avenger dealt the blow of death.
  Then with a doubling peal and deeper blast        140
The tambours and the trumpets sound on high,
        And with a last and loudest cry
            They call on Arvalan.
 
 
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