Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Jogadhya Uma
By Toru Dutt (1856–1877)
“SHELL bracelets, ho! Shell bracelets, ho!
  Fair maids and matrons, come and buy!”
Along the road, in morning’s glow,
  The peddler raised his wonted cry.
The road ran straight, a red, red line,        5
  To Khigoram, for cream renowned,
Through pasture meadows where the kine,
  In knee-deep grass, stood magic bound
And half awake, involved in mist
  That floated in dun coils profound,        10
Till by the sudden sunbeams kist,
  Rich rainbow hues broke all around.
“Shell bracelets, ho! Shell bracelets, ho!”
  The roadside trees still dripped with dew
And hung their blossoms like a show.        15
  Who heard the cry? ’Twas but a few;
A ragged herd-boy, here and there,
  With his long stick and naked feet;
A plowman wending to his care,
  The field from which he hopes the wheat;        20
An early traveler, hurrying fast
  To the next town; an urchin slow
Bound for the school; these heard and passed,
  Unheeding all,—“Shell bracelets, ho!”
Pellucid spread a lake-like tank        25
  Beside the road now lonelier still;
High on three sides arose the bank
  Which fruit-trees shadowed at their will;
Upon the fourth side was the ghat,
  With its broad stairs of marble white,        30
And at the entrance arch there sat,
  Full face against the morning light,
A fair young woman with large eyes,
  And dark hair falling to her zone;
She heard the peddler’s cry arise,        35
  And eager seemed his ware to own.
“Shell bracelets, ho! See, maiden, see!
  The rich enamel, sunbeam-kist!
Happy, oh happy, shalt thou be,
  Let them but clasp that slender wrist;        40
These bracelets are a mighty charm;
  They keep a lover ever true,
And widowhood avert, and harm.
  Buy them, and thou shalt never rue.
Just try them on!”—She stretched her hand.        45
  “Oh, what a nice and lovely fit!
No fairer hand in all the land,
  And lo! the bracelet matches it.”
Dazzled, the peddler on her gazed,
  Till came the shadow of a fear,        50
While she the bracelet-arm upraised
  Against the sun to view more clear.
Oh, she was lovely! but her look
  Had something of a high command
That filled with awe. Aside she shook        55
  Intruding curls, by breezes fanned,
And blown across her brows and face,
  And asked the price; which when she heard
She nodded, and with quiet grace
  For payment to her home referred.        60
“And where, O maiden, is thy house?
  But no,—that wrist-ring has a tongue;
No maiden art thou, but a spouse,
  Happy, and rich, and fair, and young.”
“Far otherwise; my lord is poor,        65
  And him at home thou shalt not find;
Ask for my father; at the door
  Knock loudly; he is deaf, but kind.
Seest thou that lofty gilded spire,
  Above these tufts of foliage green?        70
That is our place; its point of fire
  Will guide thee o’er the tract between.”
“That is the temple spire.”—“Yes, there
  We live; my father is the priest;
The manse is near, a building fair,        75
  But lowly to the temple’s east.
When thou hast knocked, and seen him, say,
  His daughter, at Dhamaser Ghat,
Shell bracelets bought from thee to-day,
  And he must pay so much for that.        80
Be sure, he will not let thee pass
  Without the value, and a meal.
If he demur, or cry alas!
  No money hath he,—then reveal;
“Within the small box, marked with streaks        85
  Of bright vermilion, by the shrine,
The key whereof has lain for weeks
  Untouched, he’ll find some coin,—’tis mine.
That will enable him to pay
  The bracelet’s price. Now fare thee well!”        90
She spoke; the peddler went away,
  Charmed with her voice as by some spell;
While she, left lonely there, prepared
  To plunge into the water pure,
And like a rose, her beauty bared,        95
  From all observance quite secure.
Not weak she seemed, nor delicate;
  Strong was each limb of flexile grace,
And full the bust; the mien elate,
  Like hers, the goddess of the chase        100
On Latmos hill,—and oh the face
  Framed in its cloud of floating hair!
No painter’s hand might hope to trace
  The beauty and the glory there!
Well might the peddler look with awe,        105
  For though her eyes were soft, a ray
Lit them at times, which kings who saw
  Would never dare to disobey.
Onward through groves the peddler sped,
  Till full in front, the sunlit spire        110
Arose before him. Paths which led
  To gardens trim, in gay attire,
Lay all around. And lo! the manse,
  Humble but neat, with open door!
He paused, and blessed the lucky chance        115
  That brought his bark to such a shore.
Huge straw-ricks, log huts full of grain,
  Sleek cattle, flowers, a tinkling bell,
Spoke in a language sweet and plain,
  “Here smiling Peace and Plenty dwell.”        120
Unconsciously he raised his cry,
  “Shell-bracelets, ho!” And at his voice
Looked out the priest, with eager eye,
  And made his heart at once rejoice.
“Ho, Sankha peddler! Pass not by,        125
  But step thou in, and share the food
Just offered on our altar high,
  If thou art in a hungry mood.
Welcome are all to this repast!
  The rich and poor, the high and low!        130
Come, wash thy feet, and break thy fast;
  Then on thy journey strengthened go.”
“Oh, thanks, good priest! Observance due
  And greetings! May thy name be blest!
I came on business, but I knew,        135
  Here might be had both food and rest
Without a charge; for all the poor
  Ten miles around thy sacred shrine
Know that thou keepest open door,
  And praise that generous hand of thine.        140
But let my errand first be told:
  For bracelets sold to thine this day,
So much thou owest me in gold;
  Hast thou the ready cash to pay?
“The bracelets were enameled,—so        145
  The price is high.”—“How! Sold to mine?
Who bought them, I should like to know?”
  “Thy daughter, with the large black eyne,
Now bathing at the marble ghat.”
  Loud laughed the priest at this reply,        150
“I shall not put up, friend, with that;
  No daughter in the world have I;
An only son is all my stay;
  Some minx has played a trick, no doubt:
But cheer up, let thy heart be gay,        155
  Be sure that I shall find her out.”
“Nay, nay, good father! such a face
  Could not deceive, I must aver;
At all events, she knows thy place,
  ‘And if my father should demur        160
To pay thee,’—thus she said,—‘or cry
  He has no money, tell him straight
The box vermilion-streaked to try,
  That’s near the shrine.’”—“Well, wait, friend, wait!”
The priest said, thoughtful; and he ran        165
  And with the open box came back:—
“Here is the price exact, my man,—
  No surplus over, and no lack.
“How strange! how strange! Oh, blest art thou
  To have beheld her, touched her hand,        170
Before whom Vishnu’s self must bow,
  And Brahma and his heavenly band!
Here have I worshiped her for years,
  And never seen the vision bright;
Vigils and fasts and secret tears        175
  Have almost quenched my outward sight;
And yet that dazzling form and face
  I have not seen, and thou, dear friend,
To thee, unsought-for, comes the grace:
  What may its purport be, and end?        180
“How strange! How strange! Oh, happy thou!
  And couldst thou ask no other boon
Than thy poor bracelet’s price? That brow
  Resplendent as the autumn moon
Must have bewildered thee, I trow,        185
  And made thee lose thy senses all.”
A dim light on the peddler now
  Began to dawn; and he let fall
His bracelet-basket in his haste,
  And backward ran, the way he came:        190
What meant the vision fair and chaste;
  Whose eyes were they,—those eyes of flame?
Swift ran the peddler as a hind;
  The old priest followed on his trace;
They reached the ghat, but could not find        195
  The lady of the noble face.
The birds were silent in the wood;
  The lotus flowers exhaled a smell,
Faint, over all the solitude;
  A heron as a sentinel        200
Stood by the bank. They called,—in vain;
  No answer came from hill or fell;
The landscape lay in slumber’s chain;
  E’en Echo slept within her shell.
Broad sunshine, yet a hush profound!        205
  They turned with saddened hearts to go;
Then from afar there came a sound
  Of silver bells;—the priest said low,
“O Mother, Mother, deign to hear.
  The worship-hour has rung; we wait        210
In meek humility and fear.
  Must we return home desolate?
Oh come, as late thou cam’st unsought,
  Or was it but some idle dream?
Give us some sign, if it was not;        215
  A word, a breath, or passing gleam.”
Sudden from out the water sprung
  A rounded arm, on which they saw
As high the lotus buds among
  It rose, the bracelet white, with awe.        220
Then a wide ripple tost and swung
  The blossoms on that liquid plain,
And lo! the arm so fair and young
  Sank in the waters down again.
They bowed before the mystic Power,        225
  And as they home returned in thought,
Each took from thence a lotus flower
  In memory of the day and spot.
Years, centuries, have passed away,
  And still before the temple shrine        230
Descendants of the peddler pay
  Shell-bracelets of the old design
As annual tribute. Much they own
  In lands and gold,—but they confess
From that eventful day alone        235
  Dawned on their industry, success.
Absurd may be the tale I tell,
  Ill-suited to the marching times;
I loved the lips from which it fell,
  So let it stand among my rhymes.        240

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