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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Youth of Buddha
By Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)
 
From ‘The Light of Asia’

THIS reverence
Lord Buddha kept to all his schoolmasters,
Albeit beyond their learning taught; in speech
Right gentle, yet so wise; princely of mien,
Yet softly mannered; modest, deferent,        5
And tender-hearted, though of fearless blood:
No bolder horseman in the youthful band
E’er rode in gay chase of the shy gazelles;
No keener driver of the chariot
In mimic contest scoured the palace courts:        10
Yet in mid-play the boy would oft-times pause,
Letting the deer pass free; would oft-times yield
His half-won race because the laboring steeds
Fetched painful breath; or if his princely mates
Saddened to lose, or if some wistful dream        15
Swept o’er his thoughts. And ever with the years
Waxed this compassionateness of our Lord,
Even as a great tree grows from two soft leaves
To spread its shade afar; but hardly yet
Knew the young child of sorrow, pain, or tears,        20
Save as strange names for things not felt by kings,
Nor ever to be felt. But it befell
In the royal garden on a day of spring,
A flock of wild swans passed, voyaging north
To their nest-places on Himála’s breast.        25
Calling in love-notes down their snowy line
The bright birds flew, by fond love piloted;
And Devadatta, cousin of the Prince,
Pointed his bow, and loosed a willful shaft
Which found the wide wing of the foremost swan        30
Broad-spread to glide upon the free blue road,
So that it fell, the bitter arrow fixed,
Bright scarlet blood-gouts staining the pure plumes.
Which seeing, Prince Siddârtha took the bird
Tenderly up, rested it in his lap,—        35
Sitting with knees crossed, as Lord Buddha sits,—
And, soothing with a touch the wild thing’s fright,
Composed its ruffled vans, calmed its quick heart,
Caressed it into peace with light kind palms
As soft as plantain leaves an hour unrolled;        40
And while the left hand held, the right hand drew
The cruel steel forth from the wound, and laid
Cool leaves and healing honey on the smart.
Yet all so little knew the boy of pain,
That curiously into his wrist he pressed        45
The arrow’s barb, and winced to feel it sting,
And turned with tears to soothe his bird again.
Then some one came who said, “My Prince hath shot
A swan, which fell among the roses here;
He bids me pray you send it. Will you send?”        50
“Nay,” quoth Siddârtha: “If the bird were dead,
To send it to the slayer might be well,
But the swan lives; my cousin hath but killed
The godlike speed which throbbed in this white wing.”
And Devadatta answered, “The wild thing,        55
Living or dead, is his who fetched it down;
’Twas no man’s in the clouds, but fallen ’tis mine.
Give me my prize, fair cousin.” Then our Lord
Laid the swan’s neck beside his own smooth cheek
And gravely spake:—“Say no! the bird is mine,        60
The first of myriad things which shall be mine
By right of mercy and love’s lordliness.
For now I know, by what within me stirs,
That I shall teach compassion unto men
And be a speechless world’s interpreter,        65
Abating this accursed flood of woe,
Not man’s alone; but if the Prince disputes,
Let him submit this matter to the wise
And we will wait their word.” So was it done;
In full divan the business had debate,        70
And many thought this thing and many that,
Till there arose an unknown priest who said,
“If life be aught, the savior of a life
Owns more the living thing than he can own
Who sought to slay; the slayer spoils and wastes,        75
The cherisher sustains: give him the bird.”
Which judgment all found just; but when the King
Sought out the sage for honor, he was gone;
And some one saw a hooded snake glide forth.
The gods come oft-times thus! So our Lord Buddha        80
Began his works of mercy.

                        Yet not more
Knew he as yet of grief than that one bird’s,
Which, being healed, went joyous to its kind.
But on another day the King said, “Come,
Sweet son! and see the pleasaunce of the spring,        85
And how the fruitful earth is wooed to yield
Its riches to the reaper; how my realm—
Which shall be thine when the pile flames for me—
Feeds all its mouths and keeps the King’s chest filled.
Fair is the season with new leaves, bright blooms,        90
Green grass, and cries of plow-time.” So they rode
Into a land of wells and gardens, where,
All up and down the rich red loam, the steers
Strained their strong shoulders in the creaking yoke,
Dragging the plows; the fat soil rose and rolled        95
In smooth dark waves back from the plow; who drove
Planted both feet upon the leaping share
To make the furrow deep; among the palms
The tinkle of the rippling water rang,
And where it ran the glad earth ’broidered it        100
With balsams and the spears of lemon-grass.
Elsewhere were sowers who went forth to sow;
And all the jungle laughed with nesting-songs,
And all the thickets rustled with small life
Of lizard, bee, beetle, and creeping things,        105
Pleased at the springtime. In the mango-sprays
The sunbirds flashed; alone at his green forge
Toiled the loud coppersmith; bee-eaters hawked,
Chasing the purple butterflies; beneath,
Striped squirrels raced, the mynas perked and picked,        110
The nine brown sisters chattered in the thorn,
The pied fish-tiger hung above the pool,
The egrets stalked among the buffaloes,
The kites sailed circles in the golden air;
About the painted temple peacocks flew,        115
The blue doves cooed from every well, far off
The village drums beat for some marriage feast;
All things spoke peace and plenty, and the Prince
Saw and rejoiced. But, looking deep, he saw
The thorns which grow upon this rose of life:        120
How the swart peasant sweated for his wage,
Toiling for leave to live; and how he urged
The great-eyed oxen through the flaming hours,
Goading their velvet flanks: then marked he, too,
How lizard fed on ant, and snake on him,        125
And kite on both; and how the fish-hawk robbed
The fish-tiger of that which it had seized;
The shrike chasing the bulbul, which did chase
The jeweled butterflies; till everywhere
Each slew a slayer and in turn was slain,        130
Life living upon death. So the fair show
Veiled one vast, savage, grim conspiracy
Of mutual murder, from the worm to man,
Who himself kills his fellow; seeing which—
The hungry plowman and his laboring kine,        135
Their dewlaps blistered with the bitter yoke,
The rage to live which makes all living strife—
The Prince Siddârtha sighed. “Is this,” he said,
“That happy earth they brought me forth to see?
How salt with sweat the peasant’s bread! how hard        140
The oxen’s service! in the brake how fierce
The war of weak and strong! i’ th’ air what plots!
No refuge e’en in water. Go aside
A space, and let me muse on what ye show.”
So saying, the good Lord Buddha seated him        145
Under a jambu-tree, with ankles crossed,
As holy statues sit, and first began
To meditate this deep disease of life,
What its far source and whence its remedy.
So vast a pity filled him, such wide love        150
For living things, such passion to heal pain,
That by their stress his princely spirit passed
To ecstasy, and, purged from mortal taint
Of sense and self, the boy attained thereat
Dhyâna, first step of “the Path.”        155
 
 
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