Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
India: Ganges, the River
A Romance of the Ganges
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
SEVEN maidens ’neath the midnight
  Stand near the river-sea,
Whose water sweepeth white around
  The shadow of the tree.
The moon and earth are face to face,        5
  And earth is slumbering deep;
The wave-voice seems the voice of dreams
  That wander through her sleep.
                The river floweth on.
What bring they ’neath the midnight,        10
  Beside the river-sea?
They bring the human heart wherein
  No nightly calm can be,—
That droppeth never with the wind,
  Nor drieth with the dew:        15
O, calm it, God! Thy calm is broad
  To cover spirits, too.
                The river floweth on.
The maidens lean them over
  The waters, side by side,        20
And shun each other’s deepening eyes,
  And gaze adown the tide:
For each within a little boat
  A little lamp hath put,
And heaped for freight some lily’s weight        25
  Or scarlet rose half shut.
                The river floweth on.
Of a shell of cocoa carven,
  Each little boat is made:
Each carries a lamp, and carries a flower,        30
  And carries a hope unsaid.
And when the boat hath carried the lamp
  Unquenched, till out of sight,
The maidens are sure that love will endure,—
  But love will fail with light.        35
                The river floweth on.
Why, all the stars are ready
  To symbolize the soul,
The stars untroubled by the wind,
  Unwearied as they roll;        40
And yet the soul by instinct sad
  Reverts to symbols low,—
To that small flame whose very name,
  Breathed o’er it, shakes it so!
                The river floweth on.        45
Six boats are on the river,
  Seven maidens on the shore,
While still above them steadfastly
  The stars shine evermore.
Go, little boats, go soft and safe,        50
  And guard the symbol spark!
The boats aright go safe and bright
  Across the waters dark.
                The river floweth on.
The maiden Luti watcheth        55
  Where onwardly they float.
That look in her dilating eyes
  Might seem to drive her boat;
Her eyes still mark the constant fire,
  And kindling unawares        60
That hopeful while she lets a smile
  Creep silent through her prayers.
                The river floweth on.
The smile,—where hath it wandered?
  She riseth from her knee,        65
She holds her dark, wet locks away,—
  There is no light to see!
She cries a quick and bitter cry,
  “Nuleeni, launch me thine!
We must have light abroad to-night,        70
  For all the wreck of mine.”
                The river floweth on.
“I do remember watching
  Beside this river-bed,
When on my childish knee was laid        75
  My dying father’s head.
I turned mine own, to keep the tears
  From falling on his face,—
What doth it prove when death and love
  Choose out the selfsame place?”        80
                The river floweth on.
“They say the dead are joyful
  The death-change here receiving.
Who say,—all me! who dare to say
  Where joy comes to the living?        85
Thy boat, Nuleeni! look not sad,—
  Light up the waters rather!
I weep no faithless lover where
  I wept a loving father.”
                The river floweth on.        90
“My heart foretold his falsehood
  Ere my little boat grew dim:
And though I closed mine eyes to dream
  That one last dream of him,
They shall not now be wet to see        95
  The shining vision go:
From earth’s cold love I look above
  To the holy house of snow.”
                The river floweth on.
“Come thou,—thou never knewest        100
  A grief, that thou shouldst fear one!
Thou wearest still the happy look
  That shines beneath a dear one!
Thy humming-bird is in the sun,
  Thy cuckoo in the grove,        105
And all the three broad worlds, for thee
  Are full of wandering love.”
                The river floweth on.
“Why, maiden, dost thou loiter?
  What secret wouldst thou cover?        110
That peepul cannot hide thy boat,
  And I can guess thy lover:
I heard thee sob his name in sleep,—
  It was a name I knew,—
Come, little maid, be not afraid,        115
  But let us prove him true!”
                The river floweth on.
The little maiden cometh,
  She cometh shy and slow;
I ween she seeth through her lids,        120
  They drop adown so low:
Her tresses meet her small bare feet,—
  She stands and speaketh naught,
Yet blusheth red, as if she said
  The name she only thought.        125
                The river floweth on.
She knelt beside the water,
  She lighted up the flame,
And o’er her youthful forehead’s calm
  The fitful radiance came:        130
“Go, little boat, go, soft and safe,
  And guard the symbol spark!”
Soft, safe, doth float the little boat
  Across the waters dark.
                The river floweth on.        135
Glad tears her eyes have blinded;
  The light they cannot reach:
She turneth with that sudden smile
  She learnt before her speech,—
“I do not hear his voice! the tears        140
  Have dimmed my light away!
But the symbol light will last to-night,
  The love will last for aye.”
                The river floweth on.
Then Luti spake behind her,—        145
  Outspake she bitterly:
“By the symbol light that lasts to-night,
  Wilt vow a vow to me?”
Nuleeni gazeth up her face,—
  Soft answer maketh she:        150
“By loves that last when lights are past,
  I vow that vow to thee!”
                The river floweth on.
An earthly look had Luti
  Though her voice was deep as prayer,—        155
“The rice is gathered from the plains
  To cast upon thine hair;
But when he comes, his marriage-band
  Around thy neck to throw,
Thy bride-smile raise to meet his gaze,        160
And whisper,—There is one betrays,
  When Luti suffers woe.”
                The river floweth on.
“And when in seasons after,
  Thy little bright-faced son        165
Shall kneel against thy knee and ask
  What deeds his sire hath done,
Press deeper down thy mother-smile
  His glossy curls among,—
View deep his pretty childish eyes,        170
And whisper,—There is none denies,
  When Luti speaks of wrong.”
                The river floweth on.
Nuleeni looked in wonder
  Yet softly answered she,—        175
“By loves that last when lights are past,
  I vowed that vow to thee.
But why glads it thee that a bride-day be
  By a word of woe defiled?
That a word of wrong take the cradle-song        180
  From the ear of a sinless child?”
  “Why,” Luti said, and her laugh was dread,
  And her eyes dilated wild,—
“That the fair new love may her bridegroom prove,
  And the father shame the child.”        185
                The river floweth on.
“Thou flowest still, O river,
  Thou flowest ’neath the moon,—
Thy lily hath not changed a leaf.
  Thy charméd lute a tune!        190
He mixed his voice with thine,—and his
  Was all I heard around;
But now, beside his chosen bride,
  I hear the river’s sound.”
                The river floweth on.        195
“I gaze upon her beauty
  Through the tresses that enwreathe it:
The light above thy wave is hers,—
  My rest, alone beneath it.
O, give me back the dying look        200
  My father gave thy water!
Give back! and let a little love
  O’erwatch his weary daughter!”
                The river floweth on.
“Give back!” she hath departed,—        205
  The word is wandering with her,
And the stricken maidens hear afar
  The step and cry together.
Frail symbols? None are frail enow
  For mortal joys to borrow!        210
While bright doth float Nuleeni’s boat,
  She weepeth, dark with sorrow.
                The river floweth on.

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