Poetry Corner – The Last Suttee

Udai Chand lay sick to death
In his hold by Gungra hill.
All night we heard the death-gongs ring
For the soul of the dying Rajpoot King,
All night beat up from the women’s wing
A cry that we could not still.

All night the barons came and went,
The lords of the outer guard:
All night the cressets glimmered pale
On Ulwar sabre and Tonk jezail,
Mewar headstall and Marwar mail,
That clinked in the palace yard.

In the Golden room on the palace roof
All night he fought for air:
And there was sobbing behind the screen,
Rustle and whisper of women unseen,
And the hungry eyes of the Boondi Queen
On the death she might not share.

He passed at dawn — the death-fire leaped
From ridge to river-head,
From the Malwa plains to the Abu scars:
And wail upon wail went up to the stars
Behind the grim zenana-bars,
When they knew that the King was dead.

The dumb priest knelt to tie his mouth
And robe him for the pyre.
The Boondi Queen beneath us cried:
“See, now, that we die as our mothers died
In the bridal-bed by our master’s side!
Out, women! — to the fire!”

We drove the great gates home apace:
White hands were on the sill:
But ere the rush of the unseen feet
Had reached the turn to the open street,
The bars shot down, the guard-drum beat —
We held the dovecot still.

A face looked down in the gathering day,
And laughing spoke from the wall:
“Oh, they mourn here: let me by —
Azizun, the Lucknow nautch-girl, I!
When the house is rotten, the rats must fly,
And I seek another thrall.

“For I ruled the King as ne’er did Queen, —
To-night the Queens rule me!
Guard them safely, but let me go,
Or ever they pay the debt they owe
In scourge and torture!” She leaped below,
And the grim guard watched her flee.

They knew that the King had spent his soul
On a North-bred dancing-girl:
That he prayed to a flat-nosed Lucknow god,
And kissed the ground where her feet had trod,
And doomed to death at her drunken nod,
And swore by her lightest curl.

We bore the King to his fathers’ place,
Where the tombs of the Sun-born stand:
Where the gray apes swing, and the peacocks preen
On fretted pillar and jewelled screen,
And the wild boar couch in the house of the Queen
On the drift of the desert sand.

The herald read his titles forth,
We set the logs aglow:
“Friend of the English, free from fear,
Baron of Luni to Jeysulmeer,
Lord of the Desert of Bikaneer,
King of the Jungle, — go!”

All night the red flame stabbed the sky
With wavering wind-tossed spears:
And out of a shattered temple crept
A woman who veiled her head and wept,
And called on the King — but the great King slept,
And turned not for her tears.

Small thought had he to mark the strife —
Cold fear with hot desire —
When thrice she leaped from the leaping flame,
And thrice she beat her breast for shame,
And thrice like a wounded dove she came
And moaned about the fire.

One watched, a bow-shot from the blaze,
The silent streets between,
Who had stood by the King in sport and fray,
To blade in ambush or boar at bay,
And he was a baron old and gray,
And kin to the Boondi Queen.

He said: “O shameless, put aside
The veil upon thy brow!
Who held the King and all his land
To the wanton will of a harlot’s hand!
Will the white ash rise from the blistered brand?
Stoop down, and call him now!”

Then she: “By the faith of my tarnished soul,
All things I did not well,
I had hoped to clear ere the fire died,
And lay me down by my master’s side
To rule in Heaven his only bride,
While the others howl in Hell.

“But I have felt the fire’s breath,
And hard it is to die!
Yet if I may pray a Rajpoot lord
To sully the steel of a Thakur’s sword
With base-born blood of a trade abhorred,” —
And the Thakur answered, “Ay.”

He drew and struck: the straight blade drank
The life beneath the breast.
“I had looked for the Queen to face the flame,
But the harlot dies for the Rajpoot dame —
Sister of mine, pass, free from shame,
Pass with thy King to rest!”

The black log crashed above the white:
The little flames and lean,
Red as slaughter and blue as steel,
That whistled and fluttered from head to heel,
Leaped up anew, for they found their meal
On the heart of — the Boondi Queen!

–Rudyard Kipling

Music Monday – Make Ye No Truce With Kings

Here is nothing new nor aught unproven,” say the Trumpets,
“Many feet have worn it and the road is old indeed.
“It is the King–the King we schooled aforetime! “
(Trumpets in the marshes-in the eyot at Runnymede!)

“Here is neither haste, nor hate, nor anger,” peal the Trumpets,
“Pardon for his penitence or pity for his fall.
“It is the King!”–inexorable Trumpets–
(Trumpets round the scaffold af the dawning by Whitehall!)

“He hath veiled the Crown And hid the Scepter,” warn the Trumpets,
“He hath changed the fashion of the lies that cloak his will.
“Hard die the Kings–ah hard–dooms hard!” declare the Trumpets,
Trumpets at the gang-plank where the brawling troop-decks fill!

Ancient and Unteachable, abide–abide the Trumpets!
Once again the Trumpets, for the shuddering ground-swell brings 
Clamour over ocean of the harsh, pursuing Trumpets–
Trumpets of the Vanguard that have sworn no truce with Kings! 

All we have of freedom, all we use or know–
This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.

Ancient Right unnoticed as the breath we draw–
Leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the Law.

Lance and torch and tumult, steel and grey-goose wing
Wrenched it, inch and ell and all, slowly from the king.

Till our fathers ‘stablished,, after bloody years, 
How our King is one with us, first among his peers. 

So they bought us freedom-not at little cost– 
Wherefore must we watch the King, lest our gain be lost.

Over all things certain, this is sure indeed,
Suffer not the old King: for we know the breed.

Give no ear to bondsmen bidding us endure.
Whining “He is weak and far”; crying “Time will cure.”

(Time himself is witness, till the battle joins,
Deeper strikes the rottenness in the people’s loins.)

Give no heed to bondsmen masking war with peace.
Suffer not the old King here or overseas.

They that beg us barter–wait his yielding mood–
Pledge the years we hold in trust-pawn our brother’s blood–

Howso’ great their clamour, whatsoe’er their claim,
Suffer not the old King under any name!

Here is naught unproven–here is naught to learn.
It is written what shall fall if the King return.

He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,
Set his guards about us, as in Freedom’s name.

He shall take a tribute, toll of all our ware;
He shall change our gold for arms–arms we may not bear.

He shall break his Judges if they cross his word;
He shall rule above the Law calling on the Lord.

He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring
Watchers ‘neath our window, lest we mock the King —

Hate and all division; hosts of hurrying spies;
Money poured in secret, carrion breeding flies.

Strangers of his counsel, hirelings of his pay,
These shall deal our Justice: sell-deny-delay.

We shall drink dishonour, we shall eat abuse
For the Land we look to–for the Tongue we use.

We shall take our station, dirt beneath his feet,
While his hired captains jeer us in the street.

Cruel in the shadow, crafty in the sun,
Far beyond his borders shall his teachings run.

Sloven, sullen, savage, secret, uncontrolled,
Laying on a new land evil of the old–

Long-forgotten bondage, dwarfing heart and brain–
All our fathers died to loose he shall bind again.

Here is nought at venture, random nor untrue
Swings the wheel full-circle, brims the cup anew.

Here is naught unproven, here is nothing hid:
Step for step and word for word–so the old Kings did!

Step by step, and word by word: who is ruled may read.
Suffer not the old Kings: for we know the breed–

All the right they promise–all the wrong they bring.
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King! 

The Old Issue

Poetry Corner – The Only Son

She dropped the bar, she shot the bolt, she fed the fire anew
For she heard a whimper under the sill and a great grey paw came through.
The fresh flame comforted the hut and shone on the roof-beam,
And the Only Son lay down again and dreamed that he dreamed a dream.
The last ash fell from the withered log with the click of a falling spark,
And the Only Son woke up again, and called across the dark:–
“Now was I born of womankind and laid in a mother’s breast?
For I have dreamed of a shaggy hide whereon I went to rest.
And was I born of womankind and laid on a father’s arm?
For I have dreamed of clashing teeth that guarded me from harm.

And was I born an Only Son and did I play alone?
For I have dreamed of comrades twain that bit me to the bone.
And did I break the barley-cake and steep it in the tyre?
For I have dreamed of a youngling kid new-riven from the byre:
For I have dreamed of a midnight sky and a midnight call to blood
And red-mouthed shadows racing by, that thrust me from my food.
‘Tis an hour yet and an hour yet to the rising of the moon,
But I can see the black roof-tree as plain as it were noon.
‘Tis a league and a league to the Lena Falls where the trooping blackbuck go;
But I can hear the little fawn that bleats behind the doe.

‘Tis a league and a league to the Lena Falls where the crop and the upland meet,
But I Can smell the wet dawn-wind that wakes the sprouting wheat.
Unbar the door. I may not bide, but I must out and see
If those are wolves that wait outside or my own kin to me!”
. . . . .
She loosed the bar, she slid the bolt, she opened the door anon,
And a grey bitch-wolf came out of the dark and fawned on the Only Son!

Kipling