The Legend Of Kintu.

A poem by Susan Coolidge

When earth was young and men were few,
And all things freshly born and new
Seemed made for blessing, not for ban,
Kintu, the god, appeared as man.
Clad in the plain white priestly dress,
He journeyed through the wilderness,
His wife beside. A mild-faced cow
They drove, and one low-bleating lamb;
He bore a ripe banana-bough,
And she a root of fruitful yam:
This was their worldly worth and store,
But God can make the little more.
The glad earth knew his feet; her mould
Trembled with quickening thrills, and stirred.
Miraculous harvests spread and rolled,
The orchards shone with ruddy gold;
The flocks increased, increased the herd,
And a great nation spread and grew
From the swift lineage of the two,
Peopling the solitary place;
A fair and strong and fruitful race,
Who knew not pain nor want nor grief,
And Kintu reigned their lord and chief.

So sped three centuries along,
Till Kintu's sons waxed fierce and strong;
They learned to war, they loved to slay;
Cruel and dark grew all their faces;
Discordant death-cries scared the day,
Blood stained the green and holy places;
And drunk with lust, with anger hot,
His sons mild Kintu heeded not.
At last the god arose in wrath,
His sandals tied, and down the path,
His wife beside him, as of yore,
He went. A cow, a single lamb
They took; one tuber of the yam;
One yellow-podded branch they bore
Of ripe banana,--these, no more,
Of all the heaped-up harvest store.
They left the huts, they left the tent,
Nor turned, nor cast a backward look:
Behind, the thick boughs met and shook.
They vanished. Long with wild lament
Mourned all the tribe, in vain, in vain;
The gift once given was given no more,
The grieved god came not again.

To what far paradise they fared,
That heavenly pair, what wilderness
Their gentle rule next owned and shared,
Knoweth no man,--no man can guess.
On secret roads, by pathways blind,
The gods go forth, and none may find;
But sad the world where God is not!
By man was Kintu soon forgot,
Or named and held as legend dim,
But the wronged earth, remembering him,
By scanty fruit and tardy grain
And silent song revealed her pain.
So centuries came, and centuries went,
And heaped the graves and filled the tent.
Kings rose, and fought their royal way
To conquest over heaps of slain,
And reigned a little. Then, one day,
They vanished into dust again.
And other kings usurped their place,
Who called themselves of Kintu's race,
And worshipped Kintu; not as he,
The mild, benignant deity,
Who held all life a holy thing,
Be it of insect or of king,
Would have ordained, but with wild rite,
With altars heaped, and dolorous cries,
And savage dance, and bale-fires light,
An unaccepted sacrifice.
At last, when thousand years were flown,
The great Ma-anda filled the throne:
A prince of generous heart and high,
Impetuous, noble, fierce, and true;
His wrath like lightning hurtling by,
His pardon like the healing dew.
And chiefs and sages swore each one
He was great Kintu's worthiest son.

One night, in forests still and deep,
A shepherd sat to watch his sheep,
And started, as through darkness dim
A strange voice rang and calmed to him:
"Wake! there are wonders waiting thee!
Go where the thick mimosas be,
Fringing a little open plain,
Honor and power wouldest thou gain?
Go, foolish man, to fortune blind;
Follow the stream, and thou shall find."
Three several nights the voice was heard,
Louder and more emphatic grown.
Then, at the thrice-repeated word,
The shepherd rose and went alone,
Threading the mazes of the stream
Like one who wanders in a dream.
Long miles he ran, the stream beside,
Which this way, that way, turned and sped,
And called and sang, a noisy guide.
At last its vagrant dances led
To where the thick mimosas' shade
Circled and fringed an open glade;
There the wild streamlet danced away,
The moon was shining strangely white,
And by its fitful, gleaming ray
The shepherd saw a wondrous sight;
In the glade's midst, each on his mat,
A group of armed warriors sat,
White-robed, majestic, with deep eyes
Fixed on him with a stern surprise;
And in their midst an aged chief
Enthroned sat, whose beard, like foam,
Caressed his mighty knees. As leaf
Shakes in the wind the shepherd shook,
And veiled his eyes before that look,
And prayed, and thought upon his home,
Nor spoke, nor moved, till the old man,
In voice like waterfall, began:
"Shepherd, how names himself thy king?"
"Ma-anda," answered, shuddering,
The shepherd. "Good, thou speakest well.
And now, my son, I bid thee tell
Thy first king's name." "It was Kintu."
"'Tis rightly said, thou answerest true.
Hark! To Ma-anda, Kintu's son,
Hasten, and bid him, fearing naught,
Come hither, taking thee for guide;
Thou and he, not another one,
Not even a dog may run beside!
Long has Ma-anda Kintu sought
With spell and conjuration dim,
Now Kintu has a word for him.
Go, do thy errand, haste thee hence,
Kintu insures thy recompense."
All night the shepherd ran, star-led,
All the hot day he hastened straight,
Nor stopped for sleep, nor stopped for bread,
Until he reached the city gate,
And saw red rays of evening fall
On the leaf-hutted capital.
He sought the king, his tale he told.
Ma-anda faltered not, nor stayed.
He seized his spear, he left the tent:
Shook off the brown arms of his queens,
Who clasped his knees with wailing screams;
On pain of instant death forbade
That man should spy or follow him;
And down the pathway, arching dim,
Fearless and light of heart and bold
Followed the shepherd where he went.

But one there was who loved his king
Too well to suffer such strange thing,--
The chieftain of the host was he,
Next to the monarch in degree;
And, fearing wile or stratagem
Menaced the king, he followed them
With noiseless tread and out of sight.
So on they fared the forest through,
From evening shades to dawning light,
From damning to the dusk and dew,--
The unseen follower and the two.
Ofttimes the king turned back to scan
The path, but never saw he man.
At last the forest-guarded space
They reached, where, ranged in order, sat,
Each couched upon his braided mat,
The white-robed warriors, face to face
With their majestic chief. The king,
Albeit unused to fear or awe,
Bowed down in homage, wondering,
And bent his eyes, as fearing to be
Blinded by rays of deity.
Then asked the mighty voice and calm,
"Art thou Ma-anda called?" "I am."
"And art thou king?" "The king am I,"
The bold Ma-anda made reply.
"Tis rightly spoken; but, my son,
Why hast thou my command forgot,
That no man with thee to this spot
Should come, except thy guide alone?"
"No man has come," Ma-anda said.

"Alone we journeyed, he and I;
And often have I turned my head,
And never living thing could spy.
None is there, on my faith as king."
"A king's word is a weighty thing,"
The old man answered. "Let it be,--
But still a man HAS followed thee!
Now answer, Ma-anda, one more thing:
Who, first of all thy line, was king?"
"Kintu the god." "'Tis well, my son,
All creatures Kintu loved,--not one
Too pitiful or weak or small;
He knew them and he loved them all;
And never did a living thing,
Or bird in air or fish in lake,
Endure a pang for Kintu's sake.
Then rose his sons, of differing mind,
Who gorged on cruel feasts each day,
And bathed in blood, and joyed to slay,
And laughed at pain and suffering.
Then Kintu sadly went his way.
The gods long-suffering are and kind,
Often they pardon, long they wait;
But men are evil, men are blind.
After much tarriance, much debate,
The good gods leave them to their fate;
So Kintu went where none may find.

Each king in turn has sought since then,
From Chora down, the first in line,
To win lost Kintu back to men.
Vain was his search, and vain were thine,
Save that the gods have special grace
To thee, Ma-anda. Face to face
With Kintu thou shall stand, and he
Shall speak the word of power to thee;
Clasped to his bosom, thou shall share
His knowledge of the earth, the air,
And deep things, secret things, shall learn.
But stay,"--the old man's voice grew stern,--
"Before I further speak, declare
Who is that man in ambush there!"
"There is no man,--no man I see."
"Deny no longer, it is vain.
Within the shadow of the tree
He lurketh; lo, behold him plain!"
And the king saw;--for at the word
From covert stole the hidden spy,
And sought his monarch's side. One cry,
A lion's roar, Ma-anda gave,
Then seized his spear, and poised and drave.
Like lightning bolt it hissed and whirred,
A flash across the midnight blue.
A single groan, a jet of red,
And, pierced and stricken through and through,
Upon the ground the chief fell dead;
But still with love no death could chase,
His eyes sought out his master's face.

Blent with Ma-anda's a wild cry
Of many voices rose on high,
A shriek of anguish and despair.
Which shook and filled the startled air;
And when the king, his wrath still hot,
Turned him, the little grassy plain
All lonely in the moonlight lay:
The chiefs had vanished all away
As melted into thin, blue wind;
Gone was the old man. Stunned and blind,
For a long moment stood the king;
He tried to wake; he rubbed his eyes,
As though some fearful dream to end.
It was no dream, this fearful thing:
There was the forest, there the skies,
The shepherd--and his murdered friend.
With feverish haste, bewildered, mazed,
This way and that he vainly sped,
Beating the air like one half crazed;
With prayers and cries unnumbered,
Searching, imploring,--vain, all vain.
Only the echoing woods replied,
With mocking booms their long aisles through,
"Come back, Kintu, Kintu, Kintu!"
And pitiless to all his pain
The unanswering gods his suit denied.
At last, as dawning slowly crept
To day, the king sank down and wept
A space; then, lifting as they could
The lifeless burden, once a man,
He and the shepherd-guide began
Their grievous journey through the wood,
The long and hard and dreary way,
Trodden so lightly yesterday;
And the third day, at evening's fall,
Gained the leaf-hutted capital.
There burial rites were duly paid:

Like bridegroom decked for banqueting,
The chief adorned his funeral-pyre;
Rare gums and spices fed the fire,
Perfumes and every precious thing;
And songs were sung, and prayers were prayed,
And priests danced jubilant all day.
But prone the king Ma-anda lay,
With ashes on his royal crest,
And groaned, and beat upon his breast,
And called on Kintu loud and wild:
"Father, come back, forgive thy child!"
Bitter the cry, but vain, all vain;
The grieved god came not again.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Legend Of Kintu.' by Susan Coolidge

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy