Once upon a hushed red morning
In the wondrous years of old,
When the sun rose like a Rajah
Clad in robes of gleaming gold,
And upon his land of India
Poured the largess of his heart,
By the Ganges stood a Brahmin,
Far from all his kind, apart.
Darkly on that royal dawning
Gazed the Brahmin, sore distraught,
And his body lean was shaken
With the passion of his thought.
"Many years with hands uplifted
Till they withered in the air,
I have prayed," he cried, "to Brahma,
But He heedeth not my prayer.
"I have prayed and I have fasted,
Waiting ever for a sign,
While the world went reeling past me,
With its women and its wine.
"Burning suns by day have scorched me,
Freezing stars with icy spears
They have pierced my brain at midnight,
Through the long and lonely years.
"I would lose my soul in Brahma,
Who is soul, and life, and breath;
Nought to me are human shadows
Flitting by to empty death.
"I have done with prayer and fasting:
Lest the years in vain go by,
I will search the world for Brahma,
I will seek him till I die."
Thus the Brahmin spake, then swiftly
Journeyed up the Ganges stream:
All around him reeled the riot
Of a strange phantasmal dream.
Rajahs proud he saw returning
Prom the wars in regal guise,
In their turbans blood-red rubies
Gleaming over gleaming eyes;
Royal elephants that slowly
Marched, with trunks in pride upcurled;
And the spearmen and the banners,
And the glory of the world;
And, amidst the great processions,
Captive kings in fetters borne
While the cymbals clashed with triumph,
And the trumpets blared with scorn.
These he passed with eyes unheeding
All their glorious array;
For he knew they were but shadows
That grim death would sweep away.
Never sight of human sorrow,
Never show of human pride,
Edge of sword or smile of woman,
Turned him from his path aside.
Yet he stayed by still, dim waters,
On whose breast the lotus blooms,
Flower of secrecy and silence
Gleaming midst the temple glooms.
All in vain he searched the temples
Where, in many a form and guise,
In the dim vast halls the idols
Stared with soulless, jewelled eyes.
"I will seek," he cried, "for Brahma
Midst the everlasting snows;
Where the holy Ganges River
From his awful forehead flows."
To the far-off peaks he turned him,
Leaving homes of men behind;
Driven onward by his yearning
As a flame before the wind.
Hunger gnawed, and fear pursued him,
As he climbed with sobbing breath;
And above his head, unsleeping,
Hovered dark the vulture Death.
Ever downward plunged the torrents
In a fierce and foaming flood,
Roaring through the gloomy gorges,
Like a people mad for blood.
Rose the white moon like a spectre,
All with ghostly light aglow,
Shining on a lonely Shadow
Midst the Himalayan snow.
Rose the sun in opal glory,
Still the Shadow lingered there,
On a ledge above the eagles
In the vast blue void of air.
Long the Brahmin stood and gazed on
India lying far below,
Like a Maharanee dreaming
Evil dreams of war and woe.
And he felt his bosom thrilling
With a fearful pity then,
For the fierce unhappy nations,
For the wretched sons of men.
"All this woe of old passed by me
As a cry upon the wind:
Brahma is no God of Mercy
Unto hapless humankind.
"Or, perchance, the Fate that rules us
Rules Him too, through endless years,
And the Ganges Sowing seaward
Is the flowing of his tears."
So he spake: then upward struggling
Came at last unto a plain,
Cold and silent, white and awful,
Far above the hurricane.
And amidst it gleamed the fountain
Whence the Holy River flows,
And beside the mystic fountain,
Bloomed a red and lonely Rose.
Never wind its leaves did ruffle,
Never breeze dispersed its balm,
As it bloomed there-a still-glowing
Blossom of Eternal Calm.
All the plain was white and silent,
Blue and silent was the sky;
And the Brahmin, in his anguish,
By the Rose lay down to die.
"Now the end has come," he murmured,
"Lone I die amidst the snows,
I have sought in vain for Brahma."
"I am Brahma," breathed the Rose.