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Former Cloud


A Yaksha, or divine attendant on Kubera, god of wealth, is exiled for a year from his home in the Himalayas. As he dwells on a peak in the Vindhya range, half India separates him from his young bride.

    On Rama's shady peak where hermits roam,
  Mid streams by Sita's bathing sanctified,
    An erring Yaksha made his hapless home,
  Doomed by his master humbly to abide,
  And spend a long, long year of absence from his bride.


After eight months of growing emaciation, the first cloud warns him of the approach of the rainy season, when neglected brides are wont to pine and die.

    Some months were gone; the lonely lover's pain
  Had loosed his golden bracelet day by day
    Ere he beheld the harbinger of rain,
  A cloud that charged the peak in mimic fray,
  As an elephant attacks a bank of earth in play.


    Before this cause of lovers' hopes and fears
  Long time Kubera's bondman sadly bowed
    In meditation, choking down his tears--
  Even happy hearts thrill strangely to the cloud;
  To him, poor wretch, the loved embrace was disallowed.


Unable to send tidings otherwise of his health and unchanging love, he resolves to make the cloud his messenger.

    Longing to save his darling's life, unblest
  With joyous tidings, through the rainy days,
    He plucked fresh blossoms for his cloudy guest,
  Such homage as a welcoming comrade pays,
  And bravely spoke brave words of greeting and of praise.


    Nor did it pass the lovelorn Yaksha's mind
  How all unfitly might his message mate
    With a cloud, mere fire and water, smoke and wind--
  Ne'er yet was lover could discriminate
  'Twixt life and lifeless things, in his love-blinded state.


He prefers his request,

    I know, he said, thy far-famed princely line,
  Thy state, in heaven's imperial council chief,
    Thy changing forms; to thee, such fate is mine,
  I come a suppliant in my widowed grief--
  Better thy lordly "no" than meaner souls' relief.


    O cloud, the parching spirit stirs thy pity;
  My bride is far, through royal wrath and might;
    Bring her my message to the Yaksha city,
  Rich-gardened Alaka, where radiance bright
  From Shiva's crescent bathes the palaces in light.


hinting at the same time that the' cloud will find his kindly labour rewarded by pleasures on the road,

    When thou art risen to airy paths of heaven,
  Through lifted curls the wanderer's love shall peep
    And bless the sight of thee for comfort given;
  Who leaves his bride through cloudy days to weep
  Except he be like me, whom chains of bondage keep?


and by happy omens.

    While favouring breezes waft thee gently forth,
  And while upon thy left the plover sings
    His proud, sweet song, the cranes who know thy worth
  Will meet thee in the sky on joyful wings
  And for delights anticipated join their rings.


He assures the cloud that his bride is neither dead nor faithless;

    Yet hasten, O my brother, till thou see--
  Counting the days that bring the lonely smart--
    The faithful wife who only lives for me:
  A drooping flower is woman's loving heart,
  Upheld by the stem of hope when two true lovers part.


further, that there will be no lack of travelling companions.

    And when they hear thy welcome thunders break,
  When mushrooms sprout to greet thy fertile weeks,
    The swans who long for the Himalayan lake
  Will be thy comrades to Kailasa's peaks,
  With juicy bits of lotus-fibre in their beaks.


    One last embrace upon this mount bestow
  Whose flanks were pressed by Rama's holy feet,
    Who yearly strives his love for thee to show,
  Warmly his well-beloved friend to greet
  With the tear of welcome shed when two long-parted meet.


He then describes the long journey,

    Learn first, O cloud, the road that thou must go,
  Then hear my message ere thou speed away;
    Before thee mountains rise and rivers flow:
  When thou art weary, on the mountains stay,
  And when exhausted, drink the rivers' driven spray.


beginning with the departure from Rama's peak, where dwells a company of Siddhas, divine beings of extraordinary sanctity.

    Elude the heavenly elephants' clumsy spite;
  Fly from this peak in richest jungle drest;
    And Siddha maids who view thy northward flight
  Will upward gaze in simple terror, lest
  The wind be carrying quite away the mountain crest.


    Bright as a heap of flashing gems, there shines
  Before thee on the ant-hill, Indra's bow;
    Matched with that dazzling rainbow's glittering lines,
  Thy sombre form shall find its beauties grow,
  Like the dark herdsman Vishnu, with peacock-plumes aglow.


The Mala plateau.

    The farmers' wives on Mala's lofty lea,
  Though innocent of all coquettish art,
    Will give thee loving glances; for on thee
  Depends the fragrant furrow's fruitful part;
  Thence, barely westering, with lightened burden start.


The Mango Peak.

    The Mango Peak whose forest fires were laid
  By streams of thine, will soothe thy weariness;
    In memory of a former service paid,
  Even meaner souls spurn not in time of stress
  A suppliant friend; a soul so lofty, much the less.


    With ripened mango-fruits his margins teem;
  And thou, like wetted braids, art blackness quite;
    When resting on the mountain, thou wilt seem
  Like the dark nipple on Earth's bosom white,
  For mating gods and goddesses a thrilling sight.


The Reva, or Nerbudda River, foaming against the mountain side,

    His bowers are sweet to forest maidens ever;
  Do thou upon his crest a moment bide,
    Then fly, rain-quickened, to the Reva river
  Which gaily breaks on Vindhya's rocky side,
  Like painted streaks upon an elephant's dingy hide.


and flavoured with the ichor which exudes from the temples of elephants during the mating season.

  Refresh thyself from thine exhausted state
    With ichor-pungent drops that fragrant flow;
  Thou shalt not then to every wind vibrate--
  Empty means ever light, and full means added weight.


   Spying the madder on the banks, half brown,
  Half green with shoots that struggle to the birth,
    Nibbling where early plantain-buds hang down,
  Scenting the sweet, sweet smell of forest earth,
  The deer will trace thy misty track that ends the dearth.


    Though thou be pledged to ease my darling's pain,
  Yet I foresee delay on every hill
    Where jasmines blow, and where the peacock-train
  Cries forth with joyful tears a welcome shrill;
  Thy sacrifice is great, but haste thy journey still.


The Dasharna country,

    At thine approach, Dasharna land is blest
  With hedgerows where gay buds are all aglow,
    With village trees alive with many a nest
  Abuilding by the old familiar crow,
  With lingering swans, with ripe rose-apples' darker show.


and its capital Vidisha, on the banks of Reed River.

    There shalt thou see the royal city, known
  Afar, and win the lover's fee complete,
    If thou subdue thy thunders to a tone
  Of murmurous gentleness, and taste the sweet,
  Love-rippling features of the river at thy feet.


    A moment rest on Nichais' mountain then,
  Where madder-bushes don their blossom coat
    As thrilling to thy touch; where city men
  O'er youth's unbridled pleasures fondly gloat
  In caverns whence the perfumes of gay women float.


    Fly on refreshed; and sprinkle buds that fade
  On jasmine-vines in gardens wild and rare
    By forest rivers; and with loving shade
  Caress the flower-girls' heated faces fair,
  Whereon the lotuses droop withering from their hair.


The famous old city of Ujjain, the home of the poet, and dearly beloved by him;

    Swerve from thy northern path; for westward rise
  The palace balconies thou mayst not slight
    In fair Ujjain; and if bewitching eyes
  That flutter at thy gleams, should not delight
  Thine amorous bosom, useless were thy gift of sight.


and the river, personified as a loving woman, whom the cloud will meet just before he reaches the city.

    The neighbouring mountain stream that gliding grants
  A glimpse of charms in whirling eddies pursed,
    While noisy swans accompany her dance
  Like a tinkling zone, will slake thy loving thirst--
  A woman always tells her love in gestures first.


    Thou only, happy lover! canst repair
  The desolation that thine absence made:
    Her shrinking current seems the careless hair
  That brides deserted wear in single braid,
  And dead leaves falling give her face a paler shade.


The city of Ujjain is fully described,

  Sufficed, though fallen from heaven, to bring down heaven on earth!


    Where the river-breeze at dawn, with fragrant gain
  From friendly lotus-blossoms, lengthens out
    The clear, sweet passion-warbling of the crane,
  To cure the women's languishing, and flout
  With a lover's coaxing all their hesitating doubt.


    Enriched with odours through the windows drifting
  From perfumed hair, and greeted as a friend
    By peacock pets their wings in dances lifting,
  On flower-sweet balconies thy labour end,
  Where prints of dear pink feet an added glory lend.


especially its famous shrine to Shiva, called Mahakala;

    Black as the neck of Shiva, very God,
  Dear therefore to his hosts, thou mayest go
    To his dread shrine, round which the gardens nod
  When breezes rich with lotus-pollen blow
  And ointments that the gaily bathing maidens know.


    Reaching that temple at another time,
  Wait till the sun is lost to human eyes;
    For if thou mayest play the part sublime
  Of Shiva's drum at evening sacrifice,
  Then hast thou in thy thunders grave a priceless prize.


    The women there, whose girdles long have tinkled
  In answer to the dance, whose hands yet seize
    And wave their fans with lustrous gems besprinkled,
  Will feel thine early drops that soothe and please,
  And recompense thee from black eyes like clustering bees.


and the black cloud, painted with twilight red, is bidden to serve as a robe for the god, instead of the bloody elephant hide which he commonly wears in his wild dance.

    Clothing thyself in twilight's rose-red glory,
  Embrace the dancing Shiva's tree-like arm;
    He will prefer thee to his mantle gory
  And spare his grateful goddess-bride's alarm,
  Whose eager gaze will manifest no fear of harm.


After one night of repose in the city

    Where women steal to rendezvous by night
  Through darkness that a needle might divide,
    Show them the road with lightning-flashes bright
  As golden streaks upon the touchstone's side--
  But rain and thunder not, lest they be terrified.


    On some rich balcony where sleep the doves,
  Through the dark night with thy beloved stay,
    The lightning weary with the sport she loves;
  But with the sunrise journey on thy way--
  For they that labour for a friend do not delay.


    The gallant dries his mistress' tears that stream
  When he returns at dawn to her embrace--
    Prevent thou not the sun's bright-fingered beam
  That wipes the tear-dew from the lotus' face;
  His anger else were great, and great were thy disgrace.


the cloud is besought to travel to Deep River.

    Thy winsome shadow-soul will surely find
  An entrance in Deep River's current bright,
    As thoughts find entrance in a placid mind;
  Then let no rudeness of thine own affright
  The darting fish that seem her glances lotus-white.


    But steal her sombre veil of mist away,
  Although her reeds seem hands that clutch the dress
    To hide her charms; thou hast no time to stay,
  Yet who that once has known a dear caress
  Could bear to leave a woman's unveiled loveliness?


Thence to Holy Peak,

    The breeze 'neath which the breathing acre grants
  New odours, and the forest figs hang sleek,
    With pleasant whistlings drunk by elephants
  Through long and hollow trunks, will gently seek
  To waft thee onward fragrantly to Holy Peak.


the dwelling-place of Skanda, god of war, the child of Shiva and Gauri, concerning whose birth more than one quaint tale is told.

    There change thy form; become a cloud of flowers
  With heavenly moisture wet, and pay the meed
    Of praise to Skanda with thy blossom showers;
  That sun-outshining god is Shiva's seed,
  Fire-born to save the heavenly hosts in direst need.


    God Skanda's peacock--he whose eyeballs shine
  By Shiva's moon, whose flashing fallen plume
    The god's fond mother wears, a gleaming line
  Over her ear beside the lotus bloom--
  Will dance to thunders echoing in the caverns' room.


Thence to Skin River, so called because it flowed forth from a mountain of cattle carcasses, offered in sacrifice by the pious emperor Rantideva.

    Adore the reed-born god and speed away,
  While Siddhas flee, lest rain should put to shame
    The lutes which they devoutly love to play;
  But pause to glorify the stream whose name
  Recalls the sacrificing emperor's blessed fame.


    Narrow the river seems from heaven's blue;
  And gods above, who see her dainty line
    Matched, when thou drinkest, with thy darker hue,
  Will think they see a pearly necklace twine
  Round Earth, with one great sapphire in its midst ashine.


The province of the Ten Cities.

    Beyond, the province of Ten Cities lies
  Whose women, charming with their glances rash,
    Will view thine image with bright, eager eyes,
  Dark eyes that dance beneath the lifted lash,
  As when black bees round nodding jasmine-blossoms flash.


The Hallowed Land, where were fought the awful battles of the ancient epic time.

    Then veil the Hallowed Land in cloudy shade;
  Visit the field where to this very hour
    Lie bones that sank beneath the soldier's blade,
  Where Arjuna discharged his arrowy shower
  On men, as thou thy rain-jets on the lotus-flower.


In these battles, the hero Balarama, whose weapon was a plough-share, would take no part, because kinsmen of his were fighting in each army. He preferred to spend the time in drinking from the holy river Sarasvati, though little accustomed to any other drink than wine.

    Sweet friend, drink where those holy waters shine
  Which the plough-bearing hero--loath to fight
    His kinsmen--rather drank than sweetest wine
  With a loving bride's reflected eyes alight;
  Then, though thy form be black, thine inner soul is bright.


The Ganges River, which originates in heaven. Its fall is broken by the head of Shiva, who stands on the Himalaya Mountains; otherwise the shock would be too great for the earth. But Shiva's goddess-bride is displeased.

    Fly then where Ganges o'er the king of mountains
  Falls like a flight of stairs from heaven let down
    For the sons of men; she hurls her billowy fountains
  Like hands to grasp the moon on Shiva's crown
  And laughs her foamy laugh at Gauri's jealous frown.


The dark cloud is permitted to mingle with the clear stream of Ganges, as the muddy Jumna River does near the city now called Allahabad.

    If thou, like some great elephant of the sky,
  Shouldst wish from heaven's eminence to bend
    And taste the crystal stream, her beauties high--
  As thy dark shadows with her whiteness blend--
  Would be what Jumna's waters at Prayaga lend.


The magnificent Himalaya range.

    Her birth-place is Himalaya's rocky crest
  Whereon the scent of musk is never lost,
    For deer rest ever there where thou wilt rest
  Sombre against the peak with whiteness glossed,
  Like dark earth by the snow-white bull of Shiva tossed.


    If, born from friction of the deodars,
  A scudding fire should prove the mountain's bane,
    Singeing the tails of yaks with fiery stars,
  Quench thou the flame with countless streams of rain--
  The great have power that they may soothe distress and pain.


    If mountain monsters should assail thy path
  With angry leaps that of their object fail,
    Only to hurt themselves in helpless wrath,
  Scatter the creatures with thy pelting hail--
  For who is not despised that strives without avail?


    Bend lowly down and move in reverent state
  Round Shiva's foot-print on the rocky plate
    With offerings laden by the saintly great;
  The sight means heaven as their eternal fate
  When death and sin are past, for them that faithful wait.


    The breeze is piping on the bamboo-tree;
  And choirs of heaven sing in union sweet
    O'er demon foe of Shiva's victory;
  If thunders in the caverns drumlike beat,
  Then surely Shiva's symphony will be complete.


The mountain pass called the Swan-gate.

    Pass by the wonders of the snowy slope;
  Through the Swan-gate, through mountain masses rent
    To make his fame a path by Bhrigu's hope
  In long, dark beauty fly, still northward bent,
  Like Vishnu's foot, when he sought the demon's chastisement.


And at Mount Kailasa, the long journey is ended;

    Seek then Kailasa's hospitable care,
  With peaks by magic arms asunder riven,
    To whom, as mirror, goddesses repair,
  So lotus-bright his summits cloud the heaven,
  Like form and substance to God's daily laughter given.


    Like powder black and soft I seem to see
  Thine outline on the mountain slope as bright
    As new-sawn tusks of stainless ivory;
  No eye could wink before as fair a sight
  As dark-blue robes upon the Ploughman's shoulder white.


    Should Shiva throw his serpent-ring aside
  And give Gauri his hand, go thou before
    Upon the mount of joy to be their guide;
  Conceal within thee all thy watery store
  And seem a terraced stairway to the jewelled floor.


    I doubt not that celestial maidens sweet
  With pointed bracelet gems will prick thee there
    To make of thee a shower-bath in the heat;
  Frighten the playful girls if they should dare
  To keep thee longer, friend, with thunder's harshest blare.


    Drink where the golden lotus dots the lake;
  Serve Indra's elephant as a veil to hide
    His drinking; then the tree of wishing shake,
  Whose branches like silk garments flutter wide:
  With sports like these, O cloud, enjoy the mountain side.


for on this mountain is the city of the Yakshas.

    Then, in familiar Alaka find rest,
  Down whom the Ganges' silken river swirls,
    Whose towers cling to her mountain lover's breast,
  While clouds adorn her face like glossy curls
  And streams of rain like strings of close-inwoven pearls.