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II. Lakshman

"Hark! Lakshman! Hark, again that cry!
  It is,--it is my husband's voice!
Oh hasten, to his succour fly,
  No more hast thou, dear friend, a choice.
He calls on thee, perhaps his foes
  Environ him on all sides round,
That wail,--it means death's final throes!
  Why standest thou, as magic-bound?

"Is this a time for thought,--oh gird
  Thy bright sword on, and take thy bow!
He heeds not, hears not any word,
  Evil hangs over us, I know!
Swift in decision, prompt in deed,
  Brave unto rashness, can this be,
The man to whom all looked at need?
  Is it my brother, that I see!

"Ah no, and I must run alone,
  For further here I cannot stay;
Art thou transformed to blind dumb stone!
  Wherefore this impious, strange delay!
That cry,--that cry,--it seems to ring
  Still in my ears,--I cannot bear
Suspense; if help we fail to bring
  His death at least we both can share."

"Oh calm thyself, Videhan Queen,
  No cause is there for any fear,
Hast thou his prowess never seen?
  Wipe off for shame that dastard tear!
What being of demonian birth
  Could ever brave his mighty arm?
Is there a creature on the earth
  That dares to work our hero harm?

"The lion and the grisly bear
  Cower when they see his royal look,
Sun-staring eagles of the air
  His glance of anger cannot brook,
Pythons and cobras at his tread
  To their most secret coverts glide,
Bowed to the dust each serpent head
  Erect before in hooded pride.

"Rakshases, Danavs, demons, ghosts,
  Acknowledge in their hearts his might,
And slink to their remotest coasts,
  In terror at his very sight.
Evil to him! Oh fear it not,
  Whatever foes against him rise!
Banish for aye, the foolish thought,
  And be thyself,--bold, great, and wise.

"He call for help! Canst thou believe
  He like a child would shriek for aid
Or pray for respite or reprieve--
  Not of such metal is he made!
Delusive was that piercing cry,--
  Some trick of magic by the foe;
He has a work,--he cannot die,
  Beseech me not from hence to go.

"For here beside thee, as a guard
  'Twas he commanded me to stay,
And dangers with my life to ward
  If they should come across thy way.
Send me not hence, for in this wood
  Bands scattered of the giants lurk,
Who on their wrongs and vengeance brood,
  And wait the hour their will to work."

"Oh shame! And canst thou make my weal
  A plea for lingering! Now I know
What thou art Lakshman! And I feel
  Far better were an open foe.
Art thou a coward? I have seen
  Thy bearing in the battle-fray
Where flew the death-fraught arrows keen,
  Else had I judged thee so to-day.

"But then thy leader stood beside!
  Dazzles the cloud when shines the sun,
Reft of his radiance, see it glide
  A shapeless mass of vapours dun;
So of thy courage,--or if not,
  The matter is far darker dyed,
What makes thee loth to leave this spot?
  Is there a motive thou wouldst hide?

"He perishes--well, let him die!
  His wife henceforth shall be mine own!
Can that thought deep imbedded lie
  Within thy heart's most secret zone!
Search well and see! one brother takes
  His kingdom,--one would take his wife!
A fair partition!--But it makes
  Me shudder, and abhor my life.

"Art thou in secret league with those
  Who from his hope the kingdom rent?
A spy from his ignoble foes
  To track him in his banishment?
And wouldst thou at his death rejoice?
  I know thou wouldst, or sure ere now
When first thou heardst that well-known voice
  Thou shouldst have run to aid, I trow.

"Learn this,--whatever comes may come,
  But I shall not survive my Love,--
Of all my thoughts here is the sum!
  Witness it gods in heaven above.
If fire can burn, or water drown,
  I follow him:--choose what thou wilt,
Truth with its everlasting crown,
  Or falsehood, treachery, and guilt.

"Remain here, with a vain pretence
  Of shielding me from wrong and shame,
Or go and die in his defence
  And leave behind a noble name.
Choose what thou wilt,--I urge no more,
  My pathway lies before me clear,
I did not know thy mind before,
  I know thee now,--and have no fear."

She said and proudly from him turned,--
  Was this the gentle Sîta? No.
Flames from her eyes shot forth and burned,
  The tears therein had ceased to flow.
"Hear me, O Queen, ere I depart,
  No longer can I bear thy words,
They lacerate my inmost heart
  And torture me, like poisoned swords.

"Have I deserved this at thine hand?
  Of lifelong loyalty and truth
Is this the meed? I understand
  Thy feelings, Sîta, and in sooth
I blame thee not,--but thou mightst be
  Less rash in judgement. Look! I go,
Little I care what comes to me
  Wert thou but safe,--God keep thee so!

"In going hence I disregard
  The plainest orders of my chief,
A deed for me,--a soldier,--hard
  And deeply painful, but thy grief
And language, wild and wrong, allow
  No other course. Mine be the crime,
And mine alone,--but oh, do thou
  Think better of me from this time.

"Here with an arrow, lo, I trace
  A magic circle ere I leave,
No evil thing within this space
  May come to harm thee or to grieve.
Step not, for aught, across the line,
  Whatever thou mayst see or hear,
So shalt thou balk the bad design
  Of every enemy I fear.

"And now farewell! What thou hast said,
  Though it has broken quite my heart,
So that I wish that I were dead--
  I would before, O Queen, we part
Freely forgive, for well I know
  That grief and fear have made thee wild,
We part as friends,--is it not so?"
  And speaking thus,--he sadly smiled.

"And oh ye sylvan gods that dwell
  Among these dim and sombre shades,
Whose voices in the breezes swell
  And blend with noises of cascades,
Watch over Sîta, whom alone
  I leave, and keep her safe from harm,
Till we return unto our own,
  I and my brother, arm in arm.

"For though ill omens round us rise
  And frighten her dear heart, I feel
That he is safe. Beneath the skies
  His equal is not,--and his heel
Shall tread all adversaries down,
  Whoever they may chance to be.--
Farewell, O Sîta! Blessings crown
  And Peace for ever rest with thee!"

He said, and straight his weapons took
  His bow and arrows pointed keen,
Kind,--nay, indulgent,--was his look,
  No trace of anger there was seen,
Only a sorrow dark, that seemed
  To deepen his resolve to dare
All dangers. Hoarse the vulture screamed,
  As out he strode with dauntless air.