Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE RAJPOOT WIFE, by EDWIN ARNOLD

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THE RAJPOOT WIFE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Sing something, jymul rao! For the goats are now
Last Line: The ashes of dead kinsmen to gungas holy spring.
Subject(s): India

Sing something, Jymul Rao! for the goats are gathered
And no more water is to bring;
The village-gates are set, and the night is gray as yet, now,
God hath given wondrous fancies to thee:—sing!

Then Jymul's supple fingers, with a touch that doubts and lingers,
Sets athrill the saddest wire of all the six;
And the girls sit in a tangle, and hush the tinkling bangle, While the boys
pile the flame with store of sticks.

And vain of village praise, but full of ancient days,
He begins with a smile and with a sigh—
"Who knows the babul-tree by the bend of the Ravee?"
Quoth Gunesh, "I!" and twenty voices, "I!"

"Well—listen! there below, in the shade of bloom and bough,
Is a musjid of carved and colored stone;
And Abdool Shureef Khan—I spit, to name that man!—
Lieth there, underneath, all alone.

"He was Sultan Mahmood's vassal, and wore an Amir's tassal
In his green hadj-turban, at Nungul.
Yet the head which went so proud, it is not in his shroud;
There are bones in that grave,—but not a skull!

"And, deep drove in his breast, there moulders with the
A dagger, brighter once than Chundra's ray;
A Rajpoot lohar whet it, and a Rajpoot woman set it rest
Past the power of any hand to tear away.

"'Twas the Ranee Neila true, the wife of Soorj Dehu,
Lord of the Rajpoots of Nourpoor;
You shall hear the mournful story, with its sorrow and its glory,
And curse Shureef Khan,—the soor!"

All in the wide Five-Waters was none like Soorj Dehu,
To foeman who so dreadful, to friend what heart so true?

Like Indus, through the mountains came down the Muslim ranks,
And town-walls fell before them as flooded river-banks;

But Soorj Dehu the Rajpoot owned neither town nor wall;
His house the camp, his roof-tree the sky that covers all;

His seat of state the saddle; his robe a shirt of mail;
His court a thousand Rajpoots close at his stallion's tail.

Not less was Soorj a Rajah because no crown he wore
Save the grim helm of iron with sword-marks dinted o'er;

Because he grasped no sceptre save the sharp tulwar, made
Of steel that fell from heaven,—for 'twas Indra forged that blade!

And many a starless midnight the shout of "Soorj Dehu"
Broke up with spear and matchlock the Muslim's "Illahu."

And many a day of battle upon the Muslim proud
Fell Soorj, as Indra's lightning falls from the silent cloud.

Nor ever shot nor arrow, nor spear nor slinger's stone,
Could pierce the mail that Neila the Ranee buckled on:

But traitor's subtle tongue-thrust through fence of steel can break;
And Soorj was taken sleeping, whom none had ta'en awake.

Then at the noon, in durbar, swore fiercely Shureef Khan
That Soorj should die in torment, or live a Mussulman.

But Soorj laughed lightly at him, and answered, "Work your will!
The last breath of my body shall curse your Prophet still."

With words of insult shameful, and deeds of cruel kind,
They vexed that Rajpoot's body, but never moved his mind.

And one is come who sayeth, "Ho! Rajpoots! Soorj is bound;
Your lord is caged and baited by Shureef Khan, the hound.

"The Khan hath caught and chained him, like a beast, in iron cage,
And all the camp of Islam spends on him spite and rage;

"All day the coward Muslims spend on him rage and spite;
If ye have thought to help him, 'twere good ye go to' night."

Up sprang a hundred horsemen, flashed in each hand a sword;
In each heart burned the gladness of dying for their lord;

Up rose each Rajpoot rider, and buckled on with speed
The bridle-chain and breast-cord, and the saddle of his steed.

But unto none sad Neila gave word to mount and ride;
Only she called the brothers of Soorj unto her side,

And said, "Take order straightway to seek this camp with me;
If love and craft can conquer, a thousand is as three.

"If love be weak to save him, Soorj dies—and ye return,
For where a Rajpoot dieth, the Rajpoot widows burn."

Thereat the Ranee Neila unbraided from her hair
The pearls as great as Kashmir grapes Soorj gave his wife to wear,

And all across her bosoms—like lotus-buds to see—
She wrapped the tinselied sari of a dancing Kunchenee;

And fastened on her ankles the hundred silver bells,
To whose light laugh of music the Nautch-girl darts and dwells.

And all in dress a Nautch-girl, but all in heart a queen,
She set her foot to stirrup with a sad and settled mien.

Only one thing she carried no Kunchenee should bear,
The knife between her bosoms;—ho, Shureef! have a care!

Thereat, with running ditty of mingled pride and pity,
Jymul Rao makes the six wires sigh;
And the girls with tearful eyes note the music's fall and rise,
And the boys let the fire fade and die.
All day lay Soorj the Rajpoot in Shureef's iron cage.
All day the coward Muslims spent on him spite and rage.

With bitter cruel torments, and deeds of shameful kind,
They racked and broke his body, but could not shake his mind.

And only at the Azan, when all their worst was vain,
They left him, like dogs slinking from a lion in his pain.

No meat nor drink they gave him through all that burning day,
And done to death, but scornful, at twilight-time he lay.

So when the gem of Shiva uprose, the shining moon,
Soorj spake unto his spirit, "The end is coming soon.

"I would the end might hasten, could Neila only know—
What is that Nautch-girl singing with voice so known and low?

"Singing beneath the cage-bars the song of love and fear
My Neila sang at parting!—what doth that Nautch-girl here?

'Whence comes she by the music of Neila's tender strain,
She, in that shameless tinsel?—Oh, Nautch-girl, sing again!"

"Ah, Soorj!"—so followed answer—"here thine own Neila stands,
Faithful in life and death alike,—look up, and take my hands:

"Speak low, lest the guard hear us;—to-night, if thou must die,
Shureef shall have no triumph, but bear thee company."

So sang she like the Koïl that dies beside its mate;
With eye as black and fearless, and love as hot and great.

Then the Chief laid his pale lips upon the little palm,
And sank down with a smile of love, his face all glad and calm;

And through the cage-bars Neila felt the brave heart stop fast,
"Oh, Soorj!"—she cried—"I follow! have patience to the last."

She turned and went. "Who passes?" challenged the Mussulman;
"A Nautch-girl, I."—"What seek'st thou?"—"The presence of the Khan;

"Ask if the high chief-captain be pleased to hear me sing;"
And Shureef, full of feasting, the Kunchenee bade bring.

Then, all before the Muslims, aflame with lawless wine,
Entered the Ranee Neila, in grace and face divine;

And all before the Muslims, wagging their goatish chins,
The Rajpoot Princess set her to the "bee-dance" that begins,

"If my love loved me, he should be a bee,
I the yellow champak, love the honey of me."

All the wreathèd movements danced she of that dance;
Not a step she slighted, not a wanton glance;

In her unveiled bosom chased th' intruding bee,
To her waist—and lower—she! a Rajpoot, she!

Sang the melting music, swayed the langorous limb:
Shureef's drunken heart beat—Shureef's eyes waxed dim.

From his finger Shureef loosed an Ormuz pearl—
"By the Prophet," quoth he, "'tis a winsome girl!

"Take this ring; and 'prithee, come and have thy pay,
I would hear at leisure more of such a lay."

Glared his eyes on her eyes, passing o'er the plain,
Glared at the tent-purdah—never glared again!

Never opened after unto gaze or glance,
Eyes that saw a Rajpoot dance a shameful dance;

For the kiss she gave him was his first and last—
Kiss of dagger, driven to his heart, and past.

At her feet he wallowed, choked with wicked blood;
In his breast the katar quivered where it stood.

At the hilt his fingers vainly—wildly—try,
Then they stiffen feeble;—die! thou slayer, die!

From his jeweled scabbard drew she Shureef's sword,
Cut atwain the neck-bone of the Muslim lord.

Underneath the starlight,—sooth, a sight of dread!
Like the Goddess Kali, comes she with the head,

Comes to where her brothers guard their murdered chief;
All the camp is silent, but the night is brief.

At his feet she flings it, flings her burden vile;
"Soorj! I keep my promise! Brothers, build the pile!"

They have built it, set it, all as Rajpoots do,
From the cage of iron taken Soorj Dehu;

In the lap of Neila, seated on the pile,
Laid his head—she radiant, like a queen the while.

Then the lamp is lighted, and the ghee is poured—
"Soorj, we burn together: Oh, my love, my lord!"

In the flame and crackle dies her tender tongue,
Dies the Ranee, truest, all true wives among.

At the morn a clamor runs from tent to tent,
Like the wild geese cackling when the night is spent.

"Shureef Khan lies headless! gone is Soorj Dehu!
And the wandering Nautch-girl, who has seen her, who?"

This but know the sentries, at the "breath of dawn"
Forth there fared two horsemen, by the first was borne

The urn of clay, the vessel that Rajpoots use to bring
The ashes of dead kinsmen to Gungas holy spring.

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