Treasure Island

Alfred Comyn Lyall

(4 January 1835 – 11 April 1911 / Surrey)

Meditations of a Hindu Prince


ALL the world over, I wonder, in lands that I never have trod,
Are the people eternally seeking for the signs and steps of a God?
Westward across the ocean, and Northward across the snow,
Do they all stand gazing, as ever, and what do the wisest know?

Here, in this mystical India, the deities hover and swarm
Like the wild bees heard in the treetops, or the gusts of a gathering storm;
In the air men hear their voices, their feet on the rocks are seen,
Yet we all say, “Whence is the message, and what may the wonders mean?”

A million shrines stand open, and ever the censer swings,
As they bow to a mystic symbol, or the figures of ancient kings;
And the incense rises ever, and rises the endless cry
Of those who are heavy laden, and of cowards loth to die.

For the Destiny drives us together, like deer in a pass of the hills;
Above is the sky, and around us the sound of the shot that kills;
Push’d by a power we see not, and struck by a hand unknown,
We pray to the trees for shelter, and press our lips to a stone.

The trees wave a shadowy answer, and the rock frowns hollow and grim,
And the form and the nod of the demon are caught in the twilight dim;
And we look to the sunlight falling afar on the mountain crest,—
Is there never a path runs upward to a refuge there and a rest?

The path, ah! who has shown it, and which is the faithful guide?
The haven, ah! who has known it? for steep is the mountain side,
Forever the shot strikes surely, and ever the wasted breath
Of the praying multitude rises, whose answer is only death.

Here are the tombs of my kinsfolk, the fruit of an ancient name,
Chiefs who were slain on the war-field, and women who died in flame;
They are gods, these kings of the foretime, they are spirits who guard our race:
Ever I watch and worship; they sit with a marble face.

And the myriad idols around me, and the legion of muttering priests,
The revels and rites unholy, the dark unspeakable feasts!
What have they wrung from the Silence? Hath even a whisper come
Of the secret, Whence and Whither? Alas! for the gods are dumb.

Shall I list to the word of English, who come from the uttermost sea?
“The Secret, hath it been told you, and what is your message to me?”
It is nought but the wide-world story how the earth and the heavens began, 35
How the gods are glad and angry, and a Deity once was man.

I had thought, “Perchance in the cities where the rulers of India dwell,
Whose orders flash from the far land, who girdle the earth with a spell,
They have fathom’d the depths we float on, or measur’d the unknown main—”
Sadly they turn from the venture, and say that the quest is vain.

Is life, then, a dream and delusion, and where shall the dreamer awake?
Is the world seen like shadows on water, and what if the mirror break?
Shall it pass as a camp that is struck, as a tent that is gathered and gone
From the sands that were lamp-lit at eve, and at morning are level and lone?

Is there nought in the heaven above, whence the hail and the levin are hurl’d, 45
But the wind that is swept around us by the rush of the rolling world?
The wind that shall scatter my ashes, and bear me to silence and sleep
With the dirge, and the sounds of lamenting, and voices of women who weep.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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