Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Introductory to India


By Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802–1839)

FATHER of rivers, Ganges, hail to thee!

Thou, in the joy of thine unfading day,

Goest thy wonted way,

Unwearied, to the sea;

And, ever gazing with a steadfast gaze

On the huge canopy of sunny heaven,

Singest from morn to even

Thy changeless song of praise.

So thou art happy: for thy hymn is loud

Eternally to him, the eternal King

Doubt flaps her murky wing,

Dim Ignorance spreads her cloud

Around thee; and wild fancies, wild and vain,

Hither and thither thread the lurid air:

Darkness, Sin’s mother, there

Holds her unlovely reign;

And never, since thy glorious course began,

Hath the glad light, Nature’s most precious flower,

Looked from its home of power

Upon the soul of man.

How often yet,—how often will the sun

Behold the rites of death with that calm smile?

Lo, they have laid the pile;

The virgins, one by one,

Chant solemnly the hymn,—the funeral hymn!

The rich robes float; the costly gems beam bright!

The flambeau’s flickering light

Makes the clear day look dim.

Where is the victim? Lo, the bride appears,

Mute, motionless, a blameless sacrifice;

Upon the pile she lies,

Weeping unheeded tears.

Woe for Nealliny, the tender reed!

Woe! she has said the irrevocable vow;

Self-slaughtered? Answer thou,

Priest of a bloody creed!

For her the dismal pathway must be trod,

The hall of Padalon, the dark, the dread,

Is yawning for its dead,

And the relentless god

Frowns with his moody eyebrows. Naught avail

With those unpitying seers her terrors meek,

Her soft-toned prayers, her cheek

So eloquently pale!

Hark to the cymbal, and the bellowing drum!

“Farewell, farewell!” she whispers. It is past;

And round her, thick and fast,

The stifling flashes come.

Away, away! they fly, those sights of death.

Now fiercer echoes scare my shuddering ear!

Hear’st thou? I hear,—I hear,

Upon the wild wind’s breath,

The thunder of the chariot wheels, the shout

Of mighty multitudes, that cheer or chide,

The charger’s voice of pride!

Hurriedly thronging out

From street and grove the human flood is poured;

Mothers and sons and maidens whose white hands

Wave wide the blazing brands:

And He, the mighty Lord,

The thousand-headed Serpent, sits the while,

Sceptred and crowned, upon his rolling throne,

Writhing his lips of stone

Into a fearful smile.

Beneath the creaking axle the red flood

Gushes unceasing; scattered on the stones

Lie crushed and mangled bones;

Through slaughter and through blood

The chariot of the god—the dark god—reels;

And laughter—shrill, unnatural laughter—rings

As each mad victim springs

To meet the murderous wheels.

And still the cry goes up, “Begin the song,—

Begin! Behold him on his golden seat,

The terrible! ’t is meet,

Thus as he rides along,

“To worship him, the Lord, whose slaves we are!

Yea, yea, we worship, hymning now the hymn,

And dancing round the grim

And flower-encircled car!”