Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Hymn to the Ganges

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

India: Ganges, the River

Hymn to the Ganges

By Sir William Jones (1746–1794)

HOW sweetly Ganga smiles, and glides

Luxuriant o’er her broad autumnal bed!

Her waves perpetual verdure spread,

Whilst health and plenty deck her golden sides:

As when an eagle, child of light,

On Carabala’s unmeasured height,

By Patala, the pontiffs throne revered,

O’er her eyry proudly reared

Sits brooding, and her plumage vast expands,

Thus Ganga o’er her cherished lands,

To Brahma’s grateful race endeared,

Throws wide her fostering arms, and on her banks divine

Sees temples, groves, and glittering towers, that in her crystal shine.

Above the stretch of mortal ken,

On blessed Cailasa’s top, where every stem

Glowed with a vegetable gem,

Mahesa stood, the dread and joy of men;

While Parvati, to gain a boon,

Fixed on his locks a beamy moon,

And hid his frontal eye, in jocund play,

With reluctant sweet delay:

All nature straight was locked in dim eclipse

Till Brahmans pure with hallowed lips

And warbled prayers restored the day;

When Ganga from his brow by heavenly fingers pressed

Sprang radiant, and descending graced the caverns of the west.

The sun’s car blazed, and laughed the morn;

What time near proud Cantesa’s eastern bowers,

(While Devata’s rained living flowers)

A river-god, so Brahma willed, was born,

And rolled mature his vivid stream

Impetuous with celestial gleam:

The charms of Ganga, through all worlds proclaimed,

Soon his youthful breast enflamed,

But destiny the bridal hour delayed;

Then, distant from the westering maid,

He flowed, now blissful Sanpo named,

By Palte crowned with hills, bold Rimbu’s towering state,

And where sage Trashilhumbo hails her Lama’s form renate.

But she, whose mind, at Siva’s nod

The picture of that sovereign youth had seen,

With graceful port and warlike mien,

In arms and vesture like his parent God,

Smit with the bright idea rushed,

And from her sacred mansion gushed,

Yet ah! with erring step. The western hills

Pride, not pious ardor, fills;

In fierce confederacy the giant bands

Advance with venom-darting hands,

Fed by their own malignant rills;

Nor could her placid grace their savage fury quell:

The madding rifts and shouldering crags her foamy flood repel.

“Confusion wild and anxious woe

Haunt your waste brow,” she said, “unholy rocks,

Far from the nectar-dropping locks!

But thou, loved Father, teach my waves to flow.”

Loud thunder her high birth confessed;

Then from the inhospitable west

She turned, and, gliding o’er a lovelier plain,

Cheered the pearled East again;

Through groves of nard she rolled, o’er spicy reeds,

Through golden vales and emerald meads;

Till, pleased with Indra’s fair domain,

She won through yielding marl her heaven-directed way:

With lengthened notes her eddies curled, and poured a blaze of day.

Smoothly by Sambal’s flaunting bowers,

Smoothly she flows, where Calinadi brings

To Canyacuvja, seat of kings,

On prostrate waves her tributary flowers;

Whilst Yamunà, whose waters clear

Famed Indraprestha’s valleys cheer,

With Sereswati knit in mystic chain,

Gurgles o’er the vocal plain

Of Mathura, by sweet Brindávan’s grove,

Where Gopa’s love-lorn daughters rove,

And hurls her azure stream amain,

Till blest Prayága’s point beholds three mingling tides,

Where pilgrims on the far-sought bank drink nectar, as it glides.

From Himola’s perennial snow,

And southern Palamau’s less daring steep,

Sonorous rivers, bright though deep,

O’er thirsty deserts youth and freshness throw.

“A goddess comes,” cried Gumti chaste,

And rolled her flood with zealous haste:

Her followed Soma with pellucid wave

Dancing from her diamond cave,

Broad Gogra, rushing swift from northern hills,

Red Gandac, drawn by crocodiles,

(Herds, drink not there, nor herdsmen, lave!)

Cosa, whose bounteous hand Nepalian odor flings,

And Mahanadi laughing wild at cities, thrones, and kings.

Thy temples, Casi, next she sought,

And verdurous flames by tepid breezes fanned,

Where health extends her pinions bland,

Thy groves, where pious Valmic sat and thought,

Where Vyása poured the strain sublime,

That laughs at all consuming time,

And Brahmans rapt the lofty Veda sing.

Cease, O, cease, a ruffian king,

The demon of his empire, not the grace,

His ruthless bandits bids deface

The shrines, whence gifts ethereal spring:

So shall his frantic sons with discord rend his throne,

And his fair-smiling realms be swayed by nations yet unknown.

Less hallowed scenes her course prolong;

But Sama, restless power, forbids delay:

To love all virtues homage pay,

E’en stern religion yields. How full, how strong

Her trembling, panting surges run,

Where Patali’s immortal son

To domes and turrets gives his awful name

Fragrant in the gales of fame!

Nor stop, where Rama, bright from dire alarms,

Sinks in chaste Sita’s constant arms,

While bards his wars and truth proclaim:

There from a fiery cave the bubbling crystal flows,

And Muctigir, delightful hill, with mirth and beauty glows.

O rising bowers, great Cali’s boast,

And thou, from Ganga named, enchanting mount,

What voice your wailings can recount

Borne by shrill echo o’er each howling coast,

When He who bade your forests bloom,

Shall seal his eyes in iron gloom?

Exalted youth! The godless mountaineer,

Roaming round his thickets drear,

Whom rigor fired, nor legions could appall,

I see before thy mildness fall,

Thy wisdom love, thy justice fear:

A race, whom rapine nursed, whom gory murder stains,

Thy fair example wins to peace, to gentle virtue trains.

But mark, where old Bhágirath leads

(This boon his prayers of Mahádèw obtain:

Grace more distinguished who could gain?)

Her calmer current o’er his western meads,

Which trips the fertile plains along,

When vengeance waits the oppressor’s wrong;

Then girds, fair Nawadwip, thy shaded cells,

Where the Pandit musing dwells;

Thence by the abode of arts and commerce glides,

Till Sagar breasts the bitter tides;

While she, whom struggling passion swells,

Beyond the labyrinth green, where pards by moonlight prowl,

With rapture seeks her destined lord, and pours her mighty soul.

Meanwhile o’er Pótyid’s musky dales,

Gay Rangamar, where sweetest spikenard blooms,

And Siret, famed for strong perfumes,

That, flung from shining tresses, lull the gales,

Wild Brahmaputra winding flows,

And murmurs hoarse his amorous woes;

Then, charming Gunga seen, the heavenly boy

Rushes with tumultuous joy:

(Can aught but love to men or gods be sweet?)

When she, the long-lost youth to greet,

Darts, not as earth-born lovers toy,

But blending her fierce waves, and teeming verdant isles;

While buxom Lacshmi crowns their bed, and sounding ocean smiles.

What name, sweet bird! will best allure

Thy sacred ear, and give the honor due?

Vishnupedi? Mild Bhismarsu?

Smooth Suranimnaga? Trisrota pure?

By that I call; its power confess;

With growing gifts thy suppliants bless,

Who with full sails in many a light-oared boat

On thy jasper bosom float;

Nor frown, dread goddess, on a peerless race

With liberal heart and martial grace,

Wafted from colder isles remote:

As they preserve our laws, and bid our terror cease,

So be their darling laws preserved in health, in joy, and peace!