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

Introductory to India


By Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)

(From Guests of the State)


Who follows quickly—if she woman be—

Is clad in a loose robe, whose flowing folds

Mold out the shape they cover, and discover

To the eye of lord and lover,

The strong limbs, girdled waist, the arm that holds

Her island children, and the breasts that feed:

Woman and mother, why that manly stride,

And the two swords at thy side?

Offended or defended, who must bleed?

Her face is powdered, painted, and her hair,

Drawn high above her head, with pins of gold

Is fastened: if light olive tints are fair,

Fair is her oval face, though overbold;

Good-humor lights it, frankness, and the grace

Of high-born manner, honor, pride of place:

But, looking closer, keener, we discern

Something that can be stern,

Like the dark tempests on her mountain highlands,

The wild typhoons that whirl around her thousand islands!

Most bounteous here, as in her sea-girt lands,

Where she stretches forth her hands,

Plucks cocoas and bananas in woods of oak and pine,—

Grapes on every vine,

And walks on gold and silver, and knows her power increased,

Nor fears her nobles longer—the Lady of the East!

What words of what great poet can declare

This woman’s fallen greatness, her despair,

The melancholy light in her mild eyes?

She neither lives nor dies!

First-born of Earth’s First Mother, she gave birth

To the infant races, and her dwelling-place

Cradled the young religions: face to face,

Her many gods and children walked the earth.

(Who could know, when Life began,

Which was god and which was man?

Her mountains are the bases of the sky,

Where the gods brooded, uncreate, eternal,

Celestial and infernal—

Indra everywhere, and Siva nigh,

Thunder voice that in the summer speaks—

Shadow of the wings that fly—

Arrow in the bended bow!

Did they wander down the mountain peaks,

Through the clouds and everlasting snow?

Or did men clamber up and fetch them down below?

Who may know

What their heads and hands portend;

What the beasts whereon they ride,

And whether these be deified;

What was in the beginning and shall be in the end?

What matter? Things like these—

Struggles to ascend the ladder of the air,

Plunges to reach unbottomed mysteries—

Have been thy ruin, India, once so fair,

So powerful, prayerful! Hands that clasp in prayer

Let go the sword and sceptre: thou hast seen

Thine roughly wrested from thee, and hast been

A prey to many spoilers, some thine own:

Timor proclaimed himself thy Emperor;

And Baber conquered, beaten thrice before;

And Nadir took thy glorious Peacock Throne;

And others, Hindoo, Moslem, self-made kings,

Carved out rich kingdoms from thy wide domains—

Had violent, bloody reigns,

And perished (the gods be thanked!) like meaner things,

If meaner, crueller in thy forests be,

Among the wolves and jackals skulking there,

And dreadful tigers roaring in their lair,

Than these foul beasts that so dismembered thee!

O mortal and divine!

The largeness of the primitive world is thine:

The everlasting handiwork remains,

In the high mountain ranges, the broad plains,

The wastes, and vast, impenetrable woods,

(Oppressive solitudes

Where no man was!) the multitudinous rivers—

The gods were generous givers,

If from the heavenly summit of Meru,

Beyond all height, they sent the Ganges down;

Or is it, Goddess, from thy mountained crown,

Far lifted in the inaccessible blue,

Its waters, rising in perpetual snow,

Come in swift torrents, swollen in their flow

By larger rivers, others swelling them,

All veins to this long stem

Of thy great leaf of verdure? Sacred River,

That from Gangotri goest to the Sea,

Past temples, cities, peoples—Holy Stream,

Whom but to hear of, wish for, see, or touch,

Bathe in, or sing old hymns to day by day,

Whom but to name a hundred leagues away,

Was to atone for all the sins committed

In three past lives (for Vishnu so permitted)

O Ganges! would the Powers could re-deliver

Thy virtues lost, or we renew the dream:

We can restore so much,

India, we cannot yet relinquish Thee!