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

India: Delhi

The Funeral of Arvalan

By Robert Southey (1774–1843)

(From The Curse of Kehama)

MIDNIGHT, and yet no eye

Through all the Imperial City closed in sleep!

Behold her streets ablaze

With light that seems to kindle the red sky,

Her myriads swarming through the crowded ways!

Master and slave, old age and infancy,

All, all abroad to gaze;

House-top and balcony

Clustered with women, who throw back their veils

With unimpeded and insatiate sight

To view the funeral pomp which passes by,

As if the mournful rite

Were but to them a scene of joyance and delight.

Vainly, ye blessed twinklers of the night,

Your feeble beams ye shed,

Quenched in the unnatural light which might outstare

Even the broad eye of day;

And thou from thy celestial way

Pourest, O moon, an ineffectual ray!

For lo! ten thousand torches flame and flare

Upon the midnight air,

Blotting the lights of heaven

With one portentous glare.

Behold the fragrant smoke in many a fold

Ascending, floats along the fiery sky,

And hangeth visible on high,

A dark and waving canopy.

Hark! ’t is the funeral trumpet’s breath!

’T is the dirge of death!

At once ten thousand drums begin,

With one long thunder-peal the ear assailing;

Ten thousand voices then join in,

And with one deep and general din

Pour their wild wailing.

The song of praise is drowned

Amid the deafening sound;

You hear no more the trumpet’s tone,

You hear no more the mourner’s moan,

Though the trumpet’s breath and the dirge of death

Swell with commingled force the funeral yell.

But rising over all in one acclaim

Is heard the echoed and re-echoed name,

From all that countless rout;

Arvalan! Arvalan!

Arvalan! Arvalan!

Ten times ten thousand voices in one shout

Call Arvalan! The overpowering sound

From house to house repeated rings about,

From tower to tower rolls round.

The death-procession moves along;

Their bald heads shining to the torches’ ray,

The Brahmins lead the way,

Chanting the funeral song.

And now at once they shout,

Arvalan! Arvalan!

With quick rebound of sound,

All in accordant cry,

Arvalan! Arvalan!

The universal multitude reply.

In vain ye thunder on his ear the name;

Would ye awake the dead?

Borne upright in his palankeen,

There Arvalan is seen!

A glow is on his face,—a lively red;

It is the crimson canopy

Which o’er his cheek a reddening shade hath shed;

He moves,—he nods his head,—

But the motion comes from the bearers’ tread,

As the body, borne aloft in state,

Sways with the impulse of its own dead weight.

Close following his dead son, Kehama came,

Nor joining in the ritual song,

Nor calling the dear name;

With head deprest and funeral vest,

And arms enfolded on his breast,

Silent, and lost in thought he moves along.

King of the world, his slaves unenvying now

Behold their wretched Lord; rejoiced they see

The mighty Rajah’s misery;

That Nature in his pride hath dealt the blow,

And taught the Master of Mankind to know

Even he himself is man, and not exempt from woe.

O sight of grief! the wives of Arvalan,

Young Azla, young Nealliny, are seen!

Their widow-robes of white,

With gold and jewels bright,

Each like an Eastern queen.

Woe! woe! around their palankeen,

As on a bridal day,

With symphony and dance and song,

Their kindred and their friends come on.

The dance of sacrifice! the funeral song!

And next the victim slaves in long array

Richly bedight to grace the fatal day,

Move onward to their death;

The clarions’ stirring breath

Lifts their thin robes in every flowing fold,

And swells the woven gold,

That on the agitated air

Flutters and glitters to the torch’s glare.

A man and maid of aspect wan and wild,

Then, side by side, by bowmen guarded, came;

O wretched father! O unhappy child!

Them were all eyes of all the throng exploring,—

Is this the daring man

Who raised his fatal hand at Arvalan?

Is this the wretch condemned to feel

Kehama’s dreadful wrath?

Then were all hearts of all the throng deploring;

For not in that innumerable throng

Was one who loved the dead; for who could know

What aggravated wrong

Provoked the desperate blow!

Far, far behind, beyond all reach of sight,

In ordered files the torches flow along,

One ever-lengthening line of gliding light;

Far—far behind,

Rolls on the undistinguishable clamor,

Of horn and trump and tambour;

Incessant as the roar

Of streams which down the wintry mountain pour,

And louder than the dread commotion

Of breakers on a rocky shore,

When the winds rage over the waves,

And ocean to the tempest raves.

And now toward the bank they go,

Where winding on their way below,

Deep and strong the waters flow.

Here doth the funeral pile appear,

With myrrh and ambergris bestrewed,

And built of precious sandalwood.

They cease their music and their outcry here,

Gently they rest the bier;

They wet the face of Arvalan,

No sign of life the sprinkled drops excite;

They feel his breast,—no motion there;

They feel his lips,—no breath;

For not with feeble nor with erring hand

The brave avenger dealt the blow of death.

Then with a doubling peal and deeper blast

The tambours and the trumpets sound on high,

And with a last and loudest cry

They call on Arvalan.