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

India: Ganges, the River

The Ganges

By Robert Southey (1774–1843)

(From The Curse of Kehama)

A STREAM descends on Meru Mountain;

None hath seen its secret fountain;

It had its birth, so sages say,

Upon the memorable day

When Parvati presumed to lay,

In wanton play,

Her hands, too venturous goddess, in her mirth,

On Seeva’s eyes, the light and life of earth.

Thereat the heart of the universe stood still;

The elements ceased their influences; the hours

Stopt on the eternal round; motion and breath,

Time, change, and life and death,

In sudden trance opprest, forgot their powers.

A moment, and the dread eclipse was ended;

But at the thought of Nature thus suspended,

The sweat on Seeva’s forehead stood,

And Ganges thence upon the world descended,

The holy river, the redeeming flood.

None hath seen its secret fountain;

But on the top of Meru Mountain,

Which rises o’er the hills of earth,

In light and clouds, it hath its mortal birth.

Earth seems that pinnacle to rear

Sublime above this worldly sphere,

Its cradle, and its altar, and its throne,

And there the new-born river lies

Outspread beneath its native skies,

As if it there would love to dwell

Alone and unapproachable.

Soon flowing forward, and resigned

To the will of the Creating Mind,

It springs at once, with sudden leap,

Down from the immeasurable steep.

From rock to rock, with shivering force rebounding,

The mighty cataract rushes; heaven around,

Like thunder, with the incessant roar resounding,

And Meru’s summit shaking with the sound.

Wide spreads the snowy foam, the sparkling spray

Dances aloft; and ever there at morning

The earliest sunbeams haste to wing their way,

With rainbow wreaths the holy stream adorning;

And duly the adoring moon at night

Sheds her white glory there,

And in the watery air

Suspends her halo-crowns of silver light.