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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Jogadhya Uma

By Toru Dutt (1856–1877)

“SHELL bracelets, ho! Shell bracelets, ho!

Fair maids and matrons, come and buy!”

Along the road, in morning’s glow,

The peddler raised his wonted cry.

The road ran straight, a red, red line,

To Khigoram, for cream renowned,

Through pasture meadows where the kine,

In knee-deep grass, stood magic bound

And half awake, involved in mist

That floated in dun coils profound,

Till by the sudden sunbeams kist,

Rich rainbow hues broke all around.

“Shell bracelets, ho! Shell bracelets, ho!”

The roadside trees still dripped with dew

And hung their blossoms like a show.

Who heard the cry? ’Twas but a few;

A ragged herd-boy, here and there,

With his long stick and naked feet;

A plowman wending to his care,

The field from which he hopes the wheat;

An early traveler, hurrying fast

To the next town; an urchin slow

Bound for the school; these heard and passed,

Unheeding all,—“Shell bracelets, ho!”

Pellucid spread a lake-like tank

Beside the road now lonelier still;

High on three sides arose the bank

Which fruit-trees shadowed at their will;

Upon the fourth side was the ghat,

With its broad stairs of marble white,

And at the entrance arch there sat,

Full face against the morning light,

A fair young woman with large eyes,

And dark hair falling to her zone;

She heard the peddler’s cry arise,

And eager seemed his ware to own.

“Shell bracelets, ho! See, maiden, see!

The rich enamel, sunbeam-kist!

Happy, oh happy, shalt thou be,

Let them but clasp that slender wrist;

These bracelets are a mighty charm;

They keep a lover ever true,

And widowhood avert, and harm.

Buy them, and thou shalt never rue.

Just try them on!”—She stretched her hand.

“Oh, what a nice and lovely fit!

No fairer hand in all the land,

And lo! the bracelet matches it.”

Dazzled, the peddler on her gazed,

Till came the shadow of a fear,

While she the bracelet-arm upraised

Against the sun to view more clear.

Oh, she was lovely! but her look

Had something of a high command

That filled with awe. Aside she shook

Intruding curls, by breezes fanned,

And blown across her brows and face,

And asked the price; which when she heard

She nodded, and with quiet grace

For payment to her home referred.

“And where, O maiden, is thy house?

But no,—that wrist-ring has a tongue;

No maiden art thou, but a spouse,

Happy, and rich, and fair, and young.”

“Far otherwise; my lord is poor,

And him at home thou shalt not find;

Ask for my father; at the door

Knock loudly; he is deaf, but kind.

Seest thou that lofty gilded spire,

Above these tufts of foliage green?

That is our place; its point of fire

Will guide thee o’er the tract between.”

“That is the temple spire.”—“Yes, there

We live; my father is the priest;

The manse is near, a building fair,

But lowly to the temple’s east.

When thou hast knocked, and seen him, say,

His daughter, at Dhamaser Ghat,

Shell bracelets bought from thee to-day,

And he must pay so much for that.

Be sure, he will not let thee pass

Without the value, and a meal.

If he demur, or cry alas!

No money hath he,—then reveal;

“Within the small box, marked with streaks

Of bright vermilion, by the shrine,

The key whereof has lain for weeks

Untouched, he’ll find some coin,—’tis mine.

That will enable him to pay

The bracelet’s price. Now fare thee well!”

She spoke; the peddler went away,

Charmed with her voice as by some spell;

While she, left lonely there, prepared

To plunge into the water pure,

And like a rose, her beauty bared,

From all observance quite secure.

Not weak she seemed, nor delicate;

Strong was each limb of flexile grace,

And full the bust; the mien elate,

Like hers, the goddess of the chase

On Latmos hill,—and oh the face

Framed in its cloud of floating hair!

No painter’s hand might hope to trace

The beauty and the glory there!

Well might the peddler look with awe,

For though her eyes were soft, a ray

Lit them at times, which kings who saw

Would never dare to disobey.

Onward through groves the peddler sped,

Till full in front, the sunlit spire

Arose before him. Paths which led

To gardens trim, in gay attire,

Lay all around. And lo! the manse,

Humble but neat, with open door!

He paused, and blessed the lucky chance

That brought his bark to such a shore.

Huge straw-ricks, log huts full of grain,

Sleek cattle, flowers, a tinkling bell,

Spoke in a language sweet and plain,

“Here smiling Peace and Plenty dwell.”

Unconsciously he raised his cry,

“Shell-bracelets, ho!” And at his voice

Looked out the priest, with eager eye,

And made his heart at once rejoice.

“Ho, Sankha peddler! Pass not by,

But step thou in, and share the food

Just offered on our altar high,

If thou art in a hungry mood.

Welcome are all to this repast!

The rich and poor, the high and low!

Come, wash thy feet, and break thy fast;

Then on thy journey strengthened go.”

“Oh, thanks, good priest! Observance due

And greetings! May thy name be blest!

I came on business, but I knew,

Here might be had both food and rest

Without a charge; for all the poor

Ten miles around thy sacred shrine

Know that thou keepest open door,

And praise that generous hand of thine.

But let my errand first be told:

For bracelets sold to thine this day,

So much thou owest me in gold;

Hast thou the ready cash to pay?

“The bracelets were enameled,—so

The price is high.”—“How! Sold to mine?

Who bought them, I should like to know?”

“Thy daughter, with the large black eyne,

Now bathing at the marble ghat.”

Loud laughed the priest at this reply,

“I shall not put up, friend, with that;

No daughter in the world have I;

An only son is all my stay;

Some minx has played a trick, no doubt:

But cheer up, let thy heart be gay,

Be sure that I shall find her out.”

“Nay, nay, good father! such a face

Could not deceive, I must aver;

At all events, she knows thy place,

‘And if my father should demur

To pay thee,’—thus she said,—‘or cry

He has no money, tell him straight

The box vermilion-streaked to try,

That’s near the shrine.’”—“Well, wait, friend, wait!”

The priest said, thoughtful; and he ran

And with the open box came back:—

“Here is the price exact, my man,—

No surplus over, and no lack.

“How strange! how strange! Oh, blest art thou

To have beheld her, touched her hand,

Before whom Vishnu’s self must bow,

And Brahma and his heavenly band!

Here have I worshiped her for years,

And never seen the vision bright;

Vigils and fasts and secret tears

Have almost quenched my outward sight;

And yet that dazzling form and face

I have not seen, and thou, dear friend,

To thee, unsought-for, comes the grace:

What may its purport be, and end?

“How strange! How strange! Oh, happy thou!

And couldst thou ask no other boon

Than thy poor bracelet’s price? That brow

Resplendent as the autumn moon

Must have bewildered thee, I trow,

And made thee lose thy senses all.”

A dim light on the peddler now

Began to dawn; and he let fall

His bracelet-basket in his haste,

And backward ran, the way he came:

What meant the vision fair and chaste;

Whose eyes were they,—those eyes of flame?

Swift ran the peddler as a hind;

The old priest followed on his trace;

They reached the ghat, but could not find

The lady of the noble face.

The birds were silent in the wood;

The lotus flowers exhaled a smell,

Faint, over all the solitude;

A heron as a sentinel

Stood by the bank. They called,—in vain;

No answer came from hill or fell;

The landscape lay in slumber’s chain;

E’en Echo slept within her shell.

Broad sunshine, yet a hush profound!

They turned with saddened hearts to go;

Then from afar there came a sound

Of silver bells;—the priest said low,

“O Mother, Mother, deign to hear.

The worship-hour has rung; we wait

In meek humility and fear.

Must we return home desolate?

Oh come, as late thou cam’st unsought,

Or was it but some idle dream?

Give us some sign, if it was not;

A word, a breath, or passing gleam.”

Sudden from out the water sprung

A rounded arm, on which they saw

As high the lotus buds among

It rose, the bracelet white, with awe.

Then a wide ripple tost and swung

The blossoms on that liquid plain,

And lo! the arm so fair and young

Sank in the waters down again.

They bowed before the mystic Power,

And as they home returned in thought,

Each took from thence a lotus flower

In memory of the day and spot.

Years, centuries, have passed away,

And still before the temple shrine

Descendants of the peddler pay

Shell-bracelets of the old design

As annual tribute. Much they own

In lands and gold,—but they confess

From that eventful day alone

Dawned on their industry, success.

Absurd may be the tale I tell,

Ill-suited to the marching times;

I loved the lips from which it fell,

So let it stand among my rhymes.