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

The Youth of Buddha

By Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)

From ‘The Light of Asia’

THIS reverence

Lord Buddha kept to all his schoolmasters,

Albeit beyond their learning taught; in speech

Right gentle, yet so wise; princely of mien,

Yet softly mannered; modest, deferent,

And tender-hearted, though of fearless blood:

No bolder horseman in the youthful band

E’er rode in gay chase of the shy gazelles;

No keener driver of the chariot

In mimic contest scoured the palace courts:

Yet in mid-play the boy would oft-times pause,

Letting the deer pass free; would oft-times yield

His half-won race because the laboring steeds

Fetched painful breath; or if his princely mates

Saddened to lose, or if some wistful dream

Swept o’er his thoughts. And ever with the years

Waxed this compassionateness of our Lord,

Even as a great tree grows from two soft leaves

To spread its shade afar; but hardly yet

Knew the young child of sorrow, pain, or tears,

Save as strange names for things not felt by kings,

Nor ever to be felt. But it befell

In the royal garden on a day of spring,

A flock of wild swans passed, voyaging north

To their nest-places on Himála’s breast.

Calling in love-notes down their snowy line

The bright birds flew, by fond love piloted;

And Devadatta, cousin of the Prince,

Pointed his bow, and loosed a willful shaft

Which found the wide wing of the foremost swan

Broad-spread to glide upon the free blue road,

So that it fell, the bitter arrow fixed,

Bright scarlet blood-gouts staining the pure plumes.

Which seeing, Prince Siddârtha took the bird

Tenderly up, rested it in his lap,—

Sitting with knees crossed, as Lord Buddha sits,—

And, soothing with a touch the wild thing’s fright,

Composed its ruffled vans, calmed its quick heart,

Caressed it into peace with light kind palms

As soft as plantain leaves an hour unrolled;

And while the left hand held, the right hand drew

The cruel steel forth from the wound, and laid

Cool leaves and healing honey on the smart.

Yet all so little knew the boy of pain,

That curiously into his wrist he pressed

The arrow’s barb, and winced to feel it sting,

And turned with tears to soothe his bird again.

Then some one came who said, “My Prince hath shot

A swan, which fell among the roses here;

He bids me pray you send it. Will you send?”

“Nay,” quoth Siddârtha: “If the bird were dead,

To send it to the slayer might be well,

But the swan lives; my cousin hath but killed

The godlike speed which throbbed in this white wing.”

And Devadatta answered, “The wild thing,

Living or dead, is his who fetched it down;

’Twas no man’s in the clouds, but fallen ’tis mine.

Give me my prize, fair cousin.” Then our Lord

Laid the swan’s neck beside his own smooth cheek

And gravely spake:—“Say no! the bird is mine,

The first of myriad things which shall be mine

By right of mercy and love’s lordliness.

For now I know, by what within me stirs,

That I shall teach compassion unto men

And be a speechless world’s interpreter,

Abating this accursed flood of woe,

Not man’s alone; but if the Prince disputes,

Let him submit this matter to the wise

And we will wait their word.” So was it done;

In full divan the business had debate,

And many thought this thing and many that,

Till there arose an unknown priest who said,

“If life be aught, the savior of a life

Owns more the living thing than he can own

Who sought to slay; the slayer spoils and wastes,

The cherisher sustains: give him the bird.”

Which judgment all found just; but when the King

Sought out the sage for honor, he was gone;

And some one saw a hooded snake glide forth.

The gods come oft-times thus! So our Lord Buddha

Began his works of mercy.

Yet not more

Knew he as yet of grief than that one bird’s,

Which, being healed, went joyous to its kind.

But on another day the King said, “Come,

Sweet son! and see the pleasaunce of the spring,

And how the fruitful earth is wooed to yield

Its riches to the reaper; how my realm—

Which shall be thine when the pile flames for me—

Feeds all its mouths and keeps the King’s chest filled.

Fair is the season with new leaves, bright blooms,

Green grass, and cries of plow-time.” So they rode

Into a land of wells and gardens, where,

All up and down the rich red loam, the steers

Strained their strong shoulders in the creaking yoke,

Dragging the plows; the fat soil rose and rolled

In smooth dark waves back from the plow; who drove

Planted both feet upon the leaping share

To make the furrow deep; among the palms

The tinkle of the rippling water rang,

And where it ran the glad earth ’broidered it

With balsams and the spears of lemon-grass.

Elsewhere were sowers who went forth to sow;

And all the jungle laughed with nesting-songs,

And all the thickets rustled with small life

Of lizard, bee, beetle, and creeping things,

Pleased at the springtime. In the mango-sprays

The sunbirds flashed; alone at his green forge

Toiled the loud coppersmith; bee-eaters hawked,

Chasing the purple butterflies; beneath,

Striped squirrels raced, the mynas perked and picked,

The nine brown sisters chattered in the thorn,

The pied fish-tiger hung above the pool,

The egrets stalked among the buffaloes,

The kites sailed circles in the golden air;

About the painted temple peacocks flew,

The blue doves cooed from every well, far off

The village drums beat for some marriage feast;

All things spoke peace and plenty, and the Prince

Saw and rejoiced. But, looking deep, he saw

The thorns which grow upon this rose of life:

How the swart peasant sweated for his wage,

Toiling for leave to live; and how he urged

The great-eyed oxen through the flaming hours,

Goading their velvet flanks: then marked he, too,

How lizard fed on ant, and snake on him,

And kite on both; and how the fish-hawk robbed

The fish-tiger of that which it had seized;

The shrike chasing the bulbul, which did chase

The jeweled butterflies; till everywhere

Each slew a slayer and in turn was slain,

Life living upon death. So the fair show

Veiled one vast, savage, grim conspiracy

Of mutual murder, from the worm to man,

Who himself kills his fellow; seeing which—

The hungry plowman and his laboring kine,

Their dewlaps blistered with the bitter yoke,

The rage to live which makes all living strife—

The Prince Siddârtha sighed. “Is this,” he said,

“That happy earth they brought me forth to see?

How salt with sweat the peasant’s bread! how hard

The oxen’s service! in the brake how fierce

The war of weak and strong! i’ th’ air what plots!

No refuge e’en in water. Go aside

A space, and let me muse on what ye show.”

So saying, the good Lord Buddha seated him

Under a jambu-tree, with ankles crossed,

As holy statues sit, and first began

To meditate this deep disease of life,

What its far source and whence its remedy.

So vast a pity filled him, such wide love

For living things, such passion to heal pain,

That by their stress his princely spirit passed

To ecstasy, and, purged from mortal taint

Of sense and self, the boy attained thereat

Dhyâna, first step of “the Path.”