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Curse of Kehama:
Robert Southey.

Καταραι, ως και τα αλεκτρυονονεοττα, οικον αει, οψε κεν επανηξαν
Αποφθ. Ανεκ. του Γυλιελ. του Μητ.






This book was originally digitized by Google and is intended for
personal, non-commercial use only.

Original page numbers are given in curly brackets. Footnotes have been
relocated to the end of the book. Passages originally rendered in
small-caps have been changed to all-caps in the text version of this

Alterations: [pp. 168, 191] Correct misspellings of Edward Moor's
last name; [p. 194] change "battel" to "battle"; and [p. 237] change
"Son and Moon" to "Sun and Moon".



IN the religion of the Hindoos, which of all false religions is the
most monstrous in its fables, and the most fatal in its effects, there
is one remarkable peculiarity. Prayers, penances, and sacrifices, are
supposed to possess an inherent and actual value, in no degree
depending upon the disposition or motive of the person who performs
them. They are drafts upon Heaven, for which the Gods cannot refuse
payment. The worst men, bent upon the worst designs, have in this
manner obtained power which has made them formidable to the Supreme
Deities themselves, and rendered an _Avatar_, or Incarnation of
Veeshnoo the Preserver, necessary. This belief is the foundation of
the following Poem. The story is original; but, in all its parts,
consistent with the superstition upon which it is built; and however
startling the fictions may appear, they might almost be called
credible when compared with the genuine tales of Hindoo mythology.

No figures can be imagined more anti-picturesque, and less poetical,
than the mythological personages of the Bramins. This deformity was
easily kept out of sight: - their hundred hands are but a clumsy
personification of power; their numerous heads only a gross image of
divinity, "whose countenance," as the Bhagvat-Geeta expresses it, "is
turned on every side." To the other obvious objection, that the religion
of Hindostan is not generally known enough to supply fit machinery for
an English poem, I can only answer, that, if every allusion to it
throughout the work is not sufficiently self-explained to render the
passage intelligible, there is a want of skill in the poet. Even those
readers who should be wholly unacquainted with the writings of our
learned Orientalists, will find all the preliminary knowledge that can
be needful, in the brief explanation of mythological names prefixed to
the Poem.


1. The Funeral
2. The Curse
3. The Recovery
4. The Departure
5. The Separation
6. Casyapa
7. The Swerga
8. The Sacrifice
9. The Home Scene
10. Mount Meru
11. The Enchantress
12. The Sacrifice Completed


Στησατε μοι Πρωτηα πολυτροπον, οφρα φανειη
Ποικιλον ειδος εχων, οτι ποικιλον υμνον αρασσω.
Νον. Διον.

For I will for no man's pleasure
Change a syllable or measure;
Pedants shall not tie my strains
To our antique poets' veins;
Being born as free as these,
I will sing as I shall please.
George Wither.


BRAMA, the Creator.

VEESHNOO, the Preserver.

SEEVA, the Destroyer.

These form the Trimourtee, or Trinity, as it has been called, of the
Bramins. The allegory is obvious, but it has been made for the
Trimourtee, not the Trimourtee for the allegory; and these Deities are
regarded by the people as three distinct and personal Gods. The two
latter have at this day their hostile sects of worshippers; that of
Seeva is the most numerous; and in this Poem, Seeva is represented as
Supreme among the Gods. This is the same God whose name is variously
written Seeb, Sieven and Siva, Chiven by the French, Xiven by the
Portugueze, and whom European writers sometimes denominate Eswara,
Iswaren, Mahadeo, Mahadeva, Rutren, - according to which of his
thousand and eight names prevailed in the country where they obtained
their Information.

INDRA, God of the Elements.

The SWERGA, his Paradise, - one of the Hindoo heavens.

YAMEN, Lord of Hell, and Judge of the Dead.

PADALON, Hell, - under the Earth, and, like the Earth, of an octagon
shape; its eight gates are guarded by as many Gods.

MARRIATALY, the Goddess who is chiefly worshipped by the lower casts.

POLLEAR, or Ganesa, - the Protector of Travellers. His statues are
placed in the highways, and sometimes in a small lonely sanctuary, in
the streets and in the fields.

CASYAPA, the Father of the Immortals.

DEVETAS, The Inferior Deities.

SURAS, Good Spirits.

ASURAS, Evil Spirits, or Devils.

GLENDOVEERS, the most beautiful of the Good Spirits, the Grindouvers
of Sonnerat.




Midnight, and yet no eye
Through all the Imperial City clos'd in sleep!
Behold her streets a-blaze
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,
Quench'd in the unnatural light which might out-stare
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! 'tis the funeral trumpet's breath!
'Tis 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 drown'd
Amid that 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,
Mingle and swell 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 Bramins lead the way,
Chaunting 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;
'Tis but the crimson canopy
Which o'er his cheek the 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;
For 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
Trembles, and glitters to the torches' 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?
Them were all hearts of all the throng deploring,
For not in that innumerable throng
Was one who lov'd the dead; for who could know
What aggravated wrong
Provok'd 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 clamour,
Of horn, and trump, and tambour;
Incessant at the roar
Of streams which down the wintry mountain pour,
And louder than the dread commotion
Of stormy billows on a rocky shore,
When the winds rage over the wares,
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 bestrew'd,
And built of precious sandal wood.
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 stern 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.

Woe! woe! for Azla takes her seat
Upon the funeral pile!
Calmly she took her seat,
Calmly the whole terrific pomp survey'd;
As on her lap the while
The lifeless head of Arvalan was laid.
Woe! woe! Nealliny,
The young Nealliny!
They strip her ornaments away,
Bracelet and anklet, ring, and chain, and zone;
Around her neck they leave
The marriage knot alone, . . .
That marriage band, which when
Yon waning moon was young,
Around her virgin neck
With bridal joy was hung.
Then with white flowers, the coronal of death,
Her jetty locks they crown.
O sight of misery!
Yon cannot hear her cries, . . . all other sound
In that wild dissonance is drown'd; . . .
But in her face you see
The supplication and the agony, . . .
See in her swelling throat the desperate strength
That with vain effort struggles yet for life;
Her arms contracted now in fruitless strife,
Now wildly at full length
Towards the crowd in vain for pity spread, . . .
They force her on, they bind her to the dead.

Then all around retire;
Circling the pile, the ministring Bramins stand,
Each lifting in his hand a torch on fire.
Alone the Father of the dead advanced
And lit the funeral pyre.

At once on every side
The circling torches drop;
At once on every side
The fragrant oil is pour'd;
At once on every side
The rapid flames rush up.
Then hand in hand the victim band
Roll in the dance around the funeral pyre;
Their garments' flying folds
Float inward to the fire.
In drunken whirl they wheel around;
One drops, . . . another plunges in;
And still with overwhelming din
The tambours and the trumpets sound;
And clap of hand, and shouts, and cries,
From all the multitude arise:
While round and round, in giddy wheel,
Intoxicate they roll and reel,
Till one by one whirl'd in they fall,
And the devouring flames have swallowed all.

Then all was still; the drums and clarions ceas'd;
The multitude were hush'd in silent awe;
Only the roaring of the flames was heard.



Alone towards the Table of the dead,
Kehama mov'd; there on the altar-stone
Honey and rice he spread,
There with collected voice and painful tone
He call'd upon his son.
Lo! Arvalan appears.
Only Kehama's powerful eye beheld
The thin etherial spirit hovering nigh;
Only the Rajah's ear
Receiv'd his feeble breath.
And is this all? the mournful spirit said,
This all that thou canst give me after death?
This unavailing pomp,
These empty pageantries that mock the dead!

In bitterness the Rajah heard,
And groan'd, and smote his breast, and o'er his face
Cowl'd the white mourning vest.

Art thou not powerful, . . . even like a God?
And must I, through my years of wandering,
Shivering and naked to the elements,
In wretchedness await
The hour of Yamen's wrath?
I thought thou wouldst embody me anew.
Undying as I am, . . .
Yea, re-create me! . . . Father, is this all!
This all! and thou Almighty!

But in that wrongful and upbraiding tone,
Kehama found relief,
For rising anger half supprest his grief.
Reproach not me! he cried;
Had I not spell-secur'd thee from disease,
Fire, sword, . . . all common accidents of man, . . .
And thou! . . . fool, fool, . . . to perish by a stake!
And by a peasant's arm! . . .
Even now, when from reluctant Heaven
Forcing new gifts and mightier attributes,
So soon I should have quell'd the Death-God's power.

Waste not thy wrath on me, quoth Arvalan,
It was my hour of folly! Fate prevail'd,
Nor boots it to reproach me that I fell.
I am in misery, Father! Other souls
Predoom'd to Indra's Heaven, enjoy the dawn
Of bliss: . . . to them the tempered elements
Minister joy, genial delight the sun
Sheds on their happy being, and the stars
Effuse on them benignant influencies;
And thus o'er earth and air they roam at will,
And when the number of their days is full,
Go fearlessly before the awful throne.
But I, . . . all naked feeling and raw life, . . .
What worse than this hath Yamen's hell in store?
If ever thou didst love me, mercy, Father!
Save me, for thou canst save: . . . the Elements
Know and obey thy voice.

The Elements
Shall torture thee no more; even while I speak
Already dost then feel their power is gone.
Fear not! I cannot call again the past,
Fate hath made that its own; but Fate shall yield
To me the future; and thy doom be fix'd
By mine, not Yamen's will. Meantime, all power
Whereof thy feeble spirit can be made
Participant, I give. Is there aught else
To mitigate thy lot?

Only the sight of vengeance. Give me that!
Vengeance, full, worthy vengeance! . . . not the stroke
Of sodden punishment, . . . no agony
That spends itself and leaves the wretch at rest,
But lasting long revenge.

What, boy? is that cup sweet? then take thy fill!


So as he spake, a glow of dreadful pride
Inflam'd his cheek: with quick and angry stride
He mov'd toward the pile,
And rais'd his hand to hush the crowd, and cried
Bring forth the murderer! At the Rajah's voice,
Calmly, and like a man whom fear had stunn'd,
Ladurlad came, obedient to the call.
But Kailyal started at the sound,
And gave a womanly shriek, and back she drew,
And eagerly she roll'd her eyes around,
As if to seek for aid, albeit she knew
No aid could there be found.

It chanced that near her, on the river-brink,
The sculptur'd form of Marriataly stood;
It was an idol roughly hewn of wood,
Artless, and poor, and rude.
The Goddess of the poor was she;
None else regarded her with piety.
But when that holy image Kailyal view'd,
To that she sprung, to that she clung,
On her own goddess with close-clasping arms,
For life the maiden hung.
They seiz'd the maid; with unrelenting grasp
They bruis'd her tender limbs;
She, nothing yielding, to this only hope
Clings with the strength of frenzy and despair.
She screams not now, she breathes not now,
She sends not up one vow,
She forms not in her soul one secret prayer,
All thought, all feeling, and all powers' of life
In the one effort centering. Wrathful they
With tug and strain would force the maid away. . . .
Didst thou, O Marriataly, see their strife?
In pity didst thou see the suffering maid?
Or was thine anger kindled, that rude hands
Assail'd thy holy image? . . . for behold
The holy image shakes!
Irreverently bold, they deem the maid
Relax'd her stubborn hold,
And now with force redoubled drag their prey;
And now the rooted idol to their sway
Bends, . . . yields, . . . and now it falls. But then they scream,
For lo! they feel the crumbling bank give way,
And all are plunged into the stream.


She hath escap'd my will, Kehama cried,
She hath escap'd, . . . but thou art here,
I have thee still,
The worser criminal!
And on Ladurlad, while he spake, severe
He fix'd his dreadful frown.
The strong reflection of the pile
Lit his dark lineaments,
Lit the protruded brow, the gathered front,
The steady eye of wrath.

But while the fearful silence yet endur'd,
Ladurlad rous'd his soul;
Ere yet the voice of destiny
Which trembled on the Rajah's lips was loos'd,
Eager he interpos'd,
As if despair had waken'd him to hope;
Mercy! oh mercy! only in defence . . .
Only instinctively, . . .
Only to save my child, I smote the Prince.
King of the world, be merciful!
Crush me, . . . but torture not!


The Man-Almighty deign'd him no reply,
Still he stood silent; in no human mood
Of mercy, in no hesitating thought
Of right and justice. At the length he rais'd
His brow yet unrelax'd, . . . his lips unclos'd,
And utter'd from the heart,
With the whole feeling of his soul enforced,
The gather'd vengeance came.

I charm thy life
From the weapons of strife,
From stone and from wood,
From fire and from flood,
From the serpent's tooth,
And the beasts of blood:
From Sickness I charm thee,
And Time shall not harm thee;
But Earth, which is mine,
Its fruits shall deny thee;
And Water shall hear me,
And know thee and fly thee;
And the Winds shall not touch thee
When they pass by thee,
And the Dews shall not wet thee,
When they fall nigh thee:
And thou shalt seek Death
To release thee, in vain;
Thou shalt live in thy pain,
While Kehama shall reign,
With a fire in thy heart,
And a fire in thy brain;
And sleep shall obey me,
And visit thee never,
And the Curse shall be on thee
For ever and ever.

There where the Curse had stricken him,
There stood the miserable man,
There stood Ladurlad, with loose-hanging arms,
And eyes of idiot wandering.
Was it a dream? alas,
He heard the river flow,
He heard the crumbling of the pile,
He heard the wind which shower'd
The thin white ashes round.
There motionless he stood,
As if he hop'd it were a dream,
And fear'd to move, lest he should prove
The actual misery;
And still at times he met Kehama's eye,
Kehama's eye that fasten'd on him still.



The Rajah turn'd toward the pile again,
Loud rose the song of death from all the crowd;
Their din the instruments begin,
And once again join in
With overwhelming sound.
Ladurlad starts, . . . he looks around.
What hast thou here in view,
O wretched man, in this disastrous scene?
The soldier train, the Bramins who renew
Their ministry around the funeral pyre,
The empty palankeens,
The dimly-fading fire.
Where too is she whom most his heart held dear,
His best-beloved Kailyal, where is she,
The solace and the joy of many a year
Of widowhood! is she then gone,
And is he left all-utterly alone,
To bear his blasting curse, and none
To succour or deplore him?
He staggers from the dreadful spot; the throng
Give way in fear before him;
Like one who carries pestilence about,
Shuddering they shun him, where he moves along.
And now he wanders on
Beyond the noisy rout;
He cannot fly and leave his curse behind,
Yet doth he seem to find
A comfort in the change of circumstance.
Adown the shore he strays,
Unknowing where his wretched feet may rest,
But farthest from the fatal place is best.

By this in the orient sky appears the gleam
Of day. Lo! what is yonder in the stream,
Down the slow river floating slow,
In distance indistinct and dimly seen?
The childless one with idle eye
Followed its motion thoughtlessly;
Idly he gaz'd, unknowing why,
And half unconscious that he watch'd its way.
Belike it is a tree
Which some rude tempest, in its sudden sway,
Tore from the rock, or from the hollow shore
The undermining stream hath swept away.

But when anon outswelling by its side,
A woman's robe he spied,
Oh then Ladurlad started,
As one, who in his grave
Had heard an angel's call.
Yea, Marriataly, then hast deign'd to save!
Yea, Goddess! it is she,
To thy dear image clinging senselessly,
And thus in happy hour
Upborne amid the wave
By that preserving power.

Headlong in hope and in joy
Ladurlad dash'd in the water.
The water knew Kehama's spell,
The water shrunk before him.
Blind to the miracle,
He rushes to his daughter,
And treads the river-depths in transport wild,
And clasps and saves his child.

Upon the farther side a level shore
Of sand was spread: thither Ladurlad bore
His daughter, holding still with senseless hand
The saving Goddess; there upon the sand
He laid the livid maid,
Rais'd up against his knees her drooping head;
Bent to her lips, . . . her lips as pale as death, . . .
If he might feel her breath,
His own the while in hope and dread suspended;
Chaf'd her cold breast, and ever and anon
Let his hand rest upon her heart extended.

Soon did his touch perceive, or fancy there,
The first faint motion of returning life.
He chafes her feet, and lays them bare
In the sun; and now again upon her breast
Lays his hot hand; and now her lips he prest,
For now the stronger throb of life he knew:
And her lips tremble too!
The breath comes palpably,
Her quivering lids unclose
Feebly and feebly fell,
Relapsing as it seem'd to dead repose.

So in her father's arms thus languidly,
While over her with earnest gaze he hung,
Silent and motionless she lay,
And painfully and slowly writh'd at fits,
At fits to short convulsive starts was stung.
Till when the struggle and strong agony
Had left her, quietly she lay repos'd:
Her eyes now resting on Ladurlad's face,
Relapsing now, and now again unclos'd.
The look she fix'd upon his face, implies
Nor thought nor feeling; senselessly she lies,
Compos'd like one who sleeps with open eyes.

Long he leant over her,
In silence and in fear.
Kailyal! . . . at length he cried in such a tone,
As a poor mother ventures who draws near,
With silent footstep, to her child's sick bed.
My Father! cried the maid, and rais'd her head,
Awakening then to life and thought, . . . thou here?
For when his voice she heard,
The dreadful past recurr'd,
Which dimly, like a dream of pain,
Till now with troubled sense confus'd her brain.

And hath he spar'd us then? she cried,
Half rising as she spake,
For hope and joy the sudden strength supplied;
In mercy hath he curb'd his cruel will,
That still thou livest? But as thus she said,
Impatient of that look of hope, her sire
Shook hastily his head;
Oh! he hath laid a Curse upon my life,
A clinging curse, quoth he;
Hath sent a fire into my heart and brain,
A burning fire, for ever there to be!

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