The Ramayana/Book II/Canto XX: Kaus'alyá's Lament

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The Ramayana of Valmiki , translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Canto XX: Kaus'alyá's Lament

But in the monarch's palace, when
Sped from the bower that lord of men,
Up from the weeping women went
A mighty wail and wild lament:
'Ah, he who ever freely did
His duty ere his sire could bid,
Our refuge and our sure defence,
This day will go an exile hence,
He on Kaus'alyá loves to wait
Most tender and affectionate,
And as he treats his mother, thus
From childhood has he treated us.
On themes that sting he will not speak,
And when reviled is calm and meek.
He soothes the angry, heals offence:
He goes to-day an exile hence.
Our lord the king is most unwise,
And looks on life with doting eyes,
Who in his folly casts away
The world's protection, hope, and stay.'
Thus in their woe, like kine bereaved
Of their young calves, [1] the ladies grieved,
And ever as they wept and wailed
With keen reproach the king assailed.
Their lamentation, mixed with tears,
Smote with new grief the monarch's ears,
Who, burnt with woe too great to bear,
Fell on his couch and fainted there.
Then Ráma, smitten with the pain
His heaving heart could scarce restrain,
Groaned like an elephant and strode
With Lakshman to the queen's abode.
A warder there, whose hoary eld
In honour high by all was held,
Guarding the mansion, sat before
The portal, girt with many more.
Swift to their feet the warders sprang,
And loud the acclamation rang,
Hail, Ráma! as to him they bent,
Of victor chiefs preëminent.
One court he passed, and in the next
Saw, masters of each Veda text,
A crowd of Bráhmans, good and sage,
Dear to the king for lore and age.
To these he bowed his reverent head,
Thence to the court beyond he sped.
Old dames and tender girls, their care
To keep the doors, were stationed there.
And all, when Ráma came in view,
Delighted to the chamber flew,
To bear to Queen Kaus'alyás ear
The tidings that she loved to hear.
The queen, on rites and prayer intent,
In careful watoh the night had spent,
And at the dawn, her son to aid,
To Vishnu holy offerings made.
Firm in her vows, serenely glad.
In robes of spotless linen clad,
As texts prescribe, with grace implored,
Her offerings in the fire she poured.
Within her splendid bower he came,
And saw her feed the sacred flame
There oil, and grain, and vases stood,
With wreaths, and curds, and cates, and wood,
And milk, and sesamum, and rice,
The elements of sacrifice.
She, worn and pale with many a fast
And midnight hours in vigil past,
In robes of purest white arrayed,
To Lakshmí Queen drink-offerings paid.
So long away, she flew to meet
   The darling of her soul:
So runs a mare with eager feet
   To welcome back her foal.
He with his firm support upheld
   The queen, as near she drew,
And, by maternal love impelled,
   Her arms around him threw.
Her hero son, her matchless boy
   She kissed upon the head:
She blessed him in her pride and joy
   With tender words, and said:
"Be like thy royal sires of old,
The nobly good, the lofty-souled!
Their lengthened days and fame be thine,
And virtue, as beseems thy line!
The pious king, thy father, see
True to his promise made to thee:
That truth thy sire this day will show,
And regent's power on thee bestow."
She spoke. He took the proffered seat,
And as she pressed her son to eat,
Raised reverent bands, and, touched with shame,
Made answer to the royal dame:
  "Dear lady, thou hast yet to know
That danger threats, and heavy woe:
A grief that will with sore distress
On Sítá, thee, and Lakshman press.
What need of seats have such as I?
This day to Dandak wood I fly.
The hour is come, a time, unmeet
For silken couch and gilded seat.
I must to lonely wilds repair,
Abstain from flesh, and living there
On roots, fruit, honey, hermit's food,
Pass twice seven years in solitude.
To Bharat's hand the king will yield
The regent power I thought to wield,
And me, a hermit, will he send
My days in Dandak wood to spend."
As when the woodman's axe has lopped
A S'al branch in the grove, she dropped:
So from the skies a Goddess falls
Ejected from her radiant halls.
When Ráma saw her lying low,
Prostrate by too severe a blow,
Around her form his arms he wound
And raised her fainting from the ground.
His hand upheld her like a mare
Who feels her load too sore to bear,
And sinks upon the way o'ertoiled,
And all her limbs with dust are soiled.
He soothed her in her wild distress
With loving touch and soft caress.
She, meet for highest fortune, eyed
The hero watching by her side,
And thus, while Lakshman bent to hear,
Addressed her son with many a tear:
"If, Ráma, thou had ne'er been born
My child to make thy mother mourn,
Though reft of joy, a childless queen,
Such woe as this I ne'er had seen.
Though to the childless wife there clings
One sorrow armed with keenest stings,
'No child have I: no child have I,'
No second misery prompts the sigh.
When long I sought, alas, in vain,
My husband's love and bliss to gain,
In Ráma all my hopes I set
And dreamed I might be happy yet.
I, of the consorts first and best,
Must bear my rivals' taunt and jest,
And brook, though better far than they,
The soul distressing words they say.
What woman can be doomed to pine
In misery more sore than mine,
Whose hopeless days must still be spent
In grief that ends not and lament?
They scorned me when my son was nigh;
When he is banished I must die.
Me, whom my husband never prized,
Kaikeyí's retinue despised
With boundless insolence, though she
Tops not in rank nor equals me.
And they who do me service yet,
Nor old allegiance quite forget,
Whene'er they see Kaikeyí's son,
With silent lips my glances shun.
How, O my darling, shall I brook
Each menace of Kaikeyí's look,
And listen, in my low estate,
To taunts of one so passionate?
For seventeen years since thou wast born
I sat and watched, ah me, forlorn!
Hoping some blessed day to see
Deliverance from my woes by thee.
Now comes this endless grief and wrong,
So dire I cannot bear it long,
Sinking, with age and sorrow worn.
Beneath my rivals' taunts and scorn.
How shall I pass in dark distress
My long lone days of wretchedness
Without my Ráma's face, as bright
As the full moon to cheer my sight?
Alas, my cares thy steps to train,
And fasts, and vows, and prayers are vain.
Hard, hard, I ween, must be this heart
To hear this blow nor burst apart,
As some great river bank, when first
The floods of Rain-time on it burst.
   No, Fate that speeds not will not slay,
     Nor Yama's halls vouchsafe me room,
   Or, like a lion's weeping prey,
     Death now had borne me to my doom.
   Hard is my heart and wrought of steel
     That breaks not with the crushing blow,
   Or in the pangs this day I feel
     My lifeless frame had sunk below.
   Death waits his hour, nor takes me now:
     But this sad thought augments my pain,
   That prayer and largess, fast and vow,
      And Heavenward service are in vain.
    Ah me, ah me! with fruitless toil
      Of rites austere a child I sought:
    Thus seed cast forth on barren soil
      Still lifeless lies and comes to naught.
    If ever wretch by anguish grieved
      Before his hour to death had fled,
    I mourning, like a cow bereaved,
      Had been this day among the dead."


  1. The comparison may to a European reader seem a homely one. But Spenser likens an infuriate woman to a cow 'That is berobbed of her youngling dere.' Shakspeare also makes King Henry VI. compare himself to the calf's mother that 'Runs lowing up and down, Looking the way her harmless young one went.' 'Cows,' says De Quincey, 'are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young, when deprived of them, and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these gentle creatures.'