The Brides of Indra
Lo, 'tis Indra! he who kindles, God of celestial fire;
Who lights the thoughts of man with the flame of wild desire.
Have you watched the changeful sky, crimson, amethyst, and gold?
'T is his mantle, and the stars shine from every beaming fold.
He rides the snow-white elephant, lashed from the pale sea-foam.
From his hand the rushing thunderbolt, the arrowy lightning come.
Have you heard the shrieking east-wind when the trees were rent and strown,
And the white salt dust of the sea in the face of heaven was blown?
It is the wrath of Indra; and the sunlight is his smile.
When the clouds expire in raindrops, then Indra weeps the while.
In his beauty, none like him the earth or heaven have had:
With the wistful passion of a man, and the splendor of a god,
He has thrilled the earth's dark places, a supernal flash of fire,
He has sounded all the depths of guilt, and sorrow, and desire.
Now sinking in the struggle, now exalted soaring high,
The dark, wild heart of man strives with his divinity,
God of sunlight, God of storm, still the world his voice obeys,
And the sea of human passion, his mighty power still sways,
On its threshold, looking out on the changing world of life,
With its movement and its crowd, its uproar and its strife,
Stood a group of lovely maidens, charmed and dazzled by the glare.
The gaze of Indra fell upon them, and beholding them so fair
He loved them. Flashing earthward in a form of fire he came,
Kissed their lips, and then he left them, with blanched cheeks, and eyes aflame.
And they knew a god thus thrilled them; and had sought his home again
Ere they tasted aught of love, save its first and sudden pain.
Then they, with vague desire, in their innocence went forth;
Seeking what, or whom, they knew not, they wandered o'er the earth;
And Love, who only breathes in the clearer, upper air,
Led them to the hilly land, where the stars were shining near.
And there, though far beyond them, looking down from cloudless skies,
They saw the great god Indra, with outstretched arms and passionate eyes.
Then their hearts sank faint within them; fain was each one to turn back.
But the soul within had found its wings, and bore them rushing o'er the track,
In a superhuman ecstasy, along the dizzy space,
Till the arms of Indra clasped them in the fire of his embrace.
All unconscious of the bitter cost to those to whom 't is given
Thus to awaken the desire of the ardent sun of heaven,
With quivering lips and beating hearts was the sacrifice achieved,
And the sorrowful great gift---the love of Indra---they received.
Bear me witness, O ye mortals, by the kiss of fire refined,
How closely do the rapture and the anguish intertwine!
I know not which is greatest, for the bliss and suffering strain---
Strain alike, and all too fiercely, on the human heart and brain.
Yet who would cage his soul, when the mighty sun-god came
To thrill his being through, to draw his spirit forth in flame?
But the maidens, knowing naught of an Immortal's love,
Against the crown that Indra laid upon them, wildly, vainly strove;
Though it wrapped them in a glory, their young brows it scorched and tore,
And its golden hues the life-blood of the wearers crimsoned o'er.
"We are faint," they cried, "and weary; from our cheeks the blood has fled;
Our eyes are tired with beauty; in our souls the youth is dead;
The light is but a splendid pain; and, drooping, worn, and rent
With this eternal rapture, our weary hearts are spent;
We turn away in anguish, exhausted and oppressed.
From this fever of our lives, give us rest, give us rest."
They mourned thus until, at length, by resistless impulse led,
From the mountain of Méru, the brides of Indra fled;
Fled and sought those shadowy valleys where the stream of time flows by
Only measured by the seasons; and the mortal dwellers die
Of the slowly creeping years---not of sin, or shame, or wrong;
Not because they have lived too much, but because they 've lived too long.
Oh, what a pleasant land was that! Surely there might peace be found.
A sweet slumberous repose softly lay on all around.
No extreme of heat or cold, excess of light or depth of gloom,
Ever broke the wondrous calm of that wilderness of bloom.
And the hearts of those that dwelt there, emotion ne'er could move,
Or wake the slumbering ecstasies of hate, despair, or love.
Ever young and ever lovely were the women of that land,
And the men who ruled its councils were both courteous and bland.
No labor there was needed, no hardened hand of toil,
For all the heart could ask for sprang spontaneous from the soil.
Old age, disease, and poverty, and suffering could not stay,
For a dark and terrible river ever hurried them away,
As it poured its troubled waters through the shining land of gold,
Washing all its peaceful borders, muttering fiercely, as it rolled,
Words of menace and despair through its sinister black flood,
Which the smiling people on its banks heard, but never understood.
Wretched, flying, worn, and weary, to this luxurious land
Hither came these hapless wanderers, the fugitive fair band.
Their strange beauty and their wanness, born of passions here unknown
To the passionless who dwelt here, touched their hearts and they were won---
Touched their hearts with sweet compassion for each lovely fugitive,
And they cried, "Oh, stay here with us; we'll share with you, while we live."
Now pale, and with lustrous eyes, wandering daily side by side,
The once beloved of Indra in loneliness abide;
No friendly voices greet them as, dejected and apart,
They pass the idle throng, slow of step and sad at heart.
Each morning wakes anew a gnawing, fierce desire,
That the evening, in despair and in misery, sees expire;
And a curse pursues them ever like an avenging ghost---
The curse that haunts and maddens, of a glory won and lost.