"Brushing with hasty steps the dews away"
Timothy 

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
         The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight,
         And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
         And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
         The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
         Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
         Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
         The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
         The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
         No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
         Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
         Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
         Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
         How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
         Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
         The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
         And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
         The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
         If Mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
         The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
         Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
         Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
         Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
         Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
         Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
         And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
         The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
         And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
         The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
         Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
         The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
         And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
         Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
         And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
         To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
         With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
         Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect,
         Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
         Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd muse,
         The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
         That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
         This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
         Nor cast one longing, ling'ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
         Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
         Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead
         Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
         Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
         "Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
         To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.

"There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
         That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
         And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
         Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
         Or craz'd with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

"One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
         Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
         Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

"The next with dirges due in sad array
         Slow thro' the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,
         Grav'd on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."

THE EPITAPH
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
       A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
       And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
       Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
       He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
       Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
       The bosom of his Father and his God.

~Thomas Gray 1716—1771~

"Thou need na start awa sae hasty,"
Timothy 

On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss ’t!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

~Robert Burns 1759—1796~

"Hasty tags fill the pissed-on walls."
Sinai 

I never saw a place like this.
With so many homeless people, junkies.
Every bench contains a hobo,
blurred ink on swollen vains.
Hasty tags fill the pissed-on walls.
Eyes shoot through these streets,
dull, no spark of hope nor happiness.
Beautiful men without teeth,
digging through my garbage.
Sunken mouths and hollow hearts.

The downside of travelling.
"*“why take such a hasty oath,"
Vijayalakshmi Harish 

the loss of a child is truly great
it leaves strong men weakened
no wonder then that for Arjuna
it felt like the earth had shaken
and shifted from its axis
leaving his world broken
he forgets that he is the Great Warrior
in this moment he is a father

should he be heartbroken
as his son is dead?
or rejoice
as he died a hero’s death?
or anger
at its unfairness?

in a momentary madness he rages,
“who dared to hurt my darling boy?
who dared my Gandiva defy?
and how was it that he fell alone
weren’t any of you close by?”


under his fierce gaze Yudhisthira trembles
“I’m sorry my brother, I feel your pain,
Abhimanyu was our son too,
foolishly we sent him to his death
that guilt will plague us to our dying day,
but know this-
we tried to protect him
like an egg protects a yolk
we had him surrounded

but fate had other games to play
Jayadratha, King of Sindhu
was our opponent that day,
he played his trump card-
the boon he received from Mahadeva which states
that he shall be able to defy our combined might
on a day that yourself and Keshava are away

against destiny who has a say
he held us prisoner in a duel
and let Abhimanyu escape
deeper and deeper into the cruel clutches
of the Chakravyuha he strayed
the price for our foolishness, with his blood he paid”


Arjuna’s anger now had a target
Jayadratha would his mistake regret
The wielder of the Gandiva makes
A terrifying promise –
“If by sunset tomorrow
Jayadratha’s head does not lay
bleeding in the earth’s embrace
then I shall immolate
myself in the fiery blaze
my name shall be stained with eternal shame”


“why such harsh words, Partha?”, asks Krishna,
“why take such a hasty oath,
what if you fail? Abhimanyu is gone
but there are others
whose dependence upon you is just as it was”


“But Keshava”, Arjuna retorts,
“it was you who had a complaint,
that my arrows had no fire,
that my fighting was spiritless
that I was shirking the Dharma of a warrior,
so now that the flames of passion
are fuelled by my loss
why do you tell me dampen
my vengeance, and besides
with you as my charioteer,
friend and guide,
I am assured
That success will be mine”


“So be it Partha,
It may be that destiny has decreed
that you are Jayadratha’s nemesis,
but be aware, that it will not be easy
our enemies will seize upon this opportunity
to shame you and rid themselves of you
Jayadratha will be well guarded
and if we get past the Kaurava army
to Jayadratha, you must employ
the Pasupatastra-that mighty weapon
gifted to you by Mahadeva himself”


this decision made, they await
the fourteenth day
in the Pandava camp there is anticipation
in the Kaurava camp fear, and anxious preparation
Jayadratha in mortal terror,
would rather the battlefield avoid,
and turn his back and be called a coward
than face Arjuna’s undefeatable missiles
but under Drona’s advice and assurance
he fearfully stays

The fourteenth day dawns
even the Sun God seems excited
he wishes he could stay and watch
the outcome of the fight this day
but the sun cannot stop
it must do its duty
just like the warriors  on the battlefield today

soldiers wither as Arjuna’s wrath
falls as bolts of lighning
assisted by the brave Satyaki
five akshauhinis are decimated
but within a triple vyuha
Jayadratha is still safe
waves and waves of warriors come
and to Yamaloka dispatched
but Jayadratha is not yet encountered
and the sun is low upon the horizon

Fatigue overtakes the battlefield
and the end seems near
in a few minutes the sun will have set-
for the Kaurava’s a welcome relief,
for the Pandava’s their greatest fear!
now Arjuna seems to panic
now he gives in to despair
wishing he could hold back the sun
just till he can exact his revenge!

Krishna realizes his Partha’s  plight
for the sake of justice he must act
with clever insight
this embodiment of the divine
eclipses the sun
behind Narayana’s discus
it is hidden

the world believes
that the sun has set
the mighty Arjuna has fallen!
The Kuarava’s scream in delight,
The Pandava’s crestfallen
Arjuna hangs his head in desperation
he has been unable to fulfill his oath
unable to avenge Abhimanyu’s death

from hiding Jayadratha emerges
cowardly rat now seemingly a lion
“Arjuna, fulfill your promise”, he jeers
“let us see you get on the pyre,
foolish warrior that you are
you dared to clash with
the Kaurava might
now see where your stupidity
has led you, like son like father!”


the entire Kaurava host laughs
overjoyed at seeing Arjuna lost
the greatest of their enemies
will now commit suicide
forever this humiliation
will haunt his brothers
and they shall lose faith
drop down their weapons in
futility and depression
and the war shall be won!

as they rejoice in their ignorance
Krishna intervenes,
suddenly the sun comes out again
bright and shining, as if to say,
“Arjuna is not defeaten!”

Now the tables are turned-
The Kaurava army falls in disarray
in the Pandava camp loud hurrays!
Conches are blown and the fighting resumes
For the second time that day
Jayadratha out in the open feels
The presence of Yama
And Arjuna, his spirits reawakened
looks like a fiery tower
his eyes blazing coals

Krishna speaks: “Quick Arjuna! Do not hesitate
a moment longer,
dispatch your Pasupata with haste,
but remember Jayadratha’s other boon-
the one given to him by his father
that the one who makes his head roll,
will have his own burst into a thousand pieces”


Arjuna obeying stretches his bowstring
The Pasupata is loaded,
a short prayer to Mahadeva said,
the arrow becomes the messenger of death
severing Jayadratha’s head off his shoulder
an expression of shock-the last look on his face
for a moment his body stands
and then falls with a thud to the ground

the Pasupata carries the head afar,
outside the battlefield and deposits
it in the lap of Jayadratha’s father
who seeing the  disembodied head his son
lets its fall on the ground in shock and awe
and instantly in fulfillment of the boon he gave
his head explodes into a thousand fragments

the Sun God bids adieu
now the day is done

the oath is fulfilled,
Arjuna still lives,
The Kauravas are filled with dread
for they know that Arjuna will not cease
his anger will not be appeased
with only the death of Jayadratha
he will now be a fiercer
and a stronger foe

On the Pandava side
Victory drums beat
Abhimanyu has been avenged!

- Vijayalakshmi Harish
19.09.2012
Copyright © Vijayalakshmi Harish

Gandiva : Arjuna's divine bow
Mahadeva: Lord Shiva
Keshava: Another name for Krishna
Partha : Another name for Arjuna
Pasupatastra: A weapon gifted to Arjuna by Lord Shiva
Akshauhini: Ancient battle unit consisting of 21,870 chariots (Sanskrit ratha); 21,870 elephants; 65,610 cavalry and 109,350 infantry.
vyuha:battle formation
Yamaloka: the realm of Yama, the God of Death/The Underworld
Narayana : Lord Vishnu

Jayadratha: Once while trying to abduct Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, Jayadratha was humiliated by the Pandavas. In order to avenge his humiliation, he underwent rigourous penance to please Lord Shiva from whom he received a boon that he could hold all the Pandavas at bay for one day when Arjuna and Lord Krishna were not around. He used that boon on the day Abhimanyu was to enter the Chakravyuha, thereby preventing the Pandava brothers from protecting Abhimanyu. He was thus the root cause of Abhimanyu's death.
Jayadratha also had another boon from his father, i.e; who ever caused the head of Jayadratha to fall on the ground, will be killed immediately by having his own head burst into 1000 pieces.
"*with hasty words"
Vijayalakshmi Harish 

Destiny’s games are stranger than
most games invented by man
and Draupadi’s swayamvara is for sure
amongst the strangest tales ever told

A truly blazing beauty is she,
a princess like no other
a rare fiery spirit has she
This daughter of Agni

The drums announce the happy news
today she shall choose
from amongst this gathering of kings
the one who she shall espouse

a prophecy has already foretold
that she is to be Arjuna’s bride
the swayamvara is but a test to tempt
that expert archer out from where he hides

every king from every land
is here to attempt
to win her hand
but no sign of the one she wants

but the contest has been announced
and hence must be begun
a test truly fit to try
the Gods themselves

on the ceiling
a revolving platform
on the platform
a jewel studded fish

on the floor a vat of oil
lying beside a great bow and shafts
the fish is mirrored
in the oil

the the target lies
in the fish’s ruby red eye
but a challenge fit for kings
cannot be so trouble-free!

The eye, itself, must not be looked upon
its reflection in the oil is the map to strike
not an easy feat to accomplish
only the best dare try this

for the failures
there is ridicule and humiliation
for the winner
this beautiful handmaiden

every eye that sees
looks on amazed
at her -a rare jewel
with some secret fire set ablaze

her eyes hot embers
her hair wisps of flame
Krishnaa-the dark skinned
like the fiery coal that is by ashes hid

in every heart she rouses
an uncontrollable passion
stunned, they stand as statues
incapable of any action

the desire to win her
is a great motivator
and while all try
none seems worthy

every king that rises
falls unable to bear
the weight of the bow
let alone string and employ it!

then rises Karna
truly a great archer
surely he will win her
says everyone in their mind

but before he even touches
the bow he is stopped
by the beautiful Draupadi
he is humiliated

“who is this false king
who dares to assume that
the high-born Draupadi will condescend
to marry a low-born sutaputra?”


silenced and insulted
Karna resumes his seat
but a desire for retribution
is in his mind-a tiny seed

the one who rises next
is clothed as a Brahmin
but his proud gait and muscled arms
are that of a Kshatriya

respectfully he picks up the bow
strings it with love
with arms upraised and face turned below
he launches the arrow

it strikes the eye
which falls to the ground
the Brahmin has won!
he is garlanded by Draupadi

their eyes meet
in silent acceptance of
their magnetic attraction
a scorching passion

a stunned silence in the hall
and then hell breaks loose
kings rant and princes protest
how can a princess marry a priest

they rise together
up in arms
and are routed
by the Brahmin and his brothers

with the Brahmins Draupadi goes
to their hut-a humble abode
with folded hands they stand outside
as the eldest calls, “Look mother, see what we’ve got!”

a gentle voice replies from within
“whatever be it, share it
amongst yourselves,
it equally belongs to all of you”


“Mother, what have you said
what a dilemma we are in
you-we have never disobeyed
and yet to obey would be a sin!”


The mother comes out and is aghast
at what she has done
her order once given cannot be revoked
by convention

in the midst of all this
turmoil and confusion
Krishna arrives
with his beatific smile

“Dear aunt, I am your brother’s son
your troubled brow betrays
some confusion
can this child offer you some consolation?”


“God bless you my child
I’ve heard your praise
You are wise, so advise
how this quandary can be resolved


with hasty words
i have told my sons
to share this woman
and doomed her to a life of debauchery”


“Do not worry aunt
this isn’t a problem at all
this woman in her past life
has gained a boon of five husbands


the boon was given
by Mahadeva himself
and besides a mother’s order
is always supreme


let all five of your sons
wed Draupadi
in the karmic logic
it isn’t an iniquity


Dear Draupadi listen
these men are none other
than the valourous Pandava brothers
your hand was won by Arjuna

it is your destiny
to be the spouse of all of them
and do not worry
worldly laws are not here applicable”


Hearing this was
a stealthy listener-
Draupadi’s brother
now both overjoyed and dismayed

in confusion
he approaches his father
and apprises him
of the matter

both father and son are
unsure whether to rejoice
that the Pandavas are alive
or curse their loved one’s predicament

plagued by mixed emotions
they are restless
then Vyaasa comes
to their relief

the kind sage shares his wisdom
that the marriage is inevitable
part of the Grand Plan
mortal laws must not interfere

a woman having
more than one man as spouse
isn’t always an immorality
they may fearlessly proceed

and so it is
that the marriage was celebrated
Draupadi became the
accidental polyandrist!

-Vijayalakshmi Harish
23.09.2012

Copyright © Vijayalakshmi Harish

Swayamvara: literally “self-marriage”. An ancient custom in which princesses chose their husband, usually through some contest.

Agni: The God of fire. Draupadi is said to have been “gifted” to King Drupada by the God of Fire.  Drupada had performed a sacrifice to Agni for a son, who would defeat Drona and a daughter, fit to be the wife of Arjuna.

Sutaputra: Son of a Charioteer.

Kshatriyas: Caste of kings and warriors.

Brahmin : The priestly class

Here I must put in a disclaimer saying that I am not a believer in the caste system, and see all people as equal! The insult against Karna is a part of the story, not my invention!

Though the title says “accidental polyandrist”, Draupadi’s  polyandry might not have been all that accidental. The legend goes that in her previous birth she had asked Lord Shiva to give her a husband who was kind and an upholder of Dharma, strong, brave and courageous, handsome and intelligent. Lord Shiva said that all these qualities can never be found together in a single man, and hence he would give her five!

This incident from the Mahabharata has been a pet peeve for feminists. The incident has been viewed as reeking of male chauvinism and subjugation of women.

I have always wondered about the silence of Draupadi here. Her character, as I understand her, is that of an assertive woman-one who would not have allowed such a thing to happen to her! In many occasions in the Mahabharata, she speaks without reserve when she sees injustice meted out. Even during her swayamvara, she was quick to chide Karna, who she presumed was unworthy of her. In such a scenario can her silence be construed as acceptance?

Others say of course that her protests were edited out. That she must have spoken against this, but she was silenced.

But why silence her only here? Why not on other occasions where she challenges “masculine” pride and chauvinism?

So many questions..no real answer! Would love if you'll could share your views.

Special thanks to Ammukutty who graciously proof-read this and made some suggestions which were taken with many thanks!
"Forgive me if I am too hasty to hope,"
Xemya 

I don't really know you, not at all
Forgive me if I am too hasty to hope,
But you remind me of someone
That I've never met

It bothers me sometimes,
The way you turn your head
So slightly against the sun

I've seen that before.

I just want to get you alone, shake you and demand answers.
Who are you?
What are you thinking?
Where did you come from?
Why are you here?

But I can't, for fear that you would look at me and think,
"Who wants to know."

It's me! I'd say. The girl with orchids in her hair.
Who rode the train with you to the end of the line, and fell into the lake.
Who you grew up with in your own hometown, and who always ate the crackers you didn't like.
Who sat in a tree and held your hand till it got dark.
And whispered that she loved you.
And would like to marry you someday.

And then you'd turn, like you'd never seen me before
And say, "I never knew you."
And the worst part is, you're right.

Then why, why do I remember YOU,
The one who visits my dreams at night.


9/15/12

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