Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

Asoka - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

I
Gentle as fine rain falling from the night,
The first beams from the Indian moon at full
Steal through the boughs, and brighter and more bright
Glide like a breath, a fragrance visible.
Asoka round him sees
The gloom ebb into glories half--espied
Of glimmering bowers through wavering traceries:
Pale as a rose by magical degrees
Opening, the air breaks into beauty wide,
And yields a mystic sweet;
And shapes of leaves shadow the pathway side
Around Asoka's feet.

O happy prince! From his own court he steals;
Weary of words is he, weary of throngs.
How this wide ecstasy of stillness heals
His heart of flatteries and the tale of wrongs!
Unseen he climbs the hill,
Unheard he brushes with his cloak the dew,
While the young moonbeams every hollow fill
With hovering flowers, so gradual and so still
As if a joy brimmed where that radiance grew,
Discovering pale gold
Of spikenard balls and champak buds that new
Upon the air unfold.

He gains the ridge. Wide open rolls the night!
Airs from an infinite horizon blow
Down holy Ganges, floating vast and bright
Through old Magadha's forests. Far below
He hears the cool wave fret
On rocky islands; soft as moths asleep
Come moonlit sails; there on a parapet
Of ruined marble, where the moss gleams wet
And from black cedars a lone peacock cries,
Uncloaking rests Asoka, bathing deep
In silence, and his eyes
Of his own realm the wondrous prospect reap;
At last aloud he sighs.


II
``How ennobling it is to taste
Of the breath of a living power!
The shepherd boy on the waste
Whose converse, hour by hour,
Is alone with the stars and the sun,
His days are glorified!
And the steersman floating on
Down this great Ganges tide,
He is blest to be companion of the might
Of waters and unwearied winds that run
With him, by day, by night:
He knows not whence they come, but they his path provide.

``But O more noble far
From the heart of power to proceed
As the beam flows forth from the star,
As the flower unfolds on the reed.
It is not we that are strong
But the cause, the divine desire,
The longing wherewith we long.
O flame far--springing from the eternal fire,
Feed, feed upon my heart till thou consume
These bonds that do me wrong
Of time and chance and doom,
And I into thy radiance grow and glow entire!

``For he who his own strength trusts,
And by violence hungers to tame
Men and the earth to his lusts,
Though mighty, he falls in shame;
As a great fell tiger, whose sound
The small beasts quake to hear,
When he stretches his throat to the shuddering ground
And roars for blood; yet a trembling deer
Brings him at last to his end.
In a winter torrent falls his murderous bound!
His raging claws the unheeding waters rend;
Down crags they toss him sheer,
With sheep ignobly drowned,
And his fierce heart is burst with fury of its fear.


III
``Not so ye deal,
Immortal Powers, with him
Who in his weak hour hath made haste to kneel
Where your divine springs out of mystery brim,
And carries thence through the world's uproar rude
A clear--eyed fortitude;
As the poor diver on the Arabian strand
From the scorched rocky ledges plunging deep,
Glides down the rough dark brine with questing hand
Until he feels upleap
Founts of fresh water, and his goatskin swells
And bears him upward on those buoyant wells
Back with a cool boon for his thirsting land.

``I also thirst,
O living springs, for you:
Would that I might drink now, as when at first
Life shone about me glorious and all true,
And I abounded in your strength indeed,
Which now I sorely need.
You have not failed, 'tis I! Yet this abhorred
Necessity to hate and to despise--
'Twas not for this my youthful longing soared,
Not thus would I grow wise!
Keep my heart tender still, that still is set
To love without foreboding or regret,
Even as this tender moonlight is outpoured.

``Now now, even now,
Sleep doth the sad world take
To peace it knows not. Radiant Sleep, wilt thou
Unveil thy wonder for me too, who wake?
O my soul melts into immensity,
And yet 'tis I, 'tis I!
A wave upon a silent ocean, thrilled
Up from its deepest deeps without a sound,
Without a shore to break on, or a bound,
Until the world be filled.
O mystery of peace, O more profound
Than pain or joy, upbuoy me on thy power!
Stay, stay, adorèd hour,
I am lost, I am found again:
My soul is as a fountain springing in the rain.''

--Long, long upon that cedarn--shadowed height
Musing, Asoka mingled with the night.
At last the moon sank o'er the forest wide.
Within his soul those fountains welled no more,
Yet breathed a balm still, fresh as fallen dew:
The mist coiled upward over Ganges shore;
And he arose and sighed,
And gathered his cloak round him, and anew
Threaded the deep woods to his palace door.


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010



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