Poets of John Company/The Ganges

HORACE HAYMAN WILSON.

1786-1860.

The Ganges.

Vast as a sea the Ganges flows,
And fed by Himalaya's snows,
Or rushing rains, with giant force
Unwearied runs its fated course;
The banks that skirt its lengthened way
Boundless variety display;
The mural height, the level green.
The dangerous rock, the dark ravine,
The barren sand, the fertile mound
With maze of flowery thicket crowned.
The cheerful lawn, or frowning glade.
Embrowned by overhanging shade:
The spacious plain, that waving corn.
Orchards, or fragrant groves adorn;
Whilst towns and hamlets intervene
And gild with life the changing scene.

But nature's chiefest bounties fall
To thy productive fields, Bengal,
It is not that the mountains rise
Here as a pathway to the skies—
Nor desert spreads its dreary tract—
Nor foams the thundering cataract.
Nor gloomy forest stretches, where
The lion prowls or lurks the bear—
Nor angry ocean raves and roars
In tempest on the rocky shores—
Though e'en of these thy wide extent
Some awful glimpses doth present—

But thine own honours fairest show
Where Bhagirathi's waters flow
In many a rich and lovely scene.
Invested with unfading green,
That as revolving seasons run
Still bids defiance to the Sun.
Upon the margin of the river
The leafy grove is verdant ever;
Dark is the Mango's foliage spread;
Erect the tall Palm lifts its head;
Broad the Banana waves and bright;
Graceful the Bambu bends and light;
Boiling and black the billows flow
The wide spread Indian fig below,
Whose scion branches, many and vast,
Far from the mighty parent cast,
Above the wave extend their shade
In columned arch and long arcade.
And here, by native faith revered,
The Peepul's twisted trunk is reared.

Nor want we animation—rife
Is all around, with busy life.
Upon the bosom of the tide
Vessels of every fabric ride.
The fisher's skiff, the light canoe
That from a single trunk they hew;
The snake and peacock modelled boat
In Eastern pageant sent afloat;
The heavy barge—the ponderous bark
Huge lumbering like another ark:
The Bujra broad, the Bholia trim,
Or Pinnaces that gallant swim
With favouring breeze—or dull and slow
Against the heady current go;
Creeping along the bank where pace
The crew—a strange amphibious race,

From morn to eve who never tire.
Plodding through bush, and brake, and briar;
Now wading mid-deep in the mud.
Now plunging breast-high in the flood;
Yet as they move, the merry laugh,
And frequent frolic, lighten half
Their labour, till the day expires,
When gleam along the shore the fires
With which contented they prepare,
Their single meal of frugal fare;
Then to repose, at dawn again
To brave the sun, and wind, and rain.

Close to the marge the cattle browse,
Or trail the rudely fashioned ploughs.
The bufifalo, his sides to cool.
Stands buried in the marshy pool.
The wild duck nestles in the sedge;
The crane stands patient on the edge,
Watching to seize its finny prey;
Whilst high the skylark wings its way,
And in the shadow of a cloud.
Warbles its song—distinct and loud.
Though far removed from human eye.
The songster sails the upper sky.
Scattered across the teeming plain
In groups the peasants glean the grain,
The sickle ply, or wield the hoe,
Or seed for future harvests sow.
Some burthened with their homely ware
Journey to village hat or fair.
And some suspend their toil to mark
Inquisitive the passing bark.

But most where to the river leads,
The ghat, or beaten path proceeds,
A never-ending train collects
Of every caste, and age, and sex.

Grave in the tide the Brahman stands,
And folds his cord, or twirls his hands.
And tells his beads, and all unheard
Mutters a solemn mystic word.
With reverence the Sudra dips,
And fervently the current sips.
That to his humbler hopes conveys
A future life of happier days.
But chief do India's simple daughters
Assemble in these hallowed waters,
With vase of classic model laden,
Like Grecian girl or Tuscan maiden,
Collecting thus their urns to fill
From gushing fount or trickling rill;
And still with pious fervour they
To Ganga veneration pay,
And with pretenceless rite prefer
The wishes of their hearts to her.
The maid or matron, as she throws
Champac or lotus, bel or rose,
Or sends the quivering light afloat
In shallow cup or paper boat,
Prays for a parent's peace and wealth.
Prays for a child's success and health.
For a fond husband breathes a prayer,
For progeny their loves to share.
For what of good on earth is given
To lowly life, or hoped in heaven,

And still in quick succession start
Village and hamlet; town and mart,
And ghats that to the stream descend.
And temples where the votaries bend
In homage unto stones and flowers,
Or to less inoffensive powers.
And hark, the sounds of horn and drum
Along the river fitful come.

And cymbal's clang and trumpet's wail
Are mellowed by the wafting gale.
'Tis Durga's festival, and hers
The rites—and now her worshippers
Bring forth the goddess—to and fro
The bands in solemn pageant row.
Hymning her praises, as they sweep
The populous stream; till in the deep
They clamorous toss at set of sun
The idol—and the rite is done.

Such are the scenes the Ganges shows.
As to the sea it rapid flows:
And all who love the works to scan
Of nature or the thoughts of man,
May here unquestionably find
Pleasure and profit for the mind.