An Indian Tale

Attic Chest. April the 24th 1816


“’Tis Sawun, ’tis the month of love
 All nature feels the genial power,
It warbles in the vocal grove,
 It breathes in every fragrant flower
Then why from me will Canna rove
 In pleasure’s sweetest, favourite hour,
Why lose, in quest of glittering ore,
The years of youth that come no more.


“In gentler waves each river pours,
 Its amorous tribute to the main,
More high the bright flamingo soars,
 And trims his scarlet plumes again,
While to the blushing Amra flowers
 The sweet Cocila tells his pain,
Then wherefore lose for glittering ore,
The years of youth that come no more.


“His flowery bow Ananga takes,
 Obedient bees its string compose,
Of lotus flowers his darts he makes
 And round the scented arrows throws
In every breast new feeling wakes,
 Soft pain and brighter rapture glows,
Then lose not, love, for glittering ore,
The years of youth that come no more.


“How sadly would thy widowed bride
 Mark every bird’s rejoicing strain,
The rich Nelunbo’s crimson pride,
 The fruitful fields of golden grain.
As parted from the Canna’s side
 She joyless mourns in widow’d pain,
While he for glittering worthless ore,
Wastes years of youth, that come no more.”


“Mourn not, Komalda, tho’ I go,
 In opening summer’s sweetest hour,
Ere fades the autumn’s vivid glow
 Ere wintry skies their fullness shower,
Ere that bright form is pale with woe,
 Or droops this blooming Kewra flower,
Once more I come, the joy to meet,
Our sorrow past shall make more sweet.


“Yes! well this Kewra shrub behold,
 And guard it with parental care,
While freshly bloom its flowers of gold,
 No ill to Canna’s side is near,
He feels nor hunger, pain, nor cold,
 To him no other maid is dear,
He thinks upon the joy to meet,
By absence past made doubly sweet.


“But should it fade — Nay! do not shrink,
 It cannot in thy fostering eye,
Nor can thy faithful Canna think
 To him thou lovest that pain is nigh
Kind Rama, on destruction’s brink,
 Would save me, for thy softest sigh,
Then think upon the joy to meet.
On years of rapture doubly sweet.”


Beneath the summer’s sultry beam
 Oppressed each drooping shrub declines
Sunk in the sands the failing stream,
 And e’en the reed of Indus pines,
While first electric round it gleam,
 Yet still the Kewra brighter shines,
As inly sorrowing by its side,
Sits roving Canna’s widow’d bride.


Now swiftly falls the wintry rain,
 And ever tank exhausted, fills
While o’er the thirsty fields again
 Sparkle a thousand lucid rills,
Tho’ fade the shrubs on all the plain,
 And every leaf a tear distills,
Yet blooms the Kewra’s golden flower,
Bright as in Sawun’s fairest hour.


As by beauteous plant she sate,
 And mused upon her absent lord,
A wandering beggar at the gate,
 In piteous tone her aid implored,
Not long she bids him idly wait,
 But gives him of her scanty hoard,
While from her bounty bolder grown,
His speech assumes a livlier tone.


“Why, Lady, since thy braided hair,
 Thy hands in fragrant henna dyed
Thy neck adorned with jewels rare
 Bright as the sun’s meridian pride,
The matron’s blessed state declare,
 Why sit’st thou by this Kewra’s side,
As parted from the Amra grove,
The lone Cocila mourns her love.


“Oh, brighter than the autumnal moon!
 What cloud obscures thy radiant charms,
Thy bracelets from the lotus won
 Hang loosely on thy wasted arms.
Down thy pale cheek the tear-drops run,
 Thy bosom heaves with sad alarms.
Not fairest Sita thus deplored,
When parted from her heavenly lord.


“Yet who, by Cama uncontroll’d
 Can leave so sweet a flower to pine?
Loves not the Amra to behold
 The sweet Madhavi round it twine.
The blushing lotus’ stems enfold
 The streamlet on whose breast they shine,
But thou, thy faithless shelter gone,
Stand’st like a drooping palm, alone.


“Why wedded to this Kewra’s side
 Thou brighter blossom! sit’st thou here,
Why blooms it still in summer’s pride,
 When all around is cold and drear.
Oh! if it tell what fate betide,
 Some wanderer in his far career
Why weepst thou at his Kewra’s sight?
Why mourn to see its bloom so bright?”


Oh! that this Kewra flower would fade,
That doubt and hope might wither too,
Forgetful of his Indian maid,
Roams Canna still, to avarice true,
Less sharp the Cusa’s pointed blade,
Than pangs I still am doom’d to rue,
Of joy they rob my widowed breast,
My eyes of sleep, my heart of rest.


Oh! that the sun’s meridian ray
Would burn this flower that blooms so fair,
Then might I give my sorrow way
And beat my breast, and rend my hair,
But hope, which tho’ its charm decay,
Still lingers with officious care,
Is like the lamp which lights a tomb,
Its radiance only shows the gloom.


Where is the love he vowed to bear?
In grief nine tedious moons have rolled.
No word from Canna soothes mine ear,
Ah No! for Canna’s heart is cold.
Are pens than Persian gems more dear?
Is ink more scarce than purest gold?1
Grows not a reed where Canna strays?
Ah yes! but Canna’s love decays.


She started as she saw the smiles
 That lighted in the beggar’s eyes
While glorying in successful wiles
 Her Canna drops his mean disguise.
Disarms her wrath, recounts his toils,
 And e’en the tears of rapture dries,
Then bids her take his ample store,
And vows to leave his love no more.

The story of this Tale and some of the ideas are taken from specimens of Mr Brown’s translations of Hindu poetry in the Monthly Review for Jany. 1816

The Kewra, which forms so principal an object in this little poem is the Pandanus odoratissimus of the class Dioecia Monandria of Linnaeus. Its leaves are rigid and prickly resembling those of the pineapple. It grows to the height of 12 feet. A number of branches, still resembling the leaves of the pineapple in appearance and arrangement, issue from the stem, and at the end of each is a bunch of bright yellow or orange flowers, slightly spiked. The barren flowers, the stem, and the root of this plant have a fragrance which is delightful, but so extremely powerful that the Hindus find it necessary to keep it at a distance from their houses, and when they wish to scent an apartment, a single flower is gathered and brought into it. Even this it it quickly necessary to remove.

From this excessive fragrance it has been supposed that the Kewra is the long sought spikenard, which has at times been imagined to be the spike lavender, the calamus odoratus, and a variety of other plants. Dr Blane thought it the andropogon jwarancusa, and Sir William Jones the valeriana jatamansi. The kewra has certainly the thick root mentioned by Pliny, and its powerful scent in its favour, but it is now the opinion of our most celebrated botanists that the spikenard was not indebted for its fragrance to any single plant, but that a variety of flowers were infused into oil to make the perfume. If this be correct it is also probable that different perfumes may have been known by the same name.

  1. These ideas are taken from Mr Browns’ Translation.