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"A Romance of the Ganges" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The following is the complete text of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Romance of the Ganges." Our presentation of this classic poem comes from The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1900). To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Bertha in the Lane"
"Christmas Gifts"
Short poems and sonnets
"The Complaint of Annelida to False Arcite"
"Crowned and Buried"
"The Dead Pan"
"Earth and her Praisers"
"An Island"
"The Lay of the Brown Rosary"
"A Lay of the Early Rose"

"The Lost Bower"
"Napoleon III in Italy"
"Night and the Merry Man"
"A Rhapsody of Life's Progress"
"Rhyme of the Duchess May"
"The Romaunt of the Page"
"The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"
"The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus"
"A Vision of Poets"

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, obsolete footnotes, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"A Romance of the Ganges" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

First printed in Finden's Tableaux for 1838.


Seven maidens 'neath the midnight
Stand near the river-sea
Whose water sweepeth white around
The shadow of the tree;
The moon and earth are face to face,
And earth is slumbering deep;
The wave-voice seems the voice of dreams
That wander through her sleep:
The river floweth on.


What bring they 'neath the midnight,
Beside the river-sea?
They bring the human heart wherein
No nightly calm can be,--
That droppeth never with the wind,
Nor drieth with the dew:
Oh, calm it God! thy calm is broad
To cover spirits, too.
The river floweth on.


The maidens lean them over
The waters, side by side,
And shun each other's deepening eyes,
And gaze adown the tide;
For each within a little boat
A little lamp hath put,
And heaped for freight some lily's weight
Or scarlet rose half shut.
The river floweth on.


Of a shell of cocoa carven
Each little boat is made;
Each carries a lamp, and carries a flower,
And carries a hope unsaid;
And when the boat hath carried the lamp
Unquenched till out of sight.
The maiden is sure that love will endure;
But love will fail with light.
The river floweth on.


Why, all the stars are ready
To symbolize the soul,
The stars untroubled by the wind,
Unwearied as they roll;
And yet the soul by instinct sad
Reverts to symbols low--
To that small flame, whose very name
Breathed o'er it, shakes it so!
The river floweth on.


Six boats are on the river.
Seven maidens on the shore,
While still above them steadfastly
The stars shine evermore.
Go, little boats, go soft and safe,
And guard the symbol spark!
The boats aright go safe and bright
Across the waters dark.
The river floweth on.


The maiden Luti watcheth
Where onwardly they float:
That look in her dilating eyes
Might seem to drive her boat:
Her eyes still mark the constant fire,
And kindling unawares
That hopeful while, she lets a smile
Creep silent through her prayers.
The river floweth on.


The smile--where hath it wandered?
She riseth from her knee.
She holds her dark, wet locks away--
There is no light to see!
She cries a quick and bitter cry--
'Nuleeni, launch me thine!
We must have light abroad to-night,
For all the wreck of mine.'
The river floweth on.


'I do remember watching
Beside this river-bed,
When on my childish knee was leaned
My dying father's head;
I turned mine own to keep the tears
From falling on his face:
What doth it prove when Death and Love
Choose out the self-same place?'
The river floweth on.


'They say the dead are joyful
The death-change here receiving:
Who say--ah, me!--who dare to say
Where joy comes to the living?
Thy boat, Nuleeni! look not sad--
Light up the waters rather!
I weep no faithless lover where
I wept a loving father.'
The river floweth on.


'My heart foretold his falsehood
Ere my little boat grew dim;
And though I closed mine eyes to dream
That one last dream of him,
They shall not now be wet to see
The shining vision go:
From earth's cold love I look above
To the holy house of snow.' [1]
The river floweth on.


'Come thou--thou never knewest
A grief, that thou shouldst fear one!
Thou wearest still the happy look
That shines beneath a dear one:
Thy humming-bird is in the sun [2]
Thy cuckoo in the grove;
And all the three broad worlds, for thee
Are full of wandering love.'
The river floweth on.


'Why, maiden, dost thou loiter?
What secret wouldst thou cover?
That peepul cannot hide thy boat,
And I can guess thy lover;
I heard thee sob his name in sleep,
It was a name I knew:
Come, little maid, be not afraid,
But let us prove him true!'
The river floweth on.


The little maiden cometh,
She cometh shy and slow;
I ween she seeth through her lids
They drop adown so low:
Her tresses meet her small bare feet,
She stands and speaketh nought,
Yet blusheth red, as if she said
The name she only thought.
The river floweth on.


She knelt beside the water,
She lighted up the flame,
And o'er her youthful forehead's calm
The fitful radiance came:--
'Go, little boat, go soft and safe,
And guard the symbol spark!'
Soft, safe doth float the little boat
Across the waters dark.
The river floweth on.


Glad tears her eyes have blinded,
The light they cannot reach;
She turneth with that sudden smile
She learnt before her speech--
'I do not hear his voice, the tears
Have dimmed my light away,
But the symbol light will last to-night,
The love will last for aye!'
The river floweth on.


Then Luti spake behind her,
Outspake she bitterly--
'By the symbol light that lasts to-night,
Wilt vow a vow to me?'
Nuleeni gazeth up her face,
Soft answer maketh she--
'By loves that last when lights are past,
I vow that vow to thee!'
The river floweth on.


An earthly look had Luti
Though her voice was deep as prayer--
'The rice is gathered from the plains
To cast upon thine hair: [3]
But when he comes, his marriage-band
Around thy neck to throw,
Thy bride-smile raise to meet his gaze,
And whisper,--There is one betrays,
While Luti suffers woe
The river floweth on.


'And when in seasons after,
Thy little bright-faced son
Shall lean against thy knee and ask
What deeds his sire hath done,--
Press deeper down thy mother-smile
His glossy curls among,
View deep his pretty childish eyes,
And whisper,--There is none denies,
When Luti speaks of wrong
The river floweth on.


Nuleeni looked in wonder,
Yet softly answered she--
'By loves that last when lights are past,
I vowed that vow to thee:
But why glads it thee that a bride-day be
By a word of woe defiled?
That a word of wrong take the cradle-song
From the ear of a sinless child?'
'Why?' Luti said, and her laugh was dread,
And her eyes dilated wild--
'That the fair new love may her bride-groom prove,
And the father shame the child!'
The river floweth on.


'Thou flowest still, O river,
Thou flowest 'neath the moon;
Thy lily hath not changed a leaf, [4]
Thy charmed lute a tune:
He mixed his voice with thine and his
Was all I heard around;
But now, beside his chosen bride,
I hear the river's sound.'
The river floweth on.


'I gaze upon her beauty
Through the tresses that enwreathe it;
The light above thy wave, is hers--
My rest, alone beneath it:
Oh, give me back the dying look
My father gave thy water!
Give back--and let a little love
O'erwatch his weary daughter!'
The river floweth on.


'Give back!' she hath departed--
The word is wandering with her;
And the stricken maidens hear afar
The step and cry together.
Frail symbols? None are frail enow
For mortal joys to borrow!--
While bright doth float Nuleeni's boat,
She weepeth dark with sorrow.
The river floweth on.


1: To the holy house of snow
The Hindoo heaven is localized on the summit of Mount Meru -- one of the mountains of Himalaya or Himmaleh, which signifies, I believe, in Sanscrit, the abode of snow, winter, or coldness.

2: The humming-bird is in the sun
Himadeva, the Indian god of love, is imagined to wander through the three worlds, accompanied by the humming-bird, cuckoo, and gentle breezes.

3: To cast upon thine hair
The casting of rice upon the head, and the fixing of the band or tali about the neck, are parts of the Hindoo marriage ceremonial.

4: The lily hath not changed a leaf
The Ganges is represented as a white woman, with a water-lily in her right hand, and in her left a lute.

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