Old Poems by Sangharakshita


Old Poems 1951 - 1953




The Root Speaks

Mock me not, O Rose, that I am hidden
Here in the black soil. The sap descends
In Autumn with the long tale of thy Summer beauty
And I know all thy ways. Oh mock me not
That my roots are hidden in the earth, that I love the earth
With its moist smell of rotting leaves and its decayedness.
Mock me not that my friends are all children of uncleanness
And my loves the daughters of earth. I have heard report
Of your pure white beauty bediamonded with drops of dew,
And of how you stand stately and aloof among your leaves
and thorns.
The stars are all on fire for you,
And the moon maddened by your beauty.
Oh mock me not that I am ugly and twisted and black.
I am out of your sight. Why should you mock me?
But tell me, Whence comes the sap that invigorates your veins,
And the beauty that blushes in every petal?
Does it not come with the ascending sap in Spring?
Comes it not through these roots, from this dank black soil,
From these rotting leaves, this decayedness, this uncleanness -
Out of urine and ordure? So mock me not,
O Rose, nor be ashamed of your father the Root
Before the faces of your friends, the Stars.

'Forgive Me if I Have Stained...'

Forgive me if I have stained
Your beauty with my desire,
Or troubled your clear serene
Light with my fury of fire.
Forgive me; let us be friends.

Forgive me if I have looked
For response that you could not give,
Or raised in the deeps of my heart
This red rose too sickly to live.
Forgive me; let us be friends.


I remember a pool of blue lotuses
Blooming at Lumbini near the dusty highroad,
And the miracle of those blue flowers rising
So purely from the black waters, told me
Far more of the birth of the Enlightened One
Than the broken Ashoka column, or ruined shrine.


I feel like going on my knees
To this old mountain and these trees.
Three or four thousand years ago
I could have worshipped them, I know.
But if one did so in this age
They'd lock him in a padded cage.
We've made the world look mean and small
And lost the wonder of it all.


Buffaloes Being Driven to Market

We know when market-day is near,
For village folk to vend their store,
Because the blue-grey buffaloes
Are driven in the night before.

With long-lashed eyes, and massive horns
Low-curving from each patient head,
They shuffle sadly up the road,
Dusty, and lowing to be fed.

Their drivers, shouting from the rear,
Urge them with blows to left or right,
And, mindful of the broad red sun,
Make haste before the fall of night.

One evening, as I watched them pass,
My heart was heavy for their kind,
To see how slowly one great beast
Limped painfully along behind.

Slowly he moved, and slower yet,
Despite their whip and blood-stained goad,
Till, sagging at the knees, he dropped
On the sere grass beside the road.

He tossed his patient head; I saw
The deep blue eyes were glazed with pain.
Though shivering in a storm of blows
He could not rise and walk again.

And as the darkness fell, I mused
That simple folk who sell and buy
Could herd him to the butcher's shed,
Yet could not let him rest and die.

'Up and Down the Gravel Path...'

Up and down the gravel path,
Between the flowering trees,
I've walked this Summer afternoon
To give my spirit ease.

I could not idly stand, nor sit
Upon the grassy ground,
For like a mill-wheel in my head
The thoughts flew round and round.

Oh thoughts of life and thoughts of death
Chased thoughts of love and pain
Like golden hawk and sable dove
Inside my reeling brain.

The withered hopes like wind-whirled leaves
Thick on my heart did come,
With dreads like shapes that dance for blood
About the sorcerer's drum.

So up and down the shadowy paths,
Between the moon-white trees,
Through pools of silver, I must walk
To give my spirit ease.


Sun, moon, the mountains and the plain,
The silvered ocean's ceaseless roll,
With all four seasons in their round,
Are hieroglyphics of the soul.

And that is why yon Evening Star
Can script the secret of my breast,
And hang, an unshed burning tear,
On the wan visage of the West.

'I Think There Lives More Wisdom...'

I think there lives more wisdom
In what the poets write
Than all the scribbling fingers
Of sages could indite,
With doubt and speculation
Troubling the starry night.

I think there shines more charity
From wretched broken hut
Or hovel than from churches
And sects where hearts are shut,
Whose rule and motto seems to be
`We must love our neighbours - but...'

Therefore a poet
And a poor man will I be,
Loving my neighbour as myself,
Of wealth and wisdom free;
And from sages, sects and churches,
Good Lord, deliver me.


Often do I remember the huge untidy nests
Of peacocks on the Ganges' silver shore,
Built in the forks of gnarled and stunted trees
Among the red flowers of the oleander;
Often remember with what beauty streamed
The long tail feathers of the sitting bird
Over the edge, and almost to the ground;
Often remember all those moonlit nights,
When swifter than a dream the river fled,
Riddled with silver, through its ghostly banks,
While in the heaven of heavens above us marched
Bright squadrons of innumerable stars;
Often remember the coming of the dawn,
The first faint silver in the east, the glow
Of rose-gold light among the pale green trees,
The coolness, and the stir of things from sleep;
Often remember, through my dreams, that world
Of beauty shattered by a peacock's raucous cry.


White clouds on the hills
Linger a while, then vanish
In the blue distance.


Waterfalls from stone
To mossy stone trickling
Down deep cool ravines.

The Survivor

The loose red earth is washed away,
At once the storm-swept hills are bare;
Gaunt trees fall crashing down the slopes,
And sodden leaves stick everywhere.

Day after day the rains drummed down,
Nor sturdiest growth could meet the shock,
Save one frail bush, with scarlet flowers,
Whose root had pierced the stubborn rock.

The Abominable Snowman


Where the ice glitters, where untrodden snows
Stretch soft and soundless, where a frore wind blows,
The Abominable Snowman comes and goes.

Oft the lone mountaineer, through a swarm
Of snowflakes whose white dance presages storm,
Has glimpsed the naked giant's fearful form.

While oft the hermit, solitary quite,
Has heard him howling all a Winter's night,
And tow'rd the monster winged a shaft of Light.

But whether these be tales or no, by day -
A thing of dread for all who pass that way,
Deep in the snow the giant Footprints splay.


Appear, as soon as newspapers are able
To send reporters, photos
of the fable;
And hot words flow at many a breakfast-table.

Pundits in London, Paris and Berlin
Let loose at once a loud but learned din,
All arguing, not for Truth, but just to win.

`I'm sure there must have been a bear about!'
`Nonsense, a monkey's paw, without a doubt!'
`A human footprint by the wind splayed out!'

Pamphlets fly back and forth, as Doctor D.
Refutes Professor M., though all agree
A Snowman's footprint it could never be.


Yet still, despite a hundred learned Noes,
O'er shining glaciers, through
unruffled snows,
The legendary Creature comes and goes.

But even if one day the truth came out
That it was ape or bear they'd fussed about
I should not think my faith had suffered rout.

Nor could I share the gleeful scholar's pride
That, thanks to Science, another myth had died,
And one more fact been neatly classified.

Rather than one of that all-knowing band
I'd be a Sherpa or Tibetan, and
Believe there are some things we don't understand.



No fruit without the seed. Desire
Has flowered into a star tonight.
By subtle alchemies my fire
Turns heatless, and shines forth as light.

From link to link th' enchainment grows
That each to all and all to each
Doth bind, - the ordure to the rose;
Height mates with Depth, while thought to speech

Leaps as a lover to his love.
Oh fools who strive to separate
Below from the embraces of Above,

Wisdom from Beauty, if the seed's destroyed
Where are the flowers that ye would consecrate?
Ye know not the great mystery of the Void.

Winter in the Hills

The icy wind has planted
Fresh roses in your cheek;
Your voice rings clear and joyous
Through the cold air as we speak.

By day the sky is bluer,
By night the fire more red;
For coldness brings out colours
That heat could ne'er have bred.

Between the leafless branches
The landscape is ablaze
With green and gold and scarlet
All the short bright winter days.

When youth and beauty vanish,
And death impends above,
May age but make more vivid
The colours of our love.

The Modern Bard

We cannot sing as Orpheus wist
To sing upon the hills of Thrace
When the beloved, serpent-kissed
To death, is snatched from our embrace.

Profounder hells than Orpheus knew
We've plumbed, and yet we cannot sing
Persephone and Dis so true,
So sweet, so wonderful a thing

As Orpheus sang in those dim halls,
By that still stream, with eager breath;
'Twixt our Inferno's brick-built walls
Love never triumphed over death.

And even when we've stumbled out,
Too sick for mirth, and have been torn
In pieces by the wild-beast rout
And man and music wildly borne

Down some swift river's flow, and flung
Headlong into the sounding sea,
Our lyre, though it had oft-times sung
Her name, calls not `Eurydice!'

The Conquest of Mara

Whether within his mind dark forces rolled
Wavelike along, and dashed their bitter spume
At his enlightened dawn-skies' blue and gold;
Or whether, like a bank of clouds that loom

On the horizon's verge, presaging storm,
Black Mara and his host embattled came
With many a fearful face and hideous form,
On monsters mounted, panoplied in flame,

I know not. Fact or symbol, all I know,
Or care to know, is that the arrowy showers,
The hard-flung spears and javelins of the foe,
Touching his halo's edge, were turned to flowers

That rained all night beneath the Bodhi Tree
As though in adoration, or as though
In homage to his supreme victory...

Flowers of the earth or thought-flowers, all I know
Is that Compassion, sunlike, can transmute
Our hate not only into flowers, but fruit.


Oh Death himself was Orpheus' audience!
And Death's pale consort, on her ivory throne,
Could weep as though her heart was not a stone
As the song breathed into her buried sense
The fields of Enna and lost innocence,
And love lost, and the lyrist singing lone
Sadder and sweeter than the earth had known.
Rough beasts themselves were then his audience.

But we, tired lyrists of a tuneless age,
Soothe not the ear of Death in shadowy grot.
Death's consort sits unmoved the whole night long.
Uncharmed the red-pawed wolf and leopard rage.
Oh what to speak of Death! Life hears us not!
Or brutes, when men themselves are deaf to song!


The thunders rolled beneath me, as I sate
On Truth's most high, cold mountain-peak alone,
Secure within the `intellectual throne',
Ruling Thought's kingdom with Olympian state;
Open upon my knees the Book of Fate
Rattled its iron leaves madly, tempest-blown,
While, from the dim horizons of the known
I lifted up mine eyes to contemplate

The unknown Void beyond. Oh bright as dawn
The Heaven of Beauty shining there afar
I saw, and rose as wild with love and joy
As Zeus did, when his sleepless lids one morn
Saw far below him, like a fallen star,
The beauty of the fair Bithynian boy.

The Bodhisattva's Reply

What will you say to those
Whose lives spring up between
Custom and circumstance
As weeds between wet stones,
Whose lives corruptly flower
Warped from the beautiful,
Refuse and sediment
Their means of sustenance -
What will you say to them?

That woman, night after night,
Must sell her body for bread;
This boy with the well-oiled hair
And the innocence dead in his face
Must lubricate the obscene
Bodies of gross old men;
And both must be merry all day,
For thinking would make them mad -
What will you say to them?

Those dull-eyed men must tend
Machines till they become
Machines, or till they are
Cogs in the giant wheel
Of industry, producing
The clothes that they cannot wear
And the cellophaned luxury goods
They can never hope to buy -
What will you say to them?

Or these dim shadows which
Through the pale gold tropic dawn
From the outcaste village flit
Balancing on their heads
Baskets to bear away
Garbage and excrement,
Hugging the wall for fear
Of the scorn of their fellow-men -
What will you say to them?

And wasted lives that litter
The streets of modern cities,
Souls like butt-ends tossed
In the gutter and trampled on,
Human refuse dumped
At the crossroads where civilization
And civilization meet
To breed the unbeautiful -
What will you say to them?

`I shall say nothing, but only
Fold in Compassion's arms
Their frailty till it becomes
Strong with my strength, their limbs
Bright with my beauty, their souls
With my wisdom luminous, or
Till I have become like them
A seed between wet stones
Of custom and circumstance.'

On a Political Procession

Calcutta, 1953

Red-bannered hatred fills the streets
And flows from square to square,
Gathering as though in pools of blood
Around the rostrum, where
A speaker hoisted from the van
Upholds the Brotherhood of Man.


How can wracked soul and ruined body pass
Their days in this grey city, year by year?
Street after street without a blade of grass!
Face upon face and not a smile or tear!