Old Poems by Sangharakshita

 
 

Poems 1954 - 1957

 

1954

The Vase of Moonlight

Your beauty, in repose, is like a vase
Of jasper or white jade with moonlight filled;
Your smiling is as though the moonlight spilled;
Your laugh, its shivering into a thousand stars.

A movement is as though the jewels within
Had fountained, or run sparkling like a stream;
Your sleeping is as though the heavenly gleam
Had found a soft white cloud to harbour in.

Your loving is as though the moonlight poured
In one bright stream from your vase into mine,
Whose earthen lip dare greet not crystal thine;
Your faithfulness is moonlight sealed and stored.

But melancholy makes you sapphirine,
O Vase of all my joys, and endless yearning
As though it were an evening sky is turning
Your moonlight into palest, purest green.

The Stream of Stars

The stream of my desire no more
Rolls through the muddy fields of earth;
Between the azure banks of heaven
A stream of stars has come to birth.

No more on my soul's current float
Dead leaves from wind-dishevelled trees;
But swanlike, many a shining boat
Bends low before the heavenly breeze.

The fountains of my heart no more
Ooze slow into some stagnant place,
But in great tranquil rivers pour
Into the boundless sea of space.

Nocturne

Calcutta, 1954

Grey sleepers, wrapped in noisome rags,
Lay stretched out on the paving stones
As through the silence of the streets
We walked, and talked in quiet tones.

Against black walls belatedly
Old beggars crouched with rusty tins;
Rummaged the famished dogs and cats
Through overflowing garbage bins.

Sometimes a taxi, creeping past,
Purred to us of debauch's lair,
While blue and red the neon lights
Burned through the smoke-filled city air.

Our theme was friendship, beauty, art...
And as we thrid those streets, despite
Their squalor, in the moon, all round
We saw the beauty of the night.

Joy in Flight

How like a bird it comes and goes,
This joy, this sudden rapt ascension
Where knowledge pure as nectar flows
Beyond all earthly apprehension;

How like an eagle, whose descent
At noon upon the sleepy fold
Is as though wrath Olympian sent
A thunderbolt new-fledged with gold;

How like a gull, whose lonely flight
Must span a thousand leagues of foam
And breaking billows infinite
Before it ends in rest and home;

How like - when thought and image fail
As clouds wind-scattered from the moon -
The glorious unseen nightingale
That sings in leafy woods of June!

Epigram

We who have seen men murdered,
We who have seen bombs fall,
Muse not that Beauty passes
But that she stays at all.

Stanzas

Here, through the deep dark valley,
There, o'er the snow-peaks high,
Flows the turquoise green of water,
Towers the turquoise blue of sky.

As the eye tracks, so the heart treks
Earth below and heaven above -
Plunges deep to seek out wisdom,
Soars on high in quest of love.

1955

Kalinga

The third day of the slaughter saw a change;
The King no longer in his peacock tent
Cried `Victory! Boundless now mine empire's range!'
He asked no longer how the death-roll went.

Head deep in hands, in that red dawn he sate
As stricken, and in fearful vision saw
The blackened land, the people's piteous fate,
Heaped slain, and all the ghastliness of war.

Lifting his eyes, grown sick of bloody sights,
And weary of the bloated face of Death,
He saw what gave him, after many nights
Of unquiet slumber, a more peaceful breath:

Instead of a red disc, it seemed there rolled
Across the heavens an eight-spoked Wheel of Gold.

Defiance

Yet shall my soul burn upward like a fire.
Torment and sickness, penury and pain,
Shall be but as fresh fuel heaped amain
That makes the licking flame-tongues leap up higher.
Winged as an eagle shall my soul aspire
And, soaring sunlike in the sun's domain,
Scream loud defiance to the distant plain
Where creep the dull slow rivers of desire.

Or, if the flame must sink, my soul shall burn
In red denial underneath the white
Ash of the world, and warm the grating-bars;
Or else, an eagle wearied, it shall spurn
All but the iciest crag, and brood all night
With no companion save the wind and stars.

The Quest

He could not find it with his wife and child,
Nor yet beneath dark-fronded forest boughs
Where peaceful hermits grazed their placid cows
Round quiet hermitage in pastures mild;
Something they lacked, though living undefiled
By aught sublunar; bright their anchorite brows
With prescience wreathed, and yet, for all their vows,
That which He sought He found not in the wild.

Six years of penance till His eyes were dim,
And shrivelled skin clung round the brittle bone,
Wondering the Band of Five saw then befall:
He found it not with them, nor they with Him.
But when they left Him He fared on alone,
And in that loneliness He found the All.

Quatrain

Evening. Unstirred the western cloudlets lie
Like russet leaves
in a blue lake of sky.
And in between them, silently and soon,
A gilded pinnace, glides the crescent moon.

1956

Nalanda Revisited

Think not, my friends, that piling stone on stone,
Or laying brick on brick, as now we must
In this degenerate age, shall from the dust
Raise up those glories which were overthrown
When, like autumnal floods, from icy zone
Islam rolled down. Oh do not too much trust
Arches that ruinate and gates that rust
To guard the Buddha's treasure for His own!

Within our minds must Nalanda arise
Before we draw up plans, or measure ground:
If the foundation on our thoughts we lay,
Calm meditation, contemplation wise,
Above mundane vicissitudes shall found
A Nalanda that cannot pass away.

Hope

Your sadness is my sadness, friend, and so
When yesterday I saw you, wan with grief,
I yearned to give some comfort or relief,
And thus it was, the reason of your woe,
Not merely curiously, I sought to know:
Your lofty tree of sorrows, leaf by leaf
You shed upon my breast, until in brief
Space you had covered it; naught else could grow.

What solace could I give? Yet, sipping tea
And darkly brooding o'er the future years
Half an hour later, - blessed with gleams of mirth
And friendship strengthened, - did we then not see
Shine through sun, rain, like Hope through smiles and tears,
The sev'n-hued rainbow spanning Heav'n and Earth?

The Voice of Silence

Close, eyes; behold no more the rich array
Of forms and vivid colours. Touch, be still;
Grope not for lover's hand, or lips that will
Sting you awake to bliss by night or day.
Relish no more the scent of new-mown hay,
Or flowers, or incense, nostrils. Take your fill
Of tastes no more, O watery tongue, nor trill
Delicious notes in cadence grave or gay.

For when the senses and the sensual mind
Are laid asleep, and self itself suspended,
And naught is left to strive for or to seek,
Then, to the inmost spirit, thrice refined,
Thrice pure, before that trance sublime has ended,
With voice of thunder, will the Silence speak.

Sonnet

Work out the secret of your blood. The bright
Red drops into a ruby rosary string;
Tell on Desire's beads, importuning
With silk-smooth touch, the mantra of Delight;
Black is not always black, nor white aye white:
Yon snows, round whose purpureal bases cling
The close-packed clouds, such colour-changes ring -
Now grey, now golden in the morning's light.

Dream not, therefore, that reddest need blush red
For ever, but as heavenliest nenuphar
From dunghill blooms, learn to distil, my son,
Wisdom divine from earth's rank lustihead,
Knowing that sunset shrouds the Evening Star,
And your life's secret and your blood's are one.

Sonnet

Reading some books, you'd think the Buddha-Way,
As though macadamized, ran smooth and white,
Straight as an arrow, bill-boards left and right,
And that the yellow buses, thrice a day,
Whirled past the milestones, whose smug faces say,
`Nirvana 15 miles ... By 10 tonight
You'll all be there, good people, and alight
Outside the Peace Hotel, where you're to stay.'

But those who read their own hearts, inly wise,
Know that the Way's a hacked path, roughly made
Through densest jungle, deep in the Unknown...
And that, though burn a thousand baleful eyes
Like death-lamps round, serene and unafraid,
Man through the hideous dark must plunge alone.

1957

A Life

With kingcups from the meadow
And bluebells from the wood
My boyish heart was mirthful
Before I understood
Aught evil or aught good.

At dawning adolescence,
As dreamer is by drums
I was startled by the odour
That from ancient gardens comes
Of starred chrysanthemums.

In pride of youth, unhindered,
I plucked whatever grows.
If my left hand clasped a lily
My right would fast enclose,
Set round with thorns, a rose.

Magnolia and hibiscus
In manhood showered like rain,
With orchid and datura -
Flowers dealing bliss and bane
And madness to the brain.

All earthly blossoms scattered,
In middle and old age
With one white unfading lotus
Let me fare from stage to stage
Till ends my pilgrimage.

Quatrain

What though so near upon the tree
The golden apples bob and dance?
Around them, like a dragon coiled,
Insuperable circumstance!

Spring - Winter

The hills of the horizon
With snow are dappled round.
White blooms the sweet plum-blossom
Six foot above the ground.

As a bird in the blue ether
My joy is on the wing
'Twixt the purity of Winter
And the loveliness of Spring.

Study in Blue and White

Though depths of perfect azure
Invest the sun on high,
The hills, with haze and distance,
Show darker than the sky,

Save where, as though disrupting
The blueness of the real,
Shine in their absoluteness
The snows of the Ideal.

Stanzas

From pavilions of azure
Let us charge when night is done
And fight in golden armour
The battles of the sun.

From sable tents at midnight
Let us sally for a boon
And tilt, all silver-armoured,
In the love-lists of the moon.

Quatrains

Spring, in my boyhood it was understood,
Meant crystal streamlets full of bream and perch,
A mist of bluebells in a little wood,
And lambtails shivering on the silver birch.

Now, for my riper years, the meaning's swerved
To mountain rivers green as tourmalines,
And galaxies of waxen orchids curved
Against the ink-blue foliage of the pines.

Visiting the Taj Mahal...

Visiting the Taj Mahal at the time of the Suez Canal crisis,
and seeing the tombs of the Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal:

I passed the square and scripted gate
And saw the tombs with fluttering breath;
For all without was life and hate,
And all within was love and death.

The Sangha

He wanted that His followers should be flames
And burn up to the Zenith. Now they are
Faint embers underneath a mound of ash,
Afraid of claiming kinship with a star.

The Scholars

Asked `What is Buddhism?' off they go,
Consult the dictionaries, row on row,
Sanskrit, Tibetan, Pali - German too,
As though it was the only thing to do,
Until we wish, in all sincerity,
A second Burning of the Books could be.
Have they no other word for sick souls full
Of doubt than `Read my latest article'?
Off with your shoes! 'Tis holy ground! Depart!
Buddhism's in the life and in the heart.

Quatrain

What though with cloud the sky be grey,
The ocean wild and dark?
Tonight sleeps in the moonlit bay
My storm-bewildered bark.

Quatrain

Though sinks into the western hills
The sun through orange-amber bars,
In silence deep the moon fulfils
Her destined path among the stars.