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Book Eight
The Book of Death

Death in the Forrest

[Savitri B-08 C-03 Canto Name]


Play Section One
[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01]


Now it was here in this great golden dawn.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-01]

By her still sleeping husband lain she gazed

Into her past as one about to die

Looks back upon the sunlit fields of life

Where he too ran and sported with the rest,

Lifting his head above the huge dark stream

Into whose depths he must for ever plunge.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-02]

All she had been and done she lived again.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-03]

The whole year in a swift and eddying race

Of memories swept through her and fled away

Into the irrecoverable past.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-04]

Then silently she rose and, service done,

Bowed down to the great goddess simply carved

By Satyavan upon a forest stone.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-05]

What prayer she breathed her soul and Durga knew.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-06]

Perhaps she felt in the dim forest huge

The infinite Mother watching over her child,

Perhaps the shrouded Voice spoke some still word.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-07]

At last she came to the pale mother queen.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-08]

She spoke but with guarded lips and tranquil face

Lest some stray word or some betraying look

Should let pass into the mother's unknowing breast,

Slaying all happiness and need to live,

A dire foreknowledge of the grief to come.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-09]

Only the needed utterance passage found:

All else she pressed back into her anguished heart

And forced upon her speech an outward peace.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-10]

“One year that I have lived with Satyavan

Here on the emerald edge of the vast woods

In the iron ring of the enormous peaks

Under the blue rifts of the forest sky,

I have not gone into the silences

Of this great woodland that enringed my thoughts

With mystery, nor in its green miracles

Wandered, but this small clearing was my world.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-11]

Now has a strong desire seized all my heart

To go with Satyavan holding his hand

Into the life that he has loved and touch

Herbs he has trod and know the forest flowers

And hear at ease the birds and the scurrying life

That starts and ceases, rich far rustle of boughs

And all the mystic whispering of the woods.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-12]

Release me now and let my heart have rest.”

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-13]

She answered: “Do as thy wise mind desires,

O calm child-sovereign with the eyes that rule.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-14]

I hold thee for a strong goddess who has come

Pitying our barren days; so dost thou serve

Even as a slave might, yet art thou beyond

All that thou doest, all our minds conceive,

Like the strong sun that serves earth from above.”

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-15]

Then the doomed husband and the woman who knew

Went with linked hands into that solemn world

Where beauty and grandeur and unspoken dream,

Where Nature's mystic silence could be felt

Communing with the secrecy of God.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-16]

Beside her Satyavan walked full of joy

Because she moved with him through his green haunts:

He showed her all the forest's riches, flowers

Innumerable of every odour and hue

And soft thick clinging creepers red and green

And strange rich-plumaged birds, to every cry

That haunted sweetly distant boughs replied

With the shrill singer's name more sweetly called.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-17]

He spoke of all the things he loved: they were

His boyhood's comrades and his playfellows,

Coevals and companions of his life

Here in this world whose every mood he knew:

Their thoughts which to the common mind are blank,

He shared, to every wild emotion felt

An answer.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-18]

Deeply she listened, but to hear

The voice that soon would cease from tender words

And treasure its sweet cadences beloved

For lonely memory when none by her walked

And the beloved voice could speak no more.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-19]

But little dwelt her mind upon their sense;

Of death, not life she thought or life's lone end.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-20]

Love in her bosom hurt with the jagged edges

Of anguish moaned at every step with pain

Crying, “Now, now perhaps his voice will cease

For ever.”

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-21]

Even by some vague touch oppressed

Sometimes her eyes looked round as if their orbs

Might see the dim and dreadful god's approach.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-22]

But Satyavan had paused.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-23]

He meant to finish

His labour here that happy, linked, uncaring

They two might wander free in the green deep

Primaeval mystery of the forest's heart.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-24]

A tree that raised its tranquil head to heaven

Luxuriating in verdure, summoning

The breeze with amorous wideness of its boughs,

He chose and with his steel assailed the arm

Brown, rough and strong hidden in its emerald dress.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-25]

Wordless but near she watched, no turn to lose

Of the bright face and body which she loved.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-26]

Her life was now in seconds, not in hours,

And every moment she economised

Like a pale merchant leaned above his store,

The miser of his poor remaining gold.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-27]

But Satyavan wielded a joyous axe.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-28]

He sang high snatches of a sage's chant

That pealed of conquered death and demons slain,

And sometimes paused to cry to her sweet speech

Of love and mockery tenderer than love:

She like a pantheress leaped upon his words

And carried them into her cavern heart.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-29]

But as he worked, his doom upon him came.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-30]

The violent and hungry hounds of pain

Travelled through his body biting as they passed

Silently, and all his suffering breath besieged

Strove to rend life's strong heart-cords and be free.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-31]

Then helped, as if a beast had left its prey,

A moment in a wave of rich relief

Reborn to strength and happy ease he stood

Rejoicing and resumed his confident toil

But with less seeing strokes.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-32]

Now the great woodsman

Hewed at him and his labour ceased: lifting

His arm he flung away the poignant axe

Far from him like an instrument of pain.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-33]

She came to him in silent anguish and clasped,

And he cried to her, “Savitri, a pang

Cleaves through my head and breast as if the axe

Were piercing it and not the living branch.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-34]

Such agony rends me as the tree must feel

When it is sundered and must lose its life.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-35]

Awhile let me lay my head upon thy lap

And guard me with thy hands from evil fate:

Perhaps because thou touchest, death may pass.”

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-36]

Then Savitri sat under branches wide,

Cool, green against the sun, not the hurt tree

Which his keen axe had cloven,—that she shunned;

But leaned beneath a fortunate kingly trunk

She guarded him in her bosom and strove to soothe

His anguished brow and body with her hands.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-37]

All grief and fear were dead within her now

And a great calm had fallen.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-38]

The wish to lessen

His suffering, the impulse that opposes pain

Were the one mortal feeling left.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-39]

It passed:

Griefless and strong she waited like the gods.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-40]

But now his sweet familiar hue was changed

Into a tarnished greyness and his eyes

Dimmed over, forsaken of the clear light she loved.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-41]

Only the dull and physical mind was left,

Vacant of the bright spirit's luminous gaze.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-42]

But once before it faded wholly back,

He cried out in a clinging last despair,

“Savitri, Savitri, O Savitri,

Lean down, my soul, and kiss me while I die.”

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-43]

And even as her pallid lips pressed his,

His failed, losing last sweetness of response;

His cheek pressed down her golden arm.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-44]

She sought

His mouth still with her living mouth, as if

She could persuade his soul back with her kiss;

Then grew aware they were no more alone.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-45]

Something had come there conscious, vast and dire.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-46]

Near her she felt a silent shade immense

Chilling the noon with darkness for its back.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-47]

An awful hush had fallen upon the place:

There was no cry of birds, no voice of beasts.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-48]

A terror and an anguish filled the world,

As if annihilation's mystery

Had taken a sensible form.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-49]

A cosmic mind

Looked out on all from formidable eyes

Contemning all with its unbearable gaze

And with immortal lids and a vast brow

It saw in its immense destroying thought

All things and beings as a pitiful dream,

Rejecting with calm disdain Nature's delight,

The wordless meaning of its deep regard

Voicing the unreality of things

And life that would be for ever but never was

And its brief and vain recurrence without cease,

As if from a Silence without form or name

The Shadow of a remote uncaring god

Doomed to his Nought the illusory universe,

Cancelling its show of idea and act in Time

And its imitation of eternity.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-50]

She knew that visible Death was standing there

And Satyavan had passed from her embrace.

[Savitri B-08 C-03 S-01 F-51]

Book Eight Canto Three End

The Death in the Forrest

[Savitri B-08 C-03 Canto Name]


Book Eight End
The Book of Death