Shakuntala Act V


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An old Chamberlain, sighing.


ALAS! What a decrepit old age have I attained! –This wand, which I first held for the discharge of my customary duties in the secret apartments of my prince, is now my support, whilst I walk feebly through the multitude of years which I have passed. –I must now mention to the king, as he goes through the palace, an event which concerns himself: it must not be delayed. –[Advanced slowly] –What is it? –Oh? I recollect: the devout pupils of Kanva desire an audience. –How strange a thing is human life? –The intellects of an old man seem at one time luminous, and then on a sudden are involved in darkness, like the flame of a lamp at the point of extinction.

–[He walks round and looks.] –There is Dushyanta: he has been attending to his people, as to his own family; and now with a tranquil heart seeks a solitary chamber; as an elephant chief of his herd, having grazed the whole morning, and being heated by the meridian sun, repairs to a cool station during the oppressive heats. –Since the king is just risen from his tribunal, and must be fatigued, I am almost afraid to inform him at present that Kanva's pupils are arrived: yet how should they who support nations enjoy rest? –The sun yokes his bright steeds for the labour of many hours; the gale breathes by night and by day; the prince of serpents continually sustains the weight of this earth; and equally incessant is the toil of that man, whose revenue arises from a sixth part of his people's income. [He walks about.]

Enter Dushyanta, Madhavya, and Attendants.

King Dushyant: [Looking oppressed with business.] Every petitioner having attained justice, is departed happy; but kings who perform their duties conscientiously are afflicted without end. –The anxiety of acquiring dominion gives extreme pain; and when it is firmly established, the cares of supporting the nation incessantly harass the sovereign; as a large umbrella, of which a man carries the staff in his own hand, fatigues while it shades him.

Behind the Scenes. May the king be victorious!

Two Bards repeat stanzas.

First Bard: Thou seekest not thy own pleasure: no; it is for the people that thou art harassed from day to day. Such, when thou wast created, was the disposition implanted in thy soul! Thus a branchy tree bears on his head the scorching sunbeams, while his broad shade allays the fever of those who seek shelter under him.

Second Bard. When thou wieldest the rod of justice, thou bringest to order all those who have deviated from the path of virtue thou biddest contention cease: thou wast formed for the preservation of thy people: thy kindred possess, indeed, considerable wealth; but so boundless is thy affection, that all thy subjects are considered by thee as thy kinsmen.

King Dushyant: [Listening.] That sweet poetry refreshes me after the toil of giving judgements and public orders.

Madhavya: Yes; as a tired bull is refreshed when the people say, "There goes the lord of cattle."

King Dushyant: [Smiling.] Oh! art thou here, my friend: let us take our seats together. [The king and Madhavya sit down.] Music behind the scenes.

Madhavya: Listen, my royal friend. I hear a well tuned Veena sounding, as if it were in concert with the lutes of the gods, from yonder apartment. –The queen Hansamati is preparing, I imagine, to greet you with a new song.

King Dushyant: Be silent, that I may listen.

Cham: [Aside.] The king's mind seems intent on some other business. I must wait his leisure. [Retiring on one side.]

SONG [Behind the scenes.]

"Sweet bee, who, desirous of extracting fresh honey, wast wont to kiss the soft border of the new-blown Amra flower, how canst thou now be satisfied with the water lily, and forget the first object of thy love?"

King Dushyant: The ditty (short simple song) breathes a tender passion.

Madhavya: Does the king know its meaning? It is too deep for me.

King Dushyant: [Smiling.] I was once in love with Hansamati, and am now reproved for continuing so long absent from her. –Friend Madhavya, inform the queen in my name that I feel the reproof.

Madhavya: As the king commands; but –[Rising slowly.] –My friend, you are going to seize a sharp lance with another man's hand. I cannot relish your commission to an enraged woman. –A hermit cannot be happy till he has taken leave of all passions whatever.

King Dushyant: Go. my kind friend: the urbanity of thy discourse will appease her.

Madhavya: What an errand! [He goes out.]

King Dushyant: [Aside.] Ah! what makes me so melancholy on hearing a mere song on absence, when I am not in fact separated from any real object of my affection? –Perhaps the sadness of men, otherwise happy, on feeling beautiful forms and listening to sweet melody, arises from some faint remembrance of past joys and the traces of connections in a former state of existence. [He sits pensive and sorrowful.]

Cham: [Advancing humbly.] May our sovereign be victorious! –Two religious men, with some women, are come from their abode in a forest near the Snowy Mountains, and bring a message from Kanva. –The king will command.

King Dushyant: [Surprised.] What? Are pious hermits arrived in the company of women?

Cham. It is even so.

King Dushyant: Order the priest Sómarata, in my name, to show them due reverence in the form appointed by the Véda; and bid him attend me. I shall wait for my holy guests in a place fit for their reception.

Cham. I obey. [He goes out.]

King Dushyant: Warder, point the way to the hearth of the consecrated fire.

Ward: This, O king, this is the way. –[He walks before.] –Here is the entrance of the hallowed enclosure; and there stands the venerable cow to be milked for the sacrifice, looking bright from the recent sprinkling of mystic water. –Let the king ascend.

[Dushyanta is raised to the place of sacrifice on the shoulders of his Warders.]

King Dushyant: What message can the pious Kanva have sent me? –Has the devotion of his pupils been impeded by evil spirits –or by what other calamity? –Or has any harm, alas! befallen the poor herds who graze in the hallowed forest? –Or have the sins of the king tainted the flowers and fruits of the creepers planted by female hermits? –My mind is entangled in a labyrinth of confused apprehensions.

Ward: What our sovereign imagines, cannot possibly have happened; since the hermitage has been rendered secure from evil by the mere sound of his bowstring. The pious men, whom the king's benevolence has made happy, are come, I presume, to do him homage.

Enter Sarngarava, Saradwata and Gautami, leading Sacontalá by the hand; and before them the old Chamberlain and the Priest.

Cham: This way, respectable strangers; come this way.

Sarn: My friend Saradwata, there sits the king of men, who has felicity at command, yet shows equal respect to all: here no subject, even of the lowest class, is received with contempt. Nevertheless, my soul having ever been seen from attachment to worldly things I consider this hearth, although a crowd now surround it, as the station merely of consecrated fire.

Sarad: I was not less confounded than yourself on entering the populous city; but look on it, as a man just bathed in pure water, on a man smeared with oil and dust, as the pure on the impure, as the waking on the sleeping, as the free man on the captive, as the independent on the slave.

Priest: Thence it is, that men, like you two, are so elevated above other mortals.

Shakuntala: [Perceiving a bad omen.] Venerable mother, I feel my right eye throb! What means this involuntary motion

Gautami: Heaven avert the omen, my sweet child! May every delight attend thee! [They all advance.]

Priest: [Shewing the king to them.] There, holy men, is the protector of the people; who has taken his seat, and expects you.

Sarn: This is what we wished; yet we have no private interest in the business. It is ever thus: trees are bent by the abundance of their fruit; clouds are brought low, when they teem with salubrious rain; and the real benefactors of mankind are not elated by riches.

Ward. O king, the holy guests appear before you with placid looks, indicating their affection.

King Dushyant: [Gazing at Shakuntala.] Ah ? what damsel is that, whose mantle conceals the far greater part of her beautiful form? –She looks, among the hermits, like a fresh green bud among faded and yellow leaves.

Ward: This at least, O king, is apparent; that she has a form which deserves to be seen more distinctly.

King Dushyant: Let her still be covered: she seems pregnant; and the wife of another must not be seen even by me.

Shakuntala: [Aside, with her hand on her bosom.] O my heart, why dost thou palpitate? –Remember the beginning of thy lord's affection, and be tranquil.

Priest: May the king prosper? The respectable guests have been honoured as the lam ordains; and they have now a message to deliver from their spiritual guide: let the king deign to hear it.

King Dushyant: [With reverence.] I am attentive.

Both Misras. [Extending their hands.] Victory attend thy banners!

King Dushyant: I respectfully greet you both.

Both. Blessings on our sovereign!

King Dushyant: Has your devotion been uninterrupted?

Sarn. How should our rites be disturbed, when thou art the preserver of all creatures? How, when the bright sun blazes, should darkness cover the world?

King Dushyant: [Aside.]The name of royalty produces, I suppose, all worldly advantages! –[Aloud.] –Does the holy Kanva then prosper?

Sarn: O king, they who gather the fruits of devotion may command prosperity. He first inquires affectionately whether thy arms are successful, and then addresses thee in these words:. –

King Dushyant: What are his orders?

Sarn. "The contract of marriage, reciprocally made between thee and this girl, my daughter, I confirm with tender regard; since thou art celebrated as the most honourable of men, and my Shakuntala is Virtue herself in a human form, no blasphemous complaint will henceforth be made against Brahma for suffering discordant matches: he has now united a bride and bridegroom with qualities equally transcendent. –Since, therefore, she is pregnant by thee, receive her in thy palace, that she may perform, in conjunction with thee, the duties prescribed by religion."

Gautami: Great king, thou halt a mild aspect; and I wish to address thee in few words.

King Dushyant: [Smiling.] Speak, venerable matron.

Gautami: She waited not the return of her spiritual father; nor were thy kindred consulted by thee. You two only were present, when your nuptials were solemnized: now, therefore, converse freely together in the absence of all others.

Shakuntala: [Aside.] What will my lord say?

Dushm. [Aside, perplexed.] How strange an adventure?

Shakuntala: [Aside.] Ah me? How disdainfully he seems to receive the message?

Sarn. [Aside.] What means that phrase which I overheard, How strange an adventure?" –[Aloud.] –Monarch, thou knowest the hearts of men. Let a wife behave ever so discreetly, the world will think ill of her, if she live only with her paternal kinsmen; and a lawful wife now requests, as her kindred also humbly entreat, that whether she be loved or not, she may pass her days in the mansion of her husband.

King Dushyant: What sayest thou? –Am I the lady's husband?

Shakuntala: [Aside with anguish.] O my heart, thy fears have proved just.

Sarn. Does it become a magnificent prince to depart from the rules of religion and honour, merely because he repents of his engagements?

King Dushyant: With what hope of success could this groundless fable have been invented?

Sarn. [Angrily.] The minds of those whom power intoxicates are perpetually changing.

King Dushyant: I am reproved with too great severity.

Gautami: [To Shakuntala] Be not ashamed, my sweet child: let me take off thy mantle, that the king may recollect thee. [She unveils her].

King Dushyant: [Aside, looking at Shakuntala.] While I am doubtful whether this unblemished beauty which is displayed before me has not been possessed by another, I resemble a bee fluttering at the close of night over a blossom filled with dew; and in this state of mind, I neither can enjoy nor forsake her.

Ward: [Aside to Dushyanta.] The king best knows his rights and his duties: but who would hesitate when a woman, bright as a gem, brings lustre to the apartments of his palace?

Sarn. What, O king, does thy strange silence import?

King Dushyant: Holy man, I have been meditating again and again, but have no recollection of my marriage with this lady. How then can I lay aside all consideration of my military tribe, and admit into my palace a young woman who is pregnant by another husband?

Shakuntala: [Aside.] Ah? woe is me. –Can there be a doubt even of our nuptials? –The tree of my hope, which had risen so luxuriantly, is at once broken down.

Sarn: Beware, lest the godlike sage, who would have bestowed on thee, as a free gift, his inestimable treasure, which thou had taken, like a base robber, should now cease to think of thee, who art lawfully married to his daughter, and should confine all his thoughts to her whom thy perfidy disgraces.

Sarad. Rest a while, my Sarngarava; and thou, Shakunta, take thy turn to speak; since thy lord has declared his forgetfulness.

Shakuntala: [Aside.] If his affection has ceased, of what use will it be to recall his remembrance of me? –Yet, if my soul must endure torment, be it so: I will speak to him. –[Aloud to Dushyanta.] –O my husband! –[Pausing.] –Or (if the just application of that sacred word be still doubted by thee) O son of Puru, is it becoming, that, having been once enamoured of me in the consecrated forest, and having shown the excess of thy passion, thou shouldst this day deny me with bitter expressions?

King Dushyant: [Covering his ears.] Be the crime removed from my soul! –Thou hast been instructed for some bare purpose to vilify me, and make me fall from the dignity which I have hitherto supported; as a river which has burst its banks and altered its placid current, overthrows the trees that had risen aloft on them.

Shakuntala: If thou sayst this merely from want of recollection, I will restore thy memory by producing thy own ring, with thy name engraved on it?

King Dushyant: A capital invention!

Shakuntala: [Looking at her finger.] Ah me! I have no ring. [She fixes eyes with anguish on Gautamí.]

Gautami: The fatal ring must have dropped, my child, from thy hand, when thou tookest up water to pour on thy head in the pool of Sachitirt'ha, near the station of Sacravatara.

King Dushyant: [Smiling.] So skilful are women in finding ready excuses?

Shakuntala: The power of Brahma must prevail: I will yet mention one circumstance.

King Dushyant: I must submit to hear the tale.

Shakuntala: One day, in a grove of Vétasas, thou tookest water in thy hand from its natural vase of lotus leaves –

King Dushyant: What followed?

Shakuntala: At that instant a little fawn, which I had reared as my own child, approached thee; and thou saidst with benevolence: "Drink thou first, gentle fawn." He would not drink from the hand of a stranger, but received water eagerly from mine; when thou saidst, with increasing affection: "Thus every creature loves its companions; you are both foresters alike, and both alike amiable."

King Dushyant: By such interested and honied falsehoods are the souls of voluptuaries ensnared?

Gautami: Forbear, illustrious prince, to speak; harshly. She was bred in a sacred grove where she learned no guile.

King Dushyant: Pious matron, the dexterity of females, even when they are untaught, appears in those of a species different from our on that would it be if they were duly instructed! –The female Kókilas, before they fly towards the firmament, leave their eggs to be hatched, and their young fed, by birds who have no relation to them.

Shakuntala: [With anger.] Oh! void of honour, thou measurest all the world by thy own bad heart. What prince ever resembled, or ever will resemble, thee, who wearest the garb of religion and virtue, but in truth art a base deceiver; like a deep well whose mouth is covered with smiling plants?

King Dushyant: [Aside.] The rusticity of her education makes her speak thus angrily and inconsistently with female decorum. –She looks indignant; of harsh terms, faulters as she utters them. Her lip, ruddy as the Bimba fruit, quivers as if it were nipped with frost; and her eyebrows, naturally smooth and equal, are at once irregularly contracted. –Thus having failed in circumventing me by the apparent lustre of simplicity, she has recourse to wrath, and snaps in two the bow of Kama, which, if she had not belonged to another, might have wounded me. –[Aloud.] –The heart of Dushyanta, young woman is known to all; and thine is betrayed by thy present demeanor.

Shakuntala: [Ironically.] You kings are in all cases to be credited implicitly: you perfectly know the respect which is due to virtue and to mankind; while females, however modest, however virtuous, know nothing, and speak nothing truly. –In a happy hour I came hither to seek the object of my affection: in a happy moment I received the hand of a prince descended from Puru; a prince who had won my confidence by the honey of his words, whilst his heart concealed the weapon that was to pierce mine. [She hides her face and weeps.]

Sarn: This insufferable mutability of the king's temper kindles my wrath. Henceforth let all be circumspect before they form secret connections: a friendship hastily contracted, when both hearts are not perfectly known, must ere long become enmity.

King Dushyant: Wouldst thou force me then to commit an enormous crime, relying solely on her smooth speeches?

Sarn: [Scornfully.] Thou hast heard an answer. –The words of an incomparable girl, who never learned what iniquity was, are here to receive no credit; while they, whose learning consists in accusing others, and inquiring are the only persons who speak truth!

King Dushyant: O man of unimpeached veracity, I certainly am what thou describest; but what would be gained by accusing thy female associate?

Sarn: Eternal misery.

King Dushyant: No; misery will never be the portion of Puru's descendants.

Sarn: What avails our altercation? –O king, we have obeyed the commands of our preceptor, and now return. Shakuntala is by law thy wife, whether thou desert or acknowledge her; and the dominion of a husband is absolute. –Go before us, Gautami

[The two Misras and Gautami returning.]

Shakuntala: I have been deceived by this perfidious man; but will you, my friends, will you also forsake me? [Following them.]

Gautami: [Looking back. ] My son, Shakuntala; follows us with affectionate supplications. What can she do here with a faithless husband; she who is all tenderness?

Sarn: [Angrily to Shakuntala.] O wife, who seeth the faults of thy lord, dost thou desire independence? [Sacontala stops, and trembles.]

Sarad. Let the queen hear. If thou beest what the king proclaims thee, what right hast thou to complain? But if thou knowest the purity of thy own soul, it will become thee to wait as a handmaid in the mansion of thy lord. Stay, then, where thou art: we must return to Kanva.

King Dushyant: Deceive her not, holy men, with vain expectations. The moon opens the night flower; and the sun makes the water lily blossom: each is confined to its own object: and thus a virtuous man abstains from any connection with the wife of another.

Sarn: Yet thou, O king, who fearest to offend religion and virtue, art not afraid to desert thy wedded wife; pretending that the variety of thy public affairs has made thee forget thy private contract .

King Dushyant: [To his Priest.] I really have no remembrance of any such engagement; and I ask thee, my spiritual counsellor, whether of the two offences be the greater, to forsake my own wife, or to have an intercourse with the wife of another?

Priest: [After some deliberation.] We may adopt an expedient between both.

King Dushyant: Let my venerable guide command.

Priest: The young woman may dwell till her delivery in my house.

King Dushyant: For what purpose?

Priest. Wise astrologers have assured the king, that he will be the father of an illustrious prince, the whole dominion will be bounded by the western and eastern seas: now, if the holy man's daughter shall bring forth a son whose hands and feet bear the marks of extensive sovereignty I will do homage to her as my queen, and conduct her to the royal apartments; if not, she shall return in due time to her father.

King Dushyant: Be it as you judge proper.

Priest: [To Shakuntala.] This way, my daughter, follow me.

Shakuntala: O earth! mother goddess, give me a place within thy bosom!

She goes out with the Priest; while the two Misras go out by a different way with Gautami–Dushyanta stands meditating on the beauty of Shakuntala; but the imprecation still clouds his memory.] Behind the Scenes. Oh! miraculous event!

King Dushyant: [Listening.] What can have happened!

The Priest re-enters.

Priest: Hear, O king, the stupendous event. When Kanva's pupils had departed, Shakuntala, bewailing her adverse fortune, extended her arms and wept; when –

King Dushyant: What then?

Priest: A body of light, in a female shape, descended near Apsarastirt'ha, where the nymphs of heaven are worshiped; and having caught her hastily in her bosom, disappeared.

[All express astonishment.]

King Dushyant: I suspected from the beginning some work of sorcery. –The business is over; and it is needless to reason more on it. –Let thy mind, Sómarta, be at rest.

Priest: May the king be victorious. [He goes out.]

King Dushyant Chamberlain, I have been greatly harassed; and thou, Warder, go before me to a place of repose.

Warder This way; let the king come this way.

King Dushyant: [Advancing, aside.] I cannot with all my efforts recollect my nuptials with the daughter of the hermit; yet so agitated is my heart, that it almost induces me to believe her story. [All go out.]

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