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p. 26



(Enter a pupil, with sacred grass for the sacrifice.)

Pupil (with meditative astonishment). How great is the power of King Dushyanta! Since his arrival our rites have been undisturbed.

He does not need to bend the bow;
  For every evil thing,
Awaiting not the arrow, flees
  From the twanging of the string.

[paragraph continues] Well, I will take this sacred grass to the priests, to strew the altar. (He walks and looks about, then speaks to some one not visible.) Priyamvada, for whom are you carrying this cuscus-salve and the fibrous lotus-leaves? (He listens.) What do you say? That Shakuntala has become seriously ill from the heat, and that these things are to relieve her suffering? Give her the best of care, Priyamvada. She is the very life of the hermit-father. And I will give Gautami the holy water for her. (Exit. Enter the lovelorn king.)

King (with a meditative sigh).

I know that stern religion's power
  Keeps guardian watch my maiden o’er;
Yet all my heart flows straight to her
  Like water to the valley-floor.

[paragraph continues] Oh, mighty Love, thine arrows are made of flowers. How can they be so sharp? (He recalls something.) Ah, I understand.

Shiva's devouring wrath still burns in thee,
As burns the eternal fire beneath the sea;
  Else how couldst thou, thyself long since consumed,
Kindle the fire that flames so ruthlessly?

[paragraph continues] Indeed, the moon and thou inspire confidence, only to deceive the host of lovers.

p. 27

Thy shafts are blossoms; coolness streams
  From moon-rays: thus the poets sing;
But to the lovelorn, falsehood seems
  To lurk in such imagining;
The moon darts fire from frosty beams;
  Thy flowery arrows cut and sting.

[paragraph continues] And yet

If Love will trouble her
  Whose great eyes madden me,
I greet him unafraid,
  Though wounded ceaselessly.

[paragraph continues] O mighty god, wilt thou not show me mercy after such reproaches?

With tenderness unending
  I cherished thee when small,
In vain--thy bow is bending;
  On me thine arrows fall.
My care for thee to such a plight
Has brought me; and it serves me right.

[paragraph continues] I have driven off the powers of evil, and the hermits have dismissed me. Where shall I go now to rest from my weariness? (He sighs.) There is no rest for me except in seeing her whom I love. (He looks up.) She usually spends these hours of midday heat with her friends on the vine-wreathed banks of the Malini. I will go there. (He walks and looks about.) I believe the slender maiden has just passed through this corridor of young trees. For

The stems from which she gathered flowers
  Are still unhealed;
The sap where twigs were broken off
  Is uncongealed.

[paragraph continues] (He feels a breeze stirring.) This is a pleasant spot, with the wind among the trees.

Limbs that love's fever seizes,
  Their fervent welcome pay
To lotus-fragrant breezes
  That bear the river-spray.

p. 28

[paragraph continues] (He studies the ground.) Ah, Shakuntala must be in this reedy bower. For

In white sand at the door
Fresh footprints appear,
The toe lightly outlined,
The heel deep and clear.

[paragraph continues] I will hide among the branches, and see what happens. (He does so. Joyfully.) Ah, my eyes have found their heaven. Here is the darling of my thoughts, lying upon a flower-strewn bench of stone, and attended by her two friends. I will hear what they say to each other. (He stands gazing. Enter SHAKUNTALA with her two friends.)

The two friends (fanning her). Do you feel better, dear, when we fan you with these lotus-leaves?

Shakuntala (wearily). Oh, are you fanning me, my dear girls? (The two friends look sorrowfully at each other.)

King. She is seriously ill. (Doubtfully.) Is it the heat, or is it as I hope? (Decidedly.) It must be so.

With salve upon her breast,
  With loosened lotus-chain,
My darling, sore oppressed,
  Is lovely in her pain.

Though love and summer heat
  May work an equal woe,
No maiden seems so sweet
  When summer lays her low.

Priyamvada (aside to ANUSUYA). Anusuya, since she first saw the good king, she has been greatly troubled. I do not believe her fever has any other cause.

Anusuya. I suspect you are right. I am going to ask her. My dear, I must ask you something. You are in a high fever.

King. It is too true.

Her lotus-chains that were as white
As moonbeams shining in the night,
Betray the fever's awful pain,
And fading, show a darker stain.

Shakuntala (half rising.) Well, say whatever you like.

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Anusuya. Shakuntala dear, you have not told us what is going on in your mind. But I have heard old, romantic stories, and I can't help thinking that you are in a state like that of a lady in love. Please tell us what hurts you. We have to understand the disease before we can even try to cure it.

King. Anusuya expresses my own thoughts.

Shakuntala. It hurts me terribly. I can't tell you all at once.

Priyamvada. Anusuya is right, dear. Why do you hide your trouble? You are wasting away every day. You are nothing but a beautiful shadow.

King. Priyamvada is right. See!

Her cheeks grow thin; her breast and shoulders fail;
Her waist is weary and her face is pale:
She fades for love; oh, pitifully sweet!
As vine-leaves wither in the scorching heat.

Shakuntala (sighing). I could not tell any one else. But I shall be a burden to you. The two friends. That is why we insist on knowing, dear. Grief must be shared to be endured.


To friends who share her joy and grief
  She tells what sorrow laid her here;
She turned to look her love again
  When first I saw her--yet I fear!

Shakuntala. Ever since I saw the good king who protects the pious grove (She stops and fidgets.)

The two friends. Go on, dear.

Shakuntala. I love him, and it makes me feel like this.

The two friends. Good, good! You have found a lover worthy of your devotion. But of course, a great river always runs into the sea.

King (joyfully). I have heard what I longed to hear.

’Twas love that caused the burning pain;
’Tis love that eases it again;
As when, upon a sultry day,
Rain breaks, and washes grief away.

Shakuntala. Then, if you think best, make the good king take pity upon me. If not, remember that I was.

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King. Her words end all doubt.

Priyamvada (aside to ANUSUYA). Anusuya, she is far gone in love and cannot endure any delay.

Anusuya. Priyamvada, can you think of any scheme by which we could carry out her wishes quickly and secretly? Priyamvada. We must plan about the "secretly." The "quickly" is not hard.

Anusuya. How so?

Priyamvada. Why, the good king shows his love for her in his tender glances, and he has been wasting away, as if he were losing sleep.

King. It is quite true.

The hot tears, flowing down my cheek
  All night on my supporting arm
And on its golden bracelet, seek
  To stain the gems and do them harm,

The bracelet slipping o’er the scars
  Upon the wasted arm, that show
My deeds in hunting and in wars,
  All night is moving to and fro.

Priyamvada (reflecting). Well, she must write him a love-letter. And I will hide it in a bunch of flowers and see that it gets into the king's hand as if it were a relic of the sacrifice.

Anusuya. It is a pretty plan, dear, and it pleases me. What does Shakuntala say?

Shakuntala. I suppose I must obey orders.

Priyamvada. Then compose a pretty little love-song, with a hint of yourself in it.

Shakuntala. I'll try. But my heart trembles, for fear he will despise me.


Here stands the eager lover, and you pale
For fear lest he disdain a love so kind:
The seeker may find fortune, or may fail;
But how could fortune, seeking, fail to find?

[paragraph continues] And again:

The ardent lover comes, and yet you fear
  Lest he disdain love's tribute, were it brought, p. 31
The hope of which has led his footsteps here--
  Pearls need not seek, for they themselves are sought.

The two friends. You are too modest about your own charms. Would anybody put up a parasol to keep off the soothing autumn moonlight?

Shakuntala (smiling). I suppose I shall have to obey orders. (She meditates.)

King. It is only natural that I should forget to wink when I see my darling. For

One clinging eyebrow lifted,
  As fitting words she seeks,
Her face reveals her passion
  For me in glowing cheeks.

Shakuntala. Well, I have thought out a little song. But I haven't anything to write with.

Priyamvada. Here is a lotus-leaf, glossy as a parrot's breast. You can cut the letters in it with your nails. Shakuntala. Now listen, and tell me whether it makes sense.

The two friends. Please.

Shakuntala (reads).

I know not if I read your heart aright;
  Why, pitiless, do you distress me so?
I only know that longing day and night
  Tosses my restless body to and fro,
  That yearns for you, the source of all its woe.

King (advancing).

Though Love torments you, slender maid,
  Yet he consumes me quite,
As daylight shuts night-blooming flowers
  And slays the moon outright.

The two friends (perceive the king and rise joyfully). Welcome to the wish that is fulfilled without delay. (SHAKUNTALA tries to rise.)

King. Do not try to rise, beautiful Shakuntala.

Your limbs from which the strength is fled,
That crush the blossoms of your bed
And bruise the lotus-leaves, may be
Pardoned a breach of courtesy.

p. 32

Shakuntala (sadly to herself). Oh, my heart, you were so impatient, and now you find no answer to make.

Anusuya. Your Majesty, pray do this stone bench the honour of sitting upon it. (SHAKUNTALA edges away.)

King (seating himself). Priyamvada, I trust your friend's illness is not dangerous.

Priyamvada (smiling). A remedy is being applied and it will soon be better. It is plain, sir, that you and she love each other. But I love her too, and I must say something over again.

King. Pray do not hesitate. It always causes pain in the end, to leave unsaid what one longs to say.

Priyamvada. Then listen, sir.

King. I am all attention.

Priyamvada. It is the king's duty to save hermit-folk from all suffering. Is not that good Scripture?

King. There is no text more urgent.

Priyamvada. Well, our friend has been brought to this sad state by her love for you. Will you not take pity on her and save her life?

King. We cherish the same desire. I feel it a great honour.

Shakuntala (with a jealous smile). Oh, don't detain the good king. He is separated from the court ladies, and he is anxious to go back to them.


Bewitching eyes that found my heart,
    You surely see
It could no longer live apart,
    Nor faithless be.
I bear Love's arrows as I can;
Wound not with doubt a wounded man.

Anusuya. But, your Majesty, we hear that kings have many favourites. You must act in such a way that our friend may not become a cause of grief to her family.

King. What more can I say?

Though many queens divide my court,
  But two support the throne;
Your friend will find a rival in
  The sea-girt earth alone.

The two friends. We are content. (SHAKUNTALA betrays her joy.)

p. 33

Priyamvada (aside to ANUSUYA). Look, Anusuya! See how the dear girl's life is coming back moment by moment--, just like a peahen in summer when the first rainy breezes come.

Shakuntala. You must please ask the king's pardon for the rude things we said when we were talking together.

The two friends (smiling). Anybody who says it was rude, may ask his pardon. Nobody else feels guilty.

Shakuntala. Your Majesty, pray forgive what we said when we did not know that you were present. I am afraid that we say a great many things behind a person's back.

King (smiling).

Your fault is pardoned if I may
  Relieve my weariness
By sitting on the flower-strewn couch
  Your fevered members press.

Priyamvada. But that will not be enough to satisfy him.

Shakuntala (feigning anger). Stop! You are a rude girl. You make fun of me when I am in this condition.

Anusuya (looking out of the arbour). Priyamvada, there is a little fawn, looking all about him. He has probably lost his mother and is trying to find her. I am going to help him.

Priyamvada. He is a frisky little fellow. You can't catch him alone. I'll go with you. (They start to go.)

Shakuntala. I will not let you go and leave me alone.

The two friends (smiling). You alone, when the king of the world is with you! (Exeunt.)

Shakuntala. Are my friends gone?

King (looking about). Do not be anxious, beautiful Shakuntala. Have you not a humble servant here, to take the place of your friends? Then tell me:

Shall I employ the moistened lotus-leaf
To fan away your weariness and grief?
Or take your lily feet upon my knee
And rub them till you rest more easily?

Shakuntala. I will not offend against those to whom I owe honour. (She rises weakly and starts to walk away.)

p. 34

King (detaining her). The day is still hot, beautiful Shakuntala, and you are feverish.

Leave not the blossom-dotted couch
  To wander in the midday heat,
With lotus-petals on your breast,
  With fevered limbs and stumbling feet.

(He lays his hand upon her.)

Shakuntala. Oh, don't! Don't! For I am not mistress of myself. Yet what can I do now? I had no one to help me but my friends.

King. I am rebuked.

Shakuntala. I was not thinking of your Majesty. I was accusing fate.

King. Why accuse a fate that brings what you desire?

Shakuntala. Why not accuse a fate that robs me of self-control and tempts me with the virtues of another?

King (to himself).

Though deeply longing, maids are coy
  And bid their wooers wait;
Though eager for united joy
  In love, they hesitate.

Love cannot torture them, nor move
  Their hearts to sudden mating;
Perhaps they even torture love
  By their procrastinating.

(SHAKUNTALA moves away.)

King. Why should I not have my way? (He approaches and seizes her dress.)

Shakuntala. Oh, sir! Be a gentleman. There are hermits wandering about.

King. Do not fear your family, beautiful Shakuntala. Father Kanva knows the holy law. He will not regret it.

For many a hermit maiden who
  By simple, voluntary rite
Dispensed with priest and witness, yet
  Found favour in her father's sight.

[paragraph continues] (He looks about.) Ah, I have come into the open air. (He leaves SHAKUNTALA and retraces his steps.)

p. 35

Shakuntala (takes a step, then turns with an eager gesture). O King, I cannot do as you would have me. You hardly know me after this short talk. But oh, do not forget me.


When evening comes, the shadow of the tree
  Is cast far forward, yet does not depart;
Even so, belovèd, wheresoe’er you be,
  The thought of you can never leave my heart.

Shakuntala (takes a few steps. To herself). Oh, oh! When I hear him speak so, my feet will not move away. I will hide in this amaranth hedge and see how long his love lasts; (She hides and waits.)

King. Oh, my beloved, my love for you is my whole life, yet you leave me and go away without a thought.

Your body, soft as siris-flowers,
Engages passion's utmost powers;
How comes it that your heart is hard
As stalks that siris-blossoms guard?

Shakuntala. When I hear this, I have no power to go.

King. What have I to do here, where she is not? (He gazes on the ground.) Ah, I cannot go.

The perfumed lotus-chain
  That once was worn by her
Fetters and keeps my heart
  A hopeless prisoner. (He lifts it reverently.)

Shakuntala (looking at her arm). Why, I was so weak and ill that when the lotus-bracelet fell off, I did not even notice it.

King (laying the lotus-bracelet on his heart). Ah!

Once, dear, on your sweet arm it lay,
And on my heart shall ever stay;
Though you disdain to give me joy,
I find it in a lifeless toy.

Shakuntala. I cannot hold back after that. I will use the bracelet as an excuse for my coming. (She approaches.)

King (seeing her. Joyfully). The queen of my life! As soon as I complained, fate proved kind to me.

p. 36

No sooner did the thirsty bird
  With parching throat complain,
Than forming clouds in heaven stirred
  And sent the streaming rain.

Shakuntala (standing before the king). When I was going away, sir, I remembered that this lotus-bracelet had fallen from my arm, and I have come back for it My heart seemed to tell me that you had taken it. Please give it back, or you will betray me, and yourself too, to the hermits.

King. I will restore it on one condition.

Shakuntala. What condition?

King. That I may myself place it where it belongs.

Shakuntala (to herself). What can I do? (She approaches.)

King. Let us sit on this stone bench. (They walk to the bench and sit down.)

King (taking SHAKUNTALA'S hand). Ah!

When Shiva's anger burned the tree
  Of love in quenchless fire,
Did heavenly fate preserve a shoot
  To deck my heart's desire?

Shakuntala (feeling his touch). Hasten, my dear, hasten.

King (joyfully to himself). Now I am content. She speaks as a wife to her husband. (Aloud.) Beautiful Shakuntala, the clasp of the bracelet is not very firm. May I fasten it in another way?

Shakuntala (smiling). If you like.

King (artfully delaying before he fastens it). See, my beautiful girl!

The lotus-chain is dazzling white
As is the slender moon at night.
Perhaps it was the moon on high
That joined her horns and left the sky,
Believing that your lovely arm
Would, more than heaven, enhance her charm.

Shakuntala. I cannot see it. The pollen from the lotus over my ear has blown into my eye.

King (smiling). Will you permit me to blow it away?

Shakuntala. I should not like to be an object of pity. But why should I not trust you?

p. 37

King. Do not have such thoughts. A new servant does not transgress orders.

Shakuntala. It is this exaggerated courtesy that frightens me.

King (to himself). I shall not break the bonds of this sweet servitude. (He starts to raise her face to his. SHAKUNTALA resists a little, then is passive.)

King. Oh, my bewitching girl, have no fear of me. (SHAKUNTALA darts a glance at him, then looks down. The king raises her face. Aside.)

Her sweetly trembling lip
  With virgin invitation
Provokes my soul to sip
  Delighted fascination.

Shakuntala. You seem slow, dear, in fulfilling your promise.

King. The lotus over your ear is so near your eye, and so like it, that I was confused. (He gently blows her eye.)

Shakuntala. Thank you. I can see quite well now. But I am ashamed not to make any return for your kindness.

King. What more could I ask?

It ought to be enough for me
  To hover round your fragrant face;
Is not the lotus-haunting bee
  Content with perfume and with grace?

Shakuntala. But what does he do if he is not content?

King. This! This! (He draws her face to his.)

A voice behind the scenes. O sheldrake bride, bid your mate farewell. The night is come.

Shakuntala (listening excitedly). Oh, my dear, this is Mother Gautami, come to inquire about me. Please hide among the branches. (The king conceals himself. Enter GAUTAMI, with a bowl in her hand.)

Gautami. Here is the holy water, my child. (She sees SHAKUNTALA and helps her to rise.) So ill, and all alone here with the gods?

Shakuntala. It was just a moment ago that Priyamvada. and Anusuya went down to the river.

Gautami (sprinkling SHAKUNTALA with the holy water). May

p. 38

you live long and happy, my child. Has the fever gone down? (She touches her.)

Shakuntala. There is a difference, mother.

Gautami. The sun is setting. Come, let us go to the cottage.

Shakuntala (weakly rising. To herself). Oh, my heart, you delayed when your desire came of itself. Now see what you have done. (She takes a step, then turns around. Aloud.) O bower that took away my pain, I bid you farewell until another blissful hour. (Exeunt SHAKUNTALA and GAUTAMI.)

King (advancing with a sigh.) The path to happiness is strewn with obstacles.

Her face, adorned with soft eye-lashes,
Adorable with trembling flashes
Of half-denial, in memory lingers;
The sweet lips guarded by her fingers,
The head that drooped upon her shoulder--
Why was I not a little bolder?

[paragraph continues] Where shall I go now? Let me stay a moment in this bower where my beloved lay. (He looks about.)

The flower-strewn bed whereon her body tossed;
The bracelet, fallen from her arm and lost;
The dear love-missive, in the lotus-leaf
Cut by her nails: assuage my absent grief
And occupy my eyes--I have no power,
Though she is gone, to leave the reedy bower.

[paragraph continues] (He reflects.) Alas! I did wrong to delay when I had found my love. So now

If she will grant me but one other meeting,
I'll not delay; for happiness is fleeting;
So plans my foolish, self-defeated heart;
But when she comes, I play the coward's part.

A voice behind the scenes. O King!

The flames rise heavenward from the evening altar;
  And round the sacrifices, blazing high,
Flesh-eating demons stalk, like red cloud-masses,
  And cast colossal shadows on the sky.

King (listens. Resolutely), Have no fear, hermits. I am here.



Next: Act IV. Shakuntala's Departure