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p. 51



(Enter a chamberlain.)

Chamberlain (sighing). Alas! To what a state am I reduced!

I once assumed the staff of reed
  For custom's sake alone,
As officer to guard at need
  The ladies round the throne.
But years have passed away and made
It serve, my tottering steps to aid.

[paragraph continues] The king is within. I will tell him of the urgent business which demands his attention. (He takes a few steps.) But what is the business? (He recalls it.) Yes, I remember. Certain hermits, pupils of Kanva, desire to see his Majesty. Strange, strange!

The mind of age is like a lamp
  Whose oil is running thin;
One moment it is shining bright,
  Then darkness closes in.

[paragraph continues] (He walks and looks about.) Here is his Majesty.

He does not seek--until a father's care
  Is shown his subjects--rest in solitude;
As a great elephant reeks not of the sun
  Until his herd is sheltered in the wood.

[paragraph continues] In truth, I hesitate to announce the coming of Kanva's pupils to the king. For he has this moment risen from the throne of justice. But kings are never weary. For

The sun unyokes his horses never;
  Blows night and day the breeze;
Shesha upholds the world forever:
  And kings are like to these.

(He walks about. Enter the king, the clown, and retinue according to rank.)

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King (betraying the cares of office). Every one is happy on attaining his desire--except a king. His difficulties increase with his power. Thus:

Security slays nothing but ambition;
  With great possessions, troubles gather thick;
Pain grows, not lessens, with a king's position,
  As when one's hand must hold the sunshade's stick.

Two court poets behind the scenes. Victory to your Majesty.

First poet.

The world you daily guard and bless,
Not heeding pain or weariness;
  Thus is your nature made.
A tree will brave the noonday, when
The sun is fierce, that weary men
  May rest beneath its shade.

Second poet.

Vice bows before the royal rod;
Strife ceases at your kingly nod;
  You are our strong defender.
Friends come to all whose wealth is sure,
But you, alike to rich and poor,
  Are friend both strong and tender.

King (listening). Strange! I was wearied by the demands of my office, but this renews my spirit.

Clown. Does a bull forget that he is tired when you call him the leader of the herd?

King (smiling). Well, let us sit down. (They seat themselves, and the retinue arranges itself. A lute is heard behind the scenes.)

Clown (listening). My friend, listen to what is going on in the music-room. Some one is playing a lute, and keeping good time. I suppose Lady Hansavati is practising.

King. Be quiet. I wish to listen.

Chamberlain (looks at the king). Ah, the king is occupied. I must await his leisure. (He stands aside.)

A song behind the scenes.

You who kissed the mango-flower,
Honey-loving bee,
Gave her all your passion's power,
Ah, so tenderly! p. 53

How can you be tempted so
By the lily, pet?
Fresher honey 's sweet, I know;
But can you forget?

King. What an entrancing song!

Clown. But, man, don't you understand what the words mean?

King (smiling). I was once devoted to Queen Hansavati. And the rebuke comes from her. Friend Madhavya, tell Queen Hansavati in my name that the rebuke is a very pretty one.

Clown. Yes, sir. (He rises.) But, man, you are using another fellow's fingers to grab a bear's tail-feathers with. I have about as much chance of salvation as a monk who hasn't forgotten his passions.

King. Go. Soothe her like a gentleman.

Clown. I suppose I must. (Exit.)

King (to himself). Why am I filled with wistfulness on hearing such a song? I am not separated from one I love.

And yet

In face of sweet presentment
  Or harmonies of sound,
Man e’er forgets contentment,
  By wistful longings bound.

There must be recollections
  Of things not seen on earth,
Deep nature's predilections,
  Loves earlier than birth.

[paragraph continues] (He shows the wistfulness that comes from unremembered things.)

Chamberlain (approaching). Victory to your Majesty. Here are hermits who dwell in the forest at the foot of the Himalayas. They bring women with them, and they carry a message from Kanva. What is your pleasure with regard to them?

King (astonished). Hermits? Accompanied by women? From Kanva?

Chamberlain. Yes.

King. Request my chaplain Somarata in my name to

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receive these hermits in the manner prescribed by Scripture, and to conduct them himself before me. I will await them in a place fit for their reception.

Chamberlain. Yes, your Majesty. (Exit.)

King (rising). Vetravati, conduct me to the fire-sanctuary.

Portress. Follow me, your Majesty. (She walks about.) Your Majesty, here is the terrace of the fire-sanctuary. It is beautiful, for it has just been swept, and near at hand is the cow that yields the milk of sacrifice. Pray ascend it.

King (ascends and stands leaning on the shoulder of an attendant.) Vetravati, with what purpose does Father Kanva send these hermits to me?

Do leaguèd powers of sin conspire
To balk religion's pure desire?
Has wrong been done to beasts that roam
Contented round the hermits' home?
Do plants no longer bud and flower,
To warn me of abuse of power?
These doubts and more assail my mind,
But leave me puzzled, lost, and blind.

Portress. How could these things be in a hermitage that rests in the fame of the king's arm? No, I imagine they have come to pay homage to their king, and to congratulate him on his pious rule.

(Enter the chaplain and the chamberlain, conducting the two pupils of KANVA, With GAUTAMI and SHAKUNTALA.)

Chamberlain. Follow me, if you please.

Sharngarava. Friend Sharadvata,

The king is noble and to virtue true;
  None dwelling here commit the deed of shame;
Yet we ascetics view the worldly crew
  As in a house all lapped about with flame.

Sharadvata. Sharngarava, your emotion on entering the city is quite just. As for me,

Free from the world and all its ways,
I see them spending worldly days
As clean men view men smeared with oil,
As pure men, those whom passions soil,
As waking men view men asleep,
As free men, those in bondage deep.

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Chaplain. That is why men like you are great.

Shakuntala (observing an evil omen). Oh, why does my right eye throb?

Gautami. Heaven avert the omen, my child. May happiness wait upon you. (They walk about.)

Chaplain (indicating the king). O hermits, here is he who protects those of every station and of every age. He has already risen, and awaits you. Behold him.

Sharngarava. Yes, it is admirable, but not surprising. For

Fruit-laden trees bend down to earth;
  The water-pregnant clouds hang low;
Good men are not puffed up by power
  The unselfish are by nature so.

Portress. Your Majesty, the hermits seem to be happy. They give you gracious looks.

King (observing SHAKUNTALA). Ah!

Who is she, shrouded in the veil
  That dims her beauty's lustre,
Among the hermits like a flower
  Round which the dead leaves cluster?

Portress. Your Majesty, she is well worth looking at.

King. Enough! I must not gaze upon another's wife.

Shakuntala (laying her hand on her breast. Aside). Oh, my heart, why tremble so? Remember his constant love and be brave.

Chaplain (advancing). Hail, your Majesty. The hermits have been received as Scripture enjoins. They have a message from their teacher. May you be pleased to hear it.

King (respectfully). I am all attention.

The two pupils (raising their right hands). Victory, O King.

King (bowing low). I salute you all.

The two pupils. All hail.

King. Does your pious life proceed without disturbance?

The two pupils.

How could the pious duties fail
  While you defend the right?
Or how could darkness' power prevail
  O’er sunbeams shining bright?

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King (to himself). Indeed, my royal title is no empty one. (Aloud.) Is holy Kanva in health?

Sharngarava. O King, those who have religious power can command health. He asks after your welfare and sends this message.

King. What are his commands?

Sharngarava. He says: "Since you have met this my daughter and have married her, I give you my glad consent. For

You are the best of worthy men, they say;
  And she, I know, Good Works personified;
The Creator wrought for ever and a day,
  In wedding such a virtuous groom and bride.

[paragraph continues] She is with child. Take her and live with her in virtue."

Gautami. Bless you, sir. I should like to say that no one invites me to speak.

King. Speak, mother.


Did she with father speak or mother?
  Did you engage her friends in speech?
Your faith was plighted each to other;
  Let each be faithful now to each.

Shakuntala. What will my husband say?

King (listening with anxious suspicion). What is this insinuation?

Shakuntala (to herself). Oh, oh! So haughty and so slanderous!

Sharngarava. "What is this insinuation?" What is your question? Surely you know the world's ways well enough.

Because the world suspects a wife
  Who does not share her husband's lot,
Her kinsmen wish her to abide
  With him, although he love her not.

King. You cannot mean that this young woman is my wife.

Shakuntala (sadly to herself). Oh, my heart, you feared it, and now it has come.

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Sharngarava. O King,

A king, and shrink when love is done,
  Turn coward's back on truth, and flee!

King. What means this dreadful accusation?

Sharngarava (furiously).

O drunk with power! We might have known
  That you were steeped in treachery.

King. A stinging rebuke!

Gautami (to SHAKUNTALA). Forget your shame, my child. I will remove your veil. Then your husband will recognise you. (She does so.)

King (observing SHAKUNTALA. To himself).

As my heart ponders whether I could ever
Have wed this woman that has come to me
In tortured loveliness, as I endeavour
To bring it back to mind, then like a bee

That hovers round a jasmine flower at dawn,
While frosty dews of morning still o’erweave it,
And hesitates to sip ere they be gone,
I cannot taste the sweet, and cannot leave it.

Portress (to herself). What a virtuous king he is! Would any other man hesitate when he saw such a pearl of a woman coming of her own accord?

Sharngarava. Have you nothing to say, O King?

King. Hermit, I have taken thought. I cannot believe that this woman is my wife. She is plainly with child. How can I take her, confessing myself an adulterer?

Shakuntala (to herself). Oh, oh, oh! He even casts doubt on our marriage. The vine of my hope climbed high, but it is broken now.

Sharngarava. Not so.

You scorn the sage who rendered whole
  His child befouled, and choked his grief,
Who freely gave you what you stole
  And added honour to a thief!

Sharadvata. Enough, Sharngarava. Shakuntala, we have

p. 58

said what we were sent to say. You hear his words. Answer him.

Shakuntala (to herself). He loved me so. He is so changed. Why remind him? Ah, but I must clear my own character. Well, I will try. (Aloud.) My dear husband--(She stops.) No, he doubts my right to call him that. Your Majesty, it was pure love that opened my poor heart to you in the hermitage. Then you were kind to me and gave me your promise. Is it right for you to speak so now, and to reject me?

King (stopping his ears). Peace, peace!

A stream that eats away the bank,
  Grows foul, and undermines the tree.
So you would stain your honour, while
  You plunge me into misery.

Shakuntala. Very well. If you have acted so because you really fear to touch another man's wife, I will remove your doubts with a token you gave me.

King. An excellent idea!

Shakuntala (touching her finger). Oh, oh! The ring is lost. (She looks sadly at GAUTAMI.)

Gautami. My child, you worshipped the holy Ganges at the spot where Indra descended. The ring must have fallen there.

King. Ready wit, ready wit!

Shakuntala. Fate is too strong for me there. I will tell you something else.

King. Let me hear what you have to say.

Shakuntala. One day, in the bower of reeds, you were holding a lotus-leaf cup full of water.

King. I hear you.

Shakuntala. At that moment the fawn came up, my adopted son. Then you took pity on him and coaxed him. "Let him drink first," you said. But he did not know you, and he would not come to drink water from your hand. But he liked it afterwards, when I held the very same water. Then you smiled and said: "It is true. Every one trusts his own sort. You both belong to the forest."

King. It is just such women, selfish, sweet, false, that entice fools.

p. 59

Gautami. You have no right to say that. She grew up in the pious grove. She does not know how to deceive.

King. Old hermit woman,

The female's untaught cunning may be seen
  In beasts, far more in women selfish-wise;
The cuckoo's eggs are left to hatch and rear
  By foster-parents, and away she flies.

Shakuntala (angrily). Wretch! You judge all this by your own false heart. Would any other man do what you have done? To hide behind virtue, like a yawning well covered over with grass!

King (to himself). But her anger is free from coquetry, because she has lived in the forest. See!

Her glance is straight; her eyes are flashing red;
Her speech is harsh, not drawlingly well-bred;
Her whole lip quivers, seems to shake with cold;
Her frown has straightened eyebrows arching bold.

[paragraph continues] No, she saw that I was doubtful, and her anger was feigned. Thus

When I refused but now
  Hard-heartedly, to know
Of love or secret vow,
  Her eyes grew red; and so,
Bending her arching brow,
  She fiercely snapped Love's bow.

[paragraph continues] (Aloud.) My good girl, Dushyanta's conduct is known to the whole kingdom, but not this action.

Shakuntala. Well, well. I had my way. I trusted a king, and put myself in his hands. He had a honey face and a heart of stone. (She covers her face with her dress and weeps.)

Sharngarava. Thus does unbridled levity burn.

Be slow to love, but yet more slow
     With secret mate;
With those whose hearts we do not know,
     Love turns to hate.

King. Why do you trust this girl, and accuse me of an imaginary crime?

p. 60

Sharngarava (disdainfully). You have learned your wisdom upside down.

It would be monstrous to believe
  A girl who never lies;
Trust those who study to deceive
  And think it very wise.

King. Aha, my candid friend! Suppose I were to admit that I am such a man. What would happen if I deceived the girl?

Sharngarava. Ruin.

King. It is unthinkable that ruin should fall on Puru's line.

Sharngarava. Why bandy words? We have fulfilled our Father's bidding. We are ready to return.

Leave her or take her, as you will;
     She is your wife;
Husbands have power for good or ill
     O’er woman's life.

[paragraph continues] Gautami, lead the way. (They start to go.)

Shakuntala. He has deceived me shamelessly. And will you leave me too? (She starts to follow.)

Gautami (turns around and sees her). Sharngarava, my son, Shakuntala is following us, lamenting piteously. What can the poor child do with a husband base enough to reject her?

Sharngarava (turns angrily). You self-willed girl! Do you dare show independence? (SHAKUNTALA shrinks in fear.) Listen.

If you deserve such scorn and blame,
What will your father with your shame?
But if you know your vows are pure,
Obey your husband and endure.

[paragraph continues] Remain. We must go.

King. Hermit, why deceive this woman? Remember:

Night-blossoms open to the moon,
  Day-blossoms to the sun;
A man of honour ever strives
  Another's wife to shun.

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Sharngarava. O King, suppose you had forgotten your former actions in the midst of distractions. Should you now desert your wife--you who fear to fail in virtue?

King. I ask you which is the heavier sin:

Not knowing whether I be mad
  Or falsehood be in her,
Shall I desert a faithful wife
  Or turn adulterer?

Chaplain (considering). Now if this were done------

King. Instruct me, my teacher.

Chaplain. Let the woman remain in my house until her child is born.

King. Why this?

Chaplain. The chief astrologers have told you that your first child was destined to be an emperor. If the son of the hermit's daughter is born with the imperial birthmarks, then welcome her and introduce her into the palace. Other- wise, she must return to her father.

King. It is good advice, my teacher.

Chaplain (rising). Follow me, my daughter.

Shakuntala. O mother earth, give me a grave! (Exit weeping, with the chaplain, the hermits, and GAUTAMI. The king, his memory clouded by the curse, ponders on SHAKUNTALA.)

Voices behind the scenes. A miracle! A miracle!

King (listening). What does this mean? (Enter the chaplain.)

Chaplain (in amazement). Your Majesty, a wonderful thing has happened.

King. What?

Chaplain. When Kanva's pupils had departed,

She tossed her arms, bemoaned her plight,
Accused her crushing fate------

King. What then?


Before our eyes a heavenly light
In woman's form, but shining bright,
  Seized her and vanished straight.

(All betray astonishment.)

King. My teacher, we have already settled the matter. Why speculate in vain? Let us seek repose.

p. 62

Chaplain. Victory to your Majesty. (Exit.)

King. Vetravati, I am bewildered. Conduct me to my apartment.

Portress. Follow me, your Majesty.

King (walks about. To himself).

With a hermit-wife I had no part,
  All memories evade me;
And yet my sad and stricken heart
  Would more than half persuade me.

(Exeunt omnes.)


Next: Act VI. Separation From Shakuntala