The Bazaar of Death [poem by Louis Esson]

[Editor: This poem by Louis Esson was published in Red Gums and Other Verses (1912).]

The Bazaar of Death.

(Chant Royal).

Where Ganges rolls thro’ worlds of Circumstance,
The Lotus, touched with Soma’s falling fire,
Sleeps on the water’s jeweled radiance
By Kasi’s temples, towers, and funeral pyre.
Down the white steps from Siva’s Judgment-Seat
With shouts of “Ram!” to drum and cymbals’ beat,
Shadowy figures pass in slow parade.
Smoke rises; an eternal serenade
Floats o’er the Burning Ghat and waters far.
Some outworn body by the wave is laid.
The booths are ever thronged in Death’s Bazaar.

* * *

A corded Brahim, ash-crowned, deep in trance
Climbs paths to which the Twice-born may aspire;
Or spangled Rajput, born for high romance,
With Moon for mother and with Sun for sire
Gaily a-hunting goes; on weary feet
A Beggar hobbles down some kinder street;
A Merchant spreads new stalls with rich brocade;
A Hermit seeks a deeper banyan shade,
Or Gipsy girl refills her copper jar:
Some thread of life is slit by Siva’s blade,
The booths are ever thronged in Death’s Bazaar.

* * *

This passing pageant stays the Pilgrim’s glance,
And fluttering Veils of Maya, Temptress dire,
Lure the child-soul to cherish things of chance,
Insect delights, the roses that expire
Petal by petal in the noon-tide heat;
Smoke, vapour, dreams — vague clouds in swift retreat,
Empires, dissolving dew-drops, faiths that fade,
Words writ on leaves — a moth-like masquerade
That seems, but is not, mocking things that are.
The Wheel of Birth and Death is never stayed,
The booths are ever thronged in Death’s Bazaar.

* * *

Ashes are every man’s deliverance
From mortal joy or sorrow, sun or mire.
The Soul wears many a changing countenance
But rises, bird-like, high and ever higher
Cleaving Varuna’s sky, with pinions fleet,
Thro’ Rudra’s rains and Indra’s flashing sleet,
All forces of the Fates in cavalcade,
To highest Heaven with brightest stars arrayed —
In cycles of the years that mould or mar,
Thro’ many lands the wandering Soul has strayed.
The booths are ever thronged in Death’s Bazaar.

None may escape the Great God’s vigilance.
The Yogi scorns the flesh, some love the lyre
To learn, from meditation or the dance,
Destruction of the fetters of Desire
Sets free the wandering Soul. A birth more sweet
Springs from the folding of each winding-sheet.
Each grain of dust will reach Nirvana’s glade
Thro’ Time and Change. Then Soul! Be not afraid,
Tho’ fire and water wait you, Siva’s star
Will guide, when each poor body is decayed.
The booths are ever thronged in Death’s Bazaar.

* * *

ENVOI

Death is the crystal Vase of Life remade
Fairer until dull Matter renegade
Shines clear, unsullied more by spot or scar.
Siva, Destroyer! All invoke your aid —
The booths are ever thronged in Death’s Bazaar.



Source:
Louis Esson, Red Gums and Other Verses, Melbourne: Fraser & Jenkinson, 1912, pages 24-26

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