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Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall (1835-1911)

Studies at Delhi, 1876


I.--The Hindu Ascetic.
          1.1Here as I sit by the Jumna bank,
          1.2Watching the flow of the sacred stream,
          1.3Pass me the legions, rank on rank,
          1.4And the cannon roar, and the bayonets gleam.

          1.5Is it a god or a king that comes?
          1.6Both are evil, and both are strong;
          1.7With women and worshipping, dancing and drums,
          1.8Carry your gods and your kings along.

          1.9Fanciful shapes of a plastic earth,
        1.10These are the visions that weary the eye;
        1.11These I may 'scape by a luckier birth,
        1.12Musing, and fasting, and hoping to die.

        1.13When shall these phantoums flicker away?
        1.14Like the smoke of the guns on the wind-swept hill,
        1.15Like the sounds and colours of yesterday:
        1.16And the soul have rest, and the air be still.

II.--Badminton.
          2.1Hardly a shot from the gate we stormed,
          2.2Under the Moree battlement's shade;
          2.3Close to the glacis our game was formed,
          2.4There had the fight been, and there we played.

          2.5Lightly the demoiselles tittered and leapt,
          2.6Merrily capered the players all;
          2.7North, was the garden where Nicholson slept,
          2.8South, was the sweep of a battered wall.

          2.9Near me a Musalmán, civil and mild,
        2.10Watched as the shuttlecocks rose and fell;
        2.11And he said, as he counted his beads and smiled,
        2.12"God smite their souls to the depths of hell."

Notes

1.1] Jumna: river and branch of the Ganges in northern India that runs past Delhi.

2.2] Moree: Mori or Moree bastion of the walls of Delhi, assaulted by British forces during the quelling of the 1857 mutiny of high-caste Bengal sepoys troops. See Richard Collier's The Great Indian Mutiny (New York: Dutton, 1964). The rebellion occurred in part because Bengal troops were expected to bite the end of bullets -- which had been greased in pig-fat (forbidden to Muslims) -- in loading their British Lee-Enfield rifles.

2.3] glacis: "The parapet of the covered way extended in a long slope to meet the natural surface of the ground, so that every part of it shall be swept by the fire of the ramparts" (OED).

2.7] Nicholson: John Nicholson (1822-1857), Anglo-Indian deputy commissioner of Bannu who single-handedly kept peace in the Punjab during the 1857 Mutiny in India and who achieved victory in Delhi, then under control of the rebels. Nicholson died, shot in the back as he led his soldiers in the capture of Delhi.

2.9] Musalmán: Muslim man.

2.10] shuttlecocks: feathered rubber-covered cork nub struck by badminton rackets.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Sir Alfred Lyall, Verses Written in India (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1889): 44-47. British Library.
First publication date: 1889
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/21

Rhyme: abab


Other poems by Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall