1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On the Burning of Widows in India.

Oriental Herald and Colonial Review 1 (January 1824) 118-19.

James Silk Buckingham


Eight ruminative Spenserian stanzas, signed "Bion." The poet condemns the notorious practice, "The mark which those who traffic or invade | Her gems and perfumes suffer aye to stand; | Though one mild effort of the conquering hand | Might free the earth from this detested blot" p. 119. The poem is part of a substantial series of Spenserian poems treating the subject of "Superstition."

In addition to poetry, The Oriental Herald, edited by the traveller and journalist James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855), devoted considerable space to general literary affairs. It continued publication until 1829.



Is it the only proof of love to die—
To pass off like a shadow from the form
Which gave the semblance of life no more is nigh,
Companion for the funeral-pile or worm?
Is there no keeping fond affection warm
By living solely for the hallow'd dead?
Cannot the heart beat still amid the storm
And coil of life, for him whose narrow bed
Nor warm'd nor soften'd is by laying head to head?

'Twas the fierce breathing of the savage state,
Whose dim ideas pierce not through the grave,
Which made the gentle bride pursue her mate
Beyond the windings of the Stygian wave:
She knew nor life nor death, and so was brave
By simple instinct of a fiery soul;
And hasten'd dull oblivion's aid to crave,
Not having lived to feel the wise control
Of mother's cares, perchance, that calm the passions' roll.

But no vain precedent from hence should spring,
No law, to force the more reflecting mind.
All cannot feel the insufferable sting
Of lonely after-being left behind,—
The sole link snapp'd that to the world did bind,—
Nor can this blight seize many hearts on earth:
The greater part deliver to the wind
Their cares and sorrows; and from rosy mirth
Invoke bland smiles to cheer the bright domestic hearth.

And naught in truth but ignorance and crime
Can deem self-sacrifice the test of love;
Or stain the ever-rolling wheels of time,
Whose vast circumference conveys above
The blots on earth contracted as they move
On the broad highway of eternity,
With blood of murder'd innocence, that strove
The meditated deed perchance to flee,
To breathe heaven's blessed air, full happy but to be.

But when fast bound to earth by thousand ties
The friend, the daughter, and the mother stands;
When the frail pledges of their sympathies
Implore her yet to live with lifted hands;
When none but Superstition's cursed bands
Stand round and urge her to the flaming pile,
Forging of angry heaven the dire commands
Her fluctuating spirit to beguile—
Though none but basest ends incite their hearts the while;

Who can repress his scorn of priestly trade,
The scourge for many an age of Asian land,
The mark which those who traffic or invade
Her gems and perfumes suffer aye to stand;
Though one mild effort of the conquering hand
Might free the earth from this detested blot,
And lead in bless'd Religion to withstand
By her meek statutes what has dimm'd the lot
Of man, and wrought such deeds as may not be forgot.

Who can behold the unwilling victim led
In sad and mocking pomp to meet her doom,
That few short years before her bridal bed
First saw — ah! little dreaming of the tomb!—
And not feel rage and bitter anger come
Troubling his spirit, spreading to his kind,
And closing life's short vista with a gloom
That hangs its heavy pinions on the mind,
Making it loath its state, unhappy, unresign'd?

But Knowledge, slowly rising, like the sun
In early spring upon the Lapland plain,
Gives forth faint light, but, lengthening days begun,
Its growing rays do gather strength amain;
And clouds spring up and interpose in vain—
The living principle asserts the sky—
Driven back, or scatter'd wide in driving rain,
To furthest corners of the heavens they fly,
Shunning for aye the glare of day's all-lightening eye.

[pp. 118-19]