Sir William Jones, A Hymn to Narayena

Sir William Jones (see the headnote to Jones's Palace of Fortune, just above) wrote A Hymn to Narayena in the spring of 1785 and published it later the same year in the first issue of Asiatick Miscellany (Calcutta). It was reprinted and praised in several London magazines over the next couple of years, and is generally considered to be Jones's best effort in a lyric form (in this instance a type of Pindaric ode). Jones's lengthy "Argument" summarizes the content, which may be seen to have much in common with later expressions of mystical pantheism in Romantic lyrics by, among others, Wordsworth ("Tintern Abbey," NAEL 8, 2.258–62) and Percy Shelley ("Mont Blanc" and "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," NAEL 8, 2.762–68).


The Argument

[Click on image to enlarge] A complete introduction to the following Ode would be no less than a full comment on the Vayds and Purans of the Hindus, the remains of Egyptian and Persian Theology, and the tenets of the Ionick and Italick Schools; but this is not the place for so vast a disquisition. It will be sufficient here to premise, that the inextricable difficulties attending the vulgar notion of material substances, concerning which

"We know this only, that we nothing know,"

induced many of the wisest among the Ancients, and some of the most enlightened among the Moderns, to believe, that the whole Creation was rather an energy than a work, by which the Infinite Being, who is present at all times in all places, exhibits to the minds of his creatures a set of perceptions, like a wonderful picture or piece of musick, always varied, yet always uniform; so that all bodies and their qualities exist, indeed, to every wise and useful purpose, but exist only as far as they are perceived; a theory no less pious than sublime, and as different from any principle of Atheism, as the brightest sunshine differs from the blackest midnight. This illusive operation of the Deity the Hindu philosophers call, Maya, or Deception; and the word occurs in this sense more than once in the commentary on the Rig Vayd, by the great Vasishtha, of which Mr. Halhed has given us an admirable specimen.

The first stanza of the Hymn represents the sublimest attributes of the Supreme Being, and the three forms, in which they most clearly appear to us, Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, or, in the language of Orpheus and his disciples, Love: the second comprises the Indian and Egyptian doctrine of the Divine Essence and Archetypal Ideas; for a distinct account of which the reader must be referred to a noble description in the sixth book of Plato's Republick; and the fine explanation of that passage in an elegant discourse by the author of Cyrus, from whose learned work a hint has been borrowed for the conclusion of this piece. The third and fourth are taken from the Institutes of Menu, and the eighteenth Puran of Vyasa, entitled Srey Bhagawat, part of which has been translated into Persian, not without elegance, but rather too paraphrastically. From Brehme, or the Great Being, in the neuter gender, is formed Brehma, in the masculine; and the second word is appropriated to the creative power of the Divinity.

The spirit of God, call'd Narayena, or moving on the water, has a multiplicity of other epithets in Sanscrit, the principal of which are introduced, expressly or by allusion, in the fifth stanza; and two of them contain the names of the evil beings, who are feigned to have sprung from the ears of Vishnu; for thus the divine spirit is entitled, when considered as the preserving power: the sixth ascribes the perception of secondary qualities by our senses to the immediate influence of Maya; and the seventh imputes to her operation the primary qualities of extension and solidity.

The Hymn

























Spirit of Spirits, who, through ev'ry part
      Of space expanded and of endless time,
      Beyond the stretch of lab'ring thought sublime,
      Badst uproar into beauteous order start,
            Before Heav'n was, Thou art:
Ere spheres beneath us roll'd or spheres above,
      Ere earth in firmamental ether hung,
      Thou satst alone; till, through thy mystick Love,
      Things unexisting to existence sprung,
            And grateful descant sung.
What first impell'd thee to exert thy might?
      Goodness unlimited. What glorious light
      Thy pow'r directed? Wisdom without bound.
      What prov'd it first? Oh! guide my fancy right;
            Oh! raise from cumbrous ground
            My soul in rapture drown'd,
      That fearless it may soar on wings of fire;
For Thou, who only knowst, Thou only canst inspire.

Wrapt in eternal solitary shade,
      Th' impenetrable gloom of light intense,
      Impervious, inaccessible, immense,
      Ere spirits were infus'd or forms display'd,
            Brehm his own Mind survey'd,
As mortal eyes (thus finite we compare
      With infinite) in smoothest mirrors gaze:
      Swift, at his look, a shape supremely fair
      Leap'd into being with a boundless blaze,
            That fifty suns might daze.
Primeval Maya was the Goddess nam'd,
      Who to her sire, with Love divine inflam'd,
      A casket gave with rich Ideas fill'd,
From which this gorgeous Universe he fram'd;
            For, when th' Almighty will'd,
            Unnumber'd worlds to build,
      From Unity diversified he sprang,
While gay Creation laugh'd, and procreant Nature rang.
First an all-potent all-pervading sound
      Bade flow the waters — and the waters flow'd,
      Exulting in their measureless abode,
      Diffusive, multitudinous, profound,
            Above, beneath, around;
Then o'er the vast expanse primordial wind
      Breath'd gently till a lucid bubble rose,
      Which grew in perfect shape an Egg refin'd:
      Created substance no such lustre shows,
            Earth no such beauty knows.
Above the warring waves it danc'd elate,
      Till from its bursting shell with lovely state
      A form cerulean flutter'd o'er the deep,
      Brightest of beings, greatest of the great:
            Who, not as mortals steep,
            Their eyes in dewy sleep,
      But heav'nly-pensive on the Lotos lay,
That blossom'd at his touch and shed a golden ray.

Hail, primal blossom! hail empyreal gem!
      Kemel, or Pedma, or whate'er high name
      Delight thee, say, what four-form'd Godhead came,
      With graceful stole and beamy diadem,
            Forth from thy verdant stem?
Full-gifted Brehma! Rapt in solemn thought
      He stood, and round his eyes fire-darting threw;
      But, whilst his viewless origin he sought,
      One plain he saw of living waters blue,
            Their spring nor saw nor knew.
Then, in his parent stalk again retir'd,
      With restless pain for ages he inquir'd
      What were his pow'rs, by whom, and why conferr'd:
      With doubts perplex'd, with keen impatience fir'd
            He rose, and rising heard
            Th' unknown all-knowing Word,
      "Brehma! no more in vain research persist:
My veil thou canst not move — Go; bid all worlds exist."

Hail, self-existent, in celestial speech
      Narayen, from thy watry cradle, nam'd;
      Or Venamaly may I sing unblam'd,
      With flow'ry braids, that to thy sandals reach,
            Whose beauties, who can teach?
Or high Peitamber clad in yellow robes
      Than sunbeams brighter in meridian glow,
      That weave their heav'n-spun light o'er circling globes?
      Unwearied, lotos-eyed, with dreadful bow,
            Dire Evil's constant foe!
Great Pedmanabha, o'er thy cherish'd world
      The pointed Checra, by thy fingers whirl'd,
      Fierce Kytabh shall destroy and Medhu grim
      To black despair and deep destruction hurl'd.
            Such views my senses dim,
            My eyes in darkness swim:
      What eye can bear thy blaze, what utt'rance tell
Thy deeds with silver trump or many-wreathed shell?

Omniscient Spirit, whose all-ruling pow'r
      Bids from each sense bright emanations beam;
      Glows in the rainbow, sparkles in the stream,
      Smiles in the bud, and glistens in the flow'r
            That crowns each vernal bow'r;
Sighs in the gale, and warbles in the throat
      Of ev'ry bird, that hails the bloomy spring,
      Or tells his love in many a liquid note,
      Whilst envious artists touch the rival string,
            Till rocks and forests ring;
Breathes in rich fragrance from the sandal grove,
      Or where the precious musk-deer playful rove;
      In dulcet juice from clust'ring fruit distills,
      And burns salubrious in the tasteful clove:
            Soft banks and verd'rous hills
            Thy present influence fills;
In air, in floods, in caverns, woods, and plains;
Thy will inspirits all, thy sov'reign Maya reigns.

Blue crystal vault, and elemental fires,
      That in th' ethereal fluid blaze and breathe;
      Thou, tossing main, whose snaky branches wreathe
      This pensile orb with intertwisted gyres;
            Mountains, whose radiant spires
Presumptuous rear their summits to the skies,
      And blend their em'rald hue with sapphire light;
      Smooth meads and lawns, that glow with varying dyes
      Of dew-bespangled leaves and blossoms bright,
            Hence! vanish from my sight:
Delusive Pictures! unsubstantial shows!
      My soul absorb'd One only Being knows,
      Of all perceptions One abundant source,
      Whence ev'ry object ev'ry moment flows:
            Suns hence derive their force,
      Hence planets learn their course;
      But suns and fading words I view no more:
God only I perceive; God only I adore.

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