A King’s Remorse

Gregory Name

© Gregorius Vatis Advena 2019, Record D 5, Engl. A King’s Remorse, April 2018 to March 2019, Hampshire, free verse, dramatic poetry, English.

A King’s Remorse


King Ajatasattu seeks the Buddha after killing his father, in a monologue of repentance and self-discovery. This poem is based on a story from a Buddhist canon, in which the Buddha explains the fruits of meditation to a remorseful king.

A King’s Remorse discusses the insufficiency of life in a world ruled by craving. A murderer speaks. The aporia of his spiritual drama is the coexistence of self-purification and awareness of the irreparable: King Ajatasattu is saved and doomed.

Waltz In A Minor Op 34 No 2, Chopin, performed by Nico di Napoli – FMA CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

This is a tragic poem. Its elevated language seeks to express the timelessness of suffering. It serves a truth that surpasses the insubstantiality of time, originality and even poetry.

A King’s Remorse

We dream our dreams, my ministers,
for certain dreams are worthier than life.
Yet in this quest for wind we find
ourselves so far from good that silence
appears the only worth in the storm. 5
O that the moon might cast an eternal
shroud of forgetfulness over my greed.
Forget? The blood in my hand will speak
for itself: I killed, I killed my only
father, my birth I thanked with murder. 10
A silver knife has stolen nature’s
divine prerogative. And dreams sublime?
To rule and wielding the sword of glory
turn the wheel? The wheel is round
and back it turns to us as it was sent. 15
To know the greatest evil was committed
believing to bring the greatest good!
If only life had been that morning
where my face beheld the lotus blossom.
If only my dream had been to sit 20


by the waterfall and close my eyes.
But why should I bewail the woes
of childhood lost, if every step
reminds me that life as I have led
is but a sadder sort of infancy? 25
There were so many teachers to hear
and waves to contemplate on water.
I remember the longing nights I lay
on grass and opened my lids. Endlessness,
I thought, embraced my body, and beauty. 30
Though I looked at the stars I was blind,
I, who dreamt of being beyond the dream:
The kindest craving is craving still.
A soothing sadness pervaded my spirit
when I saw the moon, impermanent sail. 35
To grasp the sublime has not yet granted
peace nor even prevented me from crime.
What holy goods I forsook for nothing
and anything much worse than nothing.
This is my time, o ministers, this 40


is what I did: I killed my father!
But let me not abuse your ears
with woes unworthy of the moonlight
and well deserved: If anyone of you
has known a sage, a man above all dreams, 45
I beg you, tell me his name and abode
that I may see his face before I pass,
for listen, on the moon it is written:
My death is near, never again the sun
I shall see. Purana Kapassa? The man 50
is a teacher of many, aged and honoured.
Beyond the stars exist but further stars?
The heart is great but heaven lies so far:
Gosala! I know, this might bring solace
to my sighs. You say Kesamkabali? Wise 55
of long standing. Kaccayana I know,
beloved of the multitude. But who?
Prepare me wings to pass the universe!
Belatthaputta would not receive me,
too good is his mind. Yet Nataputta? 60


I am afraid of dawn as if I knew!
Yet after sunset what light remains?
What do you say who sit in silence
frightened of him who once was king?
These letters should be banished from 65
the world. Ah, I hear you say Gotama?
Enlightened and blessed! Gotama then
we shall visit, prepare the elephants.
He who no longer exists has nothing
to lose. To gain? O that this moon, 70
this moon were merrier than memory!
Bring the court and the torch-bearers.
Murderers mostly welcome any shimmer
that may dispell their dark existence.
My father was the beacon I broke, 75
a light of many shipwrecked in shame.
With begging eyes he knelt, I remember,
his voice remains alive within my void.
What is a plead in this plightful waste
we hail as home? An embellished hell 80


below the stars is our loveless treasure.
He raised his hand, the guide of the good
I slain for the wheel I will not turn.
He stretched his arms to me, forgiving
unforgivable greed. If only the prince 85
had learnt to be the prince of patience.
The wheel of fortune I found as worthier
than my conceiver’s saddening breath,
as if a bastard’s dream of prosperity
might ever blind the shine of a martyr. 90
Look at thyself, Ajatasattu, behold
how base thou art, how bright a light
was killed by shadows. O had he been
my father only! Had I spared my country!
Yet revenge is near, forsooth, my son 95
I taught a tremendous lesson, my blood
is soon to pay. I shall not try to save
myself from a lurking murderer: Doom!
We ride, we fare, we walk, but what
is the end of this journey? What 100


sudden silence is this? To wish
I were an elephant, O sweet desire.
We must proceed, for I have a question
to ask this noble teacher of hosts.
I ride to my condemnation as an angel 105
flies to his unfleeting salvation.
I know that peace and my heart are two
that cannot live together, yet I ride.
I fare as if I knew the end is near,
happiness at hand – the dream I dream 110
is pale as presumption. Here it is?
So long a journey felt like a second
to him who wished to stop the sun.
But what is this, my friends? A quiet
of death will bring me solace? I was 115
a king, but now I kneel before you
entreating slaves with womanly tears:
Ere you deliver me, the wretched traitor
to my enemies, allow me a second only
that I may see the face of this teacher! 120


This done, assault me, kill a shadow
that too long offended the friendly sun.
Where is he? I stand and look and search.
Is this a mirror of my mind or death?
There is no torch here. Bring me to him! 125
– Ah! I know what is awaiting my eyes:
If only my son possessed this calm,
my son whom I lost as once my father
lost me, my son who awaits me thirsty
of blood as once myself of my beacon. 130
If only devils were to follow us!
O blossom better than bliss and truth,
art thou the teacher of unfading rest?
We dream our dreams, my teacher,
for dreams seem worthier than our sighs. 135
I confess, I lay on thy feet a heavier
crime than heaven and hell can bear:
I killed my father! Too late remorse
has overcome what never should have been.
Yet curse me not because I know my end, 140


my son, I know, is ready with his knife.
His knife? O no, I shall say my own!
Yet let me not disturb a tender throng
with woes unworthy of a lofty abode.
If I may ask, I wish to know the truth: 145
I envy those whoever follow thy silence!
What would I gain if I left a wretched
kingdom for nothing, for a life uncertain
among the trees and wandering barefoot
from town to town? What had I gained 150
if from the day of birth I had abandoned
my sceptre for an empty bowl? To close
my eyes instead of opening the entrails
of him who gave me life, to live in misery
beyond the luring lights of illusion, 155
was this the way? Speak, I will listen,
explain how I lost my hope and happiness,
before my father’s death already gone.
Nay! I spent too many of my days ignoring
the stars on the placid face of the pond. 160


Serene as music sounds this voice to me.
Hear you, my friends? To throw away
a promising world and words of deceit,
to don an easy robe and walk in the woods
as he who having nothing nothing lacks. 165
Is this the way? By the side of an oak,
unfailing friendship, a home he finds
and sits and hears the chant of birds
as if he had no ears. He sees the green
as one who seeing no longer needs his lids. 170
His only claim, if claim, is to continue
to breathe until no breath is beyond.
Whether he closes or opens his eyes
he knows, and whether or not he thinks
he knows: I see as if I saw not, I cease, 175
I exist as if I no longer existed, nay,
I no longer am. I breathe as though
in breathing illusions might persist.
I am nothing. Nothing will I become.
Being born, I shall breathe my breath 180


until my birth is surpassed in my breath.
The stream is carrying away the colours
and the dreams, yet he shall stay,
for not existing he no longer stays.
Suddenly, delight suffuses his joints 185
and dwelling still in the forest he’s far.
Beyond the thoughts, where words will pass,
there is a sky of stars yet lighter than light.
There is, he says, a lake of purest spring
beyond eternity, when rest is at hand. 190
A perfect piece of music, once resounding,
becomes redundant, must concede to silence:
Nothing will be repeated, the sound is finished
as birth and life are lived, pain surpassed.
It is a day of blameless bliss when the body 195
takes its alms and further goes unburdened.
A sparrow passing hither and thither
is undisturbed by the weight of his wings.
In solitary lodgings joy will be found
divine and desirous of nothing at night. 200


How rich is the root of a forest tree!
He sits and crossing legs no longer craves:
His spirit is straight, a beauteous body
arises mind-made and equanimous clearness
guides: pleasure, delight is surpassed. 205
Awareness, a pond at the mountain peak
not yet beheld and where no depth is hidden,
amazes the searcher. The sacred mirror
unveils a wider veil than the world.
The truth is discovered. Will there be 210
a return from a kinder island that renders
pain and pleasure so fleeting? The wind
we had, and having less the wing is lighter.
A desert farer will fare to redemption
where never-ending thirst will be quenched. 215
O that I were a leaf of lotus floating
on the mirror of a marvellous lake!
A generous gem is the man who throws
away his words and shines in silence.
Above the bragging of petty poets 220


who quarrel over rhyme and rhythm
and worship the sound of silly words,
he lives and contemplates and dies.
I heard of a merry moment where many
awoke beyond awakening. See you not, 225
o ministers, that for this teacher to be
and not to be is not a question? Never
will cease his rest and yet he breathes.
It is a beautiful morrow when bliss is near:
He that walks and dwells among the leaves 230
is overcome by joy as never joy has been.
And for a second, I hear, a single ray
pervades his body, his thoughts and mind.
He weeps: For an instant he sees the truest
and most serene of ways. And life has been. 235
It is fulfilment such that after the ray
the ray no longer needs to be, nor birth.
He knows: No other while will surpass
the ray of awakening, and this is good.
One second is enough, no repetition needed: 240

A King’s Remorse

The bliss of only one possessed all others.
Leave behind delusions of time, eternity!
Now that the ray has shone, now he can open
the door of peace beyond peace and be gone.
Yet for a moment he tarries. I understand 245
the chant, I know the birds are beautiful.
He thankfully stops, but the journey awaits
and longer stays will not make the birds
more beauteous. Because we love, we let
them go and gone are they, serene companions. 250
Left to ourselves, we sit and meditate
as tranquil islands transcending desire.
Breathe if you know and know if you breathe:
I breathe. I breathe not. I breathe again.
I think not. I think and therefore am not. 255
The dream I call mine will come and go
from me and from many – so will thoughts.
What is it that being part of me is mine?
My father’s corpse reveals my very end,
and every night I sleep I lose myself. 260


Awake? Yet daily a different person
arises and deals with amounts of memory
I keep in my chest. Memory did I say?
So far is the day where I became a flower:
Regarding a rose, I would no longer be. 265
But here I am, defiled, betrayed by time.
The dust of a perfect past I can feel
in my hands, the same that held my friends,
for friendship is firm in younger years.
Whither went the lotus we used to see? 270
Again my question is wrong: The flowers
stayed and so did friends. It is myself
that fared and faded away in shadow.
Memories? At last the film will be lost.
Compassion! A little gift I could leave 275
to a wasted world is marred with murder.
The wise man is nodding as if he knew,
but know you, Gotama? I did not kill
as I said, and blessed I were if only
the silver knife had discharged the king. 280


He was emprisoned while I told the court
he was in heaven – wounded in darkness,
starving to death, hidden as a monster.
Years? Sorrow distorts the shape of time.
I know not, yet this I know: He died 285
as I wanted and left the wicked a throne.
Was it poison? Did the servant assail
the failing flesh with a blade? My father
killed himself, ashamed, before I stroke?
A veil of oblivion fell over my thoughts, 290
but clear beyond the shroud I can behold
my guilt. The wheel of glory was wrecked.
Good intentions? The hell is full of them:
The first was the burning fire of justice
I wished to kindle throughout my kingdom. 295
And then I killed my father, brave of me!
What else? Fairness towards the people,
of course, by stabbing a fairer king
than I shall ever be. This is so ludicrous
that I, in making myself an accomplished fool, 300


deserve a public stage and almost applause.
And this, just for the sake of being –
different from a better ruler whose rule
I despised and whose throne I admired,
I, who gained a throne and lost my rule, 305
I, who cannot govern myself and intend,
or pretend, to govern others well.
Yet damned as I live I hear of a hidden
wave in the mountain where mind is limpid
as never water has been. Assisted by saints 310
I would have been if once I had abandoned
the dust of dreams. They found their freedom
who left the lies of servitude and vice.
Controlling a trivial drive, they dwell
in a glorious garden: No harm will happen 315
to kings who threw away their treasure.
Treasure? This in fact is what they found,
and the gold, the sex, the sceptre, greed
they left behind are but destroyers of days.
There are they, my friends, and I am here, 320


I, who live as a slave of petty pursuits.
Content with concentration, they guard
their guilty thoughts, surrender flurry
and waning worry to calmness. Here it is
that thinking passes and joy remains 325
beyond delight and being. This is it!
Is it only that what it takes? So easy
to be happy and being happy no longer
to be? My eyes should have been true,
my eyes so lost away. Why did I not grasp 330
a truth so near the heart? Why did I lose
the days of my life? There were so many
trees and opportunities at every step
and every corner had a bed of flowers
and streams, and sparrows ready for me. 335
From millions of myriads I chose, alas,
the wretched star. I desecrated an altar
larger than time and life is witness
that heaven was near. To sit by the shade
of oaks and crossing my legs to unloose 340


a flow of thoughts, that a silent stream
might carry my chains and myself away,
to bring back peace and a beauteous place
and chanting birds. So little did it take,
so nigh was the final day of suffering! 345
O dissolution, o the hues of happiness!
Enough, I beg, enough, enough, enough!
Arise, my ministers, I have offended
the sight of a saint for far too long.
It is time to go, I know my life is gone, 350
prepare the elephants. If only the moon
might cast forgetfulness over my days!
Forgive my tears if you can, Gotama,
forget this childish show of sorrow.
Though there be no candle this night, 355
I cover my eyes as a man who is blinded
by beacons yet brighter than fire.
A better being lit the midday sun
on a single lamp and my mind is wide.
A further eye in me has been awakened 360


that now I may behold the beautiful:
It is wonderful, it is divine, it is
beyond completion – thirst is quenched!
Accept this man, my Lord, as a follower
impossible and new, unworthy and redeemed 365
for a fleeting moment. Birth is finished!
That the same man should make me shed
the happiest, ay, and saddest tears
that covered my body! The happiest
because I heard the trumpet of truth, 370
I beheld the most enlightening light.
And yet the saddest for seeing the light
I see this privilege is not for myself
and never will be: I killed my father,
transgression has slain tranquillity. 375
See for yourselves how nobly a stranger
avoids to inveigh against my wicked way!
Confessing this mortal sin, he says,
I shall perfect my discipline and grow.
So let us go, for little time is left 380


for me to breathe and be good and die.
We ride, we fare, we walk, and that
is the end of this journey. But you
that will remain, I pray, listen to me:
I see my fate inscribed on your heads! 385
Although it should be easy to break away
from chains and find a bed of flowers,
a tranquil tree requesting nothing else
from mind and body, who will attend?
You know that nobody wills the treasure 390
most easy to find. They prefer to repeat
and imitate my life, they have to kill
their father before they see how blessed
it is to be easy, and lo, what easiness
they lost in trifles, throwing their days 395
away for nothing but woes. Will you let it
come so far again? I call you friends
for only kings have ministers, and king
I have not been. If in this wrecked retinue
there be a heart that respects me not 400


for what I am but what I should have been,
so let him have a better pursuit: Practise
what you heard! Think of me who longing
for the sun shall never see the face again:
This is the night my murderer has chosen. 405
Words will not appease a prince who learnt
by deeds, whose dreams are worse than fate.
It is a meaningful night to die: The moon
is full of undeserved affection, pitying
me among the leaves of blue lament... 410
Truly, this night were heaven for those
in hell where king Ajatasattu hails,
a shipwreck of his own tormentous ocean,
wider than worlds and yet unable to drown
the size of sorrow. It is kind of the clouds 415
to let the moon embrace my mourning sighs,
requit my crime with a kiss. It is compassion
greater than deserved by gods, and yet
so many moons there were inviting the vain.
That man should come to miss every month 420


the fullness of such entreaties! Foolish!
Let us part on this very spot our ways:
You are dismissed, and so am I. Follow
the man as dutiful monks by doing better,
or travel forth and serve your sovereign 425
as lives perfected in faithful virtue.
I will ride to the palace where the prince
has sharpened a knife – the sheath is I.
I shall await the end of my waste
in the shadow that befits my shame. 430
Yet weep not for me, but for yourselves
and always with joy: My wreck is very just
and three requests I will lay upon you –
Firstly, never take the sun for granted
but be the first every morrow to awake 435
and wait. When the perfect ray is risen
bow your body, shout and yell: What joy,
what bliss, what a blessing to see this light
so many dead and devas have longed to see
yet will not find. How lucky we are to thank 440


the star of days with every single tear,
when the drop becomes a morning shine.
How beautiful to raise our tranquil hands
devoid of lie and theft and rape and murder!
Thank the sun, rejoice with all your being 445
for he has guided you well through the waves,
he, who shines in vain on cursers of life,
he, who every day invites again the fool!
Truly, my friends, the teacher we found
is greater than the sun: He will pass 450
and his radiance will stay for all days
and nights to come. Wherever you walk,
you must not think of you, but think
of the light you leave behind and leave.
The second thing I ask of you, now hear: 455
The chanting birds you shall revere
forever. Ere transgression overcomes
your heart, hear their joy and remember:
In hell there are no sparrows. They are
the teachers of gratitude if any day 460


the sun might fail to convince the vain.
Yet birds will fly away, and when they go
to mystery let them be gone and beyond.
Be birds unto yourselves that come and go
and thank each other for long or shorter 465
stays, for whatever stays will pass away.
Be birds that nothing burdens but the wind
on your wings: Yours will be the wheels.
My third and last entreaty as your king:
Before you die, I demand that you lay 470
your very face on grass and stroking
as many leaves as your children’s hair
be thankful: They were kind to you.
They did nothing to deserve the weight
of your feet, remember before you die. 475
Not all of our days are good, but know
that any work you do, however humble,
is what will save you from yourselves.
We dream our dreams, my friends, because
in slumber we have forgotten to live, 480
but you have found the keys to peace:
Go to the trees and sit, and cease –
the end is near, happiness at hand.
Be birds again, unburdened birds
that fare away to a deathless day. 485