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Romantic Tales, Epic Poetry


Royal Chronicles

Translated Into English For The First Time

With A Special Introduction By



Easily the most charming poem of Malayan Literature is the Epic of
Bidasari. It has all the absorbing fascination of a fairy tale. We are
led into the dreamy atmosphere of haunted palace and beauteous
plaisance: we glide in the picturesque imaginings of the oriental poet
from the charm of all that is languorously seductive in nature into the
shadowy realms of the supernatural. At one moment the sturdy bowman or
lithe and agile lancer is before us in hurrying column, and at another
we are told of mystic sentinels from another world, of Djinns and
demons and spirit-princes. All seems shadowy, vague, mysterious,

In this tale there is a wealth of imagery, a luxury of picturesqueness,
together with that straightforward simplicity so alluring in the story-
teller. Not only is our attention so captivated that we seem under a
spell, but our sympathy is invoked and retained. We actually wince
before the cruel blows of the wicked queen. And the hot tears of
Bidasari move us to living pity. In the poetic justice that punishes
the queen and rewards the heroine we take a childish delight. In other
words, the oriental poet is simple, sensuous, passionate, thus
achieving Milton's ideal of poetic excellence. We hope that no
philosopher, philologist, or ethnologist will persist in demonstrating
the sun-myth or any other allegory from this beautiful poem. It is a
story, a charming tale, to while away an idle hour, and nothing more.
All lovers of the simple, the beautiful, the picturesque should say to
such learned peepers and botanizers, "Hands off!" Let no learned
theories rule here. Leave this beautiful tale for artists and lovers of
the story pure and simple. Seek no more moral here than you would in a
rose or a lily or a graceful palm. Light, love, color, beauty,
sympathy, engaging fascination - these may be found alike by philosopher
and winsome youth. The story is no more immoral than a drop of dew or a
lotus bloom; and, as to interest, in the land of the improviser and the
story-teller one is obliged to be interesting. For there the audience
is either spellbound, or quickly fades away and leaves the poet to
realize that he must attempt better things.

We think that these folk-stories have, indeed, a common origin, but
that it is in the human heart. We do not look for a Sigurd or Siegfried
on every page. Imagine a nation springing from an ignorant couple on a
sea-girt isle, in a few generations they would have evolved their
Sleeping Beauty and their Prince Charming, their enchanted castles, and
their Djinns and fairies. These are as indigenous to the human heart as
the cradle-song or the battle-cry. We do not find ourselves siding with
those who would trace everything to a first exemplar. Children have
played, and men have loved, and poets have sung from the beginning, and
we need not run to Asia for the source of everything. Universal human
nature has a certain spontaneity.

The translator has tried to reproduce the faithfulness and, in some
measure, to indicate the graceful phrases of the original poem. The
author of Bidasari is unknown, and the date of the poem is a matter of
the utmost uncertainty. Some have attributed to it a Javanese origin,
but upon very slight evidence. The best authorities place its scene in
the country of Palembang, and its time after the arrival of the
Europeans in the Indian archipelago, but suggest that the legend must
be much older than the poem.

The "Makota Radja-Radja" is one of the most remarkable books of
oriental literature. According to M. Aristide Marre, who translated it
into French, its date is 1603. Its author was Bokhari, and he lived at
Djohore. It contains extracts from more than fifty Arab and Persian
authors. It treats of the duties of man to God, to himself and to
society, and of the obligations of sovereigns, subjects, ministers, and
officers. Examples are taken from the lives of kings in Asia. The
author has not the worst opinion of his work, saying distinctly that it
is a complete guide to happiness in this world and the next. He is
particularly copious in his warnings to copyists and translators,
cautioning them against the slightest negligence or inaccuracy, and
promising them for faithfulness a passport to the glories of heaven.
This shows that the author at least took the work seriously. That there
is not a trace of humor in the book would doubtless recommend it to the
dignified and lethargic orientals for whom it was written. Bokhari
seemed to consider himself prophet, priest, and poet-laureate in one.
The work has a high position in the Malayan Peninsula, where it is read
by young and old. The "Crown of Kings" is written in the court language
of Djohore. The author was a Mohammedan mendicant monk. He called the
book the Crown of Kings because "every king who read and followed its
precepts would be a perfect king, and thus only would his crown sit
well on his head, and the book itself will be for him a true crown."

La Fontaine and Lamartine loved stories. The schoolmates of the latter
called the latter "story-lover." They would have loved the story of the
Princess Djouher Manikam, which is written in a simple and natural
style and is celebrated in the East, or, as the Malays say, in the
"country between windward and leeward."

From the "Sedjaret Malayou," worthless as it is as history, one may
obtain side lights upon oriental life. Manners are portrayed in vivid
colors, so that one may come to have a very accurate knowledge of them.
Customs are depicted from which one may learn of the formality and
regard for precedents which is a perspicuous trait of oriental
character. The rigid etiquette of court and home may be remarked. From
the view of morals here described, one may appreciate how far we have
progressed in ethical culture from that prevailing in former times
among the children of these winterless lands.

The readers of this series are to be congratulated in that they are
here placed in possession of a unique and invaluable source of
information concerning the life and literature of the far-away people
of the Indian archipelago. To these pages an added interest accrues
from the fact that the Philippines are now protected by our flag.

The name Malay signifies a wanderer. As a people they are passionate,
vain, susceptible, and endowed with a reckless bravery and contempt of
death. The Malays have considerable originality in versification. The
pantoum is particularly theirs - a form arising from their habits of
improvisation and competitive versifying. They have also the epic or
_sjair_, generally a pure romance, with much naive simplicity and
natural feeling. And finally, they have the popular song, enigma, and

And so we leave the reader to his pleasant journey to the lands of
Djinns and Mantris and spells and mystic talismans. He will be
entertained by the chrestomathy of Bokhari; he will be entranced by the
story of the winsome and dainty Bidasari.




Song I

Song II

Song III

Song IV

Song V

Song VI





_Metrical Translation by Chauncey C. Starkweather, A.B., LL.B._



Hear now the song I sing about a king
Of Kembajat. A fakir has completed
The story, that a poem he may make.
There was a king, a sultan, and he was
Handsome and wise and perfect in all ways,
Proud scion of a race of mighty kings.
He filled the land with merchants bringing wealth
And travellers. And from that day's report,
He was a prince most valorous and strong,
Who never vexing obstacles had met.
But ever is the morrow all unknown.
After the Sultan, all accomplished man,
Had married been a year, or little more,
He saw that very soon he'd have an heir.
At this his heart rejoiced, and he was glad
As though a mine of diamonds were his.
Some days the joy continued without clouds.
But soon there came the moment when the prince
Knew sorrow's blighting force, and had to yield
His country's capital. A savage bird,
Garouda called, a very frightful bird,
Soared in the air, and ravaged all the land.
It flew with wings and talons wide outstretched,
With cries to terrify the stoutest heart.
All people, great and small, were seized with dread,
And all the country feared and was oppressed,
And people ran now this way and now that.
The folk approached the King. He heard the noise
As of a fray, and, angry, asked the guard,
"Whence comes this noise?" As soon as this he said
One of his body-guard replied with awe,
"Illustrious lord, most merciful of kings,
A fell garouda follows us about."
The King's face paled when these dread words be heard.
The officers arose and beat their breasts.
The sorrow of the King was greater still
Because the Queen was ill. He took her hand
And started without food or anything.
He trusted all to God, who watches o'er
The safety of the world. The suff'ring Queen
Spoke not a word and walked along in tears.
They went by far _campongs_ and dreary fields
Beneath a burning sun which overwhelmed
Their strength. And so the lovely Queen's fair face
From palest yellow grew quite black. The prince
Approached the desert with his body torn
By thorns and brambles. All his care and grief
Were doubled when he saw his lovely wife
Who scarce could drag herself along and whom
He had to lead. Most desolate was he,
Turning his mind on the good Queen's sad lot.
Upon the way he gave up all to her.
Two months they journeyed and one day they came
Unto a _campong_ of a merchant, where
They looked for rest because the Queen was weak.
The path was rugged and the way was hard.
The prince made halt before the palisades,
For God had made him stop and rest awhile.
The Sultan said: "What is this _campong_ here?
I fain would enter, but I do not dare."
The good Queen wept and said: "O my beloved,
What shall I say? I am so tired and weak
I cannot journey more." The King was quite
Beside himself and fainted where he sat.
But on they journeyed to the riverside,
Stopping at every step.

And when the King
Had gained the bank he saw a little boat
With roof of bent bamboos and _kadjang_ screen.
Then to the Queen, "Rest here, my precious one."
The silver moon was at the full, but veiled
With clouds, like to a maid who hides her face
And glances toward her lover timidly.
Then there was born a daughter, like a flower,
More beautiful than statue of pure gold,
Just like the tulips that the princess plucked.
The mother's heart was broken at the thought
That she must leave the babe, the child beloved
They both adored, such beauty it presaged.
The King with tears exclaimed, "How can we take
The infant with us o'er this stony road
Beset with thorns, and burned with dreadful heat?
Pearl of my palace," said he to the Queen,
"Weep not so bitterly about the child.
An offering let us make of her to God.
God grant she may be found by loving hearts
Who'll care for her and raise her in their home."
As soon as they had quite determined there
To leave the infant princess, their great grief
No limit knew. But ere they went away
The King took up the infant in his arms
And rocked her on his knees until she slept.
"Sleep on, heart's love, my soul, my little one,
Weep not for thy dear mother's lot. She fain
Would take thee with her, but the way is hard.
Sleep on, dear child, the apple of my eye,
The image of thy sire. Stay here, fear not.
For unto God we trust thee, Lord of all.
Sleep on, my child, chief jewel of my crown,
And let thy father go. To look at thee
Doth pierce my heart as by a poniard's blow.
Ah, sweet my child, dear, tender little one,
Thy father loves yet leaves thee. Happy be,
And may no harm come nigh thee. Fare thee well."
The little princess slept, lulled by his voice.
He put her from his knees and placed her on
A finely woven cloth of Ind, and covered her
With satin webbed with gold. With flowing tears
The mother wrapped her in a tissue fine
Adorned with jewels like to sculptured flowers.
She seized the child and weeping murmured low:
"O dearest child, my pretty little girl!
I leave thee to the Master of the world.
Live happily, although thy mother goes
And leaves thee here. Ah, sad thy mother's lot!
Thy father forces her to quit thee now.
She would prefer with thee to stay, but, no!
Thy father bids her go. And that is why
Thy mother's fond heart breaks, she loves thee so,
And yet must leave thee. Oh, how can I live?"
The mother fainted, and the grieving King
Was fain to kill himself, so was he moved.
He took the Queen's head on his knees. And soon
By God's decree and ever-sheltering grace
She to her senses came and stood erect.
Again she wept on looking at the child.
"If I should never see thee more, sweet soul,
Oh, may thy mother share thy fate! Her life
Is bound to thine. The light is gone from out
Thy mother's eyes. Hope dies within her heart
Because she fears to see thee nevermore.
Oh, may some charitable heart, my child,
Discover thee!" The prince essayed to dry
Her tears. "Now come away, my dearest love.
Soon day will dawn." The prince in grief set out,
But ever turned and wanted to go back.
They walked along together, man and wife
All solitary, with no friends at hand,
Care-worn and troubled, and the moon shone bright.


I sing in this song of a merchant great
And of his wealth. His goods and treasures were
Beyond all count, his happiness without
Alloy. In Indrapura town there was
No equal to his fortune. He possessed
A thousand slaves, both old and young, who came
From Java and from other lands. His rank
Was higher than Pangawa's. Wives he had
In goodly numbers. But he lacked one thing
That weighed upon his heart - he had no child.
Now, by the will of God, the merchant great
Came very early from the palace gates,
And sought the river-bank, attended by
His favorite wife. Lila Djouhara was
The merchant's name. He heard a feeble voice
As of an infant crying, like the shrill
Tones of a flute, and from a boat it seemed
To come. Then toward the wondrous boat he went
And saw an infant with a pretty face.
His heart was overjoyed as if he had
A mine of diamonds found. The spouses said:
"Whose child is this? It surely must belong
To one of highest rank. Some cause he had
To leave her here." The merchant's heart was glad
To see the bright eyes of the little one.
He raised her in his arms and took her home.
Four waiting-maids and nurses two he gave
The pretty child. The palace rooms were all
Adorned anew, with rugs and curtains soft,
And tapestries of orange hue were hung.
The princess rested on a couch inlaid with gold,
A splendid couch, with lanterns softly bright
And tapers burning with a gentle ray.
The merchant and his wife with all their hearts
Adored the child, as if it were their own.
She looked like Mindoudari, and received
The name of Bidasari. Then they took
A little fish and changing vital spirits
They put it in a golden box, then placed
The box within a casket rich and rare.
The merchant made a garden, with all sorts
Of vases filled with flowers, and bowers of green
And trellised vines. A little pond made glad
The eyes, with the precious stones and topaz set
Alternately, in fashion of the land
Of Pellanggam, a charm for all. The sand
Was purest gold, with alabaster fine
All mixed with red pearls and with sapphires blue.
And in the water deep and clear they kept
The casket. Since they had the infant found,
Sweet Bidasari, all the house was filled
With joy. The merchant and his wife did naught
But feast and clap their hands and dance. They watched
The infant night and day. They gave to her
Garments of gold, with necklaces and gems,
With rings and girdles, and quaint boxes, too,
Of perfume rare, and crescent pins and flowers
Of gold to nestle in the hair, and shoes
Embroidered in the fashion of Sourat.
By day and night the merchant guarded her.
So while sweet Bidasari grew, her lovely face
Increased in beauty. Her soft skin was white
And yellow, and she was most beautiful.
Her ear-rings and her bracelets made her look
Like some rare gem imprisoned in a glass.
Her beauty had no equal, and her face
Was like a nymph's celestial. She had gowns
As many as she wished, as many as
A princess fair of Java. There was not
A second Bidasari in the land.

I'll tell about Djouhan Mengindra now,
Sultan of Indrapura. Very wide
His kingdom was, with ministers of state
And officers, and regiments of picked
Young warriors, the bulwark of the throne.
This most illustrious prince had only been
Two years the husband of fair Lila Sari,
A princess lovable and kind. The King
Was deemed most handsome. And there was within
All Indrapura none to equal him.
His education was what it should be,
His conversation very affable.
He loved the princess Lila Sari well.
He gave her everything, and she in turn
Was good to him, but yet she was so vain.
"There is no one so beautiful as I,"
She said. They were united like unto
The soul and body. And the good King thought
There could not be another like his wife.
One day they were together, and the Queen
Began to sing: "Oh, come, my well-beloved,
And listen to my words. Thou tellst me oft
Thou lovest me. But I know not thy heart.
If some misfortune were to overwhelm
Wouldst thou be true to me?" He smiled and said:
"No harm can touch thee, dear. But should it come,
Whenever thou art 'whelmed I'll perish too."
With joy the princess said: "My noble prince,
If there were found a woman whose flower face
Were fairer than all others in the world,
Say, wouldst thou wed her?" And the King replied:
"My friend, my fairest, who is like to thee?
My soul, my princess, of a noble race,
Thou'rt sweet and wise and good and beautiful.
Thou'rt welded to my heart. No thought of mine
Is separate from thee."

The princess smiled;
Her face was all transfigured with her joy.
But suddenly the thought came to her mind,
"Who knows there is none more fair than I?"
And then she cried: "Now hear me, O my love!
Were there a woman with an angel-face,
Wouldst them make her thy wife? If she appeared
Unto thine eyes more beautiful than I,
Then would thy heart not burn for her?"

The prince
But smiled, and answered not. She also smiled,
But said, "Since thou dost hesitate, I know
That thou wouldst surely wed her." Then the prince
Made answer: "O my heart, gold of my soul,
If she in form and birth were like to thee
I'd join her with thy destiny." Now when
The princess heard these words she paled and shook.
With eyes cast down, she left her royal spouse.
But quick he seized her. With a smile he said:
"Gold, ruby, dearest friend, I pray thee now,
Oh, be not vexed with me. Light of my eyes,
Keep not within thy heart a bitterness
Because I answered thus unto thy words."
He took her in his arms and kissed her lips
And wooed her. And her face again grew sweet
The while she heard. And yet her woman's heart
Was grieved and saddened. And she sat apart,
And swift these thoughts came to her anxious mind:
"I'll seek to-morrow through this kingdom wide,
Lest there should be within the land a maid
More fair than I. To death I shall condemn
Her straight, lest rival she may be to me.
For if my lord should marry her, he'd love
Her more than me. He'd love the younger one,
And constantly my tortured heart would bleed."
They angered her, these thoughts, as if her heart
Were filled with gall. "Now may I be accursed
If I go not unto the end in love."
Her heart was not assuaged; she sighed alone.
Upon the morrow morn the King went out,
And with him many officers and men.
Meanwhile the Princess Lila Sari sent
A summons to a jeweller of skill,
And at the same time called her four _dyangs_,
Who came and sat. Dang Wilapat bowed low
And said, "Our greetings to thee, princess great."
The Queen replied: "Go forth, _dyangs_, at once
And find me gold and dust of gold, and take
It all unto a goldsmith. Let him make
For me a fan, all decked with beauteous gems,
With rubies red and pearls; and after that
A girdle virginal. Count not the price.
I want it all as quickly as may be."
And so they hastened, took the gold, and went
Outside the city, through the whole _campong_
Of goldsmiths, seeking there the best to make
The fan and girdle. And the hammered gold
Soon shone with many amethysts and gems.
It was a marvel to behold those rare
And quaintly fashioned ornaments, to deck
A sultaness. Of priceless worth they were.
Four days, and all was ready for the Queen.
But she had never eaten all this time
Because of grief. She thought the fan more fine
Than Java princess ever yet possessed.
She called the four _dyangs_ and said to them:
"A secret mission have I now for ye.
Go up and down among the officers
And show this fan for sale, but never name
The price. Seek ever if there be a face
More beautiful than mine; and should ye find
A face more fair, come tell it straight to me.
If ye obey my will I'll make ye all
Inspectresses within the royal home."
Then forth the women went upon the quest.
And first among their friends they went with words
Of mystery and hints of wondrous things
They had for sale. And so these servants bore
The story to their masters, "The _dyangs_
Have something wonderful to sell." And soon
The daughters of the houses rich began
To clamor for a sight of this great prize.
Then the _dyangs,_ went to the houses all.
The young girls said, "Oh, tell us now the price."
Dyang Wiravan quickly answered, then
Dyang Podagah: "Tis a princely thing;
I'll go and ask the price and tell it thee."
And so they spoke, and so they looked about
To find a face more beautiful and rare
Than their own Queen's, and wearied in the search.
"Where can we further look?" they said, and then
Bethought them of the strangers and the priests.
But in that quarter no one dared to touch
The precious things, but thought it passing strange
The Queen should wish to sell. To the _campong_
Of merchants next they went. A double line
Of ramparts guarded it. "Here is more stir
And gayety," they said, "with sport and song,
Than elsewhere have we found." And so they sought
The richest merchants. "We have something rare,"
They said, "made by an artist Javanese."
When Bidasari's servants saw these folk
They said: "Bring these things to our house and we
Will show them to our master. He will buy."
Then the _dyangs_ with smiles replied: "They are
Not ours, but our good Queen's. And only we
May show them, lest a stone be lost, perchance,
And we be punished." Bidasari's maids
Were glad and said, "Wait but a moment here
Until we find what Bidasari wills."
They found her with her maids, and told the tale.
Then Bidasari bade them bring to her
The stranger folk, and said, "If I be pleased
I'll buy." Dang Ratna Watie went and told
The women that young Bidasari wished
To see their wares. The four _dyangs_ came in
Together. Joy their faces all suffused,
But they seemed timid, modest, full of fear.
Then Bidasari's women said to them:
"Come, O young women, all are loyal here.
Enter, our sisters and our friends."

Now when
The Queen's _dyangs_ had looked about them there
They all were dazzled, Bidasari's face
So beautiful appeared. How beat their hearts!
As they upon her lovely features gazed,
Each murmured to herself, "She is more fair
Than our great Queen."

Then Bidasari wished
To buy the fan, and sent a maid to ask
Her parents for the gold. The merchant said,

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