Copyright
Firdawsi.

The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

. (page 30 of 35)
Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 30 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


pursued their occupations without the fear of molestation.

To scenes of noble daring still he turned

His ardent spirit for he knew not fear.

Still he led on his legions and now came

To a' strange place, where countless numbers met

His wondering view countless inhabitants

Crowding the city streets, and neighbouring plains ;

And in the distance presently he saw

A lofty mountain reaching to the stars.

Onward proceeding, at its foot he found

A guardian-dragon, terrible in form,

Ready with open jaws to crush his victim ;

But unappalled, Sikander him beholding

With steady eye, which scorned to turn aside,

Sprang forward, and at once the monster slew.

Ascending then the mountain, many a ridge,
Oft resting on the way, he reached the summit,
Where the dead corse of an old saint appeared

* Kashan is here made to be the death-place of Alexander, whilst, according
to the Greek historians, he died suddenly at Babylon, as foretold by the
magicians, on the 21st April, B.C. 323, in the 32nd year of his age.

z



32S THE SniH NAMED.

Wrapt in his grave-clothes, and in gems imbedded.
In gold and precious jewels glittering round,
Seeming to show what man is. mortal man !
Wealth, worldly pomp, the baubles of ambition,
All left behind, himself a heap of dost !

None ever went upon that mountain top,
But sought for knowledge ; and Sikander hoped
When he had reached its cloudy eminence,
To see the visions of futurity
Arise from that departed, holy man 1
And soon he heard a voice : Thy time is nigh I
Yet may I thy career on earth unfold.
It will be thine to conquer many a realm,
Win many a crown ; thou wilt have many friends
And numerous foes, and thy devoted head
Will be uplifted to the very heavens.
Renowned and glorious shalt thou be ; thy name
Immortal ; but, alas ! thy time is nigh ! "
At these prophetic words Sikander wept,
And from that ominous mountain hastened down.

After that Sikander journeyed on to the city of Kashan,
where he fell sick, and in a few days, according to the oracle and
the prophecy, expired. He had scarcely breathed his last, when
Aristii, and Bilniyas the physician, and his family, entered
Kashan, and found him dead. They beat their faces, and tore
their hair, and mourned for him forty days.



The remainder of the Shah Xanieh contains nothing striking
either in a poetical or historical point of view, and indeed
presents little more than an enumeration of the kings who
reigned in Persia from the time of Sikander to that of Yesdjird,
embracing among others, the names of Ardshir, Shahpur,
Bahrain Gor, Xusherran, and Khosni Purvis.



THE SHAH NAMEII. 339



FIRDAUSI'S INVOCATION.

THEE I invoke, the Lord of Life and Light !
Beyond imagination pure and bright !
To thee, sufficing praise no tongue can give,
We are thy creatures, and in thee we live !
Thou art the summit, depth, the all in all,
Creator, Guardian of this earthly ball ;
Whatever is, thou art Protector, King,
From thee all goodness, truth, and mercy spring.
pardon the misdeeds of him who now
Bends in thy presence with a suppliant brow.
Teach him to tread the path thy Prophet trod ;
To wash his heart from sin, to know his God ;
And gently lead him to that home of rest,
Where filled with holiest rapture dwell the blest.

Saith not that book divine, from Heaven supplied,
" Mustafa is the troe, the unerring guide,
The purest, greatest Prophet ! " Next him came
Wise Abu Buker, of unblemished name ;
Then Omer taught the faith, unknown to guile,
And made the world with vernal freshness smile ;
Then Othman brave th' imperial priesthood graced ;
All, led by him, the Prophet's faith embraced.
The fourth was Ali ; he, the spouse adored
Of Fatima, then spread the saving word.
Ali, of whom Mahommed spoke elate,
" I am the city of knowledge he my gate."
Ali the blest. Whoever shall recline
A supplicant at his all-powerful shrine,
Enjoys both this life and the next ; in this,
All earthly good, in that, eternal bliss !

From records true my legends I rehearse,

z 2



3 10 THE SHAH XAMEH.

And string the pearls of wisdom iu my Verse,

That in the glimmering days of life's decline,

Its fruits, in wealth and honour, may be mine.

My verse, a structure pointing to the skies ;

Whose solid strength destroying time defies.

All praise the noble work, save only those

Of impious life, or base malignant foes ;

All blest with learning read, and read again,

The sovereign smiles, and thus approves my strain :

" Richer by far, Firdausi, than a mine

Of precious gems, is this bright lay of thine."

Centuries may pass away, but still my page

Will be the boast of each succeeding age.

Praise, praise to Mdhmiid, who of like renown,
In battle or the banquet, fills the throne ;
Lord of the realms of Chin and Hindustan,
Sovereign and Lord of Persia and Tiira"n,
With his loud voice he rends the flintiest ear ;
On land a tiger fierce, untouched by fear,
And on the wave, he seems the crocodile
'That prowls amidst the waters of the Nile.
Generous and brave, his equal is unknown ;
In deeds of princely worth he stands alone.
The infant in the cradle lisps his name ;
The world exults in Mah mud's spotless fame.
In festive hours Heaven smiles upon his truth ;
In combat deadly as the dragon's tooth ;
Bounteous in all things, his exhaustless hand
Diffuses blessings through the grateful land ;
And, of the noblest thoughts and actions, lord ;
The soul of Gabriel breathes in every word.
May Heaven with added glory crown his days ;
Praise, praise to mighty Mahimid everlasting praise !



THE SHAH NAMEH. 841



FIRDAUSl'S SATIRE ON MAHMtJD.



, tyrant as thou art, this earthly state
Is not eternal, but of transient date ;
Fear God, then, and afflict not human-kind ;
To merit Heaven, be thou to Heaven resigned.
Afflict not even the Ant ; though weak and small,
It breathes and lives, and life is sweet to all.
Knowing my temper, firm, and stern, and bold,
Did'st thou not, tyrant, tremble to behold
My sword blood-dropping ? Had'st thou not the sense
To shrink from giving man like me offence ?
What could impel thee to an act so base ?
What, but to earn and prove thy own disgrace ?
Why was I sentenced to be trod upon,
And crushed to death by elephants ? By one
Whose power I scorn ! Could'st thou presume that I
Would be appalled by thee, whom I defy ?
I am the lion, I, inured to blood,
And make the impious and the base my food ;
And I could grind thy limbs, and spread them far
As Nile's dark waters their rich treasures bear.
Fear thee ! I fear not man, but God alone,
I only bow to his Almighty throne.
Inspired by Him my ready numbers flow ;
Guarded by Him I dread no earthly foe.
Thus in the pride of song I pass my days,
Offering to Heaven my gratitude and praise.

From every trace of sense and feeling free,
When thou art dead, 'what will become of thee ?
If thou shouldst tear me limb from limb, and cast
My dust and ashes to the angry blast,
Firdausi still would live, since on thy name,
Mihnnid, I did not rest my hopes of fame



342 THE SHiH



In the bright page of my heroic song,
But on the God of Heaven, to whom belong
Boundless thanksgivings, and on Him whose love
Supports the Faithful in the realms above,
The mighty Prophet ! none who e'er reposed
On Him, existence without hope has closed.

And thou would'st hurl me underneath the tread
Of the wild elephant, till I were dead !
Dead ! by that insult roused, I should become
An elephant in power, and seal thy doom
Mahmud ! if fear of man hath never awed
Thy heart, at least fear thy Creator, God.
Full many a warrior of illustrious worth,
Full many of humble, of imperial birth :
TUT, Selim, Jemshid, Minuchihr the brave,
Have died ; for nothing had the power to save
These mighty monarchs from the common doom ;
They died, but blest in memory still they bloom.
Thus kings too perish none on earth remain,
Since all things human seek the dust again.

0, had thy father graced a kingly throne,
Thy mother been for royal virtues known,
A different fate the poet then had shared,
Honours and wealth had been his just reward ;
But how remote from thee a glorious line !
No high, ennobling ancestry is thine ;
From a vile stock thy bold career began,
A Blacksmith was thy sire of Isfahan.
Alas ! from vice can goodness ever spring ?
Is mercy hoped for in a tyrant king ?
Can water wash the Ethiopian white ?
Can we remove the darkness from the night ?
The tree to which a bitter fruit is given,
"Would still be bitter in the bowers of Heaven ;



THE SHlH NiMEH. 343

And a bad heart keeps on its vicious course ;

Or if it changes, changes for the worse ;

Whilst streams of milk, where Eden's flowret& blow,

Acquire more honied SAveetness as they flow.

The reckless king who grinds the poor like thee.

Must ever be consigned to infamy !

Now mark Firdausi's strain, his Book of Kings
Will ever soar upon triumphant wings.
All who have listened to its various lore
Rejoice, the wise grow wiser than before ;
Heroes of other times, of ancient days,
For ever flourish in my sounding lays ;
Have I not sung of Ka"us, Tiis, and Giw ;
Of matchless Rustem, faithful, still, and true.
Of the great Demon-binder, who could throw
His kamund to the Heavens, and seize his foe I
Of Hiisheng, Feridiin, and Sa"m Suwdr,
Lohurasp, Kai-khosrau, and Isfendiyar ;
Gushtasp, Arjasp, and him of mighty name,
Giidarz, with eighty sons of martial fame !

The toil of thirty years is now complete,
Record sublime of many a warlike feat,
Written midst toil and trouble, but the strain
Awakens every heart, and will remain
A lasting stimulus to glorious deeds ;
For even the bashful maid, who kindling reads,
Becomes a warrior. Thirty years of care,
Urged on by royal promise, did I bear,
And now, deceived and scorned, the aged bard
Is basely cheated of his pledged reward !



"44 THE SHlH NlMEH.



THE STORY OF SOHRAB.

The following is the translation of the story of Sohrab men-
tioned in the Preface, and abridged in the body of the work.
It forms perhaps one of the most beautiful and interesting
episodes in the Shah Nameh. Had the poet been able to depict
the nicer varieties of emotion and passion, the more refined
workings of the mind under the influence of disappointment,
love, and despair, the poem would have been still more deserving
of praise. But, as Dr. Johnson observes of Milton, "he knew
human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the
shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring, or the
perplexity of contending passions ; " yet is there much to
admire. Sir William Jones had planned a tragedy of Sohrab,
and intended to have arranged it with a chorus of the Magi, or
Fire-worshippers, but it was found unfinished at the time of his
death.

It may be here observed, that the rules of poetical transla-
tion are now pretty generally understood. Even in European
languages, which are not essentially dissimilar in idiom and
imagery, considerable latitude of expression is always allowed.
Those who best know the peculiarities of the Persian will
acknowledge how requisite it is to adopt a still greater freedom
of interpretation in conveying Eastern notions into English
verse. I have consequently paid more attention to sentiments
than words, to ideas than expressions, avoiding all the repetitions
and redundancies which could not be preserved with any degree
of success ; for it was incumbent upon me to keep in mind
that I was writing a poem in English, and that English-Persian
will no more do than English-Greek. It was said of Dacier,
respecting his translation of Plutarch, that " his book was not
found to be French-Greek. He had carefully followed that rule,
which no translator ought to lose sight of, the great rule of
humouring the genius, and maintaining the structure, of his
own language."



THE SHAH NAMEH. 345

SOHRAB.

YE, who dwell in Youth's inviting bowers,
Waste not, in useless joy, your fleeting hours,
But rather let the tears of sorrow roll,
And sad reflexion fill the conscious soul.
For many a jocund spring has passed away,
And many a flower has blossomed, to decay ;
And human life, still hastening to a close,
Finds in the worthless dust its last repose.
Still the vain world abounds in strife and hate,
And sire and son provoke each other's fate ;
And kindred blood by kindred hands is shed,
And vengeance sleeps not dies not, with the dead.
All nature fades the garden's treasures fall,
Young bud, and citron ripe all perish, all.

And now a tale of sorrow must be told,
A tale of tears, derived from Miibid old,
And thus remembered.

With the dawn of day,
Rustem arose, and wandering took his way,
Armed for the chase, where sloping to the sky,
Turin's lone wilds in sullen grandeur lie ;
There, to dispel his melancholy mood,
He urged his matchless steed through glen and wood.
Flushed with the noble game which met his view,
He starts the wild-ass o'er the glistening dew ;
And, oft exulting, sees his quivering dart,
Plunge through the glossy skin, and pierce the heart.
Tired of the sport, at length, he sought the shade,
Which near a stream embowering trees displayed,
And with his arrow's point, a fire he raised,
And thorns and grass before him quickly blazed.
The severed parts upon a bough he cast,
To catch the flames ; and when the rich repast
Was drest ; with flesh and marrow, savory food,



316 THE SHAH NAMEH.

He quelled his hunger ; and the sparkling flood
That murmured at his feet, his thirst represt ;
Then gentle sleep composed his limbs to rest.

Meanwhile his horse, for speed and form renown'd,
Ranged o'er the plain with flowery herbage crown'd,
Encumbering arms no more his sides opprest,
No folding mail confined his ample chest,*
Gallant and free, he left the Champion's side,
And cropp'd the mead, or sought the cooling tide ;
When lo ! it chanced amid that woodland chase,
A band of horsemen, rambling near the place,
Saw, with surprise, superior game astray,
And rushed at once to seize the noble prey ;
But, in the imminent struggle, two beneath
His steel-clad hoofs received the stroke of death ;
One proved a sterner fate for downward borne,
The mangled head was from the shoulders torn.
Still undismayed, again they nimbly sprang,
And round his neck the noose entangling flung :
Now, all in vain, he spurns the smoking ground,
In vain the tumult echoes all around ;
They bear him off, and view, with ardent eyes,
His matchless beauty and majestic size ;
Then soothe his fury, anxious to obtain,
A bounding steed of his immortal strain.

"When Rustem woke, and miss'd his favorite horse,
The loved companion of his glorious course ;
Sorrowing he rose, and, hastening thence, began
To shape his dubious way to Samengan ;
" Reduced to journey thus, alone ! " he said,
" How pierce the gloom which thickens round my head ;
" Burthen'd, on foot, a dreary waste in view,
" Where shall I bend my steps, what path pursue ?

* The armour called Burgustuwan almost covered the horse, and was
usually made of leather and felt-cloth.



THE SHAH NAMEH. 347

" The scoffing Turks will cry, * Behold our might !
" ' We won the trophy from the Champion-knight !
" ' From him who, reckless of his fame and pride,
" ' Thus idly slept, and thus ignobly died.' "
Girding his loins he gathered from the field,
His quivered stores, his beamy sword and shield,
Harness and saddle-gear were o'er him slung,
Bridle and mail across his shoulders hung.*
Then looking round, with anxious eye, to meet,
The broad impression of his charger's feet,f
The track he hail'd, and following, onward prest,
While grief and hope alternate filled his breast.
O'er vale and wild-wood led, he soon descries,
The regal city's shining turrets rise.
And when the Champion's near approach is known,
The usual homage waits him to the throne.
The king, on foot, received his welcome guest
With proffered friendship, and his coming blest :
But Rustem frowned, and with resentment fired,
Spoke of his wrongs, the plundered steed required.
" I've traced his footsteps to your royal town,
" Here must he be, protected by your crown ;
" But if retained, if not from fetters freed,
" My vengeance shall o'ertake the felon-deed."

* In this hunting excursion he is completely armed, being supplied with
spear, sword, shield, mace, bow and arrows. Like the knight-errants of
after times, he seldom even slept unarmed. Single combat and the romantic
enterprises of European Chivalry may indeed be traced to the East. Rustem
was a most illustrious example of all that is pious, disinterested, and heroic.
The adventure now describing is highly characteristic of a chivalrous age. In
the Dissertation prefixed to Richardson's Dictionary, mention is made of a
famous Arabian Knight-errant called Abu Mahominud Albatal, " who wandered
every where in quest of adventures, and redressing grievances. He was killed
in the year 738."

t See the Story of the Horse in Zadig, which is doubtless of Oriental origin.
In the upper parts of Hindustan, it is said that the people are exceedingly
expert in discovering robbers by tracing the marks of their horses' feet. These
mounted robbers are called Kussaks. The Russian Cossack is probably
derived from the same word.



348 THE SHlH NlMEH.

" My honored guest ! " the wondering King replied,
" Shall Rustem's wants or wishes be denied ?
" But let not anger, headlong, fierce, and blind,
" O'ercloud the virtues of a generous mind.
" If still within the limits of my reign,
" The well known courser shall be thine again :
" For Rakush never can remain concealed,
" No more than Rustem in the battle-field !
" Then cease to nourish useless rage, and share
" With joyous heart my hospitable fare."

The son of Zal now felt his wrath subdued,
And glad sensations in his soul renewed.
The ready herald by the King's command,
Convened the Chiefs and Warriors of the land ; *
And soon the banquet social glee restored,
And China wine-cups glittered on the board ;
And cheerful song, and music's magic power,
And sparkling wine, beguiled the festive hour.f
The dulcet draughts o'er Rustem's senses stole,
And melting strains absorbed his softened soul.
But when approached the period of repose,
All, prompt and mindful, from the banquet rose ;
A couch was spread well worthy such a gusst,
Perfumed with rose and musk ; and whi a'; at rest,
In deep sound sleep, the wearied Chair pion lay,
Forgot were all the sorrows of the way.

One watch had passed, and still sweet slumber shed
Its magic power around the hero's head

* Thus Alcinous convenes the chiefs of Phseacia in honour of Ulysses.

t The original gives to the singers black eyes and checks like roses. These
women are generally known by the term Ltilian, perhaps referring to their
beauty, as Lulu signifies a pearl, a gem, a jewel ; though Ltiiu is also the
name of a people or tribe of Persia.

Thus Hafiz :

" Oh, these wanton damsels, flatterers, and disturbers of the city."

The guests drank " grief- removing wine." The Nepenthe of Homer.
i , } iv 221.



THE SHAH NAMEH. 349

When forth Tahmineh came, a damsel held
An amber taper, which the gloom dispelled,
And near his pillow stood ; in beauty bright,
The monarch's daughter struck his wondering sight.
Clear as the moon, in glowing charms arrayed,
Her winning eyes the light of heaven displayed ;
Her cypress form entranced the gazer's view,*
Her waving curls, the heart, resistless, drew,
Her eye-brows like the Archer's bended bow ;
Her ringlets, snares ; her cheek, the rose's glow,!
Mixed with the lily, from her ear-tips hung
Rings rich and glittering, star-like ; and her tongue,
And lips, all sugared sweetness pearls the while
Sparkled within a mouth formed to beguile.
Her presence dimmed the stars, and breathing round
Fragrance and joy, she scarcely touched the ground ,$
So light her step, so graceful every part
Perfect, and suited to her spotless heart.

Rustern, surprised, the gentle maid addressed,
And asked what lovely stranger broke his rest.
" What is thy name," he said, " what dost thou seek
" Amidst the gloom of night ? Fair vision speak ! "

" thou," she softly sigh'd, " of matchless fame !
" With pity hear, Tahmineh is my name !



* Theocritus in Idyllium, xviii. 30, compares Helen to the Cypress, but
\\ itli us, the Cypress is uniformly consecrated to sorrow, amongst the Asiatics
to joy and gladness.

f "Ensnaring ringlets." Thus Shakspeare ;

Here in her hairs,

The painter plays the Spider and hath woven
A golden mesh to entrap the hearts of men,
Faster than gnats in cobwebs : But her eyes 1

MERCHANT OF VENICE, iii.. 2.

J Beauty and fragrance are amongst the poets inseparable. The Persians
exceed even the Greeks in their love of perfume, though Anacreon thought
it so indispensable a part of beauty, that in directing the Rhodian Artist to
paint the mistress of his heart, he wishes even her fragrar.ee to be pourtrayed.



350 THE SHiH KiMEH.

" The pangs of love my anxious heart employ,

" And flattering promise long-expected joy ;

" No curious eye has yet these features seen,

" My voice unheard, beyond the sacred screen.*

" How often have I listened with amaze,

" To thy great deeds, enamoured of thy praise ;

" How oft from every tongue I've heard the strain,

" And thought of thee and sighed, and sighed again.

" The ravenous eagle, hovering o'er his prey,

" Starts at thy gleaming sword and flies away :

" Thou art the slayer of the Demon brood,

" And the fierce monsters of the echoing wood.

" Where'er thy mace is seen, shrink back the bold,

" Thy javelin's flash all tremble to behold.

" Enchanted with the stories of thy fame,

" My fluttering heart responded to thy name ;

" And whilst their magic influence I felt,

" In prayer for thee devotedly I knelt ;

" And fervent vowed, thus powerful glory charms,

" No other spouse should bless my longing arms.f



* As a proof of her innocence Tahmfneh declares to Rustem, "No person
has ever seen me out of my private chamber, or even heard the sound of my
voice." It is but just to remark, that the seclusion in which women of rank
continue in Persia, and other parts of the East, is not, by them, considered
intolerable, or even a hardship. Custom has not only rendered it familiar,
but happy. It has nothing of the unprofitable severity of the cloister. The
Zenanas are supplied with every thing that can please and gratify a reasonable
wish, and it is well known that the women of the east have influence and
power, more flattering and solid, than the free unsecluded beauties of the
western world.

f Distinguished valour and achievements in war have always commanded
admiration, and there are many instances in which women have, like
Tahmineh, fallen in love with a hero's glory. Josephus has recorded that
the king's daughter betrayed the city of Saba, in Ethiopia, into the hands of
Moses, having become enamoured of him by seeing from the walls the valour
and bravery which he displayed at the head of the Egyptian army. Dido was
won by the celebrity of 2Eneas. Kotzebue has drawn Elvira enamoured of the
fame and glory of Pizarro. Her passion is described with great strength and
feeling. When at last she discovers the savage, the merciless disposition of
the conqueror, she thus addresses him. "Thinkest thou that my love will



THE SHAH NAMEH. 351

" Indulgent heaven propitious to my prayer,

" Now brings thee hither to reward my care.

" Turan's dominions thou hast sought, alone/

" By night, in darkness thou, the mighty one !

" claim my hand, and grant my soul's desire ;

" Ask me in marriage of my royal sire ;

" Perhaps a boy our wedded love may crown,

" Whose strength like thine may gain the world's renown.

" Nay more for Sarnengiin will keep my word,

" Rakush to thee again shall be restored."

The damsel thus her ardent thought expressed,
And Rustem's heart beat joyous in his breast,
Hearing her passion not a word was lost,
And Rakush safe, by him still valued most ;
He called her near ; with graceful step she came,
And marked with throbbing pulse his kindled flame.

And now a Miibid, from the Champion-knight,
Requests the royal sanction to the rite ; *
O'erjoyed, the king the honoured suit approves,
O'erjoyed to bless the doting child he loves,
And happier still, in showering smiles around,
To be allied to warrior so renowned.

survive thy fame ? No ! thy glory is my idol ! I now find thee a deception,
and Elvira is lost to thee for ever ! "

The lovely Desdernona affords another instance.

Oth. Her father loved me ; oft invited me ;

Still questioned me the story of my life,

From year to year ; the battles, sieges, fortunes,



Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 30 of 35)