The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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The leopard's skin he o'er his shoulders throws,
The regal girdle round his middle glows.!

* Ahirmun, a demon, the principle of evil.

f This girdle was the gift of the king, as a token of affection and gratitude.


High wave his glorious banners ; broad revealed,
The pictured dragons glare along the field
Borne by Ziiara. When, surprised, he views
Sohrab, endued with ample breast and thews,
Like Siim Suwdr, he beckons him apart ;
The youth advances with a gallant heart,
Willing to prove his adversary's might,
By single combat to decide the fight ;
And eagerly, " Together brought," he cries,
" Eemote from us be foemen, and allies,
" And though at once by either host surveyed,
" Ours be the strife which asks no mortal aid."

Rustem, considerate, view'd him o'er and o'er,
So wondrous graceful was the form he bore,
And frankly said : " Experience flows with age,
" And many a foe has felt my conquering rage ;
" Much have I seen, superior strength and art
" Have borne my spear thro' many a demon's heart ; *
" Only behold me on the battle plain,
" Wait till thou scc'st this hand the war sustain,
" And if on thee should changeful fortune smile,
" Thou needst not fear the monster of the Nile ! f

Jonathan gives to David, among other things, his girdle : " Because he loved
him as his own soul." 1 Samuel, xviii. 3, 4. Thus Homer :

CEneus a belt of matchless work bestowed,
That rich with Tynan dye refulgent glowed.

PorE. Iliad, vi. 219.

And Virgil :

Turyalus phaleras Ehamnetis, et aurca bnllis,

Cingula, Tiburti Remulo ditissimus olini,

Quae mittit dona, hospitio quum tangent absens,

Csedicus : ille suo morions dat habera nepoti. 2Eneid, ix. 859.

* The following boast of Ulysses is less questionable :

Stand forth, ye Champions who the gauntlet wield,

Or yc, the swiftest racers of the field !

Stand forth, yc wrestlers, who these pastimes grace,

I wield the gauntlet, and I run the race !

In such heroic games I yield to none. POPE. Odyssey, viii. 205.

"t A crocodile in war, with FirJausi, is a figure of great power and strength.

THE SHln NiMEH. 393

" But soft compassion melts my soul to save,
" A youth so blooming with a mind so brave ! "

The generous speech Sohrdb attentive heard,
His heart expanding glowed at every word :
" One question answer, and in answering shew,
" That truth should ever from a warrior flow ;
" Art thou not Rustem, whose exploits sublime,
" Endear his name thro' every distant cliino ? "

" I boast no station of exalted birth,
" No proud pretensions to distinguished worth ;
" To him inferior, no such powers are mine,
" No offspring I of Nirum's glorious line ! " *

The prompt denial dampt his filial joy,
All hope at once forsook the Warrior-boy,
His opening day of pleasure, and the bloom
Of cherished life, immersed in shadowy gloom.
Perplexed with what his mother's words implied ;
A narrow space is now prepared, aside,
For single combat. With disdainful glance
Each boldly shakes his death-devoting lance,
And rushes forward to the dubious fight ;
Thoughts high and brave their burning souls excite ;
Now sword to sword ; continuous strokes resound,
Till glittering fragments strew the dusty ground.
Each grasps his massive club with added force,!
The folding mail is rent from either horse ;
It seemed as if the fearful day of doom
Had, clothed in all its withering terrors, come.
Their shattered corslets yield defence no more
At length they breathe, defiled with dust and gore ;

* It is difficult to account for this denial of his name, as there appears to
bo no equivalent cause. But all the famous heroes, described in the Shah
Nameh, are as much distinguished for their address and cunning, as their

t The original is Uinud, which appears to have been a weapon made of
iron. Umud also signifies a column, a beam.


Their gasping throats with parching thirst arc dry,
Gloomy and fierce they roll the lowering eye,
And frown defiance. Son and Father driven
To mortal strife ! are these the ways of Heaven ?
The various swarms which boundless ocean breeds,
The countless tribes which crop the flowery meads,
Ah 1 know their kind, but hapless man alone
Has no instinctive feeling for his own !
CompelTd to pause, by every eye surveyed,
Eustem, with shame, his wearied strength betrayed ;
Foil'd by a youth in battle's mid career,
His groaning spirit almost sunk with fear ;
Recovering strength, again they fiercely meet ;
Again they struggle with redoubled heat ;
"With bended bows they furious now contend ;
And feather'd shafts in rattling showers descend ;
Thick as autumnal leaves they strew the plain,*
Harmless their points, and all their fury vain.
And now they seize each other's girdle-band ;
Eustem, who, if he moved his iron hand,
Could shake a mountain, and to whom a rock
Seemed soft as wax, tried, with one mighty stroke,
To hurl him thundering from his fiery steed,
But Fate forbids the gallant youth should bleed ;
Finding his wonted nerves relaxed, amazed
That hand he drops which never had been raised
Uncrowned with victory, even when demons fought,
And pauses, wildered with despairing thought.
Sohrab again springs with terrific grace,
And lifts, from saddle-bow, his ponderous mace ;
With gather'd strength the quick-descending blow
Wounds in its fall, and stuns the unwary foe ;

Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks

In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades,

High over-arched, imbower. HILTON. Par. Lost, i. 303.


Then thus contemptuous : " All thy power is gone $
" Thy charger's strength exhausted as thy own ;
" Thy bleeding wounds with pity I behold ;
" seek no more the combat of the bold ! "

Rustem to this reproach made no reply,
But stood confused meanwhile, tumultuously
The legions closed ; with soul-appalling force,
Troop rushed on troop, o'erwhelming man and horse ;
Sohrab, incensed, the Persian host engaged,
Furious along the scattered lines he raged ;
Fierce as a wolf he rode on every side,
The thirsty earth with streaming gore was dyed.
Midst the Turanians, then, the Champion sped,
And like a tiger heaped the fields with dead.
But when the Monarch's danger struck his thought,
Returning swift, the stripling youth he sought ;
Grieved to the soul, the mighty Champion view'd
His hands and mail with Persian blood imbrued ;
And thus exclaimed with lion-voice " say,
" Why with the Persians dost thou war to-day ?
" Why not with me alone decide the fight,
" Thou'rt like a wolf that seek'st the fold by night."

To this Sohrab his proud assent expressed
And Eustem, answering, thus the youth addressed.
" Night-shadows now are thickening o'er the plain,
" The morrow's sun must see our strife again ;
" In wrestling let us then exert our might ! "
He said, and eve's last glimmer sunk in night.*

Thus as the skies a deeper gloom displayed,
The stripling's life was hastening into shade !

The gallant heroes to their tents retired,
The sweets of rest their wearied limbs required :

* Thus the single combat between Hector and A jax is ended by the approach
of night.

But now the night extends her awful shade,
The goddess parts you : be the night obey'd !

POPE. Iliad, vii. 282


Sohra'b, delighted with his brave career,

Describes the fight in Hiimsin's anxious ear :

Tells how he forced unnumbered Chiefs to yield,

And stood himself the victor of the field !

" But let the morrow's dawn," he cried, " arrive,

" And not one Persian shall the day survive ;

" Meanwhile let wine its strengthening balm impart,

" And add new zeal to every drooping heart."

The valiant Giw with Rustem pondering stooJ,

And, sad, recalled the scene of death and blood ;

Grief and amazement heaved the frequent sigh,

And almost froze the crimson current dry.

Rustem, oppressed by Giw's desponding thought,

Amidst his Chiefs the mournful Monarch sought ;

To him he told Sohrab's tremendous sway,

The dire misfortunes of this luckless day ;

Told with what grasping force he tried, in vain,

To hurl the wondrous stripling to the plain :

" The whispering zephyr might as well aspire

" To shake a mountain such his strength and fire.

" But night came on and, by agreement, we

" Must meet again to-morrow who shall be

" Victorious, Heaven knows only : for by Heaven,

" Victory or death to man is ever given."

This said, the King, o'erwhelmed in deep despair,

Passed the dread night in agony and prayer.

The Champion, silent, joined his bands at rest,
And spurned at length despondence from his breast ;
Removed from all, he cheered Zuara's heart,
And nerved his soul to bear a trying part :
" Ere early morning gilds the etherial plain,
" In martial order range my warrior-train ;
" And when I meet in all his glorious pride,
" This valiant Turk whom late my rage defied,
" Should fortune's smiles my arduous task requite,
" Bring them to share the triumph of my might ;


" But should success the stripling's arm attend,

" And dire defeat and death my glories end,

" To their loved homes my brave associates guide ;

" Let bowery Zabul all their sorrows hide

" Comfort my venerable father's heart ;

(i In gentlest words my heavy fate impart.

" The dreadful tidings to my mother bear,*

" And soothe her anguish with the tendercsfc care ;

" Say, that the will of righteous Heaven decreed,

" That thus in arms her mighty son should bleed.

" Enough of fame my various toils acquired,

" When warring demons, bathed in blood, expired.

" Were life prolonged a thousand lingering years,

" Death comes at last and ends our mortal fears ;

" Kirshasp, and Siim, and Xariman, the best

" And bravest heroes, who have ever blest

" This fleeting world, were not endued with power,

" To stay the march of fate one single hour ;

" The world for them possessed no fixed abode,

" The path to death's cold regions must be trod ;

" Then, why lament the "doom ordained for all ?

" Thus Jemshid fell, and thus must Eustem fall."

When the bright dawn proclaimed the rising day,
The warriors armed, impatient of delay ;
But first Sohrab, his proud confederate nigh,
Thus wistful spoke, as swelled the boding sigh
" Now, mark my great antagonist in arms !
" His noble form my filial bosom warms ;
" My mother's tokens shine conspicuous here,
" And all the proofs my heart demands, appear ;
" Sure this is Eustem, whom my eyes engage !
" Shall I, grief ! provoke my Father's rage ?

* In the East, peculiarly strong attachment to the mother is universal.
Nothing can be more affecting than the filial tenderness of llustem, or more
rational and just than his observations on human glory.


" Offended Naiure then would curse my name,
" And shuddering nations echo with my shame."
He ceased, then Human : " Vain, fantastic thought,
" Oft have I been where Persia's Champion fought ;
" And thou hast heard, what wonders he performed,
" When, in his prime, Mazinderan was stormed ;
" That horse resembles Rusfcem's, it is true,
" But not so strong, nor beautiful to view."

Sohrab now buckles on his war attire,
His heart all softness, and his brain all fire ;
Around his lips such smiles benignant played,
He seemed to greet a friend, as thus he said :
" Here let us sit together on the plain,
" Here, social sit, and from the fight refrain ;
" Ask we from heaven forgiveness of the past,
" And bind our souls in friendship that may last ;
" Ours be the feast let us be warm and free,
" For powerful instinct draws me still to thee ;
" Fain would my heart in bland affection join,
" Then let thy generous ardour equal mine ;
" And kindly say, with whom I now contend
" What name distinguished boasts my warrior-friend !
" Thy name unfit for champion brave to hide,
" Thy name so long, long sought, and still denied ;
" Say, art thou Rustem, whom I burn to know ?
" Ingenuous ay, and cease to be my fos ! "

Sternly the mighty Champion cried, " Away,
" Hence with thy wiles now practised to delay ;
" The promised struggle, resolute, I claim, ;
" Then cease to move me to an act of shame."
Sohrab rejoined " Old man ! thou wilt not hear
" The words of prudence uttered in thine ear ;
" Then, Heaven ! look on."

Preparing for the shock,
Each binds his charger to a neighbouring rock ;


And girds his loins, and rubs his wrists, and tries

Their suppleness and force, with angry eyes ;

And now they meet now rise, and now descend,

And strong and fierce their sinewy arms extend ;

Wrestling with all their strength they grasp and strain,

And blood and sweat flow copious on the plain ;

Like raging elephants they furious close ;

Commutual wounds are given, and wrenching blows.

Sohrab nows claps his hands, and forward springs

Impatiently, and round the Champion clings ;

Seizes his girdle belt, with power to tear

The very earth asunder ; in despair

Rustem, defeated, feels his nerves give way,

And thundering falls. Sohrab bestrides his prey :

Grim as the lion, prowling through the wood,

Upon a wild ass springs, and pants for blood.

His lifted sword had lopt the gory head,

But Rustem, quick, with crafty ardour said :

" One moment, hold ! what, are our laws unknown ?

" A Chief may fight till he is twice o'erthrown ;

" The second fall, his recreant blood is spilt,

" These arc our laws, avoid the menaced guilt."

Proud of his strength, and easily deceived,
The wondering youth the artful tale believed ;
Released his prey, and, wild as wind or wave,
Neglecting all the prudence of the brave,
Turned from the place, nor once the strife renewed,
But bounded o'er the plain and other cares pursued,
As if all memory of the war had died,
All thoughts of him with whom his strength was tried.

Human, confounded at the stripling's stay,
"Went forth, and heard the fortune of the day ;
Amazed to find the mighty Rustem freed,
With deepest grief he wailed the luckless deed.
" What ! loose a raging lion from the snare,
'* And let him growling hasten to his lair ?


" Bethink thee well ; in war, from this unwise,

" This thoughtless act what countless woes may rise ;

" Never again suspend the final blow,

" Xor trust the seeming weakness of a foe ! " *

" Hence with complaint," the dauntless youth replied,

" To-morrow's contest shall his fate decide."

When Rustem was released, in altered mood
He sought the coolness of the murmuring flood ;
There quenched his thirst; and bathed his limbs, and


Beseeching Heaven to yield its strengthening aid.
His pious prayer indulgent Heaven approved,
And growing strength through all his sinews moved ; f
Such as erewhile his towering structure knew,
When his bold arm unconquered demons slew.
Yet in his mien no confidence appeared,
No ardent hope his wounded spirits cheered.

Again they met. A glow of youthful grace,
Diifused its radiance o'er the stripling's face,
And when he saw in renovated guise,
The foe so lately mastered ; with surprise,
He cried " What ! rescued from my power, again
" Dost thou confront me on the battle plain ?
" Or, dost thou, wearied, draw thy vital breath,
" And seek, from warrior bold, the shaft of death ?
" Truth has no charms for thee, old man ; even now,
" Some further cheat may lurk upon thy brow ;
" Twice have I shewn thee mercy, twice thy age
" Hath been thy safety twice it soothed my rage."
Then mild the Champion : u Youth is proud and vain !
" The idle boast a warrior would disdain ;

* Thus also Sacli, " Knowest thou what Zdl said to Rustem the Champion ?
Fever calculate upon the weakness or insignificance of an enemy."

*h Rustem is as much distinguished for piety as bravery. Every success is
attributed by him to the favour of Heaven. In the achievement of his labours
in the Heft -Khan, his devotion is constant, and he everywhere justly acknow-
ledges that power and victory are derived from God alone.

THE SttiH NlMElt. 401

" This aged arm perhaps may yet control,
" The wanton fury that inflames thy soul ! "

Again, dismounting, each the other viewed
With sullen glance, and swift the fight renewed ;
Clenched front to front, again they tug and bend,
Twist their broad limbs as every nerve would rend ;
With rage convulsive Rustem grasps him round ; *
Bends his strong back, and hurls him to the ground ;
Him, who had deemed the triumph all his own ;
But dubious of his power to keep him down,
Like lightning quick he gives the deadly thrust,
And spurns the Stripling weltering in the dust.
Thus as his blood that shining steel imbrues,
Thine too shall flow, when Destiny pursues ; f
For when she marks the victim of her power,
A thousand daggers speed the dying hour.
"Writhing with pain Sohrab in murmurs sighed
And thus to Rustem " Vaunt not, in thy pride ;
" Upon myself this sorrow have I brought,
" Thou but the instrument of fate which wrought
" My downfall ; thou art guiltless guiltless quite ;
" ! had I seen my father in the fight,

* Thus Entellas renews the combat witb increased vigour.

Acrior ad pugnam redit, ac vim suscitat ira.

Turn pudor iucendit vires, et conscia virtus ^Eneid, v. 454.

f- The expression in the original is remarkable. " Assuredly, as thou hast
thirsted for blood, Destiny will also thirst for thine, and the very hairs upon
thy body will become daygcrs to destroy thce." This passage is quoted in thft
preface to the Shah Nameh, collated by order of Bayisunghur Khan, as the
production of the poet Unsari. Unsari was one of the seven poets whom
Mahmud appointed to give specimens of their powers in versifying the History
of the Kings of Persia. The story of Rustem and Sohrab fell to Unsari, and
his arrangement of it contained the above verses, which so delighted the
Sultan that he directed the poet to undertake the whole work. This occurred
before Firdausi was introduced at Court and eclipsed every competitor. In
compliment to Mahmud, perhaps he ingrafted them on his own poem, 01
more probably they have been interpolated since.



" My glorious father! Life will soon be o'er,
" And his great deeds enchant my soul no moie !
" Of him my mother gave the mark and sign,
" For him I sought, and what an end is mine !
" My only wish on earth, my constant sigh,
" Him to behold, and with that wish I die.
" But hope not to elude his piercing sight,
" In vain for thee the deepest glooms of night ;
" Couldst thou through Ocean's depths for refuge fly,
" Or midst the star-beams track the upper sky ! *
" Eustem, with vengeance armed, will reach thee there,
" His soul the prey of anguish and despair."
An icy horror chills the Champion's heart,
His brain whirls round with agonizing smart ;
O'er his wan cheek no gushing sorrows flow,
Senseless he sinks beneath the weight of woe ;
Believed at length, with frenzied look, he cries :
" Prove thou art mine, confirm my doubting eyes !
' For I am Rustem ! " Piercing was the groau,
Which from burst his torn heart as wild and lone,
He gazed upon him. Dire amazement shook
The dying youth, and mournful thus he spoke :
" If thou art Rustem, cruel is thy part,
" No warmth paternal seems to fill thy heart ;
" Else hadst thou known me when, with strong desire,
" I fondly claimed thee for my valiant sire ;
" Now from my body strip the shining mail,
" Untie these bands, ere life and feeling fail ;
" And on my arm the direful proof behold !
" Thy sacred bracelet of refulgent gold !
" "When the loud brazen drums were heard afar,
" And, echoing round, proclaimed the pending war,

* Literally, "Wert thou a fish in the sea, or a star in the heavens." Thui
also JEneas to Tumus :

Verte ornnes tete in fades ; et contrahe, quidqnid

Sive animis sive arte vales : opta ardua pennis

Astra sequi, clausumque cava te condere terra. JEneid, xll. 891.


" "Whilst parting tears my mother's eyes o'erflowed,
" This mystic gift her bursting heart bestowed :
" ' Take this,' she said, ' thy father's token wear,
" ' And promised glory will reward thy care.'
" The hour is come, but fraught with bitterest woe,
" We meet in blood to wail the fatal blow."

The loosened mail unfolds the bracelet bright,
Unhappy gift ! to Rustem's wildered sight ;
Prostrate he falls " By my unnatural hand,
" My son, my son is slain and from the land
" Uprooted." Frantic, in the dust his hair
He rends in agony and deep despair ;
The western sun had disappeared in gloom,
And still, the Champion wept his cruel doom ;
His wondering legions marked the long delay,
And, seeing Rakush riderless astray,
The rumour quick to Persia's Monarch spread,
And there described the mighty Rustem dead.
Kaiis, alarmed, the fatal tidings hears ;
His bosom quivers with increasing fears.
" Speed, speed, and see what has befallen to-day
" To cause these groans and tears what fatal fray !
" If he be lost, if breathless on the ground,
" And this young warrior, with the conquest crowned
" Then must I, humbled, from my kingdom torn,
"Wander, like Jemshid, through the world forlorn."*

The army roused, rushed o'er the dusty plain,
Urged by the Monarch to revenge the slain ;
Wild consternation saddened every face,
Tiis winged with horror sought the fatal place,
And there beheld the agonizing sight,
The murderous end of that unnatural fight.
Sohrab, still breathing, hears the shrill alarms,
His gentle speech suspends the clang of arms :

* Jemshtd's glory and misfortunes, as said before, are the constant them*
of admiration and reflection amongst the poets of Persia.

D D 2


" My light of life now fluttering sinks in shade,
<l Let vengeance sleep, and peaceful vows be made.
" Beseech the King to spare this Tartar host,
" For they are guiltless, all to them is lost ;
" I led them on, their souls with glory fired,
" While mad ambition all my thoughts inspired.
" In search of thee, the world before my eyes,
" War was my choice, and thou the sacred prize ;
" With thee, my sire ! in virtuous league combined,
" No tyrant King should persecute mankind.
" That hope is past the storm has ceased to rave
" My ripening honours wither in the grave ;
" Then let no vengeance on my comrades fall,
" Mine was the guilt, and mine the sorrow, all ;
" How often have I sought thee oft my mind

" Figured thee to my sight o'erjoyed to find

" My mother's token ; disappointment came,

" When thou deniedst thy lineage and thy name ;

" Oh ! still o'er thee my soul impassioned hung,

" Still to my Father fond affection clung !

" But fata, remorseless, all my hopes withstood,

" And stained thy reeking hands iii kindred blood."

Hi-j faltering breath protracted speech denied :
Still from his eye-lids flowed a gushing tide ;
Through Rustem's soul redoubled horror ran,
Heart-rending thoughts subdued the mighty man.
And now, at last, with joy-illumined eye,
The Zabul bands their glorious Chief descry ;
But when they saw his pale and haggard look,
Knew from what mournful cause he gazed and shook,
With downcast mien they moaned and wept aloud ;
While Rustem thus addressed the weeping crowd :
" Here ends the war ! let gentle peace succeed,
" Enough of death, I I have done the deed ! "
Then to his brother, groaning deep, he said
" what a curse upon a parent's head 1


" But go and to the Tartar say no more,

" Let war between us steep the earth with gore."

Zuara flew and wildly spoke his grief,

To crafty Human, the Turanian Chief,

Who, with dissembled sorrow, heard him tell

The dismal tidings which he knew too well ;

" And who," he said, " has caused these tears to flow 1

" Who, but Hujir ? He might have stayed the blow,

" But when Sohrtib his Father's banners sought ;

" He still denied that here the Champion fought ;

" He spread the ruin, he the secret knew,

" Hence should his crime receive the vengeance due !"

Zuara, frantic, breathed in Rustem's ear,

The treachery of the captive Chief, Hujir ;

Whose headless trunk had weltered on the strand,

But prayers and force withheld the lifted hand.

Then to his dying son the Champion turned,

Remorse more deep within his bosom burned ;

A burst of frenzy fired his throbbing brain ;

He clenched his sword, but found his fury vain ;

The Persian Chiefs the desperate act represt,

And tried to calm the tumult in his breast :*

Thus Giidarz spoke " Alas ! wert thou to give

" Thyself a thousand wounds, and cease to live ;

" What would it be to him thou sorrowest o'er ?

" It would not save one pang then weep no more ;

" For if removed by death, say, to whom

" Has ever been vouchsafed a different doom ?

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 34 of 35)