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" All are the prey of death the crowned, the low,

" And man, through life, the victim still of woe."

Then Rustem : " Fly ! and to the King relate,

" The pressing horrors which involve my fate ;

* Antilochus thus restrains the fury of Achilles on beiug told of the fate of
Patroclus : He

Hangs on his arms, amidst his frantic woe,

And oft prevents the meditated blow. PofE, Ilkd, xviii. 34,



408 THE SHAH NAMEH.

" And if the memory of my deeds e'er swayed
" His mind, supplicate his generous aid ;
" A sovereign balm he has whose wondrous power,
" All wounds can heal, and fleeting life restore ;*
" Swift from his tent the potent medicine bring."
But mark the malice of the brainless King !
Hard as the flinty rock, he stern denies
The healthful draught, and gloomy thus replies :
" Can I forgive his foul and slanderous tongue ?
" The sharp disdain on me contemptuous flung ?
" Scorned 'midst my army by a shameless boy,
" Who sought my throne, my sceptre to destroy !
" Nothing but mischief from his heart can flow,
" Is it, then, wise to cherish such a foe ?
" The fool who warms his enemy to life,
" Only prepares for scenes of future strife."

Giidarz, returning, told the hopeless tale
And thinking Rustem's presence might prevail ;
The Champion rose, but ere he reached the throne,
Sohrab had breathed the last expiring groan.

Now keener anguish rack'd the father's mind,
Reft of his son, a murderer of his kind ;
His guilty sword distained with filial gore,
He beat his burning breast, his hair he tore ;
The breathless corse before his shuddering view,
A shower of ashes o'er his head he threw ; f

* These medicated draughts are often mentioned in Romances. The
reader will recollect the banter upon them in Don Quixote, where the Knight
of La Mancha enumerates to Sancho the cures which had been performed upon
many valorous champions, covered with wounds. The Hindus, in their books
on medicine, talk of drugs for the recovery of the dead !

+ Scattering ashes over the head is a very ancient mode of expressing grief.
Thus 2 Samuel, iii. 31 : "And David said to Joab, and to all the people that
were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn
before Abner." Also, xiii. 19 : "And Tamar put ashes on her head, and
rent her garment." And thus Homer :

A sudden horror shot through all ihe Chief,

And wrapt his senses in the cloud of grief,

Cast on the ground, with furious hands he spread

The scorching ashes o'er his graceful head. POPE. Iliad, xviii. 22.



THE SHAH NAMEH. 407

" Tn my old age," he cried, " what have I done ?

" Why have I slain my son, my innocent son !

" Why o'er his splendid dawning did I roll

" The clouds of death, and plunge my burthened soul

" In agony ? My son ! from heroes sprung ;

" Better these hands were from my body wrung ;

" And solitude and darkness, deep and drear,

" Fold me from sight than hated linger here.

" But when his mother hears, with horror wild,

" That I have shed the life-blood of her child,

" So nobly brave, so dearly loved, in vain,

" How can her heart that rending shock sustain ? "

Now on a bier the Persian warriors place
The breathless Youth, and shade his pallid face ;
And turning from that fatal field away,
Move towards the Champion's home in long array.
Then Eustem, sick of martial pomp and show,
Himself the spring of all this scene of woe,
Doomed to the flames the pageantry he loved,*
Shield, spear, and mace, so oft in battle proved ;
Now lost to all, encompassed by despair ;
His bright pavilion crackling blazed in air ;
The sparkling throne the ascending column fed ;
In smoking fragments fell the golden bed ;
The raging fire red glimmering died away,
And all the Warrior's pride in dust and ashes lay.

Kaiis, the King, now joins the mournful Chief,
And tries to soothe his deep and settled grief ;

* There is something in Virgil similar to this paroxysm of wrath against
inaiiimate things, where Dido bids her sister erect a pile to bum the arms and
presents of JEneas.

Tu secreta pyram tecto interiors sub auras,

Erige, et anna vlri, thalamo quae fixa reliuquit,

Impius, exuviasque omues, lectumque jugalem,

Quo peril, superimponas. .Sneid, iv. 494.

But there is more of grandeur in the despairing anguish of Rustem. I know
nothing of the kind in any of our Epic or Dramatic poets superior to this find
burst of agonized feeling and remorse.



408 THE SHiH NAMEH.

For soon or late we yield our vital breath,

And all our worldly troubles end in death !

" When first I saw him, graceful in his might,

" He looked far other than a Tartar knight ;

" Wondering I gazed now Destiny has thrown

" Him on thy sword he fought, and he is gone ;

" And should even Heaven against the earth be hurled,

" Or fire inwrap in crackling flames the world,

" That which is past we never can restore,

" His soul has travelled to some happier shore.

" Alas ! no good from sorrow canst thou reap,

" Then wherefore thus in gloom and misery weep ? "

But Rustem's mighty woes disdained his aid,
His heart was drowned in grief, and thus he said :
" Yes, he is gone ! to me for ever lost !
" then protect his brave unguided host ;
" From war removed and this detested place,
" Let them, unharmed, their mountain-wilds retrace ;
" Bid them secure my brother's will obey,
" The careful guardian of their weary way,*
" To where the Jihun's distant waters stray."
To this the King : " My soul is sad to see
" Thy hopeless grief but, since approved by thee,
" The war shall cease though the Turanian brand
" Has spread dismay and terror through the land."

The King, appeased, no more with vengeance burned,
The Tartar legions to their homes returned ;
The Persian warriors, gathering round the dead,
Grovelled in dust, and tears of sorrow shed ;
Then back to loved Iran their steps the monarch led.

But Eustem, midst his native bands, remained,
And further rites of sacrifice maintained ;
A thousand horses bled at his command,
And the torn drums were scattered o'er the sand ;

* Z6ara conducted the troops of Afrasiyab across the Jihun. Rnstcm
remained on the field of battle till his return.



THE SHiH NAMEII. 409

Aud now through Zabul's deep and bowery groves,

In mournful pomp the sad procession moves.

The might? Chief on foot precedes the bier ;

His Warrior-friends, in grief assembled near :

The dismal cadence rose upon the gale,

And Zal astonished heard the piercing wail ;

He and his kindred joined the solemn train ;

Hung round the bier and wondering viewed the slain.

" There gaze, and weep ! " the sorrowing Father said,

" For there, behold my glorious offspring dead ! "

The hoary Sire shrunk backward with surprise,

And tears of blood o'erflowed his aged eyes ;

And now the Champion's rural palace gate

Eeceives the funeral group in gloomy state ;

Riidabeh loud bemoaned the Stripling's doom ;

Sweet flower, all drooping in the hour of bloom,

His tender youth in distant bowers had past,

Sheltered at home he felt no withering blast ;

In the soft prison of his mother's arms,

Secure from danger and the world's alarms.

ruthless Fortune ! flushed with generous pride,

He sought his sire, and thus unhappy, died.

Rustem again the sacred bier unclosed ;
Again Solmib to public view, exposed ;
Husbands, and wives, and warriors, old and young,
Struck with amaze, around the body hung,
With garments rent and loosely flowing hair ;
Their shrieks and clamours filled the echoing air ;
Frequent they cried : " Thus Sdm the Champion slept !
" Thus sleeps Sohnib ! " Again they groaned, and wept.

Now 'o'er the corpse a yellow robe is spread,
The aloes bier is closed upon the dead ;
And, to preserve the hapless hero's name,
Fragrant and fresh, that his unblemished fame
Might live and bloom through all succeeding days,
A mound sepulchral on the spot they raise,
Formed like a charger's hoof,



410 THE SHAH N^MEH,

In every car

The story has been told and many a tear,
Shed at the sad recital. Through Tiiran,
Afhlsiyab's wide realm, and Samengtin,
Deep sunk the tidings ; nuptial bower, and bed,
And all that promised happiness, had fled !

But when Tahmineh heard this tale of woe,
Think how a mother bore the mortal blow ! *
Distracted, wild, she sprang from place to place ;
With frenzied hands deformed her beauteous face ;
The musky locks her polished temples crowned.
Furious she tore, and flung upon the ground ;
Starting, in agony of grief, she gazed,
Her swimming eyes to Heaven imploring raised ;
And groaning cried : " Sole comfort of my life !
" Doomed the sad victim of unnatural strife,
" Where art thou now with dust and blood defiled ?
" Thou darling boy, my lost, my murdered child !
" When thou wert gone how, night and lingering day,
" Did thy fond mother watch the time away ;
" For hope still pictured all I wished to see,
" Thy father found, and thou returned to me,
" Yes thou, exulting in thy father's fame !
" And yet, nor sure nor son, nor tidings, came :
" How could I dream of this ? ye met but how ?
" That noble aspect that ingenuous brow,
" Moved not a nerve in him ye met to part,
" Alas ! the life-blood issuing from the heart.
" Short was the day which gave to me delight,
" Soon, soon, succeeds a long and dismal night ;



* The death of Euryalus, in the .Slneid (ix. 473), exhibits an exquisite
display of natural maternal feeling, but less complicated and agonizing than
the death of Sohrab. Euryalus was killed in the bloom of youth by the
enemy : Sohrab by his Father. It would appear that Human, on his return,
sent to Tahmineh the war-horse, armour, and every thing belonging to her
unfortunate eon.



THE SHAH NAMEH 411

" On whom shall now devolve my tender care ?

" Who, loved like thee, my bosom-sorrows share ?

" Whom shall I take to fill thy vacant place,

" To whom extend a mother's soft embrace ?

" Sad fate ! for one so young, so fair, so brave,

" Seeking thy father thus to find a grave.

" These arms no more shall fold thee to my breast,

" No more with thee my soul be doubly blest ;

" No, drowned in blood thy lifeless body lies,

" For ever torn from these desiring eyes ;

" Friendless, alone, beneath a foreign sky,

" Thy mail thy death-clothes and thy father, by ;

" Why did not I conduct thee on the way,*

" And point where Rustem's bright pavilion lay ?

" Thou hadst the tokens why didst thou withhold

" Those dear remembrances that pledge of gold ?

" Hadst thou the bracelet to his view restored,

" Thy precious blood had never stained his sword."

The strong emotion choked her panting breath,
Her veins seemed withered by the cold of death :
The trembling matrons hastening round her mourned,
With piercing cries, till fluttering life returned ;
Then gazing up, distraught, she wept again,
And frantic, seeing 'midst her pitying train,
The favourite steed now more than ever dear,
The hoofs she kissed, and bathed with many a tear ;
Clasping the mail Sohrub in battle wore,
With burning lips she kissed it o'er and o'er ;
His martial robes she in her arms comprest,
And like an infant strained them to her breast ;
The reins, and trappings, club, and spear, were brought,
The sword, and shield, with which the Stripling fought,

* There is a similar thought in Douglas :

My murdered child ! had thy fond mother feared

The loss of thee, she had loud fame dufk'd,

And wandered with thee through the scorning world.

HOME'S DOUGLAS.



412 THE SHAH NAMEH.

These she embraced with melancholy joy,

In sad remembrance of her darling boy.

And still she beat her face, and o'er them hung,

As in a trance or to them wildly clung

Day after day she thus indulged her grief,

Night after night, disdaining all relief ;

At length worn out from earthly anguish riven,

The mother's spirit joined her child in Heaven.



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