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Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, [1881], at



Von Hammer's statement that the recitation of the Romance of Antar fills the coffee-houses of the East must be taken with the qualification that there are several other Arabian romances of a similar character which are still more popular. Mr. Lane furnishes a very full account both of the mode of public recitation and of the romances themselves, in his charming work on the Manners &c. of the Modern Egyptians. "The reciter," he informs us, "generally seats himself upon a small stool on the mastabah, or raised seat which is built against the front of the coffee-shop; some of his auditors occupy the rest of that seat, others arrange themselves upon the mastabahs of the houses on the opposite side of the narrow street, and the rest sit upon stools or benches made of palm-sticks; most of them with the pipe in hand, some sipping their coffee, and all highly amused, not only with the story, but also with the lively and dramatic manner of the narrator. The reciter receives a trifling sum of money from the keeper of the coffee-shop for attracting customers: his hearers are not obliged to contribute anything for his remuneration; many of them give nothing, and few give more than 5 or 10 faddahs." (A faddah is the smallest Egyptian coin,

p. 437

value, nearly a quarter of a farthing.) The most numerous class of public reciters in Cairo are called Sho’arà (singular Shá’er, properly, a poet), all of whom recite only the Romance of Aboo Zeyd. "The Shá’er recites without book. Poetry he chants, and after every verse plays a few notes on a viol which has but a single chord, and which is called 'the Poet's viol' from its only being used in these recitations. The reciter generally has an attendant with another instrument of the kind to accompany him." Next in point of numbers are the Mohadditeen, or Story-tellers (singular, Mohaddit), who exclusively recite the Romance of Ez-Záhir, without book. "There is in Cairo a third class of reciters of romances, who are called ’Anátireh, or ’Antereeyeh (in the singular ’Anteree), but they are much less numerous than either of the two classes before mentioned. They bear this appellation from the chief subject of their recitations, which is the Romance of ’Antar (Secret ’Antar). The reciters of it read it from the book: they chant the poetry, but the prose they read, in the popular manner; and they have not the accompaniment of the rebáb [a kind of viol]. As the poetry in this book is very imperfectly understood by the vulgar, those who listen to it are mostly persons of some education." The Anatireh also recite the Romance of Delhemeh, which is contained in fifty-five volumes, or ten more than that of ’Antar.


The hero himself—Antara the son of Sheddād—is always the central figure,: his blackness of complexion, his homeliness, even ugliness, of feature, are forgotten in admiration of his prodigious strength of arm and his invincible courage; his lofty and impassioned verses; his greatness of soul and his tenderness of heart. A true knight, sans peur et sans reproche, is Antara: bold as a lion when face to face with his foes; magnanimous towards an inferior antagonist; soft and gentle when he thinks of his fair cousin Abla, still more so when he is in her presence. Abla, the beauteous Abla, whose dark flowing tresses at first ensnared the heart of the hero, and whose bright eyes completed

p. 438

the capture—a true Bedouin damsel: like Desdemona with the Moor, she saw Antara's beauty in his mind. And Antara—spite of his black complexion—spite of his base birth—"loved her with the love of a noble-born hero!" When the enemy approaches the tents of the tribe—when the time has come for sword-blows and spear-thrusts—his base origin is forgotten: his sword is then his father, and the spear in his right hand is his noble kinsman.

The other characters are of course subordinated to the hero and his achievements; yet each has an individuality which is strongly marked. Zuhayr, king of the tribes of ‘Abs and ‘Adnan, Fazarah and Ghiftan, &c.—a prince possessing all the virtues, and not a few of the failings, of his age and race: chivalrous himself, he was not slow to recognise in the youthful slave-son of Sheddād the future hero. Prince Sha‘s, naturally ill-tempered, proud and tyrannical, yet not without his good points, after adversity had tamed his spirit. Prince Mālek, the brave but gentle son of Zuhayr, Antara's first friend and protector against the malice of his enemies: ever ready to plead eloquently in his favour, or to draw his sword when the hero was overwhelmed with numbers. Sheddād, the father of Antara: a bold fellow—"of a heavy-handed kin: a good smiter when help is needed"—proud of his pure blood as ever was hidalgo, yet yearning towards his brave son when his deeds were noised abroad, and bitterly lamenting his reported death. But his simple-minded slave-mother—like mothers of great men in general—does not appreciate her son's heroic achievements—thinks he had much better stay at home and help her to tend the flocks. Malek, the father of Abla—crafty, calculating, sordid, perfidious, malicious, time-serving; withal, a great stickler for the honour of his family. Amara, the Bedouin exquisite—proud, boastful, at heart a coward. Shibūb, the half-brother of Antara, and his trusty squire—fleet of foot, and hence surnamed Father of the Wind (not Son of the Wind, as stated in page 214); a dexterous archer; ready with admirable expedients for every emergency—never had brave knight a more useful auxiliary.

p. 439

With the noble lyric of the hero's death the curtain is appropriately dropped on the stirring drama. The moral of the story—for a moral there is to those who can read it aright—is, the triumph of a lofty mind and a resolute will over the clogging circumstances of humble birth and class prejudice.



The circumstance of Antara's birth bears some resemblance to that of Ishmael the son of Abraham, by his bondwoman Hagar. Intercourse with a captured slave was allowed in the ages before el-Islām, as a third and lowest form of marriage, but it was strictly prohibited by the Prophet.—The incident of the insolent slave who abused the poor people at the well presents a striking parallel to the story of Moses driving away the shepherds who would not allow Jethro's daughters to water their flocks.


A curious illustration of the unchangeableness of Eastern manners is furnished in this description of a merrymaking among the women of ‘Abs, which, in its circumstance,—the damsels playing on cymbals and dancing,—though not in its object, finds an exact parallel in the festival of the daughters of Shiloh, as recorded in the last chapter of the book of Judges, at which the party were also surprised and carried away captive.

The first of the songs at this festival (p. 190), describing the charms of nature in the early springtide, and the sentiment contained in the three last verses—that the fleeting moments ought to be enjoyed—recall the beautiful ode on spring by the celebrated Turkish poet Mesīhī (who died in 1512), of which Sir W. Jones’ imitation in English verse has been much admired: it is, however, only an imitation, and therefore must fail of conveying to the general reader an adequate notion of the beauties of the original. Mr. E. J. W. Gibb, a young Turkish scholar (who is at present rendering into English the great work of Sa‘du-’d-Dīn,

p. 440

the historian of the Ottoman Empire, Tāju-’t-Tevārīkh, or "The Diadem of Histories"), has made the following almost literal translation of Mesīhī's ode, reproducing, as closely as possible, the original metre and rhyme (Remel-ī Maqsūr):


Hark the nightingale's sweet burden: "Now have come the days of spring."
Spread they fair in every garden feasts of joy, a maze of spring;
There the almond-tree its blossoms, silver, scatters, sprays of spring: (a)
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


Once again with many flow’rets gaily decked are mead and plain;
Tents for pleasure have the blossoms raised in every rosy lane.
Who can tell, when spring hath ended, who and what may whole remain?—
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


All the alleys of the parterre filled with Ahmed's light appear, (b)
Verdant herbs his Comrades, tulips like his Family bright appear:
O ye People of Muhammad! times now of delight appear:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


Sparkling dew-drops stud the lily's leaf like sabre broad and keen,
Bent on merry gipsy-party, crowd they all the flow’ry green;
List to me, if thou desirest, these beholding, joy to glean:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


Rose and tulip like to lovely maidens' cheeks all beauteous show,
Whilst the dew-drops like the jewels in their ears resplendent glow;
Do not think, thyself beguiling, things will aye continue so:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.

p. 441


Rose, anemone, and tulip—these, the garden's noblest flowers,
Have their blood shed in the parterre under lightning-darts and showers; (c)
Thou art wise, then with thy comrades fair enjoy the fleeting hours:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


Past and gone are now the moments when the ailing herbs, opprest
With the thought of buds, the sad head hung upon the garden's breast;
Come is now the time when hill and rock with tulips dense are drest:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


Whilst each dawn the clouds are shedding jewels o’er the rosy land,
And the breath of morning's zephyr, fraught with Tātār musk, is bland; (d)
Whilst the world's fair time is present, do not thou unheeding stand:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


With the fragrance of the garden so imbued the musky air,
Every dew-drop ere it reaches earth is turned to attar rare;
O’er the parterre spread the incense-clouds a canopy right fair:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


Whatsoe’er the garden boasted, smote the black autumnal blast,
But, to each one justice bringing, back hath come Earth's King at last; (e)
In his reign joyed the cup-bearer, round the call for wine is past:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.

p. 442


Fondly do I hope, Mesīhī, fame to these quatrains may cling;
May the worthy these four-eyebrowed beauties oft to mem’ry bring;—(f)
Stray amidst the rosy faces, then, thou bird that sweet dost sing:
Gaily live, for quick will vanish, biding not, the days of spring.


(a) The almond-blossoms are here compared to the silver coins scattered at weddings.

(b) The parterre is the world (of Islām), the garden or mead being its symbol. The "light of Ahmed" (Nūr-i Ahmed) means primarily "the Glory of Muhammad"; but it seems also to be the name of some flower; and, lastly, probably refers to some Turkish victory recently gained, or peace concluded.

(c) This again may allude to some battle in which many illustrious Turks fell.

(d) The musk of Tātāry, especially that of Khoten, is the most esteemed.

(e) Earth's King is in one sense the Sun, in another the Sultān.

(f) "May the worthy ", i.e., may those who appreciate these verses, &c.—A youth with new moustaches is called "four-eyebrowed." The "four-eyebrowed beauties" are the verses of four hemistichs each.—It is usual for the poet to address himself in the last verse of compositions of this kind.


Mr. J. W. Redhouse has already done somewhat to disabuse the popular mind of the utterly erroneous notion that the Ottomans have produced no men of undoubted genius—no poets worthy of the name—by his excellent little treatise on the "History, System, and Varieties of Turkish Poetry; with illustrations in the original and in English paraphrase," published by Messrs. Trübner & Co., London. And it is to be hoped that the above pleasing translation may indicate that Mr. Gibb intends

p. 443

following the example of that eminent Orientalist, by giving his unlearned countrymen further specimens of the Ottoman muse.

A variant of the other song at the maidens’ festival (pp. 190, 191) occurs in the "Thousand and One Nights," and has been translated by Mr. Payne, who reproduces the original metre and rhyme, as follows:

The meadow glitters with the troops of lovely ones that wander there;
Its grace and beauty doubled are by these that are so passing fair:
Virgins that with their swimming gait the hearts of all that see ensnare;
Upon whose necks, like trails of grapes, stream down the tresses of their hair;
Proudly they walk, with eyes that dart the shafts and arrows of despair:
And all the champions of the world are slain by their seductive snare.


Casques were perhaps so called to denote their antiquity and durability—"old as the time of ’Ad" being a proverb among the Arabs. (See notes on vv. 11 and 22 of the "Lay of the Himyarites," pp. 351, 352.)


This marvellous weapon (the word Dhamī signifies "subduing") is worthy of a place beside the famous Excalibar of King Arthur, and the Durindana of Orlando. There is a grim humour in the account given of the old chief Teba's mode of proving himself qualified to wield the Dhamī, by striking off the head of the unfortunate smith who forged it. The incident calls to mind a story of Muley Ismael, emperor of Morocco, who died in the year 1714, after a long reign. An English shipmaster once presented this monarch with a curious hatchet, which he received

p. 444

very graciously, and then, asking him whether it had a good edge, he tried it upon the donor, who, adroitly stepping aside, escaped with the loss only of his right ear.—It is possible, however, that the Arab chief was not actuated by mere wantonness in thus slaying the clever artizan: his object may have been to prevent the smith from ever making a still more formidable weapon for some hostile warrior. Instances are not wanting in European tradition of ingenious men being put to death from a similar motive, after having constructed some wonderful building or piece of complicated mechanism. At all events, the man who made the Dhami having been killed immediately after he had finished his task, the weapon was necessarily unique: there could not be another Dhami in the world.


It seems to have been a practice of remote antiquity for two contending armies to agree to abide by the result of a single combat between their chosen champions; though very often such a combat was followed by a general engagement. The historical books of the Bible furnish several instances of combats of this kind: that between David and Goliath (1 Sam. xvii. 38-51) is a remarkable example; and another is the battle between the men of Abner and the men of Joab (2 Sam. ii. 15, 16). In the Romance of Antar single combats are of frequent occurrence. The haughty manner in which the warriors address each other before engaging in deadly conflict was common to the heroes of antiquity. "Come to me," said Goliath to David, "and I will give thy flesh to the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field." In like manner exclaims a hero of the Sháhnáma (Book of Kings, or Heroes) of Firdausī, the Homer of Persia:

                     I am myself Hujér,
The valiant champion, come to conquer thee,
And to lop off that towering head of thine.

From the minute descriptions of the arms and armour of the combatants, as well of their mode of attack, it would appear

p. 445

that chivalry, in all its essential particulars, was an institution in the East long before it was regularly established in Europe. The satrap whom Antara encounters and kills (p. 221) is encased in a complete suit of mail "of Davidean workmanship" (see Mr. Redhouse's note on v. 51 of Ka‘b's Mantle Poem) and plumed helmet, and armed with sword, mace, shield, &c.—precisely like the European knights.

Nor was knight-errantry unknown to Asiatic chivalry. Mention is made by Oriental historians of a Persian knight who was surnamed Rezm Khahi.e., "one who goes in quest of adventures;" and of two famous Arabian knights-errant: one named Abū Mohammed el-Batal, who wandered everywhere in search of adventures and redressing grievances, and who was killed a.h. 121 (a.d. 738); the other was a great grandson of the Khalif Abu Bekr, named Ja‘far es-Sādik—eminent for his piety and extensive knowledge as well as for his feats of arms—who died in the reign of Almansor, a.h. 147 (a.d. 764).


Khusrau, Chosroe, or Chosroes, was the general title of the Sassanides, or third dynasty of Persia: as Cæsar was that of the Roman emperors; Pharaoh, of the Egyptian kings; and Tobba‘, of the princes of el-Yemen.—The Chosroe who occupied the Persian throne at this time was the celebrated Nushirvan the Just. Sa’dī, in his Bústán, records the dying injunctions of this wise and good king to his son and successor:

"I have heard that King Nushirvan, just before his death, spoke thus to his son Hormuz: 'Be a guardian, my son, to the poor and helpless; and be not confined in the chains of thine own indolence. No one can be at ease in thy dominions while thou seekest only thy private rest, and sayest: "It is enough." A wise man will not approve the shepherd who sleeps while the wolf is in the fold. Go, my son, protect thy weak and indigent people, since through them is a king raised to the diadem. The people are the root, and the king is the tree that grows from it; and the tree, O my son, derives its strength from the root.'"

p. 446


Wrestling, says Atkinson, "is a favourite sport in the East. From Homer down to Statius, the Greek and Roman poets have introduced wrestling in their epic poems. Wrestlers, like gladiators at Rome, are exhibited in India on a variety of occasions. Prize wrestlers were formerly common in almost every European country."—Sa’dī, in the first book of his Gûlistân, tells a story of a professor (ustád) of wrestling who had taught a certain pupil every trick of his art except one, and who was enabled by this reservation to overcome the presumptuous young man, when, confiding in his youth and superior strength, he had insultingly challenged his master to contend before the King. "He lifted him," says Sa‘dī, "above his head, and dashed him down. Loud plaudits ascended from the people. The king bestowed an honourable present on the master, and upbraided the youth, who said: 'O my sovereign! one little portion of the wrestling art yet remained, which he withheld from me.'—The master replied: 'For such an occasion as this, I reserved it; because the philosophers have thus advised: Give not your friend so much power that should he become your enemy, he may be able to hurt you."


The Romance of Delhama furnishes a counterpart to the renowned Jaida, in a damsel named El-Gunduba, who, from her warlike exploits, was styled Kattálet-esh-Shug’án, or Slayer of Heroes. And we read of another female warrior, named Gurd-afríd, in the Sháhnáma:

Quickly in arms magnificent arrayed,
A foaming palfrey bore the martial maid;
The burnished mail her tender limbs embraced;
Beneath her helm her clustering locks she placed;
Poised in her hand an iron javelin gleamed,
And o’er the ground its sparkling lustre streamed:
Accoutred thus, in manly guise, no eye,
However piercing, could her sex descry.

p. 447

It is, however, contended by a learned French Orientalist, that before the time of el-Islām Arabian women did not engage in warfare.


It is a historical fact that Zoheir son of Jazīma was slain by Khalid, who was murdered by Hareth in the private tents of King Numan; and this was the cause of many wars. It is also stated that Hareth in vain sought the protection of other tribes to secure him from Numan's vengeance.—Note by Translator.

A HORSE RACE, ETC.—p. 287.

THE race between King Cais’ [Qeys] horse Dahis and Hadifah's mare Ghabra is historically true; in consequence of which a war was kindled between the two tribes that lasted forty years; and it became a proverb amongst the Arabs, so that whenever a very serious dispute arose they would say, "the battle of Dahis and Ghabra is arisen."—Another account states that Cais was the owner of both Dahis and Ghabra, and that Hadifah was possessed of two mares which he ran against them. That Hadifah injured Dahis is also confirmed by good authorities, and that Ghabra won the race; but Hadifah, being dissatisfied, raised troubles and dissensions which lasted forty years.—Note by Translator.

Zuhayr's Mo‘allaqah celebrates the termination of the War of Dahis.—It is said that to atone for so great an effusion of blood, King Qeys embraced the Christian religion, and even entered upon the monastic state.


The question, which of the numerous poetical fragments inserted in the Romance really belong to Antara, which are the composition of El-Asma‘ī, and which are interpolations of different copyists, is not likely ever to be satisfactorily answered. That some of them are the genuine reliques of Ancient Arabic Poetry is allowed by the most distinguished Orientalists of Europe.

p. 448

Many of the effusions ascribed to Antara himself are of the highest poetical excellence, and, in boldness of imagery and beauty of expression, are equal if not superior to the most admired passages of his famous Mo‘allaqah, which, indeed, is composed of similar fragments—"orient pearls in beauteous order strung."

Several of the similitudes employed in the Poetry of the Romance to describe the charms of a beautiful woman find both interesting and curious parallels in Eastern poetry generally, and even in the works of the best poets of Europe. The epithet "moon-faced," applied to a beautiful damsel, is commonly supposed to be peculiarly Oriental—and ridiculous. Antara, however, in common with other good poets before and since his time, very frequently compares the face of his beloved Abla to the moon and to the sun. For example:

"The brilliant moon calls out to her: 'Come forth, for thy face is like me when I am at the full, and in all my glory!'"
"The sun, as it sets, turns towards her, and says: 'Darkness obscures the land—do thou rise in my absence!"'

Solomon anticipates the poet of ‘Abs: "Who is she that looketh forth in the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun?"

Firdausí often employs the same comparisons:

If thou wouldst make her charms appear,
Think of the sun, so bright and clear.
Love ye the moon? Behold her face,
And there the lucid planet trace.

In the touching story of Nala and Damayanti, an episode of the Mahábhárata, translated from the Sanskrit into English verse by Dean Milman, the heroine outshines the moon with her beauty:

There he saw Vidarbha's maiden, girt with all her virgin bands,
In her glowing beauty shining, all excelling in her form;
Every limb in smooth proportion, slender waist and lovely eyes;
Even the moon's soft gleam disdaining in her own o’erpowering light.

p. 449

[paragraph continues] And in the Nalódaya of Kalidása, the Shakspeare of Hindustan:

"Her countenance is brighter than the moon;"

and the Persian Hafiz:

Thou nymph, whose moon-like forehead bears
An arch as purest amber bright;

and the tenebrious Arabian el-Hariri, as Burton terms him:

The moon denotes a beautiful countenance;

and the Afghan poet ‘Abdu-’r-Rahmīn:

The face of the beloved, the sun, and the moon, are one.
If for once only she will show her face from her veil,
She will take the diploma of beauty from the sun;

and the Turkish poet Belīg:

Should sun and moon behold her, they'd be through envy rent in twain.

[paragraph continues] The Minnesingers of Germany, too, have the same similitudes. Thus, Vogelweid sings of a lady, who

Walks through the throng with graceful air,
A sun that bids the stars retire;

and Henry von Muringe thus laments the absence of his lady-love:

Where is now my morning star?
Where now my sun?

[paragraph continues] Our Elizabethan poet Spenser:

Her spacious forehead, like the clearest moon,
Whose full-grown orb begins now to be spent,
Largely displayed in native silver shone,
Giving wide room to Beauty's regiment.

[paragraph continues] And our own great Shakspeare:

The noble sister of Publicola,
The moon of Rome!
And as the bright sun glorifies the sky,
So is her face illumined by her eye.

p. 450

It is to be regretted that the authenticity of "Ossian's Poems" should be doubtful, else a Keltic bard might be added; for Ossian says (or Macpherson says it for him): "She came forth in all her beauty, like the moon rising from a cloud in the East."

But Abla's tresses—they are "like the dark shades of night":—"in the night of thy tresses darkness itself is driven away": "it is as if she were the brilliant day, and as if night had involved her in obscurity."

The Afghan poet Khushhāl Khān, Khattāk, has the same similitude as this last:

When the tresses become dishevelled about the fair white face,
The bright day becometh shrouded in evening's sombre shade;

and still more beautifully does he express this in another poem:

Since in thy tresses my heart is lost, show thou thy face to me;
For in the night's gloom lost things are with lighted lamp sought for.

In the following passage from the Mégha Dúta ("Cloud Messenger") of Kalidása, the face of the demigod Yacsha's wife is likened to the moon and her tresses to the night:

Sad on her hand her pallid cheek declines,
And half unseen through veiling tresses shines;
As when a darkling night the moon enshrouds,
A few faint rays break straggling through the clouds.

[paragraph continues] The Afghan poet Ashrāf Khān, Khattāk, compares the dark ringlets of the beloved to warriors:

When she disposeth her flowing tresses in curls about her face,
To the Ethiop army she accordeth permission devastation to make.

Abla's eyes are like those of the fawn: see note on v. 31 of the Poem of Amriolkais, p. 374. In Sanskrit poetry this is a very common similitude; for example: in the drama of Málatí and Mádhava—"her eye the deer displays;" in the Uttara Rama Cheritra, the wife of Rama is styled, "fawn-eyed Sitá;" in the Mégha Dúta—"fawn-like eyes that tremble as they

p. 451

glow;" in the Naishadha of Shrí Harsha—"her eyes were like the stately deer;" and in the Sakoontála of Kalidása:

              These her cherished fawns,
Whose eyes, in lustre vying with her own,
Return her gaze of sisterly affection.

[paragraph continues] Homer terms Juno "ox-eyed."

Abla's eyes are "full of magic." Firdausi says: "Her eyes, so full of witchery, glow like the narcissus." But the antelope has "borrowed the magic of her eyes," says Antara, as the moon has stolen her charms. So Hafiz chides the zephyr for having filched the perfume of his darling's tresses; the rose, her bloom; the narcissus, the charming brightness of her eye: in like manner Shakspeare, in one of his sonnets ("The froward violet," &c.), accuses all the garden-flowers of having each stolen some sweet or colour from his love.

The hero is slain with the arrows shot from Abla's eyes. Thus, in the Mégha Dúta: "wanton glances emulate the dart; our English Spenser also:

I mote perceive how in her glancing sight
Legions of Loves with little wings did fly,
Darting their deadly arrows fiery bright.

The eyelashes (and the glances) of the peerless Abla are like sharp scimitars. ’Abdu-’r-Rahmīn, an Afghan poet, says:

Each of the eyelashes of the beloved pierceth me to this degree,
That I declare it is the two-edged sword of ‘Ali, and nought else.

[paragraph continues] (Zu-’l-fīkār was the name of the famous sword of ‘Ali, son-in-law of Muhammad.) ‘Abdu-’l-Hamīd, another Afghan poet:

Shroud well thy sight from the black eyes’ glances;
Arise not, but from drawn swords guard well thine eyes:

the Turkish poet Fuzūlī also:

Where a headsman with a sabre like those lashes, where, of thine?

and Belīg, another Ottoman poet:

The eye of that wanton disturber bares its sword.

[paragraph continues] (See also "Serenade to his Sleeping Mistress," p. 146, and Note on the same, pp. 430, 431.)

p. 452

Abla's throat was so white that it shamed her necklace—"Alas!" exclaims the love-struck hero—"alas for that throat and that necklace!"—evidently feeling that her natural beauties were alone sufficient to disturb Isis peace of mind;—as Sir John Suckling says, or sings:

Th’ adorning thee with too much art
  Is but a barbarous skill;
’Tis like the poisoning of the dart—
  Too apt before to kill!

[paragraph continues] The same thought is expressed in the following passage from a Sanskrit writer: "Thine eyes have completely eclipsed those of the deer; then why add kajala? Is it not enough that thou destroy thy victims unless thou do it with poisoned arrows?" (Kajala—the Egyptian kohl—is a pigment used to darken the lower eyelid: see note on vv. 8, 9, Poem of Tarafa, p. 376.) In his Mo‘allaqah, v. 42, Antara speaks of certain ladies "whose beauty required no ornaments"—thus anticipating our English poet of the Seasons, in his oft-quoted lines:

Needs not the foreign aid of ornament;
But is, when unadorned, adorned the most.

[paragraph continues] The Persian Sa’dī was also an admirer of beauty unadorned: "The face of a beloved mistress requireth not the art of the tire-woman"—"The finger of a beautiful woman and the tip, of her ear are handsome without an ear-jewel or a turquoise ring."

It is interesting to remark the various comparisons employed by different poets to describe a graceful maiden. Antara likens his darling to a fawn. Solomon says: "I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariot." Theocritus, in his Epithalamium on the Marriage of Helen, says: "She resembles the horse in the chariots of Thessaly." Sophocles likens a damsel to a wild heifer; Horace, to an untamed filly; Ariosto's Angelica is like a fawn; Tasso's Erminia is like a hind; and Kalidása, the great Hindu dramatist, compares a female divinity to—a goose! "The Rájahansa," says

p. 453

[paragraph continues] Dr. H. H. Wilson, in the Notes to his translation of the Mégha Dúta of Kalidása, "is described as a white gander with red legs and bill, and together with the common goose is a favourite bird in Hindu poetry. The motion of the goose is supposed to resemble the shuffling walk which they esteem graceful in a woman. Thus, in the Rĭtu Sanhára, or the Seasons, of our poet—

Nor with the goose, the smiling fair
In graceful motion can compare."

[paragraph continues] (This reads as if the "fair" could not compare with the goose; but evidently the meaning of the original is that the bird in question cannot compare with the goddess in graceful motion.) Professor Monier Williams, in the Notes to his elegant translation of Kalidása's Sakoontála, or the Lost Ring, remarks that Hamsa-gámíní, "walking like a swan," was an epithet for a graceful woman. "The Indian lawgiver Manu," he adds, "recommends that a Bráhman should choose for his wife a young maiden whose gait was like that of a flamingo, or even like that of an elephant." Thus, in the drama of Málatí and Mádhava, we read: "the elephant has stolen her gait"; and in the Naishadha of Shrí Harsha: "her stately pace was like the elephant's." In common with the Arabs and most other Oriental nations, largeness of hips was considered as a great beauty in Hindu women, and it would cause them to walk with that "waving motion" so frequently mentioned in Eastern poetry. So the King, in love with the beautiful Sakoontála, exclaims:

Here are the fresh impressions of her feet;
Their well-known outline faintly marked in front,
More deeply towards the heel, betokening
The graceful undulation of her gait."

[paragraph continues] The learned Professor explains that the idea of the original is, that the weight of her haunches caused the peculiar appearance observable in her footprints. (See note on v. 17, Poem of Amru, p. 397, and note on v. 97, same poem, p. 399.)

p. 454

Abla's tall and graceful form is very often compared to the tamarisk, and to the branch of the erak-tree: "The tamarisk trees complain of her beauty in the morn and in the eve"—an idea which also finds expression in these verses of Khushhāl Khan:

The flowers of the parterre hang down their heads, and they say:
The heart-ravisher hath appropriated to herself all admiration.

[paragraph continues] Solomon compares the beloved to a palm-tree; and Theocritus likens Helen to the cypress in the garden: this last is a favourite similitude in Eastern poetry. Thus Firdausí:

Tall as the graceful cypress, and as bright
As ever struck a ravished lover's sight;

and Hafiz:

Abashed by thy majestic mien,
The cypress casts a gloomy shade;

and the Turkish poet ‘Arif:

Though I'm far now from the shadow of thy love, O cypress straight!

[paragraph continues] In the "Popular Poetry of Persia," translated by Dr. Alex. Chodzko, are these lines, said to be borrowed from Sa'dī:

Who is walking there—thou, or a tall cypress?
Or is it an angel in human shape?

[paragraph continues] This last line recalls a similar thought, but far more beautifully expressed, which occurs in The King's Quair (or Book), by James I., of Scotland: the spelling is modernised:

Ah, sweet! are you a worldly creature,
Or heavenly thing in likèness of nature?
Or are you god Cupid his own princess,
And coming are to loose me out of band?
Or are you very Nature the goddess,
That have depainted with your heavenly hand
This garden full of flowers as they stand?

p. 455

The following description of a female divinity, from the Mégha Dúta, contains some of the similitudes above noticed:

Goddess beloved! how vainly I explore
The world to trace the semblance I adore:
Thy graceful form the flexile tendril shows,
And like thy locks the peacock's plumage glows;
Mild as thy cheeks, the moon's new beams appear,
And those soft eyes adorn the timid deer;
In rippling brooks thy curling brows I see,
But only view combined these charms in thee.

When Abla smiles, "between her teeth is a mixture of wine and honey": "she passes the night with musk under her veil, and its fragrance is increased by the still fresher essence of her breath." Solomon says that the lips of the beloved "drop as the honey-comb;" her mouth is "like wine that goeth down sweetly;" her garments have the fragrance of Lebanon. And the Ottoman Fāzil Beg, in a fine poem on the Circassian Women, says: "Their lips and cheeks are taverns of wine."

An abject slave is the lover: "I will kiss the earth where thou art!" exclaims our poet. And Hafiz, in the same spirit (according to Richardson's paraphrase):

O for one heavenly glance of that dear maid!
  How would my raptured heart with joy rebound!
Down to her feet I'd lowly bend my head,
  And with my eyebrows sweep the hallowed ground.

The phantom of his beloved appearing to Antara during the watches of the night is a source of great consolation to him. "O Abla!" he exclaims, "let thy visionary form appear to me, and spread soft slumber over my distracted heart!" This phantom-visitation is frequently alluded to in the mystical poetry of the East, which is externally erotic—bacchanalian and anacreontic—but possessed of a deep, recondite, spiritual signification, like the Song of Solomon. In every line of the Persian poet Hafiz, for instance, and in the Afghan poetry from which citations have been made, the natural parallels

p. 456

are maintained between the details of the inward and spiritual and those of the outward and sensual. The whole system of Persian Mystic Theology—Sūfīism, or dervish-doctrine—is set forth in the Mesnevī, a grand poem in six long books; full of noble poetry, varied as that of our own Shakspeare; composed by the celebrated Jelālū-’d-Dīn, the founder of the sect known in Europe as the "Dancing Dervishes," from their gyrations in performing their acts of public worship. Professor E. H. Palmer has published a few selections from this great work ("Song of the Reed," &c. London: N. Trübner & Co.), rendered into graceful English verse, that "dwells, like bells, upon the ear." And Messrs. Trübner & Co. have recently issued proposals for the publication, by subscription, of a complete translation in English verse, by Mr. J. W. Redhouse, of the First Book of the Mesnevī, together with some two hundred anecdotes of the author from El-Eflākī, a contemporary of Jelālū-’d-Dīn. This important project has already met with sufficient encouragement to ensure the issue of the work.

In Oriental poetry the zephyr is often the messenger of love. "O western breeze!" exclaims Abla, "blow to my country and give tidings of me to the hero of Abs!"—"O may the western breeze tell thee of my ardent wish to return home!" says Antara. Thus, too, in the old Scottish ballad, entitled, "Willie's drowned in Yarrow":

O gentle wind, that bloweth south,
  From where my love repaireth,
Convey a kiss from his clear mouth,
  And tell me how he fareth!

The ancients, it is well known, placed the seat of Love in the liver; and so Antara says: "Ask my burning sighs that mount on high; they will tell thee of the flaming passion in my liver." An epigram in the seventh book of the Anthologia is to the same purpose:

Cease, Love, to wound my liver and my heart;
If I must suffer, choose some other part.

p. 457

[paragraph continues] Theocritus, in his 13th Idyll, speaking of Hercules, says: "In his liver Love had fixed a wound;" Anacreon tells how the god of Love drew his bow, and "the dart pierced through my liver and my heart;" and Horace (B. 1, Ode 2) says: "Burning Love . . cloth in thy cankered liver rage." But this notion was not confined to the ancients. Shakspeare says:

Alas! then Love may be called appetite,
No motion of the liver, but the palate.

The "bird of the tamarisk"—the turtle-dove—is frequently invoked by Antara, to bear witness to his passion, to sympathize with his griefs: this bird is considered in the East as the pattern of conjugal affection. Thus, in the Mégha Dúta:

On some cool terrace, where the turtle-dove
In gentle accents breathes connubial love.

The hero's passion for Abla is often described as a consuming flame: "Quit me not," he conjures the turtle-dove—"quit me not till I die of love, the victim of passion, of absence and separation." Our great dramatist affirms that "men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for love." Had Shakspeare never heard of the gallant Troubadour Geoffrey Rudel, who died for love—and love, too, from hearsay description of the beauty of the Countess of Tripoli? Barton, in his History of English Poetry, tells the sad story: how the poet sailed for Tripoli; fell sick on the voyage from the fever of expectation; was taken ashore at Tripoli, dying; how the Countess, hearing of his arrival, hastened to the shore and took him by the hand, but the poet could only murmur his satisfaction at having seen her, and expired. The Countess very properly made him a handsome funeral, and erected a tomb of porphyry over his remains, inscribed with an epitaph in Arabic verse.—"Dying for love," says Richardson, "is considered amongst us as a mere poetic figure; and we certainly can support the reality by few examples; but in Eastern countries it seems to be something more: many words in the Arabic and Persian languages which express Love implying also Melancholy, Madness, and Death."

p. 458

[paragraph continues] Another story of dying for love—or from grief at the loss of a beloved one—is furnished by Oriental writers in their accounts of the reign of Yezid II., the ninth Khalif of the house of ’Umayya. This monarch was passionately fond of a beautiful and amiable singing-girl named Hababa; and one day, while they were at dinner together, Yezid playfully threw a grape at her, which she took up and put in her mouth, to eat it; but the grape, slipping down her throat, stuck across the passage and choked her, almost instantly. The melancholy accident so affected Yezid that he fell into an excess of grief, and was inconsolable for the loss of so amiable a creature. He would not suffer her body to be buried for several days, and even the tomb could not cure his frenzy. He ordered her grave to be opened, and the body of the girl to be once more exposed to his view. In short, being incapable of moderating his grief, he survived her only fifteen days, and before he expired he ordered his remains to be deposited in a grave near that of his darling. This happened in the year of the Hijra 105 (a.d. 723).

Mr. Payne's translation of the pathetic verses on Aziza's Tomb, which occur in the "Thousand and One Nights," maybe appropriately cited in this connection:

I passed by a ruined tomb in the midst of a garden way,
Upon whose letterless stone seven blood-red anemones lay.
"Who sleeps in this unmarked grave?" I said; and the earth: "Bend low;
For a lover lies here and waits for the Resurrection Day."
"God keep thee, O victim of love!" I said, "and bring thee to dwell
In the highest of all the heavens of Paradise, I pray!
How wretched are lovers all, even in the sepulchre,
For their very tombs are covered with ruin and decay!
Lo! if I might, I would plant thee a garden round about,
And with my streaming tears the thirst of its flowers allay!

The loves of Layla and Majnūn, by the celebrated Persian poet Nizāmī, are to Orientals what the story of Romeo and Juliet

p. 459

is to us. Majnūn signifies, frantic, mad, from love. The poetry of Nizāmī, like the best Oriental poetry of the present day, is mystical; but the common people chant the Sufi songs as if there was in them no more than meets the ear.

It is instructive as well as interesting to observe resemblances of thought and expression in the poetry of different nations and ages wide apart. No doubt, modern Oriental poets have adopted many of their similitudes from earlier poetry. But the discovery of such similitudes in the works of great poets of different countries and times tends to show us that there are certain subjects on which minds cast in a large and comprehensive mould always think nearly alike; that human thought moves, so to say, in certain grooves; and that the same objects suggest similar ideas to different minds, which find expression in language almost identical, whether the poet be a rude Arab or a cultured European.

Next: Notes On Ka‘b's Mantle Poem