THE SPILT PEARLS
His courtiers of the Caliph crave--
'Oh, say how this may be,
That of thy slaves, this Ethiop slave
Is best beloved by thee?
'For he is hideous as the Night:
But when has ever chose
A nightingale for its delight,
A hueless, scentless rose?'
The Caliph then --'No features fair
Nor comely mien are his:
Love is the beauty he doth wear,
And Love his glory is.
'Once when a camel of my train
There fell in narrow street,
From broken casket rolled amain
Rich pearls before my feet.
'I winking to my slaves, that I
Would freely give them these,
At once upon the spoil they fly,
The costly boon to seize.
'One only at my side remained--
Beside this Ethiop, none:
He, moveless as the steed he reined,
Behind me sat alone.
''What will thy gain, good fellow, he,
Thus lingering at my side?'--
--'My King, that I shall faithfully
Have guarded thee,' he cried.
''True servant's title he may wear,
He only who has not,
For his Lord's gifts, how rich soe'er,
His Lord himself forgot!''
--So thou alone dost walk before
Thy God with perfect aim,
From him desiring nothing more
Beside himself to claim.
For if thou not to him aspire,
But to his gifts alone,
Not Love, but covetous desire,
Has brought thee to his throne.
While such thy prayer, it climbs above
In vain -- the golden key
Of God's rich treasure-house of love,
Thine own will never be.
Haroun the Just! -- yet once that name
Of Just the ruler ill became,
By whose too hasty sentence died
The royal-hearted Barmecide.
O Barmecide, of hand and heart
So prompt, so forward to impart,
Of bounty so unchecked and free,
That once a Poet sung, how he
Would fear thy very hand to touch,
Lest he should learn to give too much,
Lest, catching the contagion thence
Of thy unmatched munificence,
A beggar he should soon remain,
Helpless his bounty to restrain--
O Barmecide of royal heart,
My childhood's tears again will start
Into mine eyes, the tears I shed,
As I remember, when I read
Of harsh injustice done to thee,
And all thy princely family.
--What marvel that the Caliph, stung
With secret consciousness of wrong,
Or now desiring every trace
Of that large bounty to efface,
With penalty to death forbade
That mourning should for them be made;
That any should with grateful song
Their memory in men's hearts prolong?
--'And who art thou, that day by day
Hast dared my mandate disobey?
Who art thou whom my guards have found,
Now standing on some grass-grown mound,
Now wandering 'mid the ruined towers,
Fall'n palaces, and wasted bowers
Of those, at length for traitors known,
And by my justice overthrown--
Singing a plaintive dirge for them
Whom my just vengeance did condemn;
Till ever, as I learn, around
Thy steps a listening crowd is found,
Who still unto thy sad lament
Do with their sobs and tears consent;
While in the bosom of that throng
Rise thoughts that do their Monarch wrong?
What doom I did for this assign
Thou knewest, and that doom is thine.'
But then the offender,--'Give me room,
And I will gladly take my doom,
O King, to spend my latest breath,
Ere I am hurried to my death,
In telling for what highest grace
I was beholden to that race,
Whose memory my heart hath kept,
Whose sunken glories I have wept.
For them, at least, it will appear
That not in disobedience mere
Thy mandate high I overpast.
--O King, I was the least and last
Of all the servitors of him,
Whose glory in thy frown grew dim,--
The least and last -- yet he one day
To me, his meanest slave, did say
That he was fain my guest to be,
And the next day would sup with me.
More time I willingly have craved,
But my excuses all he waved,
And by no train accompanied,
His two sons only at his side,
At my poor lodging lighted down,
Which at the limits of the town
Stood in a close and narrow street.
Him I and mine did humbly greet,
Standing before him while he shared
What we meanwhile had best prepared
Of entertainment, though the best
Was poor and mean for such a guest.
'But supper done, with cheerful mien,
'Thy house,' he cried, 'I have not seen,
Thy gardens;--let me pace awhile
Along some cool and shadowy aisle.'
I thought he mocked me, but replied,
'Possessions have I not so wide:
For house, another room with this
Our only habitation is;
And garden have I none to show,
Unless that narrow court below,
Shut in with lofty walls, that name
In right of four dwarf shrubs may claim.'
--'Nay, nay,' he answered, 'there is more,
If only we could find the door.'
Again I told him, but in vain,
That he had seen my whole domain.
--'Nay, go then quick, a mason call.'
Him bade he straightway pierce the wall.
--'But shall we in this wise invade
A neighbour's house?'--No heed he paid,
And I stood dumb, and wondering
Whereto he would the issue bring.
Anon he through the opening past,
He and his sons, and I the last;
When suddenly myself I found
In ample space of garden ground,
Or rather in a Paradise
Of rare and wonderful device,
With stately walks and alleys wide,
Far stretching upon every side;
And streams, upon whose either bank
Stood lofty platanes, rank by rank,
And marble fountains, scattering high
Illumined dew-drops in the sky;
And making a low tinkling sound,
As sliding down from mound to mound,
They did at last their courses take
Down to a calm and lucid lake,
By which, on gently sloping height,
There stood a palace of delight;
And many slaves, but all of rare
And perfect beauty, marshalled there,
Did each to me incline the knee,
Exclaiming all -- 'Thy servants we.'
'And then my Lord cried, laughing--'Nay,
While this is thine, how could'st thou say
That thou had'st shown me all before?
Thine is it all.' -- He said no more,
But at my benefactor's feet
I falling, thanks would render meet.
He, scarcely listening, turned his head,
And to his eldest son he said:
'This house, these gardens, 'twere in vain,
Unless enabled to maintain,
That he should call them his;--my son,
Let us not leave this grace half done:'
Who then replied -- 'My farms beyond
The Tigris I by sealèd bond
This night before we part, will see
Made over unto him in fee.'
--' 'Tis well; but there will months ensue,
Ere his incomings will be due.
What shall there, the meanwhile, be done?'
He turned unto his younger son,
Who answered -- 'I will bid that gold,
Ten thousand pieces, shall be told
Unto his steward presently;
These shall his urgent needs supply'
'Twas done upon that very eve;
And done, anon they took their leave,
And left me free to contemplate
The wonders of my novel state.
'Prince of the faithful, mighty King,
My fortunes from this source had spring,
Which, if they since that time have grown,
Him their first author still I own.
Nor when that name, which was the praise
Of all the world, on evil days
Had fall'n, was I content to let
Be quite forgotten the large debt
I owe to him;--content to die,
If such shall be thy pleasure high,
And my offence shall seem to thee
Deserving of such penalty.'
What marvel that the King who heard
Was in his inmost bosom stirred?
What marvel that he owned the force
Of late regret and vain remorse?
That spreading palm, whose boughs had made
Far stretching such an ample shade
For many a wanderer through life's waste,
He had hewn down in guilty haste;
That fountain free, that springing well
Of goodness inexhaustible,
His hand had stopt it, ne'er again
To slake the thirst of weary men.
That genial sun, which evermore
Did on a cold, chill world outpour
Its rays of love and life and light,
'Twas he who quenched in darkest night.
What marvel that he owned the force
Of late regret and vain remorse,
And (all he could) now freely gave
The life the other did not crave?
Nay more, the offender did dismiss
With gifts and praise -- nor only this,
But did the unrighteous law reverse
Which had forbidden to rehearse,
And in the minds of men prolong,
By grateful speech or plaintive song,
The bounteous acts and graces wide,
And goodness of the Barmecide.
Five hundred princely guests before
Haroun Al Raschid sate:
Five hundred princely guests or more
Admired his royal state.
For never had that glory been
So royally displayed,
Nor ever such a gorgeous scene
Had eye of man surveyed.
He, most times meek of heart, yet now
Of spirit too elate,
Exclaimed -- 'Before me Cesars bow,
On me two empires wait.
'Yet all our glories something lack,
We do our triumphs wrong,
Until to us reflected back
In mirrors clear of song.
'Call him then unto whom this power
Is given, this skill sublime--
Now win from us some gorgeous dower
With song that fits the time.'
--'My King, as I behold thee now,
May I behold thee still,
While prostrate worlds before thee bow,
And wait upon thy will!
'May evermore this clear pure heaven,
Whence every speck and stain
Of trouble far away is driven,
Above thy head remain!'
The Caliph cried --'Thou wishest well:
There waits thee golden store
For this -- but, oh! resume the spell,
I fain would listen more.'
--'Drink thou life's sweetest goblet up,
O King, and may its wine,
For others' lips a mingled cup,
Be all unmixed for thine.
'Love long -- the shadow of no grief
Come ever near to thee:
As thou in height of place art chief,
So chief in gladness be.'
Haroun Al Raschid cried again--
'I thank thee -- but proceed,
And now take up an higher strain,
And win an higher mead.'
Around that high magnific hall,
One glance the poet threw
On courtiers, king, and festival,
And did the strain renew.
--'And yet, and yet -- shalt thou at last
Lie stretched on bed of death:
Then, when thou drawest thick and fast
With sobs thy painful breath--
'When Azrael glides through guarded gate,
Through hosts that camp around
Their lord in vain -- and will not wait,
When thou art sadly bound
Unto thine house of dust alone,
O King, when thou must die,--
This pomp a shadow thou shalt own,
This glory all a lie.'
Then darkness on all faces hung,
And through the banquest went
Low sounds the murmuring guests among
Of angry discontent.
And him anon they fiercely urge--
'What guerdon shall be thine?
What does it, this untimely dirge,
'Mid feasts, and flowers, and wine?
'One lord demanded in his mirth
A strain to heighten glee;
But, lo! at thine his tears come forth
In current swift and free.'
--'Peace -- not to him rebukes belong,
But rather highest grace;
He gave me what I asked, a song
To fit the time and place.'
All voices at that voice were stilled;
Again the Caliph cried,--
'He saw our mouths with laughter filled,
He saw us drunk with pride;
'And bade us know that every road,
By monarch trod or slave,
Thick set with thorns, with roses strowed,
Doth issue in the grave.'