Kuban Khan

An Tartarian Tale

Attic Chest Wednesday May the 22nd 1816

O’er deserts of unvaried green
 Where neither stone nor rock is found
Without a hill to change the scene,
 Without a tree to shade the ground,

Roam’d Kuban, ’tis a weary life.
 Without a friend or kinsman near,
With all of human kind at strife,
 With none his houseless lot to cheer.

Yes! he has one, his faithful steed,
 Companion from his earliest years,
Who often in the hour of need
 Has saved him from pursuing spears.

Has borne him thro’ the thickest fight
 To deeds that long shall live in story
Rejoicing in the well-known weight,
 And sharing in his master’s glory.

In full career along the waste,
 Would Kuban spring upon his horse,
He needs no spur to urge his haste,
 No rein to curb his fiery course.

And tho’ with him no followers stray’d
 His kinsmen guard their chieftain’s right,
Nor dared the foe his blood to shed,
 They fear his kinsmen’s force in fight.

They dread th’ hereditary hate,
 The vengeance of each friendly clan
The feud unquench’d by blood or date
 On all the murderers of a Khan.

Yet blood has redden’d Kuban’s sword
 Once with neighbouring chief he rode.
Their prowess Azop’s tribe deplored.
 The verdant plain was stained with blood

When for a lovely captive’s charms
 They fought, and Kuban’s rival fell
But flying from the dim of arms
 His prize had gain’d some secret cell.

And Kuban flies, his head to hide,
 From the proud kindred of the slain.
Awhile the Khan forgets his pride,
 And wanders lonely o’er the plain,

Attired in nature’s brightest green,
 While countless flowers perfume the air.
Who dreary is th’ unchanging scene,
 How coldly, desolately fair,

Yet sometimes o’er the plain aspires,
 The wreck of years for ever gone,
Barbaric domes and gilded spires,
 Are glittering in the setting sun.

And sometimes from the deep morass
 The pestilential vapours come,
The shining locusts hide the grass,
 In clouds the dark mosquitoes hum.

’Tis morn, and from the rites of prayer,
 As Kuban rose, he sees afar,
A band that ranged in order fair,
 Ride in the panoply of war.

He mounts his steed with breathless haste,
 He makes a circuit o’er the plain,
Unnoticed to their rear he past,
 And asks from where the warrior train.

“From Balaclava’s lovely vale,
 Sage Zenghi sends us wandering here,
Brave Kuban Khan to seek and hail,
 And bid his join his followers there.

His tribe with Zenghi’s friends combine,
 Far distant Azof’s warriors stray.
Meanwhile their mares, their lowing kine,
 Their tents are Kuban’s easy prey.”

“Then, warriors! if your words be true,
 I lead you to the wandering man.”
They bring him to their Chieftain’s view,
 Who knew and welcomed Kuban Khan.

To one he gives his turban’s fold,
 To one his belt with silver bright.
Round one his costly mantle roll’d
 And bids them guide his steps aright.

All day and thro’ the silent night,
 On fleetest steeds that never fail
They speed, and hail with orient light,
 Fair Balaclava’s mountain vale.

Now clothed with trees, now bleakly bare
 On either side the mountains rise,
And graceful shrubs are waving there,
 And blossoms of a thousand dyes.

It seemed as in this lovely scene
 The air had more of balmy power,
The velvet turf a livelier green,
 A richer scent in every flower.

Nor could the ocean breezes blight,
 The trees that rose in forest pride,
Tho’ sparkling in the golden light,
 Before them roll’d the swelling tide.

But now amid the rocks they wind,
 And leave the open light of day.
The pass appears to close behind,
 Above their heads the branches play.

They trace a channel long and deep,
 Enclosed with cliffs on every part,
Whose sides by Nature rude and steep,
 Are more precipitous from art.

And now thy enter caves that seem
 Vast mansions for the mighty dead,
Which well th’ enthusiast eye might deem,
 Coeval with the rocks they tread.

They pass thro’ galleries deep and wide,
 Thro’ solemn gloom and chilling air.
The panels tell on either side
 The names of those who slumber there.

How strangely, ’mid the awful scene
 Resound the jovial sounds of mirth,
That seem not shouts of living men,
 But restless demons of the Earth.

They call — the hidden doors expands.
 At once a thousand torches glare,
In every nave a festive band,
 Invites their guests the feast to share.

And Zenghi comes, with welcome brief
 The stranger to his board he leads.
While swiftly, for the honour’d chief,
 His daughter’s hand the banquet spreads.

See! as the tempting cup she bears
 Why heaves her breast with quicker swell.
Her cheek a deeper crimson wears,
 Her eyes in sweet disorder fell.

And Kuban starts — the goblet falls — 
 “I see my doom, nor fear to die,
Yet ere you break at hatred’s calls
 The laws of hospitality,

“Know, when on yonder trackless wild,
 I fought to win that virgin fair,
I knew not she was Zenghi’s child,
 I claim’d alone the rights of war.”

Sage Zenghi smiles. “Proud Khan! forbear
 Whence does suspicion taint thy breast,
I call no foes my feast to share,
 I mix no poison for a guest.

“By Azof’s chief a captive led,
 My daughter’s loss I long deplored,
That now I clasp the duteous maid,
 Is due to Kuban’s conquering sword.

“You loved her, can a father’s heart
 Muse that another thinks her fair?
You won her — why that wondering start?
 A soldier own the rights of war.

“Our fathers oft together raised,
 On Azof’s chiefs the thirsty sword,
And sung, while plunder’d hamlets blazed
 Their triumphs round the social board.

“Why should our father’s sons be foes?
 For stronger ties our danger calls.
With me stern Azof’s Khan oppose,
 And ere the morrow’s eve befalls

The day on which the chieftain dies,
 The night his camp in flames expires,
That day shall see our peaceful ties,
 That night shall light your nuptial fires.”

The conquer’d chief of Azof falls
 Their fate the happy lovers plight,
More brightly shine the rocky falls.
 More briskly moves the goblet bright.

They mount her on the fleetest steed,
 Behind her Kuban urged the chase
Oh! he has need of all his speed,
 He yields her if he lose the race.

In vain he spurs the foaming horse,
 That horse so long caressed, in vain.
But lo! she stops her rapid course,
 And waits him on the level plain.

“Enough!” exclaimed the blushing maid,
 “Enough our courser’s speed is tried
To show that still I could have fled
 That I by choice am Kuban’s bride.”

The author of the National Tales having now completed the series at first proposed, as well as the two which he has added at the request of the Editor, takes his leave of the Attic Society with many thanks for their indulgent attention. To the Tartarian Tale he believes no notes are necessary. Every member is acquainted with the Steppes of Tartary, those immense plains, without a tree, a hill, a rock, or even a pebble; with the beautiful valley of Balaclava in the Crimea; and with those extraordinary ranges of dwellings cut in the mountains, which serve at once for the tombs of the dead, and the habitations of the living; tho’ by far the greater number are yet untenanted. The concluding incident alludes to a Tartarian custom.