A Persian Tale
Attic Chest Wednesday March 27th 1816
The author of the Arabian Tale read in a former number, is fearful that even the flattering reception given to Laila, has not stimulated him to merit a continuance of favour. The Persian Tale, now submitted to the audience of Attic Readings is historical. Its hero was Khulleel Sultan, the grandson of Timour or Tamerlane, who being at Zamarcande, the capital of the Empire when that great monarch died, was raised to the throne instead of his other grandson Peer Mahmoud, whom he had named his successor. Sultan Shah Rokh who succeeded the unfortunate Khulleel Sultan, was the son of Timour, a man of ability, and distinguished by a trait less common among Persian princes, his generosity to his deposed predecessor. The heroine was the celebrated Shad-ul-Mulk, but as this name is rather unfortunate for English verse, the author has ventured to change it for Khatoon, a name not infrequent in Persian annals and which simply means “The Lady”. It should be remembered that suicide is not only uncondemned by the Mahommedan religion but that it is in many cases considered meritorious, and that it is a mistake tho’ a very common one, to suppose that Mahomed denied the immortality of the female soul, thou he assigned to women in Paradise only the same degrading station to which he confined them on Earth.
The Persians are of the sect of Ali, denominated by the Sunnis, or orthodoz Mahomedans, by way of pre-eminence, Shia, “the sect”. The Sunnis consider the Shias as the worst of the infidels, making nearly the same distinction between them and the Nazarenes or Gioour, as the Roman Catholics did in the days of the Inquisition between the heretic and the unconverted unbeliever. Among other circumstances which distinguish the Shias, is their observance of the Nouroze, or feast of the Vernal Equinox, something like the Italian carnivale, for which the Sunnis reproach them as idolaters, and consider it a relic of Sabaism, or of the worship of Zoroaster. The Shias on the contrary allege that they maintain it in honour of the Caliph Ali, who ascended the throne on that day, and who they assert ought immediately to have succeeded his father-in-law Mahommed, not only in right of his daughter Fatimah, or because he was eldest in the faith, but because he was named as successor by the Prophet on his death-bed.
The Sunnis assert that Mahommed was then insane and contend for the right of Aboubeker his father-in-law to the Caliphate. The Shias also give great offence to the Sunnis at a festival which commemorates the death of Ali, on the last day of which they publicly curse the three first Caliphs: Aboubeker, Osman, and Oman, the only three who assumed the title of “Lords of the Faithful”, but Omar is above all the object of their anathemas.
It may be as well to observe that a Persian lover must be absolutely distracted or he is good for nothing. The celebrated loves of Mejnoon and Leila would not be very attractive to an English reader.
A small plume in the turban is the sign of royalty in Persia, but their monarchs have sometimes increased their numbers, wearing one for each of the kingdoms under their command. The royal standard of Persia is now a lion couchant with the sun rising behind him, or as it is more commonly called Sol in Leo. This standard seems to have been first adopted by one of the Seljuk princes of Iconium. The antient standard of Persia was the leather apron of Kawah the blacksmith who delivered Persia from the tyranny of Zohauk and placed the virtuous Feridoon on the throne. It had been surrounded by the magnificence of successive princes, with a splendid border of jewel far exceeding itself in size, but it was lost at the battle of Kudseah when the Arabians invaded Persia and subjected it to the religion of Mahommed (see Sir John Malcom’s History of Persia).
“Nay, Khatoon! think not that my heart
With joy a Sultan’s name receives.
No joy the royal plumes impart
If at the gift my Khatoon grieves.
Oh! what to me is Timour’s crown
Despotic o’er a thousand realms!
The prince whose heart is all thine own
The care, the pomp of power o’erwhelms.
Let China’s sons in safety now
Before their dragon-idols bow.1
The Ameers sound the trump in vain
My music is thy warbled strain.
Let warriors conquered empires part
Be mine the empire of thy heart
The liquid azure of thine eyes
The sapphire’s brilliant light outvies,
Thy hair in clustering ringlets floats,
Less rich the purple grapes must be,
Thou speak’st, the bulbul’s pensive notes,
Have less of magic melody.
Oh! where’s the fool would barter them
For mighty Stamboul’s vaunted gem,
E’en Paradise would seem less fair
If Khatoon might not join me there.
“Fill, Aga! fill the goblet high,
With juice from Shiraz’ golden grape,
I’ll drain the charming poison dry
Ere all its finer sweets escape.
With envy pale, those roses pine.
Weave fresher wreaths for Kharoon’s brow,
Or bid this Indian ruby shine
All blushing on her front of snow.
Her eye is as a radiant star,
That still propitious beams on me.
Her teeth are whiter, purer far
Than all the pearls of Oman’s sea.
Less sweet to wilder’d wanderer’s sight
The sudden flash of orient light
Less grateful to the drooping flower
The dews of evening’s balmy hour,
Or to the desert-pilgrim’s sear.
The sound of streams that murmur near,
Than when upon my longing eyes
Loved Khatoon’s beauties dawning rise.
Tomorrow is the feast of spring
Their annual gifts my nobles bring.
“But Khatoon by her Khulleel’s side
Shall sit in more than regal pride.
Yes! I will then exult in power
And think a Sultan’s name is sweet
To see a thousand regions shower
Their treasures at my Khatoon’s feet.
Yet closer draw thy silken veil,
I could not live to hear the tale
That my first Ameer dared to spy
One sparkle of that radiant eye.”
’Tis morn! in brighter glory dressed
The prince of day ascends the East.
What tho’, as wont in years of yore
Adoring crowds attend no more,
Eager to catch the earliest ray
And as a blessing on the day.
Tho’ cold on ruined altars lies
The incense-fire of sacrifice
Nor on the breeze of morning comes
The stream of Adel’s fragrant gums.
He loves to see the Naptha’s flame
That still, tho’ man be silent, pays,
Where myriads lately blest his name
The tribute of spontaneous praise.
He seeks, with brighter beam, afar
The column’d dome of Istakhar
And with a warm tho’ mournful ray
Gilds lone Palmyra’s swift decay.
This day, redeemed from northern signs
His light from golden Aries shines,
And Persia’s countless valleys ring
To hail the festival of spring.
Let Sunni sects in vain decry
This relic of idolatry,
Nor Parsi nor Sabean rite
Do they with Moslem creed unite
But Persian Shias with joys hallown
The day that Ali reached the throne,
Retorting every word of shame,
On Omar’s and on Osman’s name.
The nobles throng the golden gate,
Then thousand loaded camels wait,
Yet scarce could Khulleel’s sight assuage
The mingling storm of grief and rage.
In every veteran’s eye that flash’d
In every martial breast that beat,
When the fond Sultan bade them cast,
Their treasures at a woman’s feet.
What they still wont with every spring
To see their lion flag unfurl’d
A signal to the trembling world,
Still wont to Timour’s feet to bring.
Whene’er the Nouroze feast begun,
Fresh tributes form some kingdom won
To see their gallant monarch dare
The foremost in the purple war.
Must they to woman stoop their pride,
And he, more woman, by his side!
Contempt the rising rage suppressed,
Or steel had blush’d in Khulleel’s breast.
Nor less the king’s neglect offends
The high-born dames of Timour’s court,
One Nymph her sable tresses rends,
Another laughs in bitter sport.
In vain each vest with diamonds glows
More thick than dewdrops on the rose,
In vain Sabean odours rare,
Are lavished on their jewell’d hair
Or purple coheel’s artful dyes
In softer lustre bathe their eyes.
In tedious solitude they wait,
No Khulleel opes the harem gate.
On them he seldom turns and eye,
Or worse, he sees, and passes by.
In vain for him their shady bowers
Are hung with wreaths of choicest flowers
In vain the rose that o’er it bends,
Its fragrance to the fountain lends,
In vain in snowy vases set,
Their hands have mixed the sweet sherbet.
The savoury meat, the bread prepare,
Or cull the fruits that seem most fair.2
For Khulleel loathes the sweetest flower
If not from Khatoon’s rosy bower.
The richest meats that others bring
Are poison to the enamour’d king.
In satiate gazing on her charms,
While her bright eye, his earthly sun,
No coldness clouds, no grief deforms,
Complaint and prayer he seems to shun,
And little heeds the gathering storms.
These weeping o’er their useless arms,
Those furious for their slighted charms.
E’en thus amid the sultry sands,
Before the thirsty pilgrim’s eyes,
The seeming silver lake expands,
And groves and peopled cities rise.
As hotter glowed the fervid ray,
More broad the lake, delusive, spreads,
While swift before his weary way
The promised seat of bliss recedes.
The melon’s nectar’d juice derives
Its sweetness from the hand that gives.
Thus lull’d by pleasure’s mimic show
Fond Khulleel sees no sands below.
But while the monarch sleeping lies
And still his thoughts with Khatoon stray,
The armed bands the youth surprise,
And swift to Kashgar’s realm convey.
In vain his struggling limbs they bind
No bonds can curb th’ unfettered mind,
Which roams with Khatoon still.
Yet nought his tears or prayers avail
And flying to the lonely dale,
The groves resound his plaintive wail,
His tears augment the rill.
He calls her name in wild despair,
He rends his beard and scented hair.
No sleep his weary eyelids can know,
Unless when Khatoon blessed his dreams
Till worn by unremitted woe
A shadow of himself he seems.
Thus of her lover reft, the rose
Before the amorous sun declines
The bulbul, screened by sheltering boughs,
Shuns the loathed ray and silent pines.
Till as the dews of evening shower
He perches near his favourite flower
And pours his plaintive song again,
So sweet that Peries list the strain.
With empire fain would Khulleel buy
One sight of Khatoon’s full orb’d eye.
E’en now perchance, that angel face
Is sullied by another’s gaze.
He weeps — a happier king the while
May revel in her faithless smile.
From far Khorassan’s ample realm
Shah Rokh repairs to Samarkand,
He seized the states deserted helm,
And swayed it with a powerful hand.
While Persia’s subject regions own
Lamented Timour’s worthy son.
In simple gard, but suppliants meet,
Before Shah Rokh young Khulleel stood.
Low kneeling at his uncle’s feet,
In cautious accents meekly sued.
“I do not ask for power or land,
The empire I with joy resign.
The weight that bent my feeble hand
Is swayed with graceful ease by thine.
Yet longer be thy golden dream,
More bright, more glorious be its theme!
May Allah to thy prayers incline,
As thy shall stoop to hearken mine!
If e’er Circassia’s moon-faced maids,
If nymphs from sultry India won
Whose bloom attests a warmer sun,
Or dames from Georgia’s mountain glades,
With golden hair and eyes of sleep,
Thy sense in sweet delirium steep.
Oh hear my prayer! if yet she live,
To these fond arms my Khatoon give.”
“Unhappy Khulleel, steel thine ear
Of injured Khatoon’s woes to hear,
And when thou knowst each varied ill,
Thou wilt not wish her living still.
They stripped her of her silken vest —
In robes of hairy sackcloth dressed
With lock unbound and naked feet
They led her thro’ the public street.
Thro’ all Bokhara’s fertile land
Thro’ all the streets of Samarkand.
The meanest slave has dared to trace
The beauties of that houri face.
In vain her flowing hair she drew
To shroud her from their hateful view,
In vain their fringed curtains strove
To veil those eyes, the seat of love,
Or tears of burning anguish seek
To wash the roses from her cheek — ”
“Oh pause! thy slave in mercy spare!
Thy lightest word has power to kill!
Yet, yet, thou sayest not, lives he still?
Thou hidest thy face — in vain my prayer!”
“Nay, Khulleel! if thy soul can yet
Its Khatoon’s houri smile forget,
A Grecian maid whose lightest charm,
The coldest heart to flame would warm,
Whose agile step and winning grace,
Bespeak her born of Peri race.
Whose charms for mortal eyes too bright,
Beam thro’ her veil with dazzling light.
If she (so lovely that as far,
As Night’s pale queen in full orbed pride
Surpasses each surrounding star,
She would excel by Khatoon’s side)
Can soothe thy soul this maid divine,
And all Khorassan’s realm are thine.”
“No, Sultan! were she fairer far,
Than purple evening’s virgin star,
Or maids that sport in endless bliss
Beneath the tree of Paradise,
Where were that voice, that smile, that eye
Of me bereft, that closed for ever,
That heart, to mine by every tie
So linked, it broke but could not sever.”
“Enough, fond Prince! in peace return,
But view my present, ere you spurn.”
The king retired — a graceful dame
In Kashmir shawls close-shrouded came
Crossed on her breast her snowy hands
And motionless and silent stands.
“Lady! that veil forbear to raise,
I would not see that beauty’s blaze.
In vain thy charms a monarch gave
My heart is in my Khatoon’s grave.
Then lift not here thy silken screen
I scorn not what I yield unseen.”
He spoke, but ere he closed his tale
Quick dropp’d the unsubmissive veil.
How like! but oh, how coldly fair!
His Khatoon’s smile was wanting there.
The rose had left her cheek of snow,
Those locks in hyacinthine flow
No more with sparkling rubies glow,
But loosely twined, in simplest braid
A brow of marble whiteness shade.
With tears oppressed, her full-orbed eye
Has lost its beam of love and joy,
And unadorned, her snowy vest
The hue of settled grief expressed.
He gazes, but his wildered mind,
Nor speech nor thought distinct can find,
If she have left the silent grave
To bear him to her bed of death?
Or if that form some demon gave
Which could not five the living breath?
If thou hast seen the sudden storm
With gloom a smiling scene deform
Thou knowest how Khatoon’s beauteous face
Had lost what lent that beauty grace.
If thou hast seen the prince of day
Burst the dense clouds with sudden ray
And brightening in each varied hue,
The landscape seem to live anew,
Thou knowest how on her pallid cheeks
The sudden light of rapture broke.
Her face a wavering crimson streaks,
Her voice grew stronger as she spoke,
While thro’ her lover’s quivering frame
The sudden thrill of transport came.
“I live, but by thy hand to die!
I could not see thy love’s decline!
Thou saidst by others seen, this eye,
Would lose its every charm for thine.
Then haste, my wretched spirit free
And pierce this heart which beats for thee.”
“Nay Khatoon! oh not thus reprove
The excess of voluptuous love
Had but thy beauty’s lightest part,
Been but to servile Christian shown,3
’Tis true! my steel had pierced thy heart
Then mixed my life blood with thine own.
But now, I weep thy woes to think,
I see thee from their glances shrink,
’Tis but while sorrow clouds thy face
That there a million eyes I trace,
Again thy look of gladness wear,
Smile, and I shall not see them there.
And fear not love! the regal plumes
No more my turbanned front assumes
But fair Khorassan’s shady bowers
Are dearer far to love like ours.
Yet oh! my glory’s brightest beam
Full on our generous monarch stream,
A powerful sovereign never knows
The charm of safety or repose,
And he who barters rest for fame,
Too dearly earns a deathless name.”
From pomp estranged, through shady groves,
By Khartoon’s side her Khulleel roves,
They live, and seemed too blest to die;
But Khulleel’s fated hour was nigh,
And Azrael, minister of death,
From Khatoon’s arms requires his breath,
While slowly from his pointed sword,
The triple drops of death he poured.4
But oh! not fate could now divide,
Fond Khatoon from her lover’s side.
She seized his sword, one parting kiss,
She joins him in the realms of bliss.
How blest to die ere life’s decline,
Ere love’s ambrosial roses pine.
In Rhaca’s town a tomb arose,
Their joined, their mortal frames repose;
And oft as Rhaca’s fragrant groves,
Made vocal with their warbled loves.
Timour died at Otrar, on his way to invade the Empire of China. ↩
In the East the ladies usually prepare the viands for their masters. This custom is so well known from the Arabian Tales, as scarcely to require a note. ↩
Mahommed permitted women to show themselves very freely to their Christian slaves, and the Turkish ladies are in the habit of treating them with more than the familiarity of European manners. ↩
The first causes death, the second putrefaction, the 3d. annihilation of the body. ↩