An Arabian Tale

Attic Chest Wednesday March 13th 1816

No! Sadi, No! my frozen ear
 Not e’en thy choicest tale could move.
Of war the vanquish’d must not hear
The vanquished may not speak of love.
Cursed Ali’s happier stars prevail — 
Yet haste thee! seek the shelter’d vale,
My mother with a virgin train,
 There waits to wreath my victor head.
Alas! she weaves the palm in vain,
 The palm on Ali’s brow is spread.
Yet when my bands return again,
Say, Mahmoud sleeps not with the slain.
Thro’ favouring darkness lead them here — 
Vengeance and Ali’s camp are near!
Meanwhile yon palm-grove’s spreading shade,
Shall hide a vanquish’d chieftain’s head.
 Soft o’er his head the branches play’d
And brightly thro’ the grassy glade
The silver fountains gurgling creep,
But humbled pride can never sleep. Fire burns in Mahmoud’s tortured brain
He seeks for rest with toil as vain,
As if in yonder desert bare
’Mid sands that float in burning air.
And less of danger there were found — 
Oh! who is she with agile bound
Who ’mid a train of dark-eyed maids
Flits lightly thro’ the feathery shades
Tall as the palm her graceful height,
Than mountain snows her foot more white
On her full lip the Syrian rose
In fragrance breathes, in beauty glows
Her glossy hair might emulate
The lustre of the golden date.
She speaks, the stream that murmuring strays
With less of silver music plays.
The gazelle’s eye less darkly bright,
Less fleet the gazelle in its flight.
 Her glance has met the stranger’s eye — 
She flies not, wherefore should she fly?
The silver moon is scarce so pure,
She moves in innocence secure.
And from the fountain’s emerald brink
Bears the full cup, and bids him drink.
Those draughts his torturing thirst assuage
But kindle passion’s fiercer rage.

He wakes in Ali’s ample tent
The lovely Laila o’er him bent,
And seems to Mahmoud’s opening eyes
An houri form of Paradise.
While Ali’s liberal soul repays,
The care that saved his daughter’s days,
But brimming cups from Ali’s hand
 Are sour’d by hatred’s keenest stings
While love the tempting beverage fann’d
 Which lovely Laila frequent brings.
His touch can taint the melon’s juice,
While hers can magic sweets infuse.
Now Mahmoud wish’d his bondage pat,
That he from Ali’s sight may fly
Now think his wounds are healed too fast
 While he may live in Laila’s eye.
Yet but by stealth he dares to trace
Her winning smile, her form of grace.
He dare not gaze upon her eye,
He dare not trust the softest sigh
Or call by tender accents down,
The father’s rage, the daughter’s frown.
His wounds are closed — from day to day,
Still Ali’s asks the stranger’s stay
And Mahmoud’s soul has scarce the power
To hasten his departing hour.

He gazes on her jet-black eye
And speaks of love with many a sigh.
“Art thou of Arab race?” she said,
“And know’st thou not an Arab maid?
The Turks they say who dwell in towns
In walls their countless wives immure,
Yet scarcely hold their faith secure
But Arab maids o’er sands and downs
Range free as air, and Oh! as pure.
Fond Youth thy senseless love restrain,
A powerful chieftain’s anger shun
Not Arab maids are false and vain
Not Ali’s daughter lightly won.”

“Thou Ali’s child!” he cried — the sound
In thrilling shrieks of woe was drown’d,
Sweet Laila’s maidens, sporting there,
Had roused a lion from its lair,
On Laila now it furious flies
On yonder tree her bow is hung
Across her path the streamlet flung,
Her damsels pierce the air with cries
But Mahmoud comes, his powerful hands
Have stretch’d the savage on the sands
His arm its dying fury tore
He faints amid his weltering gore.

At morn he gazed upon the sun,
At noon, when half its course was run,
At eve, when with the setting ray
His every bliss seemed passed away,
Yet deeper crimson flushed his cheek,
When thus he forced his tongue to speak.

“Ali, for kindness past, receive
Such thanks as grateful Arabs give
And yield that hand to friendly clasp
Which soon the hostile steel may grasp.
’Tis Mahmoud speaks, and Ali knows
In Mahmoud’s race his worst of foes,
Yet surely for my grandsire’s guilt
Enough of blood has Ali spilt.
No more can Hussun’s spirit claim
No more an injured chieftain’s fame.
The deadly blood feud well may cease
When fiery Mahmoud asks for peace.”

“Talk’st thou of peace! of faith renew’d!
Can words atone for Hussun’s blood?
Thy father’s sire my father slew
Nor can thy fawning words efface
The stain of blood that taints thy race — 
My daughter’s thanks to thee are due
And Ali owns, altho’ with thee
The laws of hospitality,
Nor will he lift a hand to shed
His blood who shares his salt and bread.
But quit this this tent with dawning light,
A toad would less offend my sight,
And impious Nazarene accurst,
Or Shah, of infidels the worst!
When next we meet upon the plain
Or thou or I shall swell the slain
Then may the rankling blood feud cease,
Let victors only talk of peace.”

“Forbear thy taunts, a happier sky
May see thy boasting squadrons fly,
E’en Ali in the hour of need,
May try and bless his courser’s speed;
Yet heaven from Laila turn the frown,
The pride of Ali’s race calls down.”

He ceased — a sudden gleam of light,
Breaks through the ebon gloom of night,
Amid the clash of hostile spears
His well known battle cry he hears,
And sees an hundred blazing brands,
Reared in his followers’ faithful hands. One moment, and in baleful fire
Ali and Ali’s race expire.
“Proud man,” they cry, “thy vaunts are brief,
And flames avenge our murder’d chief.
We found his steed in yonder wood,
The fountain’s brink was stained with blood — ”

“Pause, kinsmen, pause, your chief is here — 
Now Ali, know my words sincere,
By fraud unstained, unswayed by fear
If I but speak the flame ascends.
On Mahmoud Ali’s fate depends,
Victors thou say’st may speak of peace,
Then now I bid the blood-feud cease!
Yet think not I would have thee buy
Thy remnant days with infamy
How worthless then the gift of life.
No! nobly close our lengthened strife,
On death has Ali often smiled
Nor death appals a soldier’s child,
Yet — save her from destroying flames
And yield her — yield to tenderer claims.”

“Mahmoud, a true with needless art,
Think’st thou I cannot read thy heart. Thy speech was never meant fo rm
Not sorrow for thy grandsire’s guilt,
For all the blood in contest spilt,
But Laila’s charms have waked in thee,
This cant of generosity.
But he Great Prophet in this hour
Give to they words unearthly power.
I feel my rankling hate expire
Like those decaying brands of fire
Let Laila speak — if she approve
I frown not on her grateful love.”

She came, a blush was on her cheeks,
Humble she knelt upon the sands
And meekly kissed her father’s hands,
Then thus in faltering accents speaks.
“An honour’d mother to supply
A father’s looks of love to view,
With him to live, with him to die
Were all that Laila’s wishes knew
And if such doom her parent gives,
With him his daughter dies or lives.
Yet if he stanch the deadly feud,
If she may own her gratitude If such indeed the wondrous power
To Laila given in this blest hour,
Then let the horrid discourse cease
And Laila’s hand confirm the peace.
With blood has Hussun’s tomb been laved,
 Can injured honour more require?
Then be a daughter’s being saved
 Atonement for a slaughter’s sire.”

She paus’d, the rugged warrior smiled,
“Here! Mahmoud, take this duteous child!
I need not say our contents close
For well an Arab chieftain knows
How we, who own nor house nor land,
Pause ere we yield a daughter’s hand.
Our swords, our offspring, all our pride
We have, we ask not aught beside.
Save the cool breeze, the sunny beam,
The golden date, the murmuring stream.”

The ring on Laila’s finger shines,
And either tribe its hate resigns.
Two days have hastened to a close,
The spousal’s latest morn arose. The first, in robes of state
In maiden beauty Laila sate,
While Ali’s numerous kinsmen vied
In presents to the lovely bride.
The next the henna’s matron dye
In fragrance bathes her blushing hands
Her feet that erst with snow might vie
Gleam purple on the yellow sands.
The third, with Ali’s warrior train,
She moves in triumph o’er the plain.
No other maid in Yemen’s land
 Might dare that fiery steed to ride,
But gentle Laila’s skilful hand
 Curbs with a touch his foaming pride.

 And Mahmoud comes, on prancing steeds
The chief his armed kinsmen leads
 The orange at the bride is thrown,
He turns and o’er the desert flies
While all pursue with shouts and cries,
 Whoe’er shall draw the bridegroom down
His steed and robes remain their prize
That steed of all his steeds the best
That Syrian blade, that jewelled vest.

At Mahmoud’s tent her winding course
Now Laila stops — his kinsmen bear
Their presents to the blushing fair.
With grace she quits the prancing horse,
In vain her maidens round her kneel’d
To win her stay with streaming tears,
And Mahmoud’s kinsmen bid her yield,
Her promised dowry to their prayers.

She enters, and with mirthful din
A thousand antic sports begin,
The bridegroom claims despotic power
And strange behests amuse the hour.
Some tale with wonders filled to find.
Or recreant slaves to whip and bind,
To eat, to sing, to dance, to laugh,
Perchance forbidden bowls to quaff.
For little Arab wanderers know
Of fast or vigil, prayer or vow.

A Kurd of respectability speaking in private to an Englishman said his tribe were more like Europeans that Turks. “We eat hog-flesh, keep no fasts, and say no prayers.” !!!