HAROUN ER RASHID AND THE DAMSEL AND ABOU NUWAS

The Khalif Haroun er Reshid, being one night exceeding restless and oppressed with melancholy thought, went out and walked about his palace, till he came to a chamber, over whose doorway hung a curtain. He raised the curtain and saw, at the upper end of the room, a bed, on which lay something black, as it were a man asleep, with a candle on his right hand and another on his left and by his side a flagon of old wine, over against which stood the cup. The Khalif wondered at this, saying, 'How came yonder black by this wine-service?' Then, drawing near the bed, he found that it was a girl asleep there, veiled with her hair, and uncovering her face, saw that it was like the moon on the night of her full. So he filled a cup of wine and drank it to the roses of her cheeks; then bent over her and kissed a mole on her face, whereupon she awoke and cried out, saying, 'O Trusty One of God, (51), what is to do?' 'A guest who knocks at thy dwelling by night,' replied the Khalif, '[hoping] that thou wilt give him hospitality till the dawn.' 'It is well,' answered she; 'I will grace the guest with my hearing and my sight.'

So she brought the wine and they drank it together; after which she took the lute and tuning it, preluded in one- and-twenty modes, then returning to the first, struck a lively measure and sang the following verses :

      The tongue of passion in my heart bespeaks thee for my soul, Telling I love thee with a love that nothing can control.
      I have an eye, that testifies unto my sore disease, And eke a heart with parting wrung, a-throb for love and dole.
      Indeed, I cannot hide the love that frets my life away; Longing increases still on me, my tears for ever roll.
      Ah me, before the love of thee, I knew not what love was; But God's decree must have its course on every living soul.

Then said she, 'O Commander of the Faithful, I am a wronged woman.' 'How so?' quoth he, 'and who hath wronged thee?' She answered, 'Thy son bought me awhile ago, for ten thousand dirhems, meaning to give me to thee; but the daughter of thine uncle (52) sent him the price aforesaid and bade him shut me up from thee in this chamber.' Whereupon, 'Ask a boon of me,' said the Khalif; and she, 'I ask thee to lie to-morrow night with me.' 'If it be the will of God,' replied the Khalif, and leaving her, went away.

Next morning, he repaired to his sitting-room and called for Abou Nuwas, but found him not and sent his chamberlain to seek for him. The chamberlain found him in pawn, in a tavern, for a score of a thousand dirhems, that he had spent on a certain boy, and questioned him. So he told him what had befallen him with the boy and how he had spent a thousand dirhems upon him; whereupon quoth the chamberlain, 'Show him to me; and if he be worth this, thou art excused.' 'Wait awhile,' replied the poet, 'and thou shalt see him presently.' As they were talking, up came the boy, clad in a white tunic, under which was another of red and yet another of black. When Abou Nuwas saw him, he sighed and repeated the following verses:

      To me he appeared in a garment of white, His eyes and his eyelids with languor bedight.
      Quoth I, "Dost thou pass and salutest me not? Though God knows thy greeting were sweet to my spright.
      Be He blessed who mantled with roses thy cheeks, Who creates, without let, what He will, of His might!"
      "Leave prating," he answered; "for surely my Lord Is wondrous of working, sans flaw or dissight.
      Yea, truly, my garment is even as my face And my fortune, each white upon white upon white."

When the boy heard this, he put off the white tunic and appeared in the red one; whereupon Abou Nuwas redoubled in expressions of admiration and repeated the following verses:

      Appeared in a garment, the colour of flame, A foeman of mine, "The beloved," by name.
      "Thou'rt a full moon," I said in my wonder, "And com'st In a garment that putteth the roses to shame.
      Hath the red of thy cheek clad that vest upon thee Or in heart's blood of lovers hast tinctured the same?"
      Quoth he, "'Twas the sun lately gave me the wede; From the rubicund hue of his setting it came.
      So my garment and wine and the colour so clear Of my cheek are as flame upon flame upon flame."

Then the boy doffed the red tunic and abode in the black; whereupon Abou Nuwas redoubled in attention to him and repeated the following verses:

      He came in a tunic all sable of hue And shone out, thus veiled in the dark, to men's view.
      "Thou passest," quoth I, "without greeting, and thus Givest cause to exult to the rancorous crew.
      Thy garment resembles thy locks and my lot, Yea, blackness and blackness and blackness thereto."

Then the chamberlain returned to Haroun er Reshid and acquainted him with the poet's predicament, whereupon he bade him take a thousand dirhems and go and take him out of pawn. So he returned to Abou Nuwas and paying his score, carried him to the Khalif, who said, 'Make me some verses containing the words, "O Trusty One of God, what is to do?"' 'I hear and obey, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered he and improvised the following verses:

      My night was long for sleeplessness and care. Weary I was and many my thoughts were.
      I rose and walked awhile in my own place, Then midst the harem's cloistered courts did fare,
      Until I chanced on somewhat black and found It was a damsel shrouded in her hair.
      God bless her for a shining moon! Her shape A willow-wand, and pudour veiled the fair.
      I quaffed a cup to her; then, drawing near, I kissed the mole upon her cheek so rare.
      She woke and swayed about in her amaze, Even as the branch sways in the rain-fraught air;
      Then rose and said, "O Trusty One of God, What is to do, and thou, what dost thou there?"
      "A guest", quoth I, "that sues to thee, by night, For shelter till the hour of morning-prayer."
      "Gladly," she said; "with hearing and with sight To grace the guest, my lord, I will not spare."

'Confound thee!' cried the Khalif. 'It is as if thou hadst been present with us.' Then he took him by the hand and carried him to the damsel, who was clad in a dress and veil of blue. When Abou Nuwas saw her, he was profuse in expressions of admiration and recited the following verses:

      Say to the lovely maid, i' the veil of azure dight, "By Allah, O my life, have pity on my plight!
      For when the fair entreats her lover cruelly, Sighs of all longing rend his bosom day and night.
      So, by thy charms and by the whiteness of thy cheek, Have ruth upon a heart for love consumed outright.
      Incline to him and be his stay 'gainst stress of love, Nor let what fools may say find favour in thy sight."

Then the damsel set wine before the Khalif and taking the lute, played a lively measure and sang the following verses:

      Wilt thou be just in thy love to others and deal with me Unjustly and put me away, while others have joy in thee?
      Were there for lovers a judge, to whom I might complain Of thee, he would do me justice and judge with equity.
      If thou forbid me to pass thy door, yet from afar To greet thee and to bless, at least, I shall be free.

The Khalif bade her ply Abou Nuwas with wine, till he lost his wits; when he gave him a full cup, and he drank a draught of it and held the cup in his hand. Er Reshid bade the girl take the cup from him and conceal it; so she took it and hid it between her thighs. Then he drew his sword and standing at the poet's head, pricked him with the point; whereupon he awoke and saw the Khalif standing over him, with a drawn sword. At this sight the fumes of the wine fled from his head and the Khalif said to him, 'Make me some verses and tell me therein what is come of thy cup; or I will cut off thy head.' So he improvised the following verses:

      My tale, indeed is hard to tell: The thief was none but yon gazelle.
      She stole my cup of wine, whereof My lips had drunken but one spell,
      And hid it in a place, for which My heart's desire's unspeakable.
      I name it not, for awe of him, In whom the right thereof doth dwell.

'Confound thee!' quoth the Khalif. 'How knewst thou that? But we accept what thou sayst.' Then he ordered him a dress of honour and a thousand dinars, and he went away, rejoicing.




Prev
Home
Next