ABOU NUWAS WITH THE THREE BOYS AND THE KHALIF HAROUN ER RESHID

Abou Nuwas one day shut himself up and making ready a richly-furnished saloon, set out therein a banquet of meats of all kinds and colours that lips and tongue can desire. Then he went forth, to seek a minion who should befit the entertainment, saying, 'O my God and my Master and my Lord, I beseech Thee to send me one worthy of this banquet and apt to carouse with me this day!' Hardly had he made an end of speaking, when he espied three handsome beardless youths, as they were of the children of Paradise, differing in complexion but equal in perfection of beauty; and all hearts yearned with desire to the graceful bending of their shapes, even to what saith the poet:

      Two beardless youths I happened on one day And said "I love you." "Hast thou pelf?" asked they.
      "Yes," answered I, "and liberality." "Then is the matter easy," did they say.

Now Abou Nuwas was on this wise given and loved to sport and make merry with the fair and cull the rose from every fresh-flowered cheek, even as saith the poet:

      Full many a graybeard is amorous and loves Fair faces and music and dalliance and glee:
      From Mosul, the country of pureness, (86) he comes, Yet nought but Aleppo (87) remembereth he.

So he accosted them with the salutation, and they returned his greeting with all honour and civility and would have gone their way; but he stayed them, repeating these verses:

      To none but me your footsteps steer; For I have store of all good cheer;
      Wine that the heart of convent monk Would glad, so bright it is and clear;
      And flesh of sheep, to boot, have I And birds of land and sea and mere.
      Eat ye of these and drink old wine, That doth away chagrin and fear.

The boys were beguiled by his verses and consented to his wishes, saying, 'We hear and obey.' So he carried them to his lodging, where they found all ready that he had set forth in his verses. They sat down and ate and drank and made merry awhile, after which they appealed to Abou Nuwas to decide which was the handsomest and most shapely of them. So he pointed to one of them, after having kissed him twice, and recited the following verses:

      With my life I will ransom the mole, on the cheek of the loveling that is; For how should I ransom it else with treasure or aught but my soul?
      And blessed for ever be He who fashioned his cheek without hair And made, of His power and His might, all beauty to dwell in yon mole!

Then he pointed to another and kissing his lips, repeated these verses:

      There's a loveling hath a mole upon his cheek, As 'twere musk on virgin camphor, so to speak.
      My eyes marvel when they see it. Quoth the mole, "Heaven's blessing on the Prophet look ye seek!" (88)

Then he pointed to the third and repeated the following verses, after kissing him half a score times:

      All in a silver cup he melted gold full fine, A youth whose hands were dyed in ruby-coloured wine,
      And with the skinkers went and handed round one cup Of wine, whilst other two were proffered by his eyne.
      Fairer than all the Turks, an antelope, whose waist Together would attract the mountains of Hunain. (89)
      An if I were content with crooked (90) womankind, Betwixt attractions twain would be this heart of mine.
      One love towards Diyarbeker (91) drawing it, and one That draws it, otherguise, to the land of Jamiain. (92)

Now each of the youths had drunk two cups, and when it came to Abou Nuwas's turn, he took the goblet and repeated these verses:

      Drink not of wine except it be at the hands of a loveling slim, Who in brightness of soul resembles it and it resembles him.
      The drinker of wine, in very truth, hath no delight thereof, Except the cheek of the fair be pure, who doth the goblet brim.

Then he drank off his cup, and when it came round to Him again, joyance got the mastery of him and he repeated The following verses:

      Make thou thy boon-fellow of cups, brimmed up as full as this, And eke to follow cup with cup, I rede thee, do not miss,
      Poured by a damask-lipped one's hand, a wonder-lovely fair, Whose mouth's sweet water, after sleep, as musk on apple is.
      Drink not of wine, except it be from the hand of a gazelle, Whose cheek is goodlier than itself and sweeter still his kiss.

Presently, the wine crept to his head, drunkenness mastered him and he knew not hand from head, so that he swayed about for mirth, inclining anon to this one, to kiss him, and anon to another. Then he fell to glorying in himself and his case and the goodliness of his entertainment and his companions, and recited these verses:

      None knoweth perfection of pleasure but he Who drinketh, with fair ones to hearten him still.
      This sings to him, t'other, when cheer him would be, Revives him forthright with the cups he doth fill;
      And whenever from one he hath need of a kiss, Long draughts from his lips, at his case, he doth swill.
      God bless them! Right sweet has my day with them been, And wonder delightsome and void of all ill!
      We drank of the wine cup, both mingled and pure, And agreed whoso slept, we should touzle at will.

At this moment, there came a knocking at the door; so they bade him who knocked enter, and behold, it was the Khalif Haroun er Reshid. When they saw him, they all rose to him and kissed the ground before him; and the fumes of the wine forsook Abou Nuwas's head for awe of the Khalif, who said to him, 'Hallo, Abou Nuwas!' 'At thy service, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered he, 'may God preserve thee!' 'What state is this I find thee in?' asked the Khalif; and the poet replied, 'O Commander of the Faithful, methinks my state dispenses with question.' Quoth the Khalif, 'O Abou Nuwas, I have sought direction of God the Most High and appoint thee Cadi of whoremasters.' 'Dost thou indeed invest me with that office, O Commander of the Faithful?' asked Abou Nuwas. 'I do,' replied the Khalif. 'Then, O Commander of the Faithful,' rejoined Abou Nuwas, 'hast thou any suit to prefer to me?' At this the Khalif was wroth and turned away and left them, full of rage, and passed the night, sore angered against Abou Nuwas, whilst the latter spent the merriest and most easeful of nights, till the day dawned and the morning-star appeared and shone, when he broke up the sitting and dismissing the boys, donned his court-dress and set out for the Khalif's palace.

Now it was the latter's custom, when the Divan broke up, to withdraw to his sitting-chamber and summon thither his poets and minions and musicians, each having his own place, which he might not overpass. So, that day, he retired to his saloon, and the minions came and seated themselves, each in his place. Presently, in came Abou Nuwas and was about to take his usual seat, when the Khalif cried out to Mesrour the headsman and bade him strip the poet of his clothes and clap an ass's pannel on his back. Moreover, he charged him bind a halter about his head and a crupper under his rear and carry him round to all the lodgings of the slave-girls and the chambers of the harem, that the women might make mock of him; then cut off his head and bring it to him. 'I hear and obey,' replied Mesrour and accoutring Abou Nuwas, as the Khalif had bidden him, carried him round to all the lodgings of the harem, in number as the days of the year; but he made all the girls laugh with his buffooneries and each gave him something, so that he returned with a pocketful of money.

Just then, Jaafer the Barmecide, who had been absent on an important business for the Khalif, entered and seeing the poet in this plight, said to him, 'Hallo, Abou Nuwas!' 'At thy service, O our lord,' answered he. 'What offence hast thou committed,' asked Jaafer, 'to bring this punishment on thee?' 'None whatever,' answered the other, 'except that I made our lord the Khalif a present of the best of my verses, and he presented me, in return, with the best of his clothes.' When the Khalif heard this, he laughed, from a heart full of wrath, and [not only] pardoned Abou Nuwas, but gave him a myriad of money.




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