HAROUN ER RESHID AND THE THREE POETS

The Khalif Haroun er Reshid was exceeding restless one night; so he rose and walked about his palace, till he happened on a damsel overcome with wine. Now he was greatly enamoured of this damsel; so he toyed with her and pulled her to him, whereupon her girdle fell down and her trousers were unloosed and he besought her of amorous dalliance. But she said to him, 'O Commander of the Faithful, wait till to-morrow night, for I am unprepared for thee, knowing not of thy coming.' So he left her and went away.

On the morrow, he sent a page to her to announce his visit to her apartment; but she sent back to him, saying, 'The day obliterates the promise of the night.' So he said to his minions, 'Make me somewhat of verse, introducing these words, "The day obliterates the promise of the night."' 'We hear and obey,' answered they; and Er Recashi (96) came forward and recited the following:

      By Allah, an thou feltst my longing and my pain, Repose had turned away from thee and taken flight.
      A maid hath made me love-distraught, nor visiting Nor being visited, a sad and love-lorn wight.
      She promised me her grace, then turned away and said, "The day obliterates the promise of the night."

Then Abou Musab came forward and recited these verses:

      When wilt thou put away this dotage from thy spright? Thy heart is dazed and rest to thee forbidden quite.
      Is't not enough for thee to have a weeping eye And vitals still on fire for memory and despite?
      For self-conceit, indeed, he laugheth, when he saith, "The day obliterates the promise of the night."

Last came Abou Nuwas and recited the following:

      Love was prolonged and far was union out of sight, Nor skilled it aught to feign aversion and despite.
      One day, she came into the palace, drunk with wine, But even her drunkenness with pudour was bedight.
      Her upper garments dropped and left her shoulders bare And loosened trousers showed the dwelling of delight;
      Yea, and the breeze shook hips, full heavy, and a shape, As 'twere a branch, whereon pomegranates twain unite.
      "Give me a tryst," quoth I; and she replied, "The place Of visiting will be to-morrow clean and right."
      Next day, I came and said, "Thy promise;" but quoth she, "The day obliterates the promise of the night."

The Khalif bestowed a myriad each on Er Recashi and Abou Musab, but bade strike off Abou Nuwas's head, saying, 'Thou west with us yesternight in the palace.' 'By Allah,' answered the poet, 'I slept not but in my own house! I was directed to what I said by thine own words as to the subject of the poem; and indeed quoth God the Most High (and He is the truest of all speakers), "As for poets (devils ensue them!) dost thou not see how they run wild in each valley and say that they do not?"' (97) So the Khalif forgave him and bestowed on him two myriads of gold.




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