THE DEVOUT PRINCE

The Khalif Haroun er Reshid had a son, who, from the time he attained the age of sixteen, renounced the world and walked in the way of ascetics and devotees. He was wont to go out to the tombs and say, 'Behold, ye that lie here once possessed the world, but that was no deliverer for you [from death], and now are ye come to your graves! Would God I knew what ye say and what is said to you!' And he wept, as one weeps that is troubled and fearful, and repeated the words of the poet:

      Whene'er the funerals pass, my heart with fear is torn, And the wailing of the mourners maketh me to mourn.

One day, as he sat among the tombs, according to his wont, his father passed by, in all his state, surrounded by his viziers and grandees and the officers of his household, who saw the Khalif's son, with a gown of woollen stuff on his body and a cowl of the same on his head, and said to one another, 'This youth dishonours the Commander of the Faithful among Kings: but, if he reproved him, he would leave his present way of life.' The Khalif heard what they said; so he bespoke his son of this, saying, 'O my son, thou puttest me to shame by thy present way of life.' The young man looked at him and made no reply: then he beckoned to a bird, that was perched on the battlements of the palace, and said to it, 'O bird, I conjure thee, by Him who created thee, alight upon my hand.' And straightway it flew down and perched on his hand. Quoth he, 'Return to thy place;' and it did so. Then he said, 'Alight on the hand of the Commander of the Faithful;' but it refused, and he said to his father, 'It is thou that puttest me to shame, amongst the friends of God, by thy love of the world; and now I am resolved to depart from thee, never to return to thee, save in the world to come.' Then he went down to Bassora, where he fell to working with those that wrought in mud, (133) taking, as his day's hire, but a dirhem and a danic. (134) With the danic he fed himself and gave alms of the dirhem.

(Quoth Abou Aamir of Bassora), There fell down a wall in my house: so I went out to the station of the artisans, to find one who should set it up for me, and my eyes fell on a handsome youth of a radiant countenance. So I accosted him and said to him, "O my friend, dost thou seek work?" "Yes," answered he; and I said, "Come with me and build a wall." "On two conditions," replied he. Quoth I, "What are they, O my friend?" "First," said he, "that my hire be a dirhem and a danic, and secondly, that, when the Muezzin calls to prayer, thou shalt let me go pray with the congregation." "It is well," answered I and carried him to my house, where he fell to work, such work as I never saw the like of. Presently, I named to him the morning meal; but he said, "No;" and I knew that he was fasting. When he heard the call to prayer, he said to me, "Thou knowest the condition?" "Yes," answered I. So he loosed his girdle and applying himself to the ablution, made it after a fashion than which I never saw a goodlier; then went to the mosque and prayed with the congregation and returned to his work. He did the like upon the call to afternoon-prayer, and when I saw him fall to work again thereafterward, I said to him, "O my friend, the hours of labour are over for to-day; a workman's day is but till the time of afternoon-prayer." "Glory be to God," answered he, "my service is till the night." And he ceased not to work till nightfall, when I gave him two dirhems. Quoth he, "What is this?" "By Allah," answered I, "this is [but] part of thy wage, because of thy diligence in my service." But he threw me back the two pieces, saying, "I will have no more than was agreed upon between us." I pressed him to take them, but could not prevail upon him; so I gave him the dirhem and the danic, and he went away.

Next morning early, I went to the station, but found him not; so I enquired for him and was told that he came thither only on Saturdays. So, when Saturday came, I betook me to the market and finding him there, said to him, "In the name of God, do me the favour to come and work for me." ["Willingly,"] said he, "upon the conditions thou wottest of." "It is well," answered I and carrying him to my house, stood watching him, unseen of him, and saw him take a handful of mud and lay it on the wall, when, behold, the stones ranged themselves one upon another; and I said, "On this wise are the friends of God." He worked out his day and did even more than before; and when it was night, I gave him his hire, and he took it and went away.

When the third Saturday came round, I went to the standing, but found him not; so I enquired for him and was told that he lay sick in the hut of such a woman. Now this was an old woman, renowned for piety, who had a hut of reeds in the burial-ground. So I went thither and found him lying on the naked earth, with a brick for a pillow and his face beaming with light. I saluted him and he returned my salute; and I sat down at his head, weeping over his tenderness of years and strangerhood and submission to the will of his Lord. Then said I to him, "Hast thou any need?" "Yes," answered he; and I said, "What is it?" He replied, "Come hither tomorrow in the forenoon and thou wilt find me dead. Wash me and dig my grave and tell none thereof: but shroud me in this my gown, after thou hast unsewn it and taken out what thou shalt find in the bosom, which keep with thee. Then, when thou hast prayed over me and laid me in the dust, go to Baghdad and watch for the Khalif Haroun er Reshid, till he come forth, when do thou bear him my salutation and give him what thou shalt find in the breast of my gown.' Then he made the profession of the Faith and glorified his Lord in the most eloquent of words, reciting the following verses:

      Carry the trust of him on whom the wished-for death hath come To Er Reshid, and thy reward with thy Creator stand!
      "An exile greets thee," say, "who longed full sorely for thy sight; With long desire he yearned for thee, far in a foreign strand.
      Nor hate nor weariness from thee estranged him, for, indeed, To God Most High he was brought near by kissing thy right hand.
      But, O my father, 'twas his heart, shunning the vain delights Of this thy world, that drove him forth to seek a distant land!"

Then he betook himself to prayer, asking pardon of God and blessing the Lord of the Just (135) and repeating verses of the Koran; after which he recited the following:

      Let not prosperity delude thee, father mine; For fortune wastes and life itself must pass away.
      Whenas thou com'st to know of folk in evil plight, Think thou must answer it upon the Judgment Day;
      And when thou bearest forth the dead unto the tombs, Think that thou, too, must pass upon the self-same way!

Then I left him and went home. On the morrow, I returned, at the appointed hour, and found him indeed dead, the mercy of God be on him! So I washed him and unsewing his gown, found in the bosom a ruby worth thousands of diners and said to myself, "By Allah, this youth was indeed abstracted from the things of this world!" After I had buried him, I made my way to Baghdad and going to the Khalif's palace, waited till he came forth, when I accosted him in one of the streets and gave him the ruby, which when he saw, he knew and fell down in a swoon. His attendants laid hands on me, but he revived and bade them unhand me and bring me courteously to the palace. They did his bidding, and when he returned, he sent for me and carrying me into his closet, said to me, "How doth the owner of this ruby?" Quoth I, "He is dead;" and told him what had passed; whereupon he fell a-weeping and said, "The son hath profited, but the father is disappointed." Then he called out, saying, "Ho, such an one!" And behold, a woman came out to him. When she saw me, she would have withdrawn; but he said to her, "Come; and heed him not." So she entered and saluted, and he threw her the ruby, which when she knew, she gave a great shriek and fell down in a swoon. As soon as she came to herself, she said, "O Commander of the Faithful, what hath God done with my son?" And he said to me, "Do thou tell her;" for he could not speak for weeping. So I repeated the story to her, and she began to weep and say in a failing voice, "How I have longed for thy sight, O consolation of my eyes! Would I might have given thee to drink, when thou hadst none to tend thee! Would I might have companied with thee, whenas thou foundest none to cheer thee!" And she poured forth tears and recited the following verses:

      I weep for one to whom death came, an exile and in pain: Alone he died, without a friend to whom he might complain.
      Puissant and honoured and conjoined with those that loved him dear, To live alone and seeing none, unfriended, he was fain.
      That which the days conceal shall yet be manifest to us: Not one of us by death, indeed, unsmitten may remain.
      O absent one, the Lord of all decreed thy strangerhood, And thou left'st far behind the love that was betwixt us twain!
      Though death, my son, forbid me hope to see thee in this life, Tomorrow, on the Reckoning-Day, we two shall meet again.

Quoth I, "O Commander of the Faithful, was he indeed thy son?" "Yes," answered he; "and indeed, before I succeeded to this office, he was wont to visit the learned and company with the devout; but, when I became Khalif, he grew estranged from me and withdrew himself apart. Then said I to his mother, 'This thy son is absorbed in God the Most High, and it may be that tribulations shall befall him and he be smitten with stress of evil chance; wherefore, do thou give him this ruby, that it may be to him a resource in the hour of need.' So she gave it him, conjuring him to take it, and he obeyed her. Then he left the things of our world to us and removed himself from us; nor did he cease to be absent from us, till he went to the presence of God (to whom belong might and majesty) with a holy and pure mind." Then said he, "Come, show me his grave." So we repaired to Bassora and I showed him his son's grave. When he saw it, he wept and lamented, till he fell down in a swoon; after which he came to himself and asked pardon of God, saying, "We are God's, and to Him we return!" and invoked blessings on the dead. Then he besought me of companionship; but I said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, verily, in thy son's case is for me the gravest of admonitions!" And I recited the following verses:

      'Tis I am the stranger! None harbours the wight, Though he lie in his native city by night.
      'Tis I am the exile! Nor children nor wife Nor comrades have I, to take ruth on my plight.
      The mosques are my refuge; I haunt them indeed: My heart from their shelter shall never take flight.
      To the Lord of all creatures, to God be the praise, Whilst yet in the body abideth the spright!



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