THE CALIPH OMAR BIN ABD AL-AZIZ AND THE POETS [FN#85]



It is said that, when the Caliphate devolved on Omar bin Abd al-Aziz [FN#86] (of whom Allah accept), the poets resorted to him, as they had been used to resort to the Caliphs before him, and abode at his door days and day, but he suffered them not to enter, till there came to him ’Abí bin Artah, [FN#87] who stood high in esteem with him.  Jarír [FN#88] accosted him and begged him to crave admission for them to the presence; so Adi answered, “’Tis well;” and, going in to Omar, said to him, “The poets are at thy door and have been there days and days; yet hast thou not given them leave to enter, albeit their sayings abide [FN#89] and their arrows from mark never fly wide.”  Quoth Omar, “What have I to do with the poets?” and quoth Adi, “O Commander of the Faithful, the Prophet (Abhak!) [FN#90] was praised by a poet [FN#91] and gave him largesse, and in him [FN#92] is an exemplar to every Moslem.”  Quoth Omar, “And who praised him?” and quoth Adi, “’Abbás bin Mirdás [FN#93] praised him, and he clad him with a suit and said, O Generosity, [FN#94] cut off from me his tongue!”  Asked the Caliph, “Dost thou remember what he said?” and Adi answered, “Yes.”  Rejoined Omar, “Then repeat it;” so Adi repeated, [FN#95]

“I saw thee, O thou best of human race, * Bring out a Book which brought to graceless Grace.
Thou showedst righteous road to men astray * From Right, when darkest Wrong had ta’en its place;--
Thou with Islám didst light the gloomiest way, *Quenching with proof live coals of frowardness;
I own for Prophet Mohammed’s self; * And man’s award upon his word we base;
Thou madest straight the path that crooked ran, * Where in old days foul growth o’ergrew its face.
Exalt be thou in Joy’s empyrean * And Allah’s glory ever grow apace.

“And indeed” (continued Adi), “this Elegy on the Prophet (Abhak!) is well known and to comment it would be tedious.”  Quoth Omar “Who is at the door?” and quoth Adi, “Among them is Omar ibn Abi Rabí’ah, the Korashí; [FN#96] whereupon the Caliph cried, “May Allah show him no favour neither quicken him!  Was it not he who said these verses,

‘Would Heaven what day Death shall visit me * I smell as thy droppings and drippings [FN#97] smell!
Could I in my clay-bed on Salmá lie * There to me were better than Heaven or Hell!’

“Had he not been” (continued the Caliph) “the enemy of Allah, he had wished for her in this world, so he might after repent and return to righteous dealing.  By Allah, he shall not come in to me!  who is at the door other than he?” Quoth Adi, “Jamíl bin ma’mar al-Uzri [FN#98] is at the door;” and quoth Omar, “’Tis he who saith in one of his elegies,

‘Would Heaven conjoint we lived, and if I die * Death only grant me a grave within her grave:
For I’d no longer deign to live my life * If told upon her head is laid the pave.’” [FN#99]

Quoth Omar, “Away with him from me!  Who is at the door?” and quoth Adi, “Kuthayyir ’Assah” [FN#100]; whereupon Omar cried, “’Tis he who saith in one of his odes,

‘Some talk of faith and creed and nothing else * And wait for pains of Hell in prayer-seat; [FN#101]
But did they hear what I from Azzah heard, * They’d make prostration, fearfull at her feet.’

“Leave the mention of him.  Who is at the door?” Quoth Adi, “Al-Ahwas al-’Ansárí.” [FN#102]  Cried Omar, “Allah Almighty put him away and estrange him from His mercy!  Is it not he who said, berhyming on a Medinite’s slave-girl, so she might outlive her lord,

‘Allah be judge betwixt me and her lord! * Who ever flies with her and I pursue.’

“He shall not come in to me.  who is at the door, other than he?”  Adi replied, “Hammám bin Ghálib al-Farazdak;” [FN#103] and Omar said, “’Tis he who saith, glorying in whoring,

‘Two girls let me down eighty fathoms deep, * As low sweeps a falcon wi’ pinions spread;
And cried; as my toes touched the ground, ‘Dost live * To return, or the fall hath it done thee dead?

“He shall not come in to me.  who is at the door, other than he?”  Adi replied, “Al-Akhtal al-Taghlibí” [FN#104] and Omar said, “He is the Miscreant who saith in his singing,

‘Ramazan I ne’er fasted in life-time; nay * I ate flesh in public at undurn day; [FN#105]
Nor chide I the fair, save in way of love, * Nor seek Meccah’s plain [FN#106] in salvation-way:
Nor stand I praying like rest who cry *  ‘Hie salvationwards’ [FN#107] at the dawn’s first ray.
But I drink her cooled [FN#108] by fresh Northern breeze * And my head at dawn to her prone I lay.’ [FN#109]

“By Allah, he treadeth no carpet of mine!  who is at the door, other than he?”  Said Adi, “Jarír ibn al-Khatafah”; and Omar cried, “’Tis he who saith,

‘But for ill-spying glances had our eyes espied * Eyne of the antelope and ringlets of the Reems. [FN#110]
A huntress of the eyes [FN#111] by night-tide came and I * Cried, ‘Turn in peace, no time for visit this, meseems!’

“An it must be and no help, admit Jarir.”  So Adi went forth and admitted Jarir, who entered, saying.

“Yea, he who sent Mohammed unto man, * A just successor for Imám [FN#112] assigned.
His ruth and justice all mankind embrace, * To daunt the bad and stablish well-designed.
Verily now I look to present good, * For man hath ever-transient weal in mind.”

Quoth Omar, “O Jarir, keep the fear of Allah before thine eyes and say naught save the sooth.”  And Jarir recited these couplets,

“How many widows loose the hair in far Yamámah-land [FN#113] * How many an orphan there abides feeble of voice and eye,
Since faredst thou who wast to them instead of father lost * When they like nested fledglings were sans power to creep or fly!
And now we hope, since brake the clouds their word and troth with us, * Hope from the Caliph’s grace to gain a rain [FN#114] that ne’er shall dry.”

When the Caliph heard this, he said, “By Allah, O Jarir, Omar possesseth but an hundred dirhams. [FN#115]  Ho, boy! do thou give them to him.”  Moreover he gifted him with the ornaments of his sword; and Jarir went forth to the other poets, who asked him, “What is behind thee?” [FN#116] and he answered, “A man who giveth to the poor and denieth the poets, and with him I am well-pleased.”



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