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Narrative and Lyric Poems (first series) for use in the Lower School by O. J. Stevenson

Part 4 out of 4

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Speechless; and then he utter'd one sharp cry--
_O boy--thy father_!--and his voice chok'd there.
And then a dark cloud pass'd before his eyes,
And his head swam, and he sunk down to earth. 690
But Sohrab crawl'd to where he lay, and cast
His arms about his neck, and kiss'd his lips,
And with fond faltering fingers strok'd his cheeks,
Trying to call him back to life: and life
Came back to Rustum, and he op'd his eyes, 695
And they stood wide with horror; and he seiz'd
In both his hands the dust which lay around,
And threw it on his head, and smirch'd his hair,
His hair, and face, and beard, and glittering arms:
And strong convulsive groanings shook his breast, 700
And his sobs chok'd him; and he clutch'd his sword,
To draw it, and for ever let life out.
But Sohrab saw his thought, and held his hands,
And with a soothing voice he spoke, and said:--

[_Father and son embrace. "Would that the Oxus were flowing over
me!" says the unhappy father_.]

"Father, forbear: for I but meet to-day 705
The doom that at my birth was written down
In Heaven, and thou art Heaven's unconscious hand.
Surely my heart cried out that it was thou,
When first I saw thee; and thy heart spoke too,
I know it: but fate trod those promptings down 710
Under its iron heel; fate, fate engag'd
The strife, and hurl'd me on my father's spear.
But let us speak no more of this: I find
My father; let me feel that I have found.
Come, sit beside me on this sand, and take 715
My head betwixt thy hands, and kiss my cheeks,
And wash them with thy tears, and say, 'My Son!'
Quick! quick! for number'd are my sands of life,
And swift; for like the lightning to this field
I came, and like the wind I go away-- 720
Sudden, and swift, and like a passing wind,
But it was writ in Heaven that this should be."

So said he: and his voice releas'd the heart
Of Rustum, and his tears broke forth; he cast
His arms round his son's neck, and wept aloud, 725
And kiss'd him. And awe fell on both the hosts
When they saw Rustum's grief; and Ruksh, the horse,
With his head bowing to the ground, and mane
Sweeping the dust, came near, and in mute woe
First to the one then to the other mov'd 730
His head, as if enquiring what their grief
Might mean; and from his dark, compassionate eyes,
The big warm tears roll'd down, and cak'd the sand.
But Rustum chid him with stern voice, and said:--

"Ruksh, now thou grievest; but, O Ruksh, thy feet 735
Should then have rotted on thy nimble joints,
When first they bore thy master to this field."

But Sohrab look'd upon the horse and said:--
"Is this then Ruksh? How often, in past days,
My mother told me of thee, thou brave steed! 740
My terrible father's terrible horse; and said,
That I should one day find thy lord and thee,
Come, let me lay my hand upon thy mane.
O Ruksh, thou art more fortunate than I;
For thou hast gone where I shall never go, 745
And snuff'd the breezes of my father's home.
And thou hast trod the sands of Seistan,
And seen the river of Helmund,[44] and the lake
Of Zirrah; and the aged Zal himself
Has often strok'd thy neck, and given thee food, 750
Corn in a golden platter soak'd with wine,
And said--'O Ruksh! bear Rustum well!'--but I
Have never known my grandsire's furrow'd face,
Nor seen his lofty house in Seistan,
Nor slak'd my thirst at the clear Helmund stream; 755
But lodg'd among my father's foes, and seen
Afrasiab's cities only, Samarcand,
Bokhara, and lone Khiva in the waste,
And the black Toorkmun tents; and only drunk
The desert rivers, Moorghab and Tejend, 760
Kohik, and where the Kalmuks feed their sheep,
The northern Sir;[45] and this great Oxus stream--
The yellow Oxus, by whose brink I die."

And, with a heavy groan, Rustum replied:--
"Oh that its waves were flowing over me! 765
Oh that I saw its grains of yellow silt[46]
Roll tumbling in the current o'er my head!"

[_Sohrab's dying wish. "Draw off your forces; build for me a
memorial pillar in Seistan." He foretells the death of Rustum_.]

And, with a grave mild voice, Sohrab replied:--
"Desire not that, my father; thou must live.
For some are born to do great deeds, and live, 770
As some are born to be obscur'd, and die.
Do thou the deeds I die too young to do,
And reap a second glory in thine age.
Thou art my father, and thy gain is mine,
But come: thou seest this great host of men 775
Which follow me; I pray thee, slay not these:
Let me entreat for them: what have they done?
They follow'd me, my hope, my fame, my star.
Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace.
But me thou must bear hence, not send with them, 780
But carry me with thee to Seistan,
And place me on a bed and mourn for me,
Thou, and the snow-hair'd Zal, and all thy friends.
And thou must lay me in that lovely earth,
And heap a stately mound above my bones, 785
And plant a far-seen pillar over all:
That so the passing horseman on the waste
May see my tomb a great way off, and say--
_Sohrab, the mighty Rustum's son, lies there,
Whom his great father did in ignorance kill_-- 790
And I be not forgotten in my grave."

And with a mournful voice, Rustum replied:--
"Fear not; as thou hast said, Sohrab, my son,
So shall it be: for I will burn my tents,
And quit the host, and bear thee hence with me, 795
And carry thee away to Seistan,
And place thee on a bed, and mourn for thee,
With the snow-headed Zal, and all my friends.
And I will lay thee in that lovely earth,
And heap a stately mound above thy bones, 800
And plant a far-seen pillar over all;
And men shall not forget thee in thy grave,
And I will spare thy host: yea, let them go:
Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace.
What should I do with slaying any more? 805
For would that all whom I have ever slain
Might be once more alive; my bitterest foes,
And they who were call'd champions in their time,
And through whose death I won that fame I have;
And I were nothing but a common man, 810
A poor, mean soldier, and without renown;
So thou mightest live too, my son, my son!
Or rather would that I, even I myself,
Might now be lying on this bloody sand,
Near death, and by an ignorant stroke of thine, 815
Not thou of mine; and I might die, not thou;
And I, not thou, be borne to Seistan;
And Zal might weep above my grave, not thine,
And say--_O son, I weep thee not too sore,
For willingly, I know, thou met'st thine end_.-- 820
But now in blood and battles was my youth,
And full of blood and battles is my age;
And I shall never end this life of blood."

Then, at the point of death, Sohrab replied:--
"A life of blood indeed, thou dreadful man! 825
But thou shall yet have peace; only not now;
Not yet: but thou shalt have it on that day,[47]
When thou shalt sail in a high-masted ship,
Thou and the other peers of Kai-Khosroo,[48]
Returning home over the salt blue sea, 830
From laying thy dear master in his grave."

[_Rustum is left by the body of his son. The river Oxus flows on
under the starlight into the Sea of Aral_.]

And Rustum gaz'd on Sohrab's face, and said:--
"Soon be that day, my son, and deep that sea!
Till then, if fate so wills, let me endure."

He spoke; and Sohrab smil'd on him, and took 835
The spear, and drew it from his side, and eas'd
His wound's imperious[49] anguish: but the blood
Came welling from the open gash, and life
Flow'd with the stream: all down his cold white side
The crimson torrent pour'd, dim now, and soil'd, 840
Like the soil'd tissue of white violets
Left, freshly gather'd, on their native bank,
By romping children, whom their nurses call
From the hot fields at noon: his head droop'd low,
His limbs grew slack; motionless, white, he lay-- 845
White, with eyes clos'd; only when heavy gasps,
Deep, heavy gasps, quivering through all his frame,
Convuls'd him back to life, he open'd them,
And fix'd them feebly on his father's face:
Till now all strength was ebb'd, and from his limbs 850
Unwillingly the spirit fled away,
Regretting the warm mansion which it left,
And youth and bloom, and this delightful world.

So, on the bloody sand, Sohrab lay dead.
And the great Rustum drew his horseman's cloak 855
Down o'er his face, and sate by his dead son.
As those black granite pillars, once high-rear'd
By Jemshid in Persepolis,[50] to bear
His house, now, mid their broken flights of steps,
Lie prone, enormous, down the mountain side-- 860
So in the sand lay Rustum by his son.

And night came down over the solemn waste,
And the two gazing hosts, and that sole pair,
And darken'd all; and a cold fog, with night,
Crept from the Oxus. Soon a hum arose, 865
As of a great assembly loos'd, and fires
Began to twinkle through the fog: for now
Both armies mov'd to camp, and took their meal:
The Persians took it on the open sands
Southward; the Tartars by the river marge: 870
And Rustum and his son were left alone.

But the majestic river floated on
Out of the mist and hum of that low land;
Into the frosty starlight, and there mov'd,
Rejoicing, through the hush'd Chorasmian[51] waste 875
Under the solitary moon: he flow'd
Right for the polar star, past Orgunje,[52]
Brimming, and bright, and large: then sands begin
To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
And split his currents; that for many a league 880
The shorn and parcell'd Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles--
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
In his high mountain cradle in Pamere,
A foil'd circuitous wanderer:--till at last 885
The long'd-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
His luminous home of waters[53] opens, bright
And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bath'd stars
Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.


[1] Oxus. One of the great rivers of central Asia, forming the
boundary between Persia and Turan, or Tartary.

[2] Tartar. A general name given to the tribes in central Asia east
of the Oxus.

[3] Peran-Wisa (Pe'ran-We'sa). The commander of the Tartar tribes
which formed the army of King Afrasiab.

[4] Pamere. A plateau in central Asia.

[5] King Afrasiab (Afra'-siab). King of the Tartars.

[6] Samarcand. A city in Turkestan.

[7] Ader-baijan (Ader-bi'-yan). A province of Persia.

[8] Seistan (Sa-es-tan'). A district of eastern Persia.

[9] Perhaps because he is beginning to feel old, or on account of some
quarrel with the Persian king.

[10] Kara-Kul. A district in Persia.

[11] Casbin. A city in Persia.

[12] Elburz. A mountain range in northern Persia.

[13] Aralian estuaries. The mouth of the rivers flowing into the sea
of Aral.

[14] frore. frozen.

[15] Bokhara and Khiva. Districts of central Asia.

[16] The Tartars use an intoxicating liquor called koumiss, made from
mare's or camel's milk.

[17] Lines 118-134 mention various nomadic tribes; the names are of no
great importance.

[18] Attruck and Jaxartes (l. 126). Names of rivers.

[19] more doubtful service. Their allegiance was doubtful; they were
not bound to follow the army of King Afrasiab.

[20] Kuzzaks. Cossacks.

[21] Khorassan. A province of north-eastern Persia.

[22] Cabool. Cabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The trade route
between Cabul and Hindustan crosses the mountains at a great height.

[23] Iran. The original came of Persia.

[24] in plain arms. Without any device on his shield.

[25] fluted spine. The hollow spike at the top of the helmet, in
which the helmet-feather or crest is fitted.

[26] Dight. decked.

[27] Bahrein. An island.

[28] tale. number.

[29] perus'd. scanned.

[30] tried. experienced.

[31] Be govern'd. Take my advice.

[32] Chang'd gifts. Exchanged gifts, as a sign of friendship.

[33] Success is changeable as the wind.

[34] plummet. The lead used for sounding the depth of the sea.

[35] Hyphasis or Hydaspes. Two great rivers in northern India.

[36] wrack. ruin, destruction.

[37] that autumn star. Sirius, the dog star.

[38] minion. darling, or favorite. The word is generally used to
express contempt.

[39] Koords. The people of Kurdistan.

[40] It will be rumoured, or bruited, abroad.

[41] style. title or name.

[42] According to the original legend, Rustum left an amulet, or
charm, with the mother of Sohrab. Arnold has altered this detail of
the story, and substituted a seal for the amulet.

[43] griffin. A mythical creature, half-lion, half-eagle, which was
supposed to keep guard over hidden treasure. Just as in Roman
mythology, Romulus and Remus were reared by a she-wolf, so in Persian
mythology, Zal was reared by a griffin.

[44] Helmund. A river in Afghanistan.

[45] Sir. Another name for the river Jaxartes.

[46] silt. A deposit of mud or fine earth.

[47] This prophecy waa not fulfilled. Rustum, according to the
legend, met his death by treachery at the hand of his half-brother

[48] Kai Khosroo. The King of Persia, see line 220.

[49] imperious. demanding relief.

[50] Persepolis. An ancient city supposed to have been built by
Jemshid, or Jamshid, a mythical king of Persia.

[51] Chorasmian waste. A desert land, on the lower Oxus.

[52] Orgunje. A village on the Oxus.

[53] home of waters. The Aral Sea, or "Sea of Islands."

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