[Go back to Yunus the Scribe and the Caliph Walid Bin Sahl]
The Caliph Harun al-Rashid was walking one day with Ja'afar the Barmecide, when he espied a company of girls drawing water and went up to them, having a mind to drink. As he drew near, one of them turned to her fellows and improvised these lines,
"Thy phantom bid thou fleet, and fly * Far from the couch whereon I lie;
So I may rest and quench the fire, * Bonfire in bones aye flaming high;
My love-sick form Love's restless palm * Rolls o'er the rug whereon I sigh:
How 'tis with me thou wottest well * How long, then, union wilt deny?"
The Caliph marvelled at her elegance and eloquence.--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Six Hundred and Eighty-sixth Night,
She resumed, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the Caliph, hearing the girl's verses, marvelled at her elegance and eloquence, and said to her, "O daughter of nobles, are these thine own or a quotation?" Replied she, "They are my very own," and he rejoined, "An thou say sooth keep the sense and change the rhyme." So she said,
"Bid thou thy phantom distance keep * And quit this couch the while I sleep;
So I may rest and quench the flames * Through all my body rageful creep,
In love-sick one, whom passion's palms * Roll o'er the bed where grief I weep;
How 'tis with me thou wottest well; * All but thy union hold I cheap!"
Quoth the Caliph, "This also is stolen"; and quoth she, "Nay, 'tis my very own." He said, "If it be indeed thine own, change the rhyme again and keep the sense." So she recited the following,
"Unto thy phantom deal behest * To shun my couch the while I rest,
So I repose and quench the fire * That burns what lieth in my breast,
My weary form Love's restless palm * Rolls o'er with boon of sleep unblest.
How 'tis with me thou wottest well * When union's bought 'tis haply best!"
Quoth Al-Rashid, "This too is stolen"; and quoth she, "Not, so, 'tis mine." He said, "If thy words be true change the rhyme once more." And she recited,
"Drive off the ghost that ever shows * Beside my couch when I'd repose,
So I may rest and quench the fire * Beneath my ribs e'er flames and glows
In love-sick one, whom passion's palms * Roll o'er the couch where weeping flows.
How 'tis with me thou wottest well * Will union come as union goes?"
Then said the Caliph, "Of what part of this camp art thou?"; and she replied, "Of its middle in dwelling and of its highest in tentpoles." Wherefore he knew that she was the daughter of the tribal chief. "And thou," quoth she, "of what art thou among the guardians of the horses?"; and quoth he, "Of the highest in tree and of the ripest in fruit." "Allah protect thee, O Commander of the Faithful!" said she, and kissing ground called down blessings on him. Then she went away with the maidens of the Arabs, and the Caliph said to Ja'afar, "There is no help for it but I take her to wife." So Ja'afar repaired to her father and said to him, "The Commander of the Faithful hath a mind to thy daughter." He replied, "With love and goodwill, she is a gift as a handmaid to His Highness our Lord the Commander of the Faithful." So he equipped her and carried her to the Caliph, who took her to wife and went in to her, and she became of the dearest of his women to him. Furthermore, he bestowed on her father largesse such as succoured him among Arabs, till he was transported to the mercy of Almighty Allah. The Caliph, hearing of his death, went in to her greatly troubled; and, when she saw him looking afflicted, she entered her chamber and doffing all that was upon her of rich raiment, donned mourning apparel and raised lament for her father. It was said to her, "What is the reason of this?"; and she replied, "My father is dead." So they repaired to the Caliph and told him and he rose and going in to her, asked her who had informed her of her father's death; and she answered "It was thy face, O Commander of the Faithful!" Said he, "How so?"; and she said, "Since I have been with thee, I never saw thee on such wise till this time, and there was none for whom I feared save my father, by reason of his great age; but may thy head live, O Commander of the Faithful!" The Caliph's eyes filled with tears and he condoled with her; but she ceased not to mourn for her father, till she followed him--Allah have mercy on the twain! And a tale is also told of...
[Go to Al-Asma'i and the Three Girls of Bassorah]
Burton, Richard (1821-1890). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. London. 1885-1888. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. VII. Gutenberg Vol. VIII. Gutenberg Vol. IX. Gutenberg Vol. X. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM