Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, KING SALADIN, by EDWIN ARNOLD

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KING SALADIN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Long years ago - so tells boccaccio
Last Line: "faithful to death, if so thou hadst not come."
Subject(s): Saladin, Sultan (1137?-1193); Salah Ad-din

Long years ago—so tells Boccaccio
In such Italian gentleness of speech
As finds no echo in this northern air
To counterpart its music—long ago,
When Saladin was Soldan of the East,
The kings let cry a general crusade;
And to the trysting-plains of Lombardy
The idle lances of the North and West
Rode all that spring, as all the spring runs down
Into a lake, from all its hanging hills,
The clash and glitter of a hundred streams.
Whereof the rumor reached to Saladin;
And that swart king—as royal in his heart
As any crownèd champion of the Cross—
That he might fully, of his knowledge, learn
The purpose of the lords of Christendom,
And when their war and what their armament,
Took thought to cross the seas to Lombardy.
Wherefore, with wise and trustful Amirs twain,
All habited in garbs that merchants use,
With trader's band and gipsire on the breasts
That best loved mail and dagger, Saladin
Set forth upon his journey perilous.
In that day, lordly land was Lombardy!
A sea of country-plenty, islanded
With cities rich; nor richer one than thee,
Marble Milano! from whose gate at dawn—
With ear that little recked the matin-bell,
But a keen eye to measure wall and foss—
The Soldan rode; and all day long he rode
For Pavia; passing basilic, and shrine,
And gaze of vineyard-workers, wotting not
Yon trader was the Lord of Heathenesse.
All day he rode; yet at the wane of day
No gleam of gate, or ramp, or rising spire,
Nor Tessin's sparkle underneath the stars
Promised him Pavia; but he was 'ware
Of a gay company upon the way,
Ladies and Lords, with horses, hawks, and hounds;
Cap-plumes and tresses fluttered by the wind
Of merry race for home. "Go!" said the king
To one that rode upon his better hand,
"And pray these gentles of their courtesy
How many leagues to Pavia, and the gates
What hour they close them?" Then the Saracen
Set spur, and being joined to him that seemed
First of the hunt, he told the message—they
Checking the jangling bits, and chiding down
The unfinished laugh to listen—but by this
Came up the king, his bonnet in his hand,
Theirs doffed to him: "Sir Trader," Torel said
(Messer Torello 'twas, of Istria),
"They shut the Pavian gate at even-song,
And even-song is sung." Then turning half,
Muttered, "Pardie, the man is worshipful,
A stranger too!" "Fair lord!" quoth Saladin,
"Please you to stead some weary travelers,
Saying where we may lodge, the town so far
And night so near." "Of my heart, willingly,"
Made answer Torel, "I did think but now
To send my knave an errand—he shall ride
And bring you into lodgment—oh! no thanks,
Our Lady keep you!" then with whispered hest
He called their guide and sped them. Being gone,
Torello told his purpose, and the band,
With ready zeal and loosened bridle-chains,
Rode for his hunting-palace, where they set
A goodly banquet underneath the planes,
And hung the house with guest-lights, and anon
Welcomed the wondering strangers, thereto led
Unwitting, by a world of winding paths;
Messer Torello, at the inner gate,
Waiting to take them in—a goodly host,
Stamped current with God's image for a man
Chief among men, truthful, and just, and free.
Then he, "Well, met again, fair sirs! Our knave
Hath found you shelter better than the worst:
Please you to leave your selles, and being bathed,
Grace our poor supper here." Then Saladin,
Whose sword had yielded ere his courtesy,
Answered, "Great thanks, Sir Knight, and this much blame,
You spoil us for our trade! two bonnets doffed,
And travelers' questions holding you afield,
For those you give us this." "Sir! not your meed,
Nor worthy of your breeding; but in sooth
That is not out of Pavia." Thereupon
He led them to fair chambers decked with all
Makes tired men glad; lights, and the marble bath,
And flasks that sparkled, liquid amethyst,
And grapes, not dry as yet from evening dew.
Thereafter at the supper-board they sat;
Nor lacked it, though its guest was reared a king,
Worthy provend in crafts of cookery,
Pastel, pasticcio—all set forth on gold,
And gracious talk and pleasant courtesies,
Spoken in stately Latin, cheated time
Till there was none but held the stranger-sir,
For all his chapman's dress of cramasie,
Goodlier than silks could make him. Presently
Talk rose upon the Holy Sepulchre:
"I go myself," said Torel, "with a score
Of better knights—the flower of Pavia—
To try our steel against King Saladin's.
Sirs! ye have seen the countries of the Sun,Know you the Soldan?" Answer gave
the king,
"The Soldan we have seen—'twill push him hard
If, which I nothing doubt, you Pavian lords
Are valorous as gentle;—we, alas!
Are Cyprus merchants making trade to France—
Dull sons of Peace." "By Mary!" Torel cried,
"But for thy word. I ne'er heard speech so fit
To lead the war, nor saw a hand that sat
Liker a soldier's in the saber's place;
But sure I hold you sleepless!" Then himself
Playing the chamberlain, with torches borne,
Led them to restful beds, commending them
To sleep and God, Who hears—Allah or God—
When good men do his creatures charities.
At dawn the cock, and neigh of saddled steeds,
Broke the king's dreams of battle—not their own,
But goodly jennets from Torello's stalls,
Caparisoned to bear them; he their host
Up, with a gracious radiance like the sun,
To bid them speed. Beside him in the court
Stood Dame Adalieta; comely she,
And of her port as queenly, and serene
As if the braided gold about her brows
Had been a crown. Mutual good-morrow given,
Thanks said and stayed, the lady prayed her guest
To take a token of his sojourn there,
Marking her good-will, not his worthiness;
"A gown of miniver—these furbelows
Are silk I spun—my lord wears ever such—
A housewife's gift: but those ye love are far;
Wear it as given for them." Then Saladin—
"A precious gift, Madonna, past my thanks;
And—but thou shalt not hear a 'no' from me—
Past my receiving; yet I take it; we
Were debtors to your noble courtesy
Out of redemption—this but bankrupts us."
"Nay, sir,—God shield you!" said the knight and dame,
And Saladin, with phrase of gentilesse
Returned, or ever that he rode alone,
Swore a great oath in guttural Arabic,
An oath by Allah—startling up the ears
Of those three Christian cattle they bestrode—
That never yet was princelier-natured man,
Nor gentler lady;—and that time should see
For a king's lodging quittance royal repaid.

It was the day of the Passaggio:
Ashore the war-steeds champed the burnished bit;
Afloat the galleys tugged the mooring-chain:
The town was out; the Lombard armorers—
Red-hot with riveting the helmets up,
And whetting axes for the heathen heads—
Cooled in the crowd that filled the squares and streets
To speed God's soldiers. At the none that day
Messer Torello to the gate came down,
Leading his lady;—sorrow's hueless rose
Grew on her cheek, and thrice the destrier
Struck fire, impatient, from the pavement-squares,
Or ere she spoke, tears in her lifted eyes,
"Goest thou, lord of mine?" "Madonna, yes!"
Said Torel, "for my soul's weal and the Lord
Ride I to-day: my good name and my house
Reliant I intrust thee, and—because
It may be they shall slay me, and because,
Being so young, so fair, and so reputed,
The noblest will entreat thee—wait for me,
Widow or wife, a year, and month, and day;
Then if thy kinsmen press thee to a choice,
And if I be not come, hold me for dead;Nor link thy blooming beauty with the
Against thine heart." "Good, my lord!" answered she,
"Hardly my heart sustains to let thee go;
Thy memory it can keep, and keep it will,
Though my one lord, Torel of Istria,
Live, or———" "Sweet, comfort thee! San Pietro speed!
I shall come home: if not, and worthy knees
Bend for this hand, whereof none worthy lives,
Least he who lays his last kiss thus upon it,
Look thee, I free it———" "Nay!" she said, "but I,
A petulant slave that hugs her golden chain,
Give that gift back, and with it this poor ring:
Set it upon thy sword-hand, and in fight
Be merciful and win, thinking of me."
Then she, with pretty action, drawing on
Her ruby, buckled over it his glove—
The great steel glove—and through the helmet bars
Took her last kiss;—then let the chafing steed
Have its hot will and go.
But Saladin,
Safe back among his lords at Lebanon,
Well wotting of their quest, awaited it,
And held the Crescent up against the Cross.
In many a doughty fight Ferrara blades
Clashed with keen Damase, many a weary month
Wasted afield; but yet the Christians
Won nothing nearer to Christ's sepulchre;
Nay, but gave ground. At last, in Acre pent,
On their loose files, enfeebled by the war,
Came stronger smiter than the Saracen—
The deadly Pest: day after day they died,
Pikeman and knights-at-arms; day after day
A thinner line upon the leaguered wall
Held off the heathen:—held them off a space;
Then, over-weakened, yielded, and gave up
The city and the stricken garrison.
So to sad chains and hateful servitude
Fell all those purple lords—Christendom's stars,
Once high in hope as soaring Lucifer,
Now low as sinking Hesper: with them fell
Messer Torello—never one so poor
Of all the hundreds that his bounty fed
As he in prison—ill-entreated, bound,
Starved of sweet light, and set to shameful tasks;
And that great load at heart to know the days
Fast flying, and to live accounted dead.
One joy his gaolers left him—his good hawk;
The brave, gay bird, that crossed the seas with him:
And often, in the mindful hour of eve,
With tameless eye and spirit masterful,
In a feigned anger pecking at his hand,
The good gray falcon made his master cheer.

One day it chanced Saladin rode afield
With shawled and turbaned Amirs, and his hawks—
Lebanon-bred, and mewed as princes lodge—
Flew foul, forgot their feather, hung at wrist,
And slighted call. The Soldan, quick in wrath,
Bade slay the cravens, scourge the falconer,
And seek some wight who knew the heart of hawks,
To keep it hot and true. Then spake a Sheikh—
"There is a Frank in prison by the sea,
Far-seen herein." "Give word that he be brought,"
Quoth Saladin, "and bid him set a cast:
If he hath skill, it shall go well for him."

Thus by the winding path of circumstance
One palace held, as prisoner and prince,
Torello and his guest: unwitting each,
Nay and unwitting, though they met and spake
Of that goshawk and this—signors in serge,
And chapmen crowned, who knows?—till on a time
Some trick of face, the manner of some smile,
Some gleam of sunset from the glad day gone,
Caught the king's eye, and held it. "Nazarene!
What native art thou?" asked he. "Lombard I,
A man of Pavia." "And thy name?" "Torel,
Messer Torello called in happier times,
Now best uncalled." "Come hither, Christian!"
The Soldan said, and led the way, by court
And hall and fountain, to an inner room
Rich with king's robes: therefrom he reached a gown,
And "Know'st thou this?" he asked. "High lord! I might
Elsewhere," quoth Tore!, "here 'twere mad to say
Yon gown my wife unto a trader gave
Who shared our board." "Nay, but that gown is this,
And she the giver, and the trader I,"
Quoth Saladin; "I! twice a king to-day,
Owing a royal debt and paying it."
Then Torel, sore amazed, "Great lord, I blush,
Remembering how the Master of the East
Lodged sorrily." "It's Master's Master thou!"
Gave answer Saladin, "come in and see
What wares the Cyprus traders keep at home;
Come forth and take thy place, Saladin's friend."
Therewith into the circle of his lords,
With gracious mien the Soldan led his slave;
And while the dark eyes glittered, seated him
First of the full divan. "Orient lords,"
So spake he,—"let the one who loves his king
Honor this Frank, whose house sheltered your king;
He is my brother:" then the night-black beards
Swept the stone floor in ready reverence,
Agas and Amirs welcoming Torel:
And a great feast was set, the Soldan's friend
Royally garbed, upon the Soldan's hand,
Shining the bright star of the banqueters.

All which, and the abounding grace and love
Shown him by Saladin, a little held
The heart of Torel from its Lombard home
With Dame Adalieta: but it chanced
He sat beside the king in audience,
And there came one who said, "Oh, Lord of lords,
That galley of the Genovese which sailed
With Frankish prisoners is gone down at sea."
"Gone down!" cried Torel. "Ay! what recks it, friend,
To fall thy visage for?" quoth Saladin;
"One galley less to ship-stuffed Genoa!"
"Good my liege!" Torel said, "it bore a scroll
Inscribed to Pavia, saying that I lived;
For in a year, a month, and day, not come,
I bade them hold me dead; and dead I am,
Albeit living, if my lady wed,
Perchance constrained." "Certes," spake Saladin,
"A noble dame—the like not won, once lost—
How many days remain?" "Ten days, my prince,
And twelvescore leagues between my heart and me:
Alas! how to be passed?" Then Saladin—
"Lo! I am loath to lose thee—wilt thou swear
To come again if all go well with thee,
Or come ill speeding?" "Yea, I swear, my king,
Out of true love," quoth Torel, "heartfully."
Then Saladin, "Take here my signet-seal;
My admiral will loose his swiftest sail
Upon its sight; and cleave the seas, and go
And clip thy dame, and say the Trader sends
A gift, remindful of her courtesies."
Passed were the year, and month, and day; and passed
Out of all hearts but one Sir Torel's name,
Long given for dead by ransomed Pavians:
For Pavia, thoughtless of her Eastern graves,
A lovely widow, much too gay for grief,
Made pea's from half a hundred campaniles
To ring a wedding in. The seven bells
Of Santo Pietro, from the nones to noon,
Boomed with bronze throats the happy tidings out;
Till the great tenor, overswelled with sound,
Cracked itself dumb. Thereat the sacristan,
Leading his swinkèd ringers down the stairs,
Came blinking into sunlight—all his keys
Jing'ing their little peal about his belt—
Whom, as he tarried, locking up the porch,
A foreign signor, browned with southern suns,
Turbaned and slippered, as the Muslims use,
Plucked by the cope. "Friend," quoth he—'twas a tongue
Italian true, but in a Muslim mouth—
"Why are your belfries busy—is it peace
Or victory, that so ye din the ears
Of Pavian lieges?" "Truly, no liege thou!"
Grunted the sacristan, "who knowest not
That Dame Adalieta weds to-night
Her fore-betrothed,—Sir Torel's widow she,
That died i' the chain?" "To-night!" the stranger said.
"Ay, sir, to-night!—why not to-night?—to-night!
And you shall see a goodly Christian feast
If so you pass their gates at even-song,
For all are asked."
No more the questioner.
But folded o'er his face the Eastern hood,
Lest idle eyes should mark how idle words
Had struck him home. "So quite forgot!—so soon!—
And this the square wherein I gave the joust,
And that the loggia, where I fed the poor;
And yon my palace, where—oh, fair! oh, false!—
They robe her for a bridal. Can it be?
Clean out of heart, with twice six flying moons,
The heart that beat on mine as it would break,
That faltered forty oaths. Forced! forced!—not false—
Well! I will sit, wife, at thy wedding-feast,
And let mine eyes give my fond faith the he."
So in the stream of gallant guests that flowed
Feastward at eve, went Torel; passed with them
The outer gates, crossed the great courts with them,
A stranger in the walls that called him lord.
Cressets and colored lamps made the way bright,
And rose-leaves strewed to where within the doors
The master of the feast, the bridegroom, stood,
A-glitter from his forehead to his foot,
Speaking fair welcomes. He, a courtly lord,
Marking the Eastern guest, bespoke him sweet,
Prayed place for him, and bade them set his seat
Upon the dais. Then the feast began,
And wine went free as wit, and music died—
Outdone by merrier laughter: only one
Nor ate nor drank, nor spoke nor smiled; but gazed
On the pale bride, pale as her crown of pearls,
Who sate so cold and still, and sad of cheer,
At the bride-feast.
But of a truth, Torel
Read the thoughts right that held her eyelids down,
And knew her loyal to her memories.
Then to a little page who bore the wine,
He spake, "Go tell thy lady thus from me:
In mine own land, if any stranger sit
A wedding-guest, the bride, out of her grace,
In token that she knows her guest's good will,
In token she repays it, brims a cup,
Wherefrom he drinking she in turn doth drink;
So is our use." The little page made speed
And told the message. Then that lady pale—
Ever a gentle and a courteous heart—
Lifted her troubled eyes and smiled consent
On the swart stranger. By her side, untouched,
Stood the brimmed gold; "Bear this," she said, "and pray
He hold a Christian lady apt to learn
A kindly lesson." But Sir Torel loosed
From off his finger—never loosed before—
The ring she gave him on the parting day;
And ere he drank, behind his veil of beard
Dropped in the cup the ruby, quaffed, and sent—
Then she, with sad smile, set her lips to drink,
And—something in the Cyprus touching them,
Glanced—gazed—the ring!—her ring!—Jove!—how she eyes
The wistful eyes of Torel!—how, heart-sure,
Under all guise knowing her lord returned
She springs to meet him coming!—telling all
In one great cry of joy.
Oh, me! the rout,
The storm of questions! stilled, when Torel spake
His name, and, known of all, claimed the Bride Wife,
Maugre the wasted feast, and woeful groom.
All hearts but his were light to see Torel;
But Adalieta's lightest, as she plucked
The bridal-veil away. Something therein—
A lady's dagger—small, and bright, and fine—
Clashed out upon the marble. "Wherefore that?"
Asked Torel; answered she, "I knew you true;
And I could live, so long as I might wait:
But they—they pressed me hard! my days of grace
Ended to-night—and I had ended too,
Faithful to death, if so thou hadst not come."

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