Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PEARLS OF THE FAITH: 56. AL-WALI, by EDWIN ARNOLD

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PEARLS OF THE FAITH: 56. AL-WALI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Close is he always to his faithful ones
Last Line: To want and woe hath put the end.
Variant Title(s): Abraham's Bread
Subject(s): God; Islam

Al-Walî! Nearest of all friends, and Best,
So praise your Lord, Whose help is mightiest.

Close is He always to His faithful ones,
But closer dwelt they in the times of old.
Hath it come to ye what Al-Baidhâwi
Presenteth of the days of Abraham,
Whom Allah called His "Friend," and like a friend
Softly entreated, stooping out of Heaven
To help and comfort him so dear to God?
Ofttimes the Angels of his Lord would light
Familiarly, with folded wings, before
The curtain of his tent, conversing there;
Ofttimes, on thorny flats of wilderness,
Or in the parched pass, of the echoing cave,
The very voice of God would thrill his ears;
And he might answer, as a man with man,
Hearing and speaking things unspeakable.
Wherefore, no marvel that he gave his son
At Allah's bidding, and had back his son—
Patient and safe—when the wild goat came down
And hung amid the nebbuk by his horns,
On Thabir, nigh to Mecca, in the vale
Of Mina; and the knife of Abraham
Reddened with unwept blood.
There had fall'n drought
Upon the land, and all the mouths he fed
Hungered for meal; therefore Al-Khalil sent
Messengers unto Egypt—to a lord
Wealthy and favorable, having store
Of grain and cattle by the banks of Nile.
"Give unto Abraham," the message said,
"A little part for gold, yet more for love—
(As he had given, if the strait were thine)
Meal of the millet, lentil, wheat, and bean,
That he and his may live; for drought hath come
Upon our fields and pastures, and we pine."
Spake the Egyptian lord, "Lo! now ye ask
O'ermuch of me for friendliness, and more
Than gold can buy, since dearth hath also come
Over our fields, and nothing is to spare.
Yet had it been to succor Abraham,
And them that dwell beneath his tent, the half
Of all we hold had filled your empty sacks.
But he will feed people we wot not of,
Poor folk, and hungry wanderers of the waste:
The which are nought to us, who have of such,
If there were surplusage. Therefore return;
Find food elsewhere!"
Then said the messengers
One to another, "If we shall return
With empty sacks, our master's name, so great
For worship in the world, will suffer shame,
And men will say he asked and was denied."
Therefore they filled their sacks with white sea-sand
Gathered by Gaza's wave, and sorrowfully
Journeyed to Kedar, where lay Abraham,
To whom full privately they told this thing,
Saying, "We filled the sacks with snow-white sand,
Lest thy great name be lessened 'mongst the folk,
Seeing us empty-handed; for the man
Denied thee corn; since thou wouldst give, quoth he,
To poor folk and to wanderers of the waste,
And there are hungry mouths enough by Nile."

Then was the heart of Abraham sore, because
The people of his tribe drew round to share
The good food brought, and all the desert trooped
With large-eyed mothers and their pining babes,
Certain of succor if the sheikh could help.
So did the spirit of Al-Khalil sink
That into swoon he fell, and lay as one
Who hath not life. But Sarai, his wife—
That knew not—bade her maidens bring a sack,
Open its mouth, and knead some meal for cakes.
And when the sack was opened, there showed flour,
Fine, three times bolted, whiter than sea-sand;
Which in the through they kneaded, rolling cakes,
And baking them over the crackling thorns;
So that the savor spread throughout the camp
Of new bread smoking, and the people drew
Closer and thicker, as ye see the herds
Throng—horn, and wool, and hoof—at watering-time,
When after fiery leagues, the wells are reached.

But Abraham, awaking, smelled the bread:
"Whence," spake he unto Sarai, "hast thou meal,
Wife of my bosom? for the smell of bread
Riseth, and lo! I see the cakes are baked."
"By God! Who is the only One," she said,
"Whence should it come save from thy friend who sent,
The lord of Egypt?" "Nay!" quoth Abraham,
And fell upon his face, low-worshiping,
"But this hath come from the dear mighty hands
Of Allah—of the Lord of Egypt's lords—
My 'Friend,' and King, and Helper; now my folk
Shall live and die not. Glory be to God!"

He that hath Allah for a friend,
To want and woe hath put the end.

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