Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MULEYKEH, by ROBERT BROWNING

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

MULEYKEH, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: If a stranger passed the tent of hoseyn, he
Last Line: "you never have loved my pearl."
Subject(s): Animals; Horses

IF a stranger passed the tent of Hoseyn, he cried "A churl's!"
Or haply "God help the man who has neither salt nor bread!"
-- "Nay," would a friend exclaim, "he needs nor pity nor scorn
More than who spends small thought on the shore-sand, picking pearls,
-- Holds but in light esteem the seed-sort, bears instead
On his breast a moon-like prize, some orb which of night makes morn.

"What if no flocks and herds enrich the son of Sinan?
They went when his tribe was mulct, ten thousand camels the due,
Blood-value paid perforce for a murder done of old.
'God gave them, let them go! But never since time began.
Muleykeh, peerless mare, owned master the match of you,
And you are my prize, my Pearl: I laugh at men's land and gold!'

"So in the pride of his soul laughs Hoseyn -- and right, I say.
Do the ten steeds run a race of glory? Out stripping all,
Ever Muleykeh stands first steed at the victor's staff.
Who started, the owner's hope, gets shamed and named, that day.
'Silence,' or, last but one, is 'The Cuffed,' as we use to call
Whom the paddock's lord thrusts forth.
Right, Hoseyn, I say, to laugh!"

"Boasts he Muleykeh the Pearl?" the stranger replies: "Be sure
On him I waste nor scorn nor pity, but lavish both
On Duhl the son of Sheyban, who withers away in heart
For envy of Hoseyn's luck. Such sickness admits no cure.
A certain poet has sung, and sealed the same with an oath,
'For the vulgar -- flocks and herds! The Pearl is a prize apart.'"

Lo, Duhl the son of Sheyban comes riding to Hoseyn's tent,
And he casts his saddle down, and enters and "Peace!" bids he.
"You are poor, I know the cause: my plenty shall mend the wrong.
'T is said of your Pearl -- the price of a hundred camels spent
In her purchase were scarce ill paid: such prudence is far from me
Who proffer a thousand. Speak! Long parley may last too long."

Said Hoseyn, "You feed young beasts a many, of famous breed,
Slit-eared, unblemished, fat, true offspring of Muzennem:
There stumbles no weak-eyed she in the line as it climbs the hill.
But I love Muleykeh's face: her forefront whitens indeed
Like a yellowish wave's cream-crest. Your camels -- go gaze on them!
Her fetlock is foam-splashed too. Myself am the richer still."

A year goes by: lo, back to the tent again rides Duhl.
"You are open-hearted, ay -- moist-handed, a very prince.
Why should I speak of sale? Be the mare your simple gift!
My son is pined to death for her beauty: my wife prompts 'Fool,
Beg for his sake the Pearl! Be God the rewarder, since
God pays debts seven for one: who squanders on Him shows thrift.'"

Said Hoseyn, "God gives each man one life, like a lamp, then gives
That lamp due measure of oil: lamp lighted -- hold high, wave wide
Its comfort for others to share! once quench it, what help is left?
The oil of your lamp is your son: I shine while Muleykeh lives.
Would I beg your son to cheer my dark if Muleykeh died?
It is life against life: what good avails to the life-bereft?"

Another year, and -- hist! What craft is it Duhl designs?
He alights not at the door of the tent as he did last time,
But, creeping behind, he gropes his stealthy way by the trench
Half-round till he finds the flap in the folding, for night combines
With the robber -- and such is he: Duhl, covetous up to crime,
Must wring from Hoseyn's grasp the Pearl, by whatever the wrench.

"He was hunger-bitten, I heard: I tempted with half my store,
And a gibe was all my thanks. Is he generous like Spring dew?
Account the fault to me who chaffered with such an one!
He has killed, to feast chance comers, the creature he
rode: nay, more --
For a couple of singing-girls his robe has he torn in two:
I will beg! Yet I nowise gained by the tale of my wife and son.

"I swear by the Holy House, my head will I never wash
Till I filch his Pearl away. Fair dealing I tried, then guile,
And now I resort to force. He said we must live or die:
Let him die, then, -- let me live! Be bold -- but not too rash!
I have found me a peeping-place: breast, bury your breathing while
I explore for myself! Now, breathe! He deceived me not, the spy!

"As he said -- there lies in peace Hoseyn -- how happy! Beside
Stands tethered the Pearl: thrice winds her headstall about his wrist:
'T is therefore he sleeps so sound -- the moon through the
roof reveals.
And, loose on his left, stands too that other, known far and wide,
Buheyseh, her sister born: fleet is she yet ever missed
The winning tail's fire-flash a-stream past the thunderous heels.

"No less she stands saddled and bridled, this second, in
case some thief
Should enter and seize and fly with the first, as I mean to do.
What then? The Pearl is the Pearl: once mount her we both escape."
Through the skirt-fold in glides Duhl, -- so a serpent disturbs no
In a bush as he parts the twigs entwining a nest: clean through,
He is noiselessly at his work: as he planned, he performs the rape.

He has set the tent-door wide, has buckled the girth, has clipped
The headstall away from the wrist he leaves thrice bound as before,
He springs on the Pearl, is launched on the desert like bolt from bow.
Up starts our plundered man: from his breast though the
heart be ripped,
Yet his mind has the mastery: behold, in a minute more,
He is out off and away on Buheyseh, whose worth we know!

And Hoseyn -- his blood turns flame, he has learned long
since to ride,
And Buheyseh does her part, -- they gain -- they are gaining fast
On the fugitive pair, and Duhl has Ed-Darraj to cross and quit,
And to reach the ridge El-Saban, -- no safety till that be spied!
And Buheyseh is, bound by bound, but a horse-length off at last,
For the Pearl has missed the tap of the heel, the touch of the bit.

She shortens her stride, she chafes at her rider the
strange and queer:
Buheyseh is mad with hope -- beat sister she shall and must,
Though Duhl, of the hand and heel so clumsy, she has to thank.
She is near now, nose by tail -- they are neck by croup -- joy! fear!
What folly makes Hoseyn shout "Dog Duhl, Damned son of the Dust,
Touch the right ear and press with your foot my Pearl's left flank!"

And Duhl was wise at the word, and Muleykeh as prompt perceived
Who was urging redoubled pace, and to hear him was to obey,
And a leap indeed gave she, and evanished forevermore.
And Hoseyn looked one long last look as who, all bereaved,
Looks, fain to follow the dead so far as the living may:
Then he turned Buheyseh's neck slow homeward, weeping sore.

And, lo, in the sunrise, still sat Hoseyn upor the ground
Weeping: and neighbors came, the tribesmen of Benu-Asad
In the vale of green Er-Rass, and they questioned him of his grief;
And he told from first to last how, serpent-like, Duhl had wound
His way to the nest, and how Duhl rode like an ape, so bad!
And how Buheyseh did wonders, yet Pearl remained with the thief.

And they jeered him, one and all: "Poor Hoseyn is crazed past hope!
How else had he wrought himself his ruin, in fortune's spite?
To have simply held the tongue were a task for boy or girl,
And here were Muleykeh again, the eyed like an antelope,
The child of his heart by day, the wife of his breast by night!" --
"And the beaten in speed!" wept Hoseyn.
"You never have loved my Pearl."

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