Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BARMECIDES, by RICHARD CHENEVIX TRENCH



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE BARMECIDES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Haroun the just! - yet once that name
Last Line: And goodness of the barmecide.
Subject(s): Barmakids (persian Religious Family); Barmecides


HAROUN the Just! -- yet once that name
Of Just the ruler ill became,
By whose too hasty sentence died
The royal-hearted Barmecide.
O Barmecide, of hand and heart
So prompt, so forward to impart,
Of bounty so unchecked and free,
That once a poet sung, how he
Would fear thy very hand to touch,
Lest he should learn to give too much,
Lest, catching the contagion thence
Of thy unmatched munificence,
A beggar he should soon remain,
Helpless his bounty to restrain --
O Barmecide, of royal heart,
My childhood's tears again will start
Into mine eyes -- the tears I shed,
As I remember, when I read
Of harsh injustice done to thee,
And all thy princely family.
-- What marvel that the Caliph, stung
With secret consciousness of wrong,
Or now desiring every trace
Of that large bounty to efface,
With penalty of death forbade
That mourning should for them be made;
That any should with grateful song
Their memory in men's hearts prolong?
-- "And who art thou, that day by day
Hast dared my mandate disobey?
Who art thou whom my guards have found
Now standing on some grass-grown mound,
Now wandering 'mid the ruined towers,
Fallen palaces, and wasted bowers,
Of those at length for traitors known,
And by my justice overthrown --
Singing a plaintive dirge for them
Whom my just vengeance did condemn;
Till ever, as I learn, around
Thy steps a listening crowd is found,
Who still unto thy sad lament
Do with their sobs and tears consent;
While in the bosom of that throng
Rise thoughts that do their monarch wrong?
What doom I did for this assign
Thou knewest, and that doom is thine!"

But then the offender: "Give me room,
And I will gladly take my doom,
O king, to spend my latest breath,
Ere I am borne unto my death,
In telling for what highest grace
I was beholden to that race,
Whose memory my heart hath kept,
Whose wasted glories I have wept.
For then, at least, it will appear
That not in disobedience mere
Thy mandate high I overpast.
-- O king, I was the least and last
Of all the servitors of him,
Whose glory in thy frown grew dim --
The least and last -- yet he one day
To me, his meanest slave, did say
That he was fain my guest to be,
And the next day would sup with me.
More time I willingly had craved,
But my excuses all he waived,
And by no train accompanied,
His two sons only at his side,
At my poor lodging lighted down,
Which at the limits of the town
Stood in a close and narrow street.
Him I and mine did humbly greet,
Standing before him while he shared
What we meanwhile had best prepared
Of entertainment, though the best
Was poor and mean for such a guest.
But supper done, with cheerful mien,
'Thy house,' he cried, 'I have not seen --
Thy gardens; -- let me pace awhile
Along some cool and shady aisle.'
I thought he mocked me, but replied: --
'Possessions have I not so wide;
For house, another room with this
Our only habitation is;
And garden have I none to show,
Unless that narrow court below,
Shut in with lofty walls, that name
In right of four dwarf shrubs may claim.
-- 'Nay, nay,' he answered, 'there is more,
If only we could find the door,'
Again I told him, but in vain,
That he had seen my whole domain.
-- 'Nay, go then quick, a mason call.'
Him bade he straightway pierce the wall.
-- 'But shall we in this wise invade
A neighbor's house?' -- no heed he paid,
And I stood dumb, and wondering
Whereto he would the issue bring.
Anon he through the opening past,
He and his sons, and I the last:
When suddenly myself I found
In ample space of garden-ground,
Or rather in a paradise
Of rare and wonderful device,
With stately walks and alleys wide,
Far stretching upon every side;
And streams, upon whose either bank
Stood lofty platanes, rank by rank,
And marble fountains, scattering high
Illumined dewdrops in the sky;
And making a low, tinkling sound,
As sliding down from mound to mound,
They did at last their courses take
Down to a calm and lucid lake,
By which, on gently-sloping height,
There stood a palace of delight;
And many slaves, but all of rare
And perfect beauty, marshalled there,
Did each to me incline the knee,
Exclaiming all, 'Thy servants we.'

"And then my lord cried laughing: 'Nay,
When this is thine, how couldst thou say
That thou hadst shown me all before?
Thine is it all.' -- He said no more,
But at my benefactor's feet
I falling, thanks would render meet.
He scarcely listening, turned his head,
And to his eldest son he said: --
'This house, these gardens, 'twere in vain,
Unless enabled to maintain,
That he should call them his; -- my son,
Let us not leave this grace half done.'
Who then replied: 'My farms beyond
The Tigris I by sealed bond
This night, before we part, will see
Made over unto him in fee.'
-- ''Tis well; but there will months ensue,
Ere his incomings will be due.
What shall there, the meanwhile, be done?'
He turned unto his younger son,
Who answered: 'I will bid that gold,
Ten thousand pieces, shall be told
Unto his steward presently;
These shall his urgent needs supply.'
'Twas done upon that very eve;
And done, anon they took their leave,
And left me free to contemplate
The wonders of my novel state.

"Prince of the Faithful, mighty king,
My fortunes from this source had spring,
Which, if they since that time have grown,
Him their first author still they own.
Nor when that name, which was the praise
Of all the world, on evil days
Had fallen, was I content to let
Be quite forgotten the large debt
I owed to him -- content to die,
If such shall be thy pleasure high,
And my offence shall seem to thee
Deserving of such penalty."

What marvel that the king who heard
Was in his inmost bosom stirred?
What marvel that he owned the force
Of late regret and vain remorse?
That spreading palm, whose boughs had made
Far stretching, such an ample shade
For many a wanderer through life's waste,
He had hewn down in guilty haste;
That fountain free, that springing well
Of goodness inexhaustible,
His hand had stopped it, ne'er again
To slake the thirst of weary men;
That genial sun, which evermore
Did on a cold, chill world outpour
Its rays of love, and life, and light,
'Twas he who quenched in darkest night!
What marvel that he owned the force
Of late regret and vain remorse,
And (all he could) now freely gave
The life the other did not crave?
Nay, more, the offender did dismiss
With gifts and praise; nor only this,
But did the unrighteous law reverse
Which had forbidden to rehearse,
And in the minds of men prolong,
By grateful speech or plaintive song,
The bounteous acts and graces wide
And goodness of the Barmecide.





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