Monday, June 9, 2008

The Story of Sheikh Sam'an - Part 1

Sam’an was once the first man of his time.
Whatever praise can be expressed in rhyme
Belonged to him: for fifty years this sheikh
Kept Mecca’s holy place, and for his sake
Four hundred pupils entered learning’s way.
He mortified his body night and day,
Knew theory, practice, mysteries of great age,
And fifty times had made the Pilgrimage.
He fasted, prayed, observed all sacred laws –
Astonished saints and clerics thronged his doors.
He split religious hairs in argument;
His breath revived the sick and impotent.
He knew the people’s hearts in joy and grief
And was their living symbol of Belief.
Though conscious of his credit in their sight,
A strange dream troubled him, night after night;
Mecca was left behind; he lived in Rome,
The temple where he worshipped was his home,
And to an idol he bowed down his head.
“Alas!” he cried, when he awoke in dread,
“Like Joseph I am in a well of need
And have no notion when I shall be freed.
But every man meets problems on the Way,
And I shall conquer if I watch and pray.
If I can shift this rock my path is clear;
If not, then I must wait and suffer here.”
Then suddenly he burst out: “It would seem
That Rome could show the meaning of this dream;
There I must go!” And off the old man strode;
Four hundred followed him along the road.
They left the Ka’abah for Rome’s boundaries,
A gentle landscape of low hills and trees,
Where, infinitely lovelier than the view,
There sat a girl, a Christian girl who knew
The secrets of her faith’s theology.
A fairer child no man could hope to see –
In beauty’s mansion she was like a sun
That never set – indeed the spoils she won
Were headed by the sun himself, whose face
Was pale with jealousy and sour disgrace.
The man about whose heart her ringlets curled
Became a Christian and renounced the world;
The man who saw her lips and knew defeat
Embraced the earth before her bonny feet;
And as the breeze passed through her musky hair
The men of Rome watched wondering in despair.
Her eyes spoke promises to those in love,
Their fine brows arched coquettishly above –
Those brows sent glancing messages that seemed
To offer everything her lovers dreamed.
The pupils of her eyes grew wide and smiled,
And countless souls were glad to be beguiled;
The face beneath her curls glowed like soft fire;
Her honeyed lips provoked the world’s desire;
But those who thought to feast there found her eyes
Held pointed daggers to protect the prize,
And since she kept her counsel no one knew –
Despite the claims of some – what she would do.
Her mouth was tiny as a needle’s eye,
Her breath as quickening as Jesus’ sigh;
Her chin was dimpled with a silver well
In which a thousand drowning Josephs fell;
A glistering jewel secured her hair in place,
Which like a veil obscured her lovely face.
The Christian turned, the dark veil was removed,
A fire flashed through the old man’s joints – he loved!
One hair converted hundreds; how could he
Resist that idol’s face shown openly?
He did not know himself; in sudden fire
He knelt abjectly as the flames beat higher;
In that sad instant all he had been fled
And passion’s smoke obscured his heart and head.
Love sacked his heart; the girl’s bewitching hair
Twined round his faith impiety’s smooth snare.
The sheikh exchanged religion’s wealth for shame,
A hopeless heart submitted to love’s fame.
“I have no faith,” he cried. “The heart I gave
Is useless now; I am the Christian’s slave.”
When his disciples saw him weeping there
And understood the truth of the affair,
They stared, confounded by his frantic grief,
And strove to call him back to his belief.
Their remonstrations fell on deafened ears;
Advice has no effect when no one hears.
In turn the sheikh’s disciples had their say;
Love has no cure, and he could not obey.
(When did a lover listen to advice?
When did a nostrum cool love’s flames to ice?)
Till evening came he could not move but gazed
With stupefaction in his face, amazed.

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