Monday, June 9, 2008

The Story of Sheikh Sam'an - Part 3

At last white day displayed her golden shield;
Black night declined his head, compelled to yield –
The world lay drowned in sparkling light, and dawn
Disclosed the sheikh, still wretched and forlorn,
Disputing with stray dogs the place before
His unattainable beloved’s door.
There in the dust he knelt, till constant prayers
Made him resemble one of her darks hairs;
A patient month he waited day and night
To glimpse the radiance of her beauty’s light.
At last fatigue and sorrow made him ill –
Her street became his bed and he lay still.
When she perceived he would – and could – not move,
She understood the fury of his love,
But she pretended ignorance and said:
“What is it, sheikh? Why is our street your bed?
How can a Moslem sleep where Christians tread?”
He answered her: “I have no need to speak;
You know why I am wasted, pale and weak.
Restore the heart you stole, or let me see
Some glimmer in your heart of sympathy;
In all your pride find some affection for
The grey-haired, lovesick stranger at your door.
Accept my love or kill me now – your breath
Revives me or consigns me here to death.
Your face and curls command my life; beware
Of how the breeze displays your vagrant hair;
The sight breeds fever in me, and your deep
Hypnotic eyes induce love’s restless sleep.
Love mists my eyes, love burns my heart – alone,
Impatient and unloved, I weep and groan;
See what a sack of sorrow I have sewn!
I give my soul and all the world to burn,
And endless tears are all I hope to earn.
My eyes beheld your face, my heart despaired;
What I have seen and suffered none have shared.
My heart has turned to blood; how long must I
Subsist on misery? You need not try
To humble wretchedness, or kick the foe
Who in the dust submissively bows low.
It is my fortune to lament and wait –
When, if, love answers me depends on Fate.
My soul is ambushed here, and in your street
Relives each night the anguish of defeat;
Your threshold’s dust receives my prayers – I give
As cheap as dust the soul by which I live.
How long outside your door must I complain?
Relent a moment and relieve my pain.
You are the sun and I a shadow thrown
By you – how then can I survive alone?
Though pain has worn me to a shadow’s edge,
Like sunlight I shall leap your window’s ledge;
Let me come in and I shall secretly
Bring seven heavens’ happiness with me.
My soul is burnt to ash; my passion’s fire
Destroys the world with unappeased desire.
Love binds my feet and I cannot depart;
Love holds the hand pressed hard against my heart.
My fainting soul dissolves in deathly sighs –
How long must you stay hidden from my eyes?”

She laughed: “You shameless fool, take my advice –
Prepare yourself for death and paradise!
Forget flirtatious games, your breath is cold;
Stop chasing love, remember you are old.
It is a shroud you need, not me! How could
You hope for wealth when you must beg for food?”
He answered her: “Say what you will, but I
In love’s unhappy torments live and die;
To Love, both young and old are one – his dart
Strikes with unequalled strength in every heart.”
The girl replied: “There are four things you must
Perform to show that you deserve my trust:
Burn the Koran, drink wine, seel up Faith’s eye,
Bow down to images.” And in reply
The sheikh declared: “Wine I will drink with you;
The rest are things that I could never do.”
She said: “If you agree to my commands,
To start with, you must wholly wash your hands
Of Islam’s faith – the love which does not care
To bend to love’s requests is empty air.”
He yielded then: “I must and will obey;
I’ll do whatever you are pleased to say.
Your slave submits – lead me with ringlets twined
As chains about my neck; I am resigned!”
She smiled: “Come then and drink”, and he allowed
Her to escort him to a hall (the crowd
Of scholars followed, weeping and afraid)
Where Christians banqueted, and there a maid
Of matchless beauty passed the cup around.
Love humbled our poor sheikh – without a sound
He gave his heart into the Christian’s hands;
His mind had fled, he bowed to her commands,
And from those hands he took the proffered bowl;
He drank, oblivion overwhelmed his soul.
Wine mingled with his love – her laughter seemed
To challenge him to take the bliss he dreamed.
Passion flared up in him; again he drank,
And slave-like at her feet contented sank –
This sheikh who had the whole Koran by heart
Felt wine spread through him and his faith depart;
Whatever he had known deserted him,
Wine conquered and his intellect grew dim;
Wine sluiced away his conscience; she alone
Lived in his heart, all other thoughts had flown.
Now love grew violent as an angry sea,
He watched her drink and moved instinctively –
Half-fuddled with the wine – to touch her neck.
But she drew back and held his hand in check,
Deriding him: “What do you want, old man?
Old hypocrite of love, who talks but can
Do nothing else? To prove your love, declare
That your religion is my rippling hair.
Love’s more than childish games, if you agree –
For love – to imitate my blasphemy
You can embrace me here; if not, you may
Take up your stick and hobble on your way.”
The abject sheikh had sunk to such a state
That he could not resist his wretched fate;
Now ignorant of shame and unafraid,
He heard the Christian’s wishes and obeyed –
The old wine sidled through the old man’s veins
And like a twisting compass turned his brains;
Old wine, young love, a lover far too old,
Her soft arms welcoming – could he be cold?
Beside himself with love and drink he cried:
“Command me now; whatever you decide
I will perform. I spurned idolatry
When sober, but your beauty is to me
An idol for whose sake I’ll gladly burn
My faith’s Koran.” “Now you begin to learn,
Now you are mine, dear sheikh,” she said. “Sleep well,
Sweet dreams; our ripening fruit begins to swell.”

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