Monday, June 9, 2008

The Story of Sheikh Sam'an - Part 4

News spread among the Christians that this sheikh
Had chosen their religion for love’s sake.
They took him to a nearby monastery,
Where he accepted their theology;
He burnt his dervish cloak and set his face
Against the faith and Mecca’s holy place –
After so many years of true belief,
A young girl brought this learned sheikh to grief.
He said: “This dervish has been well betrayed;
The agent was mere passion for a maid.
I must obey her now – what I have done
Is worse than any crime beneath the sun.”
(How many leave the faith through wine! It is
The mother of such evil vagaries.)
“Whatever you required is done,” he said.
“What more remains? I have bowed down my head
In love’s idolatry, I have drunk wine;
May no one pass through wretchedness like mine!
Love ruins one like me, and black disgrace
Now stares a once-loved dervish in the face.
For fifty years I walked an open road
While in my heart high seas of worship flowed;
Love ambushed me and at its sudden stroke
For Christian garments I gave up my cloak;
The Ka’abah has become love’s secret sign,
And homeless love interprets the Divine.
Consider what, for your sake, I have done –
Then tell me, when shall we two be as one?
Hope for that moment justifies my pain;
Have all my troubles been endured in vain?”
The girl replied: “But you are poor, and I
Cannot be cheaply won – the price is high;
Bring gold, and silver too, you are innocent –
Then I might pity your predicament;
But you have neither, therefore go – and take
A beggar’s alms from me; be off, old sheikh!
Be on your travels like the sun – alone;
Be manly now and patient, do not groan!”
“A fine interpretation of your vow,”
The sheikh replied; “my love, look at me now –
I have no one but you; your cypress gait,
Your silver form, decide my wretched fate.
Take back your cruel commands; each moment you
Confuse me by demanding something new.
I have endured your absence, promptly done
All you have asked – what profit have I won?
I’ve passed beyond loss, profit, Islam, crime,
For how much longer must I bide my time?
Is this what we agreed? My friends have gone,
Despising me, and I am here alone.
They follow one way, you another – I
Stand witless here uncertain where to fly;
I know without you heaven would be hell,
Hell heaven with you; more I cannot tell.”
At last his protestations moved her heart.
“You are too poor to play the bridegroom’s part,”
She said, “but be my swineherd for a year
And then we’ll stay together, never fear.”
The sheikh did not refuse – a fractious way
Estranges love; he hurried to obey.
This reverend sheikh kept swine – but who does not
Keep something swinish in his nature’s plot?
Do not imagine only he could fall;
This hidden danger lurks within us all,
Rearing its bestial head when we begin
To tread salvation’s path – if you think sin
Has no place in your nature, you can stay
Content at home; you are excused the Way.
But if you start our journey you will find
That countless swine and idols tease the mind –
Destroy these hindrances to love or you
Must suffer that disgrace the sad sheikh knew.

Despair unmanned his friends; they saw his plight
And turned in helpless horror from the sight –
The dust of grief anointed each bowed head;
But one approached the hapless man and said:
“We leave for Mecca now, O weak-willed sheikh;
Is there some message you would have us take?
Or should we all turn Christians and embrace
This faith men call a blasphemous disgrace?
We get no pleasure from the thought of you
Left here alone – shall we be Christians too?
Or since we cannot bear your state should we,
Deserting you, incontinently flee;
Forget that you exist and live in prayer
Beside the Ka’abah’s stone without a care?”
The sheikh replied: “What grief has filled my heart!
Go where you please – but quickly, now, depart;
Only the Christian keeps my soul alive,
And I shall stay with her while I survive.
Though you are wise your wisdom cannot know
The wild frustrations through which lovers go.
If for one moment you could share my pain,
We could be old companions once again.
But now go back, dear friends; if anyone
Asks after me explain what I have done –
Say that my eyes swim blood, that parched I wait
Trapped in the gullet of a monstrous fate.
Say Islam’s elder has outsinned the whole
Of heathen blasphemy, that self-control
Slipped from him when he saw the Christian’s hair,
That faith was conquered by insane despair.
Should anyone reproach my actions, say
That countless others have pursued this Way,
This endless Way where no one is secure,
Where danger waits and issues are unsure.”
He turned from them; a swineherd sought his swine.
His friends wept vehemently – their sheikh’s decline
Seemed death to them. Sadly they journeyed home,
Resigning their apostate sheikh to Rome.

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