Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Sixth Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
KNOW, O my brothers and my friends and my companions, that when I returned from that fifth voyage, and forgot what I had suffered, by reason of sport and merriment and enjoyment and gayety, and was in a state of the utmost joy and happiness, I continued thus until I was sitting one day in exceeding delight and happiness and gayety; and while I sat, lo, a party of merchants came to me, bearing the marks of travel. And upon this I remembered the days of my return from travel, and my joy at meeting my family and companions and friends, and at entering my country; and my soul longed again for travel and commerce. So I determined to set forth. I bought for myself precious, sumptuous goods, suitable for the sea, packed up my bales, and went from the city of Baghdad to the city of El-Basrah, where I beheld a large vessel, in which were merchants and great men, and with them were precious goods. In therefore embarked my bales them in this ship, and we departed in safety from the city of El-Basrah. We continued our voyage from place to place and from city to city, selling and buying, and diverting ourselves with viewing different countries. Fortune and the voyage were pleasant to us, and we gained our subsistence, until we were proceeding one day, and, lo, the master of the ship vociferated and called out, threw down his turban, slapped his face, plucked his beard, and fell down in the hold of the ship by reason of the violence of his grief and rage. So all the merchants and other passengers came together to him and said to him, O master, what is the matter? And he answered them, Know, O company, that we have wandered from our course, having passed forth from the sea in which we were, and entered a sea of which we know not the routes; and if God appoint not for us some means of effecting our escape from this sea, we all perish: therefore pray to God (whose name be exalted!) that He may save us from this case. Then the master arose and ascended the mast, and desired to loose the sails; but the wind became violent upon the ship, and drove her back, and her rudder broke near a lofty mountain; whereupon the master descended from the mast, and said, There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! No one is able to prevent what is predestined! By Allah, we have fallen into a great peril, and there remaineth to us no way of safety or escape from it!So all the passengers wept for themselves: they bade one another farewell, because of the expiration of their lives, and their hope was cut off. The vessel drove upon that mountain, and went to pieces; its planks were scattered, and all that was in it was submerged; the merchants fell into the sea, and some of them were drowned, and some caught hold upon that mountain, and landed upon it.
I was of the number of those who landed upon the mountain; and, lo, within it was a large island. By it were many vessels broken in pieces, and upon it were numerous goods, on the shore of the sea, of the things thrown up by the sea from the ships that had been wrecked, and the passengers of which had been drowned. Upon it was an abundance, that confounded the reason and the mind, of commodities and wealth that the sea cast upon its shores. I ascended to the upper part of the island, and walked about it, and I beheld in the midst of it a stream of sweet water, flowing forth from beneath the nearest part of the mountain, and entering at the furthest part of it, on the opposite side [of the valley]. Then all the other passengers went over that mountain to [the interior of] the island, and dispersed themselves about it, and their reason was confounded at that which they beheld. They became like madmen in consequence of what they saw upon the island, of commodities and wealth lying on the shore of the sea. I beheld also in the midst of the above-mentioned stream an abundance of various kinds of jewels and minerals, with jacinths and large pearls, suitable to Kings. They were like gravel in the channels of the water which flowed through the fields; and all the bed of that stream glittered by reason of the great number of minerals and other things that it contained. We likewise saw on that island an abundance of the best kind of Sanfi aloes-wood, and Kamari aloes-wood. And in that island is a gushing spring of crude ambergris, which floweth like wax over the side of that spring through the violence of the heat of the sun, and spreadeth upon the sea-shore, and the monsters of the deep come up from the sea and swallow it, and descend with it into the sea; but it becometh hot in their stomachs, therefore they eject it from their mouths into the sea, and it congealeth on the surface of the water. Upon this, its colour and its qualities become changed, and the waves cast it up on the shore of the sea: so the travellers and merchants who know it take it and smell it. But as to the crude ambergris that is not swallowed, it floweth over the side of that mountain, and congealeth upon the ground; and when the sun shineth upon it, it melteth, and from it the odour of the whole of that valley becometh like the odour of musk. Then, when the sun withdraweth from it, it congealeth again. The place wherein is this crude ambergris no one can enter: no one can gain access to it: for the mountain surroundeth that island.
We continued to wander about the island, diverting ourselves with the view of the good things which God (whose name be exalted!) had created upon it, and perplexed at our case, and at the things that we beheld, and affected with violent fear. We had collected upon the shore of the sea a small quantity of provisions, and we used it sparingly, eating of it every day, or two days, only one meal, dreading the exhaustion of our stock, and our dying in sorrow, from the violence of hunger and fear. Each one of us that died we washed, and shrouded in some of the clothes and linen which the sea cast upon the shore of the island; and thus we did until a great number of us had died, and there remained of us but a small party, who were weakened by a colic occasioned by the sea. After this, we remained a short period, and all my associates and companion died, one after another, and each of them who died we buried. Then I was alone on that island, and there remained with me but little of the provisions, after there had been much. So I wept for myself, and said, Would that I had died before my companions, and that they had washed me and buried me! There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great!And I remained a short time longer; after which I arose and dug for myself a deep grave on the shore of the island, and said within myself, When I fall sick, and know that death hath come to me, I will lie down in this grave, and die in it, and the wind will blow the sand upon me, and cover me; so I shall become buried in it. I blamed myself for my little sense, and my going forth from my country and my city, and my voyaging to foreign countries, after what I had suffered in the first instance, and the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth; and when I had not performed one of my voyages without suffering in it horrors and distresses more troublesome and more difficult than the horrors preceding. I believed not that I could escape and save myself, and repented of undertaking sea-voyages, and of my returning to this life when I was not in want of wealth, but had abundance, so that I could not consume what I had, nor spend half of it during the rest of my life; having enough for me, and more than enough.
Then I meditated in my mind, and said, This river must have a beginning and an end, and it must have a place of egress into an inhabited country. The right plan in my opinion will be for me to construct for myself a small raft, of sufficient size for me to sit upon it, and I will go down and cast it upon this river, and depart on it. If I find safety, I am safe, and escape, by permission of God (whose name be exalted!); and if I find no way of saving myself, it will be better for me to die in this river than in this place.And I sighed for myself. Then I arose and went and collected pieces of wood that were upon that island, of Sanfi and Kamari aloes-wood, and bound them upon the shore of the sea with some of the ropes of the ships that had been wrecked; and I brought some straight planks, of the planks of the ships, and placed them upon those pieces of wood. I made the raft to suit the width of the river, less wide than the latter, and bound it well and firmly; and having taken with me some of those minerals and jewels and goods, and of the large pearls that were like gravel, as well as other things that were upon the island, and some of the crude, pure, excellent ambergris, I put them upon that raft, with all that I had collected upon the island, and took with me what remained of the provisions. I then launched the raft upon the river, made for it two pieces of wood like oars, and acted in accordance with the following saying of one of the poets:
Depart from a place wherein is oppression, and leave the house to tell its builders fate;
For thou wilt find, for the land that thou quittest, another; but no soul wilt thou find to replace thine own.
Grieve not on account of nocturnal calamities; since every affliction will have its end;
And he whose death is decreed to take place in one land will not die in any land but that.
Send not thy messenger on an errand of importance; for the soul hath no faithful minister save itself.
I departed upon the raft along the river, meditating upon what might be the result of my case, and proceeded to the place where the river entered beneath the mountain. I propelled the raft into that place, and became in intense darkness within it, and the raft continued to carry me in with the current to a narrow place beneath the mountain, where the sides of the raft rubbed against the sides of the channel of the river, and my head rubbed against the roof of the channel. I was unable to return thence, and I blamed myself for that which I had done, and said, If this place become narrower to the raft, it will scarcely pass through it, and it cannot return: so I shall perish in this place in sorrow, inevitably! I threw myself upon my face on the raft, on account of the narrowness of the channel of the river, and ceased not to proceed, without knowing night from day, by reason of the darkness in which I was involved beneath that mountain, together with my terror and fear for myself lest I should perish. In this state I continued my course along the river, which sometimes widened and at other times contracted; but the intensity of the darkness wearied me excessively, and slumber overcame me in consequence of the violence of my distress. So I lay upon my face on the raft, which ceased not to bear me along while I slept, and knew not whether the time was long or short.
At length I awoke, and found myself in the light; and, opening my eyes, I beheld an extensive tract, and the raft tied to the shore of an island, and around me a company of Indians, and [people like] Abyssinians. When they saw that I had risen, they rose and came to me, and spoke to me in their language; but I knew not what they said, and imagined that it was a dream, and that this occurred in sleep, by reason of the violence of my distress and vexation. And when they spoke to me and I understood not their speech, and returned them not an answer, a man among them advanced to me, and said to me, in the Arabic language, Peace be on thee, O our brother! What art thou, and whence hast thou come, and what is the cause of thy coming to this place? We are people of the sown lands and the fields, and we came to irrigate our fields and our sown lands, and found thee asleep on the raft: so we laid hold upon it, and tied it here by us, waiting for thee to rise at thy leisure. Tell us then what is the cause of thy coming to this place.I replied, I conjure thee by Allah, O my master, that thou bring me some food; for I am hungry; and after that, ask of me concerning what thou wilt. And thereupon he hastened, and brought me food, and I ate until I was satiated and was at ease, and my fear subsided, my satiety was abundant, and my soul returned to me. I therefore praised God (whose name be exalted!) for all that had occurred, rejoiced at my having passed forth from that river, and having come to these people; and I told them of all that to me from beginning to end, and of what I had experienced upon that river, and of its narrowness. They then talked together, and said, We must take him with us and present him to our King, that he may acquaint him with what hath happened to him. Accordingly they took me with them, and conveyed with me the raft, together with all that was upon it, of riches and goods, and jewels and minerals, and ornaments of gold, and they took me in to their King, who was the King of Sarandib,1 and acquainted him with what had happened; whereupon he saluted me and welcomed me, and asked me respecting my state, and respecting the events that had happened to me. I therefore acquainted him with all my story, and what I had experienced, from the first to last; and the King wondered at this narrative extremely, and congratulated me on my safety. Then I arose and took forth from the raft a quantity of the minerals and jewels, and aloes-wood and crude ambergris, and gave it to the King; and he accepted it from me, and treated me with exceeding honour, lodging me in a place in his abode. I associated with the best and the greatest of the people, who paid me great respect, and I quitted not the abode of the King.
The island of Sarandib is under the equinoctial line; its night being always twelve hours, and its day also twelve hours. Its length is eighty leagues; and its breadth, thirty; and it extendeth largely between a lofty mountain and a deep valley. This mountain is seen from a distance of three days, and it containeth varieties of jacinths, and different kinds of minerals, and trees of all sorts of spices, and its surface is covered with emery, wherewith jewels are cut into shape: in its rivers also are diamonds, and pearls are in its valleys. I ascended to the summit of the mountain, and diverted myself with a view of its wonders, which are not to be described; and afterwards I went back to the King, and begged him to give me permission to return to my country. He gave me permission after great pressing, and bestowed upon me an abundant present from his treasuries; and he gave me a present and a sealed letter, saying to me, Convey these to the Khalifeh Harun Er-Rashid, and give him many salutations from us. So I replied, I hear and obey. The wrote for me a letter on skin of the khawi, which is finer than parchment, of yellowish colour; and the writing was in ultramarine. And the form of what he wrote to the Khalifeh was this:Peace be on thee, from the King of India, before whom are a thousand elephants, and on the battlements of whose palace are a thousand jewels. To proceed: we have sent to thee a trifling present: accept it then from us. Thou art to us a brother and sincere friend, and the affection for you that is in our hearts is great: therefore favour us by a reply. The present is not suited to thy dignity; but we beg of thee, O brother, to accept it graciously. And peace be on thee!And the present was a cup of ruby, a span high, the inside of which was embellished with precious pearls; and a bed covered with the skin of the serpent that swalloweth the elephant, which skin hath spots, each like a piece of gold, and whosoever sitteth upon it never becometh diseased, and a hundred thousand mithkals of Indian aloes-wood; and a slave-girl like the shining full moon. Then he bade me farewell, and gave a charge respecting me to the merchants and the master of the ship.
So I departed thence, and we continued our voyage from island to island and from country to country until we arrived at Baghdad, whereupon I entered my house, and met my family and my brethren; after which I took the present, with a token of service from myself for the Khalifeh. On entering his presence, I kissed his hand, and placed before him the whole, giving him the letter; and he read it, and took the present, with which he was greatly rejoiced, and he treated me with the utmost honour. He then said to me, O Sindibad, is that true which this King hath stated in his letter? And I kissed the ground, and answered, O my lord, I witnessed in his kingdom much more than he hath mentioned in his letter. On the day of his public appearance, a throne is set for him upon a huge elephant, eleven cubits high, and he sitteth upon it, having with him his chief officers and pages and guests, standing in two ranks, on his right and on his left. At his head standeth a man having in his hand a golden javelin, and behind him a man in whose hand is a great mace of gold, at the top of which is an emerald a span in length, and of the thickness of a thumb. And when he mounteth, there mount at the same time with him a thousand horsemen clad in gold and silk; and as the King proceedeth, a man before him proclaimeth, saying, This is the King of great dignity, of high authority! And he proceedeth to repeat his praises in terms that I remember not, at the end of his panegyric saying, This is the King the owner of the crown the like of which neither Suleyman nor the Mihraj possessed! Then he is silent; and one behind him proclaimeth, saying, He will die! Again I say, He will die! Again I say, He will die!And the other saith, Extolled be the perfection of the Living who dieth not!Moreover, by reason of his justice and good government and intelligence, there is no Kadi in his city; and all the people of his country distinguish the truth from falsity.And the Khalifeh wondered at my words, and said, How great is this King! His letter hath shewn me this; and as to the greatness of his dominion, thou hast told us what thou hast witnessed. By Allah, he hath been endowed with wisdom and dominion!Then the Khalifeh conferred favours upon me, and commanded me to depart to my abode. So I came to my house, and gave the legal and other alms, and continued to live in the same pleasant circumstances as at present. I forgot the arduous troubles that I had experienced, discarded from my heart the anxieties of travel, rejected from my mind distress, and betook myself to eating and drinking, and pleasures and joy.