Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
From “Sohrab and Rustum”
 
Matthew Arnold (1822–88)
 
 
THE COMBAT

  HE ceas’d, but while he spake, Rustum had risen,
And stood erect, trembling with rage; his club
He left to lie, but had regain’d his spear,
Whose fiery point now in his mail’d right-hand
Blaz’d bright and baleful, like that autumn-star,        5
The baleful sign of fevers; dust had soil’d
His stately crest, and dimm’d his glittering arms.
His breast heav’d, his lips foam’d, and twice his voice
Was chok’d with rage; at last these words broke way:—
  “Girl! nimble with thy feet, not with thy hands!        10
Curl’d minion, dancer, coiner of sweet words!
Fight, let me hear thy hateful voice no more!
Thou art not in Afrasiab’s gardens now
With Tartar girls, with whom thou art wont to dance;
But on the Oxus-sands, and in the dance        15
Of battle, and with me, who make no play
Of war; I fight it out, and hand to hand.
Speak not to me of truce, and pledge, and wine!
Remember all thy valor; try thy feints
And cunning! all the pity I had is gone;        20
Because thou hast sham’d me before both the hosts
With thy light skipping tricks, and thy girl’s wiles.”
  He spoke, and Sohrab kindled at his taunts,
And he too drew his sword; at once they rush’d
Together as two eagles on one prey        25
Come rushing down together from the clouds,
One from the east, one from the west; their shields
Dash’d with a clang together, and a din
Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters
Make often in the forest’s heart at morn,        30
Of hewing axes, crashing trees—such blows
Rustum and Sohrab on each other hail’d.
And you would say that sun and stars took part
In that unnatural conflict; for a cloud
Grew suddenly in Heaven, and dark’d the sun        35
Over the fighters’ heads; and a wind rose
Under their feet, and moaning swept the plain,
And in a sandy whirlwind wrapp’d the pair.
In gloom they twain were wrapp’d, and they alone;
For both the on-looking hosts on either hand        40
Stood in broad daylight, and the sky was pure,
And the sun sparkled on the Oxus stream.
But in the gloom they fought, with blood-shot eyes
And laboring breath; first Rustum struck the shield
Which Sohrab held stiff out; the steel-spik’d spear        45
Rent the tough plates, but fail’d to reach the skin,
And Rustum pluck’d it back with angry groan.
Then Sohrab with his sword smote Rustum’s helm,
Nor clove its steel quite through; but all the crest
He shore away, and that proud horsehair plume,        50
Never till now defil’d, sank to the dust;
And Rustum bow’d his head; but then the gloom
Grew blacker, thunder rumbled in the air,
And lightnings rent the cloud; and Ruksh, the horse,
Who stood at hand, utter’d a dreadful cry;—        55
No horse’s cry was that, most like the roar
Of some pain’d desert-lion, who all day
Has trail’d the hunter’s javelin in his side,
And comes at night to die upon the sand—
The two hosts heard that cry, and quak’d for fear,        60
And Oxus curdled as it cross’d his stream.
But Sohrab heard, and quail’d not, but rush’d on,
And struck again; and again Rustum bow’d
His head; but this time all the blade, like glass,
Sprang in a thousand shivers on the helm,        65
And in the hand the hilt remain’d alone.
Then Rustum rais’d his head; his dreadful eyes
Glar’d, and he shook on high his menacing spear,
And shouted: Rustum!—Sohrah heard that shout,
And shrank amaz’d: back he recoil’d one step,        70
And scann’d with blinking eyes the advancing form;
And then he stood bewilder’d, and he dropp’d
His covering shield, and the spear pierced his side.
He reel’d, and staggering back, sank to the ground;
And then the gloom dispers’d, and the wind fell,        75
And the bright sun broke forth, and melted all
The cloud; and the two armies saw the pair;—
Saw Rustum standing, safe upon his feet,
And Sohrab, wounded, on the bloody sand.
 
OXUS

  BUT the majestic river floated on,
        80
Out of the mist and hum of that low land,
Into the frosty starlight, and there mov’d,
Rejoicing, through the hush’d Chorasmian waste,
Under the solitary moon;—he flow’d
Right for the polar star, past Orgunjé,        85
Brimming, and bright, and large; then sands begin
To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
And split his currents; that for many a league
The shorn and parcell’d Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles—        90
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,
A foil’d circuitous wanderer—till at last
The long’d-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
His luminous home of waters open, bright        95
And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bath’d stars
Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.
 

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