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Matthew Arnold (1822–88).  The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867.  1909.
 
The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems
The Sick King in Bokhara
 
[First published 1849. Reprinted 1855.]

HUSSEIN
O MOST just Vizier, send away
The cloth-merchants, and let them be,
Them and their dues, this day: the King
Is ill at ease, and calls for thee.
 
THE VIZIER
O merchants, tarry yet a day
        5
Here in Bokhara: but at noon
To-morrow, come, and ye shall pay
Each fortieth web of cloth to me,
As the law is, and go your way.
O Hussein, lead me to the King.        10
Thou teller of sweet tales, thine own,
Ferdousi’s, 1 and the others’, lead.
How is it with my lord?
 
HUSSEIN
                    Alone,
Ever since prayer-time, he doth wait,        15
O Vizier, without lying down,
In the great window of the gate,
Looking into the Registàn;
Where through the sellers’ booths the slaves
Are this way bringing the dead man.        20
O Vizier, here is the King’s door.
 
THE KING
O Vizier, I may bury him?
 
THE VIZIER
O King, thou know’st, I have been sick
These many days, and heard no thing
(For Allah shut my ears and mind),        25
Not even what thou dost, O King.
Wherefore, that I may counsel thee,
Let Hussein, if thou wilt, make haste
To speak in order what hath chanc’d.
 
THE KING
O Vizier, be it as thou say’st.
        30
 
HUSSEIN
Three days since, at the time of prayer,
A certain Moollah, with his robe
All rent, and dust upon his hair,
Watch’d my lord’s coming forth, and push’d
The golden mace-bearers aside,        35
And fell at the King’s feet, and cried;
 
‘Justice, O King, and on myself!
On this great sinner, who hath broke
The law, and by the law must die!
Vengeance, O King!’
                But the King spoke:
        40
‘What fool is this, that hurts our ears
With folly? or what drunken slave?
My guards, what, prick him with your spears!
Prick me the fellow from the path!’
As the King said, so was it done,        45
And to the mosque my lord pass’d on.
 
But on the morrow, when the King
Went forth again, the holy book
Carried before him, as is right,
And through the square his path he took;        50
 
My man comes running, fleck’d with blood
From yesterday, and falling down
Cries out most earnestly; ‘O King,
My lord, O King, do right, I pray!
 
‘How canst thou, ere thou hear, discern        55
If I speak folly? but a king,
Whether a thing be great or small,
Like Allah, hears and judges all.
 
‘Wherefore hear thou! Thou know’st, how fierce
In these last days the sun hath burn’d:        60
That the green water in the tanks
Is to a putrid puddle turn’d:
And the canal, that from the stream
Of Samarcand is brought this way,
Wastes, and runs thinner every day.        65
 
‘Now I at nightfall had gone forth
Alone, and in a darksome place
Under some mulberry trees I found
A little pool; and in brief space
With all the water that was there        70
I fill’d my pitcher, and stole home
Unseen: and having drink to spare,
I hid the can behind the door,
And went up on the roof to sleep.
 
‘But in the night, which was with wind        75
And burning dust, again I creep
Down, having fever, for a drink.
 
‘Now meanwhile had my brethren found
The water-pitcher, where it stood
Behind the door upon the ground,        80
And call’d my mother: and they all,
As they were thirsty, and the night
Most sultry, drain’d the pitcher there;
That they sate with it, in my sight,
Their lips still wet, when I came down.        85
 
‘Now mark! I, being fever’d, sick,
(Most unblest also) at that sight
Brake forth, and curs’d them—dost thou hear?
One was my mother—Now, do right!’
 
But my lord mus’d a space, and said:        90
‘Send him away, Sirs, and make on.
It is some madman,’ the King said:
As the King said, so was it done.
 
The morrow at the self-same hour
In the King’s path, behold, the man,        95
Not kneeling, sternly fix’d: he stood
Right opposite, and thus began,
Frowning grim down:—‘Thou wicked King,
Most deaf where thou shouldst most give ear!
What, must I howl in the next world,        100
Because thou wilt not listen here?
 
‘What, wilt thou pray, and get thee grace,
And all grace shall to me be grudg’d?
Nay but, I swear, from this thy path
I will not stir till I be judg’d.’        105
 
Then they who stood about the King
Drew close together and conferr’d:
Till that the King stood forth and said,
‘Before the priests thou shalt be heard.’
 
But when the Ulemas 2 were met        110
And the thing heard, they doubted not;
But sentenc’d him, as the law is,
To die by stoning on the spot.
 
Now the King charg’d us secretly:
‘Ston’d must he be, the law stands so:        115
Yet, if he seek to fly, give way:
Forbid him not, but let him go.’
 
So saying, the King took a stone,
And cast it softly: but the man,
With a great joy upon his face,        120
Kneel’d down, and cried not, neither ran.
 
So they, whose lot it was, cast stones;
That they flew thick and bruis’d him sore:
But he prais’d Allah with loud voice,
And remain’d kneeling as before.        125
 
My lord had cover’d up his face:
But when one told him, ‘He is dead,’
Turning him quickly to go in,
‘Bring thou to me his corpse,’ he said.
 
And truly, while I speak, O King,        130
I hear the bearers on the stair.
Wilt thou they straightway bring him in?
—Ho! enter ye who tarry there!
 
THE VIZIER
O King, in this I praise thee not.
Now must I call thy grief not wise.        135
Is he thy friend, or of thy blood,
To find such favour in thine eyes?
 
Nay, were he thine own mother’s son,
Still, thou art king, and the Law stands.
It were not meet the balance swerv’d,        140
The sword were broken in thy hands.
 
But being nothing, as he is,
Why for no cause make sad thy face?
Lo, I am old: three kings, ere thee,
Have I seen reigning in this place.        145
 
But who, through all this length of time,
Could bear the burden of his years,
If he for strangers pain’d his heart
Not less than those who merit tears?
 
Fathers we must have, wife and child;        150
And grievous is the grief for these:
This pain alone, which must be borne,
Makes the head white, and bows the knees.
 
But other loads than this his own
One man is not well made to bear.        155
Besides, to each are his own friends,
To mourn with him, and show him care.
 
Look, this is but one single place,
Though it be great: all the earth round,
If a man bear to have it so,        160
Things which might vex him shall be found.
 
Upon the Russian 3 frontier, where
The watches of two armies stand
Near one another, many a man,
Seeking a prey unto his hand,        165
 
Hath snatch’d a little fair-hair’d slave:
They snatch also, towards Mervè,
The Shiah dogs, who pasture sheep,
And up from thence to Orgunjè. 4
 
And these all, labouring for a lord,        170
Eat not the fruit of their own hands:
Which is the heaviest of all plagues,
To that man’s mind, who understands.
 
The kaffirs also (whom God curse!)
Vex one another, night and day:        175
There are the lepers, and all sick:
There are the poor, who faint alway.
 
All these have sorrow, and keep still,
Whilst other men make cheer, and sing.
Wilt thou have pity on all these?        180
No, nor on this dead dog, O King!
 
THE KING
O Vizier, thou art old, I young.
Clear in these things I cannot see.
My head is burning; and a heat
Is in my skin which angers me.        185
 
But hear ye this, ye sons of men!
They that bear rule, and are obey’d,
Unto a rule more strong than theirs
Are in their turn obedient made.
 
In vain therefore, with wistful eyes        190
Gazing up hither, the poor man,
Who loiters by the high-heap’d booths,
Below there, in the Registàn,
 
Says, ‘Happy he, who lodges there!
With silken raiment, store of rice,        195
And for this drought, all kinds of fruits,
Grape syrup, squares of colour’d ice,
 
‘With cherries serv’d in drifts of snow.’
In vain hath a king power to build
Houses, arcades, enamell’d mosques;        200
And to make orchard closes, fill’d
 
With curious fruit trees, bought from far;
With cisterns for the winter rain;
And in the desert, spacious inns
In divers places;—if that pain        205
 
Is not more lighten’d, which he feels,
If his will be not satisfied:
And that it be not, from all time
The Law is planted, to abide.
 
Thou wert a sinner, thou poor man!        210
Thou wert athirst; and didst not see,
That, though we snatch what we desire,
We must not snatch it eagerly.
 
And I have meat and drink at will,
And rooms of treasures, not a few.        215
But I am sick, nor heed I these:
And what I would, I cannot do.
 
Even the great honour which I have,
When I am dead, will soon grow still.
So have I neither joy, nor fame.        220
But what I can do, that I will.
 
I have a fretted brick-work tomb
Upon a hill on the right hand,
Hard by a close of apricots,
Upon the road of Samarcand:        225
 
Thither, O Vizier, will I bear
This man my pity could not save;
And, plucking 5 up the marble flags,
There lay his body in my grave.
 
Bring water, nard, and linen rolls.        230
Wash off all blood, set smooth each limb.
Then say; ‘He was not wholly vile,
Because a king shall bury him.’
 
Note 1. Ferdousi’s] Ferdusi’s 1849. [back]
Note 2. Ulemas] Ulema 1849. [back]
Note 3. Russian] northern 1849. [back]
Note 4. Orgunjè] Urghendjè 1849. [back]
Note 5. plucking] tearing 1849. [back]
 
 
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