Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Turkestan: Bokhara
The Sick King of Bokhara
Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)
 
(See full text.)

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, 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, may I 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 chanced.
 
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,
Watched my lord’s coming forth, and pushed
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 passed 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, flecked 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 burned;        60
That the green water in the tanks
Is to a putrid puddle turned;
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 filled 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 called my mother; and they all,
As they were thirsty, and the night
Most sultry, drained the pitcher there;
Thus they sate with it, in my sight,
Their lips still wet, when I came down.        85
 
  “Now mark! I, being fevered, sick
(Most unblest also), at that sight
Brake forth, and cursed them,—dost thou hear?
One was my mother—Now, do right!”
 
  But my lord mused 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 selfsame hour
In the King’s path, behold, the man,        95
Not kneeling, sternly fixed: 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 grudged?
Nay but, I swear, from this thy path
I will not stir till I be judged.”        105
 
  Then they who stood about the King
Drew close together and conferred,
Till that the King stood forth and said,
“Before the priests thou shalt be heard.”
 
  But when the Ulemas were met        110
And the thing heard, they doubted not;
But sentenced him, as the law is,
To die by stoning on the spot.
 
  Now the King charged us secretly:
“Stoned 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
Kneeled down, and cried not, neither ran.
 
  So they, whose lot it was, cast stones;
That they flew thick and bruised him sore:
But he praised Allah with loud voice,
And remained kneeling as before.        125
 
  My lord had covered 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 favor 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 swerved,        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 pained his heart
Not less than those who merit tears?
*        *        *        *        *
 
THE KING
  O Vizier, thou art old, I young.
        150
Clear in these things I cannot see.
My head is burning; and a heat
Is in my skin which angers me.
 
  But hear ye this, ye sons of men!
They that bear rule, and are obeyed,        155
Unto a rule more strong than theirs
Are in their turn obedient made.
 
  In vain therefore, with wistful eyes
Gazing up hither, the poor man,
Who loiters by the high-heaped booths,        160
Below there, in the Registàn,
 
  Says, “Happy he, who lodges there!
With silken raiment, store of rice,
And for this drought, all kinds of fruits,
Grape syrup, squares of colored ice,        165
 
  “With cherries served in drifts of snow.”
In vain hath a king power to build
Houses, arcades, enamelled mosques;
And to make orchard closes, filled
 
  With curious fruit-trees, brought from far;        170
With cisterns for the winter rain;
And in the desert, spacious inns
In divers places;—if that pain
 
  Is not more lightened, which he feels,
If his will be not satisfied:        175
And that it be not, from all time
The law is planted, to abide.
 
  Thou wert a sinner, thou poor man!
Thou wert athirst; and didst not see
That, though we snatch what we desire,        180
We must not snatch it eagerly.
 
  And I have meat and drink at will,
And rooms of treasures, not a few.
But I am sick, nor heed I these:
And what I would, I cannot do.        185
 
  Even the great honor which I have,
When I am dead, will soon grow still.
So have I neither joy nor fame.
But what I can do, that I will.
 
  I have a fretted brickwork tomb        190
Upon a hill on the right hand,
Hard by a close of apricots,
Upon the road of Samarcand:
 
  Thither, O Vizier, will I bear
This man my pity could not save;        195
And, plucking up the marble flags,
There lay his body in my grave.
 
  Bring water, nard, and linen rolls;
Wash off all blood, set smooth each limb;
Then say, “He was not wholly vile,        200
Because a king shall bury him.”
 
 
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