AMONG those who have sung of love in Persia not the least is Kamal ad-Din Ismail of Isfahan. Of his life we have some brief accounts, the longest of which is contained in the ‘Tadhikirat ush-Shu‘ara,’ or ‘Memoirs of the Poets,’ written in the fifteenth century by Daulatshah of Samarkand, whose account of the poet is as fol­lows:

‘Jamal ad-Din Abd ar-Razzak, the descendant of integrity and the ancestor of honour, had two sons, Muin ad-Din Abd al-Karim and Kamal ad-Din Ismail. Muin ad-Din was full of understanding and wisdom, and Kamal ad-Din also was learned and wise, and their family was in great honour in Isfa­han, and high grandees bent themselves to the edu­cation of Kamal ad-Din Ismail…. Now the great folk and the poets name Kamal ad-Din Ismail the Creator of Conceits, for in his words lie hid subtle conceits, which after consideration for a little time become clear…. And the Divan of Kamal ad-Din Ismail was honoured in the eyes of them of understanding, but Kamal was disdainful of praise, howbeit his fame spread through all the earth. Men tell the tale that in him the wealth of this world and all manner of talents met together, and ever he gave succour from his goods in business-wise to the needy, but certain of them of Isfahan dealt falsely with him and denied their debt, and therefore he hated men….

‘And after no long time the army of Uktai Khan came, and there was a massacre of the folk in Isfa­han, and Kamal ad-Din also was martyred in that tumult. Now the occasion of his murder was this: When the Mogul army came, Kamal clad him in the rags of Sufis and of Holy Men, and chose him a her­mitage without the city. These folk did not cause him vexation but they showed respect unto him, and the people of the city and of the quarters of it hid their garments and belongings in his hermitage, and all this was in a well within his house. On a time a young Mogul came, bow in hand, to the hermitage and threw a stone at a bird. His thumb-stall fell from his hand and the wrapper rolled into the well. In the search for the thumb-stall they drew off the covering of the well and discovered the treasure, and they demanded of Kamal that he reveal yet other wealth until he perished in torment and in torture, and in the moment of his death he wrote with his own blood this rubai:

“My bleeding heart obeys thy will, O Lord!
Is this the rest my years of homage earn?
Be patient, O my soul; now shalt thou learn
In what strange ways God doth man’s love reward.”

‘And his martyrdom was made on the second day of the first Jamad of the year six hundred and thirty-five…. And Rafi Lanbani and Athir ad-Din Aumani and Sharaf ad-Din Shafruh were of the con­temporaries of Kamal ad-Din Ismail.’

Thus, on the twenty-first of December, 1237, died Kamal ad-Din. Daulatshah has indeed a few other passages concerning him, but these give little infor­mation more. We read of contemporaries of his, such as Salman of Saveh, who joined him in answer to the poetaster Athir ad-Din of Akhsikat, and Mujir ad-Din of Bailakani, who replied with him to Hasan of Ghazni. We know, too, that he inherited not only his wealth but his poetic talents, for Daulat­shah tells us that his father, whose full name was Jamal ad-Din Muhammed ibn Abd ar-Razzak, was ‘of the lords and great ones and wise in Isfahan. Melodious was his poesy and high station he held and perfect favour. And Kamal ad-Din Ismail of Isfahan was his son, and the Sultan Said Ulugh Beg Gurgan (God make bright the fame of him!) exalted the words of Jamal ad-Din Abd ar-Razzak even as the words of Kamal ad-Din Ismail his son.’ Kamal’s characteristic note in the eyes of his Persian biographer is ‘tenderness,’ and in a burst of ecstasy he declares:

‘Great Jami’s verses, brine-filled as the sea,
Draw all their sweetness, O Kamal, from thee.’

In the ‘Tarikh-i Guzidah,’ or ‘Select History,’ written by Hamdullah Mustavfi of Kazvin in 1330 A.D., there is a brief mention of our poet, saying that ‘He has some dainty verses and has originated some charming conceits. He has composed sundry schol­arly works, among them a “Treatise on the Bow.”’ According to Hamdullah, furthermore, Kamal wrote as he lay dying this rubai in addition to the one already quoted:

‘O Heart, awake once more! What is thy pain
To that of thy dear land by anguish swept?
Last night for one that died a thousand wept,
At dawn not one to weep a thousand slain!’

Thus far the Persian texts on Kamal ad-Din. In his Divan, as it has come down to us, we find gha­zals and kassidas and his rubaiyat. The ghazals and kassidas touch, it is true, on ethics and on mystic lore, but in the main they are devoted to eulogies of his patrons, to the Chief Justice Rukn ad-Din Said ibn Masud, to the princes of the house of Khvarizm­shah, Ala ad-Din Tukush, his son Mohammed ibn Tukush, and his grandsons Jalal ad-Din and Ghi­yath ad-Din, as well as to the Atabeg princes of Fars, Sad ibn Zangi, and Abu Bekr ibn Said, a patron of the great Sadi also, besides Husam Ardashir of Mazandaran, and many more.

But for us Kamal’s chief interest lies not in his ghazals and kassidas, with their fulsome eulogies of petty kings long passed away, but in his Rubaiyat of love. If Omar, like Koheleth, sings ever of life’s vanity, if Abu Said in his quatrains speaks only of the mystic unity of God and man, Kamal of Isfahan knows no theme but the sadness and the passion of love, whose end is the Triumph of Death.

All we know of Kamal’s heart-history is gleaned from his poetry. His biographers are silent here, and rightly so. Only Occidental ‘culture’ stoops shamelessly to reveal and print the love-lives of the great. Yet, although the veil may not be raised, we may, now and again, catch stray glimpses of the fig­ures which move behind. We know from the Rubaiyat that his love was unhappy, and that the Beloved was cruel to him and false. Nor can we reproach her justly, for however much we idealize the Beloved and worship her above all else, she is but woman, varium et mutabile semper.

Of one thing at least we may be sure, if the Rubaiyat speaks truth—Kamal’s Beloved was of the daughters of joy, twining her hair, like Lilith, about the hearts of men. Before the hierodulæ of Astarte the poets and the artists of all ages have made them­selves an offering. Lesbia, Cynthia, Delia, Corinna, did they not inspire the noblest poems of love that Latin verse has ever known? Was it not Phryne who was the glory of Praxiteles, Aspasia who cast her glamour over the age of Pericles? India knows the tale of Bhartrihari, and China the tragic love-legend of Sai Thâo. Everywhere and ever the God and the Bayadere! So was it with Kamal. He, too, loved one who, perchance, like Rahab in Jericho of old, ‘dwelt upon the wall.’ There her gaze might wan­der over the fair city of Isfahan, and from her win­dow she might behold him fallen at her gate, while from the casement floated her laughter’s mockery. Yet there is not one faltering note in all the Rubai­yat—only the passion and the grief of the Lover that his Love heeds him not. Nor is it strange that he should worship her. ‘Être aimé d’une jeune fille chaste, c’est la chose du monde la plus simple. Mais être réellement aimé d’une courtisane, c’est une vic­toire bien autrement difficile. Ches elles, le corps a usé l’âme, les sens ont brûlé le cœur, la debauche a cuirassé les sentiments. Les mots qu’on leur dit, elles les savent depuis longtemps, les moyens que l’on emploie, elles les connaissent, l’amour même qu’elles inspirent, elles l’ont vendu. Puis, quand Dieu per­met l’amour à une courtisane … !’ This was the hope of Kamal, less happy than he who won the love of Marguerite Gautier. Yet for an instant, even unto him, longing was reality, as woman gives only that she may take away. And then at last, despair­ing and broken, mocked by the men he had helped and the woman he had loved, he went forth from Isfahan, nor came again.

Even to us, children of an after-age of doubt and sadness, come these faint notes of the everlasting pain of Love with the strange sweet perfume of the Beloved, adored in vain. For to them who love as love the Bulbul and the Gul, there is naught but sor­row, sorrow so divine that for one moment of its ecstasy all earthly joy were cheaply lost. Thus Per­sia lessons us of Love, its pain, its perfectness. Ah, Persia! Hafiz, drunken with the wine of Shiraz, chanting a ghazal to his loveling; Jami, rapt in med­itation on the mystic yearning of Potiphar’s wife for the ‘moon of Canaan’; Firdausi, singing to an alien Faith the deeds of his country’s heroes; and, dearest of all to us, enfants du siècle! the death-march beat­ing beneath the gliding melodies of Omar of Naishapur. Through them all, disguised in many chords and struck in many keys, the single note is Love, Love that kills, yet knows too how to die; Love impassioned, burning, sensuous … like the Nightin­gale, with thorn-pierced breast, who sobs out his life to the heedless Rose, that flushes only the deeper scarlet with the wine his heart pours out.