The Lark said, ‘They have related that an indigent Old Woman had a daughter, by name Muhastí, such that the full moon envied the brightness of her lustrous cheek; and the world-illuminating sun, from the reflection of her enchanting countenance, sate down perspiring with shame.

Maid of soft words, that stole the sense away,
And robbed the sweetmeat-maker of his worth:
Did she but one coquettish grace display,
It raised a thousand troubles on the earth,
And her one look to thousand broils gave birth.

All of a sudden the blighting glance of unpropitious fortune having fallen on that rose-cheeked cypress, she laid her head on the pillow of sickness; and in the flower-garden of her beauty, in place of the damask-rose, sprang up the branch of the saffron. Her fresh jessamine, from the violence of the burning illness, lost its moisture; and her hyacinth full of curls, lost all its endurance from the fever that consumed her.

Her graceful form, with lengthened sufferings spent,
Was like her perfumed musky tresses—bent.

The Old Woman hovered round her daughter, and with eyes moist as vernal clouds, was saying tenderly and sorrowfully, ‘Life of thy mother! may my life be a sacrifice for thee, and may the head of this infirm one, wearied out in the corner of distress, be the dust of thy feet! I will make myself an offering for thee, and redeem, with the half life I possess, thy existence.

Does thy head ache? then for it me devote.*

Every morning she used to say, with many sighs and lamentations, ‘O God! spare this young inexperienced maid, and take in her stead this broken-down old woman tired of her life.

What of my life remains to me,
Take and increase her life withal.
Though dwindled to a hair I be,
From her head let not one hair fall.’

In short the Old Woman, in accordance with the love of mothers and maternal tenderness, day and night exerted herself in prayer and supplication, and freely offered to bestow the life which was left to her for her beloved child. One day it happened that a cow belonging to the old woman returned from the desert, and entered the kitchen; and induced by the smell of soup, put its head in to a cauldron, and ate the contents. But when it tried to extricate its head, it was unable to do so. Thereupon, becoming furious, it went out of the kitchen with the pot just as it was, on its head; and ran from one corner to another. At the time the cow came back the Old Woman was not in the house, and was ignorant of those circumstances. When she came home and saw an object of that form and appearance going round the house, she imagined that it was Izráil, who had come to seize the soul of Muhastí. Forthwith she uttered a shriek, and said most piteously,

‘Angel of death! Muhastí am not I;
I am but a poor old woman, full of woe.
Then if thou would’st remove her spirit, why,
She is within that chamber, thou must know.
Yes! if Muhastí is required by thee,
Lo! she is there; take her, but let me go.’
Thus whom she valued in security,
She soon surrendered; seeing danger near.
Know! if the question is to live or die,
To every man himself will prove most dear.

And I, this day, have divested myself of all connections and separated myself from all mankind, and I have been so plentifully supplied with things in thy service that the caravan of my strength is loaded therewith, and is unable to support any farther burthen.

I fear my body is too feeble, and this burthen cannot bear.

And what living being can endure that they should give the corner of his heart to the fire of injustice, and its fruit to the winds of destruction? and having cast the light of his eyes into the gloom of extinction, should deprive him of the joy of his life? And when I think of my precious offspring, that was the light of my tearful eyes, and the delight of my afflicted breast, the sea of regret rolls its billows, and plunges the vessel of patience into the whirlpool of perturbation, and the flame of the fire of bewilderment, rising higher, consumes at once the goods of endurance and toleration.

I wander in a world of grief, and to the sea that circles round me
None can find a limit; surely shore or limit none is there.
I said I would, by patience, flee the watery prison-house that bound me.
Lo! the ship of patience founders, nought is left me but despair.

And in addition to all this, my life is not safe; and to be cajoled by this politeness and feigned courtesy, appears to me to be far from the practice of wise men. Consequently I repeat the verse, ‘Would to God that between me and thee there was the distance of the east from the west!*

Sure separations would be better far,
Than meetings which the cause of sorrow are.’

The king rejoined, ‘If what thou hast done had been without previous provocation, caution and avoidance would have appeared more proper than intercourse. But thou hast acted on the principle of retaliation, and thy deed has been done by way of requital. And the tongue of righteous adjudication enjoins nought else, and the judge of equity, in return for such an act as emanated from my son, directs a recompense of such a nature. Wherefore, what can be the reason of thy keeping aloof? and what the cause of thy aversion? Reflect, I pray, that before my son was born thou wast the companion of my hours and the partner of my life. And when my son made his appearance from the concealment of non-existence in the expanse of entity, paternal love required that I should feel delight in his society. In this I associated him with thee, and passed my life in intercourse with thee and in fond conversation with him. And now that the malignant eye of fortune has inflicted an injury on the jewel of his sight, the enjoyment that I felt in seeing him is broken off; but the gratification of thy discourse, and the joy of addressing and being addressed by thee remains. Act not in such a manner that this too shall be altogether destroyed; and that I, for the remainder of my life, should become a permanent worshiper in the temple of grief, and pass the time with sorrow, and chagrin, and vexation, and despondency. And the case betwixt me and thee is like that of the Musician and the King.’ The Lark inquired, ‘How was that?’