Majnûn, midst wild and solitude,
His melancholy mood pursued;
In sterner moments, loud he raved,
The desert's burning noon-tide braved,
Or, where refreshing shadows fell,
Warbled of her he loved so well.
The Arab chief of that domain
Which now his wandering footsteps press'd,
Was honor'd for his bounteous reign–
For ever succouring the distress'd.
Noufal his name—well known to wield,
Victorious in the battle-field,
His glittering sword, and overthrow
The robber-band or matrial foe;
Magnificent in pomp and state,
And wealthy as in valour great.
One day the pleasures of the chase,
The keen pursuit of bounding deer,
Had brought the chieftain to that place
Where Majnûn stood, and, drawing near,
The stranger's features sought to trace,
And the sad notes of grief to hear,
Which, ere he saw the maniac's face,
Had, sorrow-laden, struck his ear.
He now beheld that wasted frame,
That head and mien o'ergrown with hair,
That wild, wild look, which well might claim.
Brotherly kindred with despair,
Dejected, miserable, borne
By grief to life's last narrow verge,
With wounded feet and vestment torn,
Singing his own funeral dirge.
Noufal had traversed forest, copse, and glade,
In anxious quest of game, and here he found
Game—but what game?—alas! a human shade,
So light, it scarcely touch'd the ground.
Dismounting straight, he hears what woes
Had marr'd the mournful youth's repose;
And kindly tries with gentle words
To show what pleasures life affords;
And prove the uselessness, the folly,
Of nursing grief and melancholy;
But worse, when men from reason flee,
And willing steep their hearts in misery.
The sympathy of generous minds
Around the heart its influence winds,
And, ever soothing, by degrees,
Restores its long-lost harmonies;
Majnûn, so long to love a prey,
Death hastening on by swift decay,
Began to feel that calming spell,
That sweet delight, unspeakable,
Which draws us from ourselves away.
A change now gently o'er him came;
With trembling hand he took the cup,
And drank, but drank in Lailî's name,
The life-restoring cordial up.
His spirits rose; refreshing food
At Noufal's hospitable board,
Seem'd to remove his wayward mood,
So long endured, so long deplored.
And Noufal with delight survey'd
The social joy his eyes betray'd,
And heard his glowing strains of love,
His murmurings like the turtle-dove,
While thinking of his Arab maid.
Changed from himself, his mind at rest,
In customary robes he dress'd;
A turban shades his forehead pale,
No more is heard the lover's wail,
But, jocund as the vintner's guest,
He laughs and drinks with added zest;
His dungeon gloom exchanged for day,
His cheeks a rosy tint display;
He revels midst the garden's sweets,
And still his lip the goblet meets;
But so devoted, so unchanged his flame,
Never without repeating Lailî's name.
In friendly converse, heart uniting heart,
Noufal and Majnûn hand in hand are seen;
And, from each other loathing to depart,
Wander untired by fount and meadow green.
But what is friendship to a soul
Inured to more intense control?
A zephyr breathing over flowers,
Compared to when the tempest lours?
A zephyr, friendship's gentler course;
A tempest, love's tumultuous force;
For friendship leaves a vacuum still,
Which love, and love alone, can fill:
So Majnûn felt; and Noufal tried,
In vain, to fill that aching void:
For, though the liquid sparkling red
Still flow'd, his friend thus sorrowing said:—
“My generous host, with plenty bless'd,
No boding cares thy thoughts molest;
Thy kindness many a charm hath given,
But not one solace under heaven;
Without my love, in tears I languish,
And not a voice to check my anguish;
Like one of thirst about to die,
And every fountain near him dry:
Thirst is by water quench'd, not treasure,
Nor floods of wine, nor festive pleasure.
Bring me the cure my wounds require;
Quench in my heart this raging fire;
My Lailî, oh! my Lailî give,
Or thy poor friend must cease to live!”
Majnûn had scarce his wish express'd
Ere rose in generous Noufal's breast
The firm resolve to serve his friend,
And to his settled purpose bend
Lailî's stern father;
Now, in arms array'd,
And lifting high his keen Damascus blade,
He calls a band of veterans to his aid.
Swift as the feather'd race the assembled train
Rush, sword in hand, along the desert plain;
And when the chieftain's habitation bright
Upon the blue horizon strikes the sight,
He sends a messenger to claim the bride,
In terms imperious, not to be denied;
Yet was that claim derided. “Thou wilt soon
Repent this folly:—Lailî is the moon;
And who presumes the splendid moon to gain?
Is there on earth a man so mad, so vain?
Who draw their swords at such a hazard? None.
Who strikes his crystal vase upon a stone?”
Noufal again endeavours to inspire
With dread of vengeance Lailî's haughty sire;
But useless are the threats—the same reply–
“Alike thy power and vengeance I defy!”
The parley over, Noufal draws his sword,
And with his horsemen pours upon the horde,
Ready for battle. Spears and helmets ring,
And brass-bound shields; loud twangs the archer's string;
The field of conflict like the ocean roars,
When the huge billows burst upon the shores.
Arrows, like birds, on either foeman stood,
Drinking with open beak the vital flood;
The shining daggers in the battle's heat
Roll'd many a head beneath the horses' feet;
And lightnings, hurl'd by death's unsparing hand,
Spread consternation through the weeping land.
Amidst the horrors of that fatal fight,
Majnûn appear'd—a strange appalling sight!
Wildly he raved, confounding friend and foe.
His garments half abandon'd in his woe,
And with a maniac stare reproachful cried—
“Why combat thus when all are on my side?”
The foemen laugh'd–the uproar louder grew,
No pause the brazen drums or trumpets knew—
The stoutest heart sank at the carnage wrought;
Swords blush'd to see the numerous heads they smote.
–Noufal with dragon-fierceness prowl'd around,
And hurl'd full many a warrior to the ground:
Whatever hero felt his ponderous gurz*
Was crush'd, tho' steadfast as the Mount Elberz.
Upon whatever head his weapon fell,
There was but one heart-rending tale to tell.
Like a mad elephant the foe he met;
With hostile blood his blade continued wet;
—Wearied at length, both tribes at once withdrew,
Resolved with morn the combat to renew;
But Noufal's gallant friends had suffer'd most;
In one hour more the battle had been lost;
And thence assistance, ere the following dawn,
From other warlike tribes was promptly drawn.
The desert rang again. In front and rear
Glitter'd bright sword and buckler, gurz and spear;
Again the struggle woke the echoes round,
Swords, clash'd and blood again made red the ground;
The book of life, with dust and carnage stain'd,
Was soon destroy'd, and not a leaf remain'd.
At last, the tribe of Lailî's sire gave way,
And Noufal won the hard-contested day;
Numbers lay bleeding of that conquere'd band,
And died unsuccour'd on the burning sand.
And now the elders of that tribe, appear,
Imploring the proud victor. “Chieftain, hear!
The work of slaughter is complete;
Thou seest our power destroy'd; allow
Us, wretched suppliants, at thy feet,
Humbly to ask for mercy now.
“How many warriors press the plain,
Khanjer and spear have laid them low;
At peace, behold our kinsmen slain,
And thou art now without a foe.
“Then pardon what of wrong has been:
Let us retire, unharm'd—unstay'd—
Far from this sanguinary scene,
And take thy prize—the Arab Maid.”
Then came the father, full of grief, and said–
(Ashes and dust upon his hoary head,)
“With thee, alas! how useless to contend!
Thou art the conqueror, and to thee I bend.
Without resentment now the vanquish'd view,
Wounded and old, and broken-hearted too;
Reproach has fallen upon me, and has dared
To call me Persian—that I disregard;
For I'm an Arab still, and scorn the sneer
Of braggart fools, unused to shield and spear.
But let that pass. I now, o'ercome, and weak,
And prostrate, pardon from the victor seek:
Thy slave am I, obedient to thy will,
Ready thy sternest purpose to fulfil;
But if with Lailî I consent to part,
Wilt thou blot out all vengeance from thy heart?
Then speak at once, and thy behest declare:
I will not flinch, though it my soul may tear.
My daughter shall be brought at thy command;
Let the red flames ascend from blazing brand,
Waiting their victim, crackling in the air,
And Lailî duteously shall perish there.
Or, if thou'dst rather see the maiden bleed,
This thirsty sword shall do the dreadful deed;
Dissever at one blow that lovely head,
Her sinless blood by her own father shed!
In all things thou shalt find me faithful, true,
Thy slave obsequious,—what wouldst have me do?
But mark me; I am not to be beguiled;
I will not to a demon give my child;
I will not to a madman's wild embrace
Consign the pride and honor of my race,
And wed her to contempt and foul disgrace.
I will not sacrifice my tribe's fair fame,
Nor taint with obloquy her virtuous name.
Has honor on an Arab heart no claim?
Better be overwhelm'd by adverse fate
Than yield up honor, even for kingly state.
Through all Arabia is her virtue known;
Her beauty match'd by heavenly charms alone.
I'd rather in a monster be enshrined
Than bear a name detested by mankind.
What! wed a wretch, and earn my country's ban?
A dog were better than a demon-man.
A dog's bite heals, but human gnawings never;
The festering poison-wounds remain for ever.”
Thus spake the father, and in Noufal's breast
Excited feelings not to be repress'd:
“I hoped to win consent,” he said—
“But now that anxious hope is dead,
And thou and thine may quit the field,
Still arm'd with khanjer, sword, and shield;
Horseman an elder. Thus in vain
Blood has bedew'd this thirsty plain.”
When Majnûn this conclusion hears,
He flies incensed to Noufal, and with tears
Wildly exclaims—“The dawn, my generous friend!
Promised this day in happiness would end;
But thou hast let the gazelle slip away,
And me defrauded of my beauteous prey.
Near where Forât's* bright stream rolls on, reclined,
Staunching my wounds, hope soothed my tortured mind,
And gave me Lailî; now that hope is cross'd,
And life's most valued charm for ever lost.”
Noufal with heavy heart now homeward bent
His way, and Majnûn with him sorrowing went;
And there again the pitying chieftain strove
To calm the withering pangs of hopeless love;
To bless, with gentleness and tender care,
The wounded spirit sinking in despair:
But vain his efforts; mountain, wood, and plain,
Soon heard the maniac's piercing woes again;
Escaped from listening ear, and watchful eye,
Lonely again in desert wild to lie.