THE PRODIGALITY OF FIRDAUSI
Firdausi the strong Lion among poets, lean of purse
And lean with age, had finished his august mountain of verse,
The great Shah Nameh gleaming-glaciered with demon wars,
Bastioned with Rustem's bitter labours and Isfendiyar's,
Shadowed with Jamshid's grief and glory as with eagles' wings,
Its foot-hills dewy-forested with the amours of kings,
Clashing with rhymes that rush like snow-fed cataracts blue and cold;
And the king commanded to be given him an elephant's burden of gold.
Firdausi the carved Pillar among poets was not dear
To government. They smiled at the king's word. The Grand Vizier
Twisted his pale face, making parsimonious mouths, and said
'Send the old rhymer thirty thousand silver pounds instead --
The price of ten good vineyards and a fine Circassian girl.'
This pleased them and they called a secretarial shape, a churl,
A pick-thank without understanding and of base descent,
And bade it deliver their bounty, and with mincing paces it went.
It found the Cedar among poets in the baths that day,
At ease, discoursing with his friends. Exalted men were they,
Taking their wine and sugared roseleaves in an airy hall,
Poets or theologians or saints or warriors all
Or lovers or astronomers. Like honey-drops the speech
Distilled in apophthegms or verses from the lips of each,
On roses and predestination and heroic wars
And rhetoric, and the brevity of the life of man, and the stars.
With courtesy the Lily among poets asked its will.
The bearers laid the silver at his feet. The hall was still,
The churl grew pale. Firdausi beckoned to the Nubian slave
Who had dried their feet; to him the first ten thousand coins he gave.
Ten thousand more immediately he gave the fair-haired boy
Who waved the fan, saying 'My son, may Allah send you joy;
And in your grandson's house in unbelieving Frangistan
Make it your boast that once you spoke with the splendour of Iran.'
Lastly the Heaven of poets to the churl himself returned
The remnant. 'You look pale, my friend,' he said. 'Well have you earned
This trifle for your courtesy and for the heat of the day.'
Clutching his silver, silently, the creature slunk away,
And dogs growled as he passed and beggars spat. Laughter and shame
Wait upon all his progeny; on him, Gehenna's flame.
Immediately the discourse in the baths once more began
On the beauty of women and horses and the brevity of the life of man.