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Medieval Sourcebook:
Nizami (1140-1203 CE):
Khosru & Shireen, c. 1190

[Horne Introduction]

The poet Nizami (1140-1203 CE), forms the favorite romantic reading of Persians even today. He is the chief teller of love tales for his people. He wrote five long poetic books, commonly called "The Five Treasures." Among these the "Khosru and Shireen," here quoted, is generally regarded as his masterpiece. Khosru Parviz lived A.D. 590; he was a prince of exalted virtues and great magnificence; he fought against the Greek emperors with success, but was at last defeated by Heraclius. He is said to have married a daughter of the Greek Emperor Maurice, named Irene, called by the Persians Shireen, or Sweet. Ferhad's history forms a tragical episode in this romance. He was a sculptor, celebrated throughout the East for his great genius, and was daring enough to fix his affections on the beloved of the King. The jealousy of Khosru was excited, and he lamented to his courtiers the existence of a passion which was so violent as not to be concealed, and which gave him great uneasiness. He summoned Ferhad to his presence, and commissioned him to execute a work which should render his name immortal---to clear away all impediments which obstructed the passage of the great mountain of Beysitoun. He commanded him, after having done this, to cause the rivers on the opposite side of the mountain to join.


The Labors of Ferhad

On lofty Beysitoun the lingering sun
looks down on ceaseless labors, long begun:
The mountain trembles to the echoing sound
Of falling rocks, that from her sides rebound.
Each day all respite, all repose denied---
No truce, no pause, the thundering strokes are plied;
The mist of night around her summit coils,
But still Ferhad, the lover-artist, toils,
And still---the flashes of his axe between---
He sighs to ev'ry wind, "Alas! Shireen!
Alas! Shireen!---my task is well-nigh done,
The goal in view for which I strive alone.
Love grants me powers that Nature might deny;
And, whatsoe'er my doom, the world shall tell,
Thy lover gave to immortality
Her name he loved---so fatally---so well!

A hundred arms were weak one block to move
Of thousands, molded by the hand of Love
Into fantastic shapes and forms of grace,
Which crowd each nook of that majestic place.
The piles give way, the rocky peaks divide,
The stream comes gushing on---a foaming tide!
A mighty work, for ages to remain,
The token of his passion and his pain.
As flows the milky flood from Allah's throne
Rushes the torrent from the yielding stone;
And sculptured there, amazed, stern Khosru stands,
And sees, with frowns, obeyed his harsh commands:
While she, the fair beloved, with being rife,
Awakes the glowing marble into life.
Ah! hapless youth; ah! toil repaid by woe---
A king thy rival and the world thy foe!
Will she wealth, splendor, pomp for thee resign---
And only genius, truth, and passion thine!
Around the pair, lo! groups of courtiers wait,
And slaves and pages crowd in solemn state;
From columns imaged wreaths their garlands throw,
And fretted roofs with stars appear to glow!
Fresh leaves and blossoms seem around to spring,
And feathered throngs their loves are murmuring;
The hands of Peris might have wrought those stems,
Where dewdrops hang their fragile diadems;
And strings of pearl and sharp-cut diamonds shine,
New from the wave, or recent from the mine.

"Alas! Shireen!" at every stroke he cries;
At every stroke fresh miracles arise:  
"For thee these glories and these wonders all,
For thee I triumph, or for thee I fall;
For thee my life one ceaseless toil has been,
Inspire my soul anew: Alas! Shireen!"

What raven note disturbs his musing mood?
What form comes stealing on his solitude?
Ungentle messenger, whose word of ill
All the warm feelings of his soul can chill!  
"Cease, idle youth, to waste thy days," she said,
"By empty hopes a visionary made;
Why in vain toil thy fleeting life consume
To frame a palace?---rather hew a tomb.
Even like sere leaves that autumn winds have shed,
Perish thy labors, for---Shireen is dead!"

He heard the fatal news---no word, no groan;
He spoke not, moved not, stood transfixed to stone.
Then, with a frenzied start, he raised on high
His arms, and wildly tossed them toward the sky;
Far in the wide expanse his axe he flung
And from the precipice at once he sprung.
The rocks, the sculptured caves, the valleys green,
Sent back his dying cry--- "Alas! Shireen!"


From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol.VIII: Medieval Persia, pp. 103-107.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, August 1998


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