Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Sohrab and Rustum”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Matthew Arnold 1822–88

From “Sohrab and Rustum”



HE ceas’d, but while he spake, Rustum had risen,

And stood erect, trembling with rage; his club

He left to lie, but had regain’d his spear,

Whose fiery point now in his mail’d right-hand

Blaz’d bright and baleful, like that autumn-star,

The baleful sign of fevers; dust had soil’d

His stately crest, and dimm’d his glittering arms.

His breast heav’d, his lips foam’d, and twice his voice

Was chok’d with rage; at last these words broke way:—

“Girl! nimble with thy feet, not with thy hands!

Curl’d minion, dancer, coiner of sweet words!

Fight, let me hear thy hateful voice no more!

Thou art not in Afrasiab’s gardens now

With Tartar girls, with whom thou art wont to dance;

But on the Oxus-sands, and in the dance

Of battle, and with me, who make no play

Of war; I fight it out, and hand to hand.

Speak not to me of truce, and pledge, and wine!

Remember all thy valor; try thy feints

And cunning! all the pity I had is gone;

Because thou hast sham’d me before both the hosts

With thy light skipping tricks, and thy girl’s wiles.”

He spoke, and Sohrab kindled at his taunts,

And he too drew his sword; at once they rush’d

Together as two eagles on one prey

Come rushing down together from the clouds,

One from the east, one from the west; their shields

Dash’d with a clang together, and a din

Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters

Make often in the forest’s heart at morn,

Of hewing axes, crashing trees—such blows

Rustum and Sohrab on each other hail’d.

And you would say that sun and stars took part

In that unnatural conflict; for a cloud

Grew suddenly in Heaven, and dark’d the sun

Over the fighters’ heads; and a wind rose

Under their feet, and moaning swept the plain,

And in a sandy whirlwind wrapp’d the pair.

In gloom they twain were wrapp’d, and they alone;

For both the on-looking hosts on either hand

Stood in broad daylight, and the sky was pure,

And the sun sparkled on the Oxus stream.

But in the gloom they fought, with blood-shot eyes

And laboring breath; first Rustum struck the shield

Which Sohrab held stiff out; the steel-spik’d spear

Rent the tough plates, but fail’d to reach the skin,

And Rustum pluck’d it back with angry groan.

Then Sohrab with his sword smote Rustum’s helm,

Nor clove its steel quite through; but all the crest

He shore away, and that proud horsehair plume,

Never till now defil’d, sank to the dust;

And Rustum bow’d his head; but then the gloom

Grew blacker, thunder rumbled in the air,

And lightnings rent the cloud; and Ruksh, the horse,

Who stood at hand, utter’d a dreadful cry;—

No horse’s cry was that, most like the roar

Of some pain’d desert-lion, who all day

Has trail’d the hunter’s javelin in his side,

And comes at night to die upon the sand—

The two hosts heard that cry, and quak’d for fear,

And Oxus curdled as it cross’d his stream.

But Sohrab heard, and quail’d not, but rush’d on,

And struck again; and again Rustum bow’d

His head; but this time all the blade, like glass,

Sprang in a thousand shivers on the helm,

And in the hand the hilt remain’d alone.

Then Rustum rais’d his head; his dreadful eyes

Glar’d, and he shook on high his menacing spear,

And shouted: Rustum!—Sohrah heard that shout,

And shrank amaz’d: back he recoil’d one step,

And scann’d with blinking eyes the advancing form;

And then he stood bewilder’d, and he dropp’d

His covering shield, and the spear pierced his side.

He reel’d, and staggering back, sank to the ground;

And then the gloom dispers’d, and the wind fell,

And the bright sun broke forth, and melted all

The cloud; and the two armies saw the pair;—

Saw Rustum standing, safe upon his feet,

And Sohrab, wounded, on the bloody sand.


BUT the majestic river floated on,

Out of the mist and hum of that low land,

Into the frosty starlight, and there mov’d,

Rejoicing, through the hush’d Chorasmian waste,

Under the solitary moon;—he flow’d

Right for the polar star, past Orgunjé,

Brimming, and bright, and large; then sands begin

To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,

And split his currents; that for many a league

The shorn and parcell’d Oxus strains along

Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles—

Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had

In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,

A foil’d circuitous wanderer—till at last

The long’d-for dash of waves is heard, and wide

His luminous home of waters open, bright

And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bath’d stars

Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.