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

Sarah Williams 1841–68

Omàr and the Persian

THE VICTOR stood beside the spoil, and by the grinning dead:

“The land is ours, the foe is ours, now rest, my men,” he said.

But while he spoke there came a band of foot-sore, panting men:

“The latest prisoner, my lord, we took him in the glen,

And left behind dead hostages that we would come again.”

The victor spoke: “Thou, Persian dog! hast cost more lives than thine.

That was thy will, and thou shouldst die full thrice, if I had mine.

Dost know thy fate, thy just reward?” The Persian bent his head,

“I know both sides of victory, and only grieve,” he said,

“Because there will be none to fight ’gainst thee when I am dead.

“No Persian faints at sight of Death,—we know his face too well,—

He waits for us on mountain side, in town, or shelter’d dell;

But I crave a cup of wine, thy first and latest boon,

For I have gone three days athirst, and fear lest I may swoon,

Or even wrong mine enemy, by dying now, too soon.”

The cup was brought; but ere he drank the Persian shudder’d white.

Omàr replied, “What fearest thou? The wine is clear and bright;

We are no poisoners, not we, nor traitors to a guest,

No dart behind, nor dart within, shall pierce thy gallant breast;

Till thou hast drain’d the draught, O foe, thou dost in safety rest.”

The Persian smil’d, with parched lips, upon the foemen round,

Then pour’d the precious liquid out, untasted, on the ground.

“Till that is drunk, I live,” said he, “and while I live, I fight;

So, see you to your victory, for ’t is undone this night;

Omàr the worthy, battle fair is but thy god-like right.”

Upsprang a wrathful army then,—Omàr restrain’d them all,

Upon no battle-field had rung more clear his martial call,

The dead men’s hair beside his feet as by a breeze was stirr’d,

The farthest henchman in the camp the noble mandate heard:

“Hold! if there be a sacred thing, it is the warrior’s word.”