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

Sir Edwin Arnold 1832–1904

The Caliph’s Draught


UPON a day in Ramadan—

When sunset brought an end of fast,

And in his station every man

Prepar’d to share the glad repast—

Sate Mohtasim in royal state,

The pillaw smok’d upon the gold;

The fairest slave of those that wait

Mohtasim’s jewell’d cup did hold.

Of crystal carven was the cup,

With turquoise set along the brim,

A lid of amber clos’d it up;

’T was a great king that gave it him.

The slave pour’d sherbet to the brink,

Stirr’d in wild honey and pomegranate,

With snow and rose-leaves cool’d the drink,

And bore it where the Caliph sate.

The Caliph’s mouth was dry as bone,

He swept his beard aside to quaff:

The news-reader beneath the throne

Went droning on with ghain and kaf.

The Caliph drew a mighty breath,

Just then the reader read a word—

And Mohtasim, as grim as death,

Set down the cup and snatch’d his sword.

“Ann’ amratan shureefatee!”

“Speak clear!” cries angry Mohtasim;

“Fe lasr ind’ ilj min ulji,”

Trembling the newsman read to him

How in Ammoria, far from home,

An Arab girl of noble race

Was captive to a lord of Roum;

And how he smote her on the face,

And how she cried, for life afraid,

“Ya, Mohtasim! help, O my king!”

And how the Kafir mock’d the maid,

And laugh’d, and spake a bitter thing,

“Call louder, fool! Mohtasim’s ears

Are long as Barak’s—if he heed—

Your prophet’s ass; and when he hears,

He ’ll come upon a spotted steed!”

The Caliph’s face was stern and red,

He snapp’d the lid upon the cup;

“Keep this same sherbet, slave,” he said,

“Till such time as I drink it up.

Wallah! the stream my drink shall be,

My hallow’d palm my only bowl,

Till I have set that lady free,

And seen that Roumi dog’s head roll.”

At dawn the drums of war were beat,

Proclaiming, “Thus saith Mohtasim,

‘Let all my valiant horsemen meet,

And every soldier bring with him

A spotted steed.’” So rode they forth,

A sight of marvel and of fear;

Pied horses prancing fiercely north,

Three lakhs—the cup borne in the rear!

When to Ammoria he did win,

He smote and drove the dogs of Roum,

And rode his spotted stallion in,

Crying “Labbayki! I am come!”

Then downward from her prison-place

Joyful the Arab lady crept;

She held her hair before her face,

She kiss’d his feet, she laugh’d and wept.

She pointed where that lord was laid:

They drew him forth, he whin’d for grace:

Then with fierce eyes Mohtaism said—

She whom thou smotest on the face

Had scorn, because she call’d her king:

Lo! he is come! and dost thou think

To live, who didst this bitter thing

While Mohtasim at peace did drink?”

Flash’d the fierce sword—roll’d the lord’s head;

The wicked blood smok’d in the sand.

“Now bring my cup!” the Caliph said.

Lightly he took it in his hand,—

As down his throat the sweet drink ran

Mohtasim in his saddle laugh’d,

And cried, “Taiba asshrab alan!

By God! delicious is this draught!”