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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Firdawsī’s Satire on Máhmúd

By Firdawsī (c. 940–1020)

From the ‘Shāh-Nāmah’: Version by James Atkinson

KNOW, tyrant as thou art, this earthly state

Is not eternal, but of transient date;

Fear God, then, and afflict not humankind;

To merit Heaven, be thou to Heaven resigned.

Afflict not even the ant: though weak and small,

It breathes and lives, and life is sweet to all.

Knowing my temper, firm and stern and bold,

Didst thou not, tyrant, tremble to behold

My sword blood-dropping? Hadst thou not the sense

To shrink from giving man like me offense?

What could impel thee to an act so base?

What, but to earn and prove thy own disgrace?

Why was I sentenced to be trod upon

And crushed to death by elephants, by one

Whose power I scorn? Couldst thou presume that I

Would be appalled by thee, whom I defy?

I am the lion, I, inured to blood,

And make the impious and the base my food;

And I could grind thy limbs, and spread them far

As Nile’s dark waters their rich treasures bear.

Fear thee! I fear not man, but God alone;

I only bow to his Almighty throne.

Inspired by him, my ready numbers flow;

Guarded by him, I dread no earthly foe.

Thus in the pride of song I pass my days,

Offering to Heaven my gratitude and praise.

From every trace of sense and feeling free,

When thou art dead, what will become of thee?

If thou shouldst tear me limb from limb, and cast

My dust and ashes to the angry blast,

Firdawsī still would live, since on thy name,

Máhmúd, I did not rest my hopes of fame

In the bright page of my heroic song,

But on the God of heaven, to whom belong

Boundless thanksgivings, and on him whose love

Supports the faithful in the realms above,

The mighty Prophet! None who e’er reposed

On him, existence without hope has closed.

And thou wouldst hurl me underneath the tread

Of the wild elephant, till I were dead!

Dead! by that insult roused I should become

An elephant in power, and seal thy doom—

Máhmúd! if fear of man hath never awed

Thy heart, at least fear thy creator God.

Full many a warrior of illustrious worth,

Full many of humble, of imperial birth,—

Túr, Selím, Jemshíd, Minúchihr the brave,

Have died; for nothing had the power to save

These mighty monarchs from the common doom;

They died, but blest in memory still they bloom.

Thus kings too perish,—none on earth remain,

Since all things human see the dust again.

Oh, had thy father graced a kingly throne,

Thy mother been for royal virtues known,

A different fate the poet then had shared,—

Honors and wealth had been his just reward;

But how remote from thee a glorious line!

No high, ennobling ancestry is thine;

From a vile stock thy bold career began,—

A blacksmith was thy sire, of Isfahán.

Alas! from vice can goodness ever spring?

Is mercy hoped for in a tyrant king?

Can water wash the Ethiopian white?

Can we remove the darkness from the night?

The tree to which a bitter fruit is given

Would still be bitter in the bowers of heaven;

And a bad heart keeps on its vicious course,—

Or if it changes, changes for the worse;

Whilst streams of milk, where Eden’s flow’rets blow,

Acquire more honeyed sweetness as they flow.

The reckless king who grinds the poor like thee

Must ever be consigned to infamy!

Now mark Firdawsī’s strain; his Book of Kings

Will ever soar upon triumphant wings.

All who have listened to its various lore

Rejoice; the wise grow wiser than before;

Heroes of other times, of ancient days,

Forever flourish in my sounding lays:

Have I not sung of Káús, Tús and Gíw;

Of matchless Rustem, faithful still and true.

Of the great Demon-binder, who could throw

His kamund to the heavens, and seize his foe!

Of Húsheng, Feridún, and Sám Suwár,

Lohurásp, Kai-khosráu, and Isfendiyár;

Gushtásp, Arjásp, and him of mighty name,—

Gúdarz, with eighty sons of martial fame!

The toil of thirty years is now complete,

Record sublime of many a warlike feat,

Written ’midst toil and trouble; but the strain

Awakens every heart, and will remain

A lasting stimulus to glorious deeds;

For even the bashful maid, who kindling reads,

Becomes a warrior. Thirty years of care,

Urged on by royal promise, did I bear,

And now, deceived and scorned, the aged bard

Is basely cheated of his pledged reward!