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

Prince Sohráb Learns of his Birth, and Resolves to Find Rustem

By Firdawsī (c. 940–1020)

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

WHEN nine slow-circling months had rolled away,

Sweet-smiling pleasure hailed the brightening day;

A wondrous boy Tahmíneh’s tears suppressed,

And lulled the sorrows of her heart to rest;

To him, predestined to be great and brave,

The name Sohráb his tender mother gave;

And as he grew, amazed the gathering throng

Viewed his large limbs, his sinews firm and strong.

His infant years no soft endearment claimed;

Athletic sports his eager soul inflamed;

Broad at the chest and taper round the loins,

Where to the rising hip the body joins;

Hunter and wrestler; and so great his speed,

He could o’ertake and hold the swiftest steed,

His noble aspect and majestic grace

Betrayed the offspring of a glorious race.

How, with a mother’s ever-anxious love,

Still to retain him near her heart she strove!

For when the father’s fond inquiry came,

Cautious she still concealed his birth and name,

And feigned a daughter born, the evil fraught

With misery to avert—but vain the thought:

Not many years had passed with downy flight,

Ere he, Tahmíneh’s wonder and delight,

With glistening eye, and youthful ardor warm,

Filled her foreboding bosom with alarm.

“Oh, now relieve my heart!” he said; “declare

From whom I sprang, and breathe the vital air,

Since from my childhood I have ever been,

Amidst my playmates, of superior mien.

Should friend or foe demand my father’s name,

Let not my silence testify my shame!

If still concealed, you falter, still delay,

A mother’s blood shall wash the crime away.”

“This wrath forego,” the mother answering cried,

“And joyful hear to whom thou art allied.

A glorious line precedes thy destined birth,—

The mightiest heroes of the sons of earth.

The deeds of Sám remotest realms admire,

And Zál, and Rustem thy illustrious sire!”

In private, then, she Rustem’s letter placed

Before his view, and brought with eager haste

Three sparkling rubies, wedges three of gold,

From Persia sent. “Behold,” she said, “behold

Thy father’s gifts—will these thy doubts remove?

The costly pledges of paternal love!

Behold this bracelet charm, of sovereign power

To baffle fate in danger’s awful hour:

But thou must still the perilous secret keep,

Nor ask the harvest of renown to reap;

For when, by this peculiar signet known,

Thy glorious father shall demand his son,

Doomed from her only joy in life to part,

O think what pangs will rend thy mother’s heart!

Seek not the fame which only teems with woe:

Afrásiyáb is Rustem’s deadliest foe!

And if by him discovered, him I dread,

Revenge will fall upon thy guiltless head.”

The youth replied:—“In vain thy sighs and tears;

The secret breathes, and mocks thy idle fears.

No human power can fate’s decrees control,

Or check the kindled ardor of my soul.

Then why from me the bursting truth conceal?

My father’s foes even now my vengeance feel;

Even now in wrath my native legions rise,

And sounds of desolation strike the skies;

Káús himself, hurled from his ivory throne,

Shall yield to Rustem the imperial crown,

And thou my mother, still in triumph seen,

Of lovely Persia hailed the honored queen!

Then shall Túrán unite beneath my band,

And drive this proud oppressor from the land!

Father and son in virtuous league combined,

No savage despot shall enslave mankind;

When sun and moon o’er heaven refulgent blaze,

Shall little stars obtrude their feeble rays?”

He paused, and then:—“O mother, I must now

My father seek, and see his lofty brow;

Be mine a horse, such as a prince demands,

Fit for the dusty field, a warrior’s hands;

Strong as an elephant his form should be,

And chested like the stag, in motion free,

And swift as bird, or fish; it would disgrace

A warrior bold on foot to show his face.”

The mother, seeing how his heart was bent,

His day-star rising in the firmament,

Commands the stables to be searched to find

Among the steeds one suited to his mind;

Pressing their backs, he tries their strength and nerve:

Bent double to the ground their bellies curve:

Not one, from neighboring plain and mountain brought,

Equals the wish with which his soul is fraught;

Fruitless on every side he anxious turns,

Fruitless, his brain with wild impatience burns:

But when at length they bring the destined steed,

From Rakush bred, of lightning’s wingèd speed,

Fleet as the arrow from the bowstring flies,

Fleet as the eagle darting through the skies,

Rejoiced he springs, and with a nimble bound

Vaults in his seat and wheels the courser round:

“With such a horse, thus mounted, what remains?

Káús the Persian King no longer reigns!”

High-flushed he speaks, with youthful pride elate,

Eager to crush the monarch’s glittering state;

He grasps his javelin with a hero’s might,

And pants with ardor for the field of fight.

Soon o’er the realm his fame expanding spread,

And gathering thousands hastened to his aid.