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

The Beautiful Rūdābah Discloses her Love for Zāl

By Firdawsī (c. 940–1020)

From the ‘Shāh-Nāmah’: Translation of Samuel Robinson

[After a time Rūdābah resolves to reveal her passion to her attendants.]

THEN she said to her prudent slaves:—

“I will discover what I have hitherto concealed;

Ye are each of you the depositaries of my secrets,

My attendants, and the partners of my griefs.

I am agitated with love like the raging ocean,

Whose billows are heaved to the sky.

My once bright heart is filled with the love of Zāl;

My sleep is broken with thoughts of him.

My soul is perpetually filled with my passion;

Night and day my thoughts dwell upon his countenance.

“Not one except yourselves knoweth my secret:

Ye my affectionate and faithful servants,

What remedy now can ye devise for my ease?

What will ye do for me? What promise will ye give me?

Some remedy ye must devise,

To free my heart and soul from this unhappiness.”

Astonishment seized the slaves,

That dishonor should come nigh the daughter of kings.

In the anxiety of their hearts they started from their seats,

And all gave answer with one voice:—

“O crown of the ladies of the earth!

Maiden pre-eminent amongst the pre-eminent!

Whose praise is spread abroad from Hindustan to China;

The resplendent ring in the circle of the harem;

Whose stature surpasseth every cypress in the garden;

Whose cheek rivaleth the lustre of the Pleiades;

Whose picture is sent by the ruler of Kanūj

Even to the distant monarchs of the West—

Have you ceased to be modest in your own eyes?

Have you lost all reverence for your father,

That whom his own parent cast from his bosom,

Him you will receive into yours?

A man who was nurtured by a bird in the mountains!

A man who was a byword amongst the people!

You with your roseate countenance and musky tresses,

Seek a man whose hair is already white with age!

You who have filled the world with admiration,

Whose portrait hangeth in every palace,

And whose beauty, and ringlets, and stature, are such

That you might draw down a husband from the skies!”

[To this remonstrance she makes the following indignant answer:]

When Rūdābah heard their reply,

Her heart blazed up like fire before the wind.

She raised her voice in anger against them;

Her face flushed, but she cast down her eyes.

After a time, grief and anger mingled in her countenance,

And knitting her brows with passion, she exclaimed:—

“O unadvised and worthless counselors,

It was not becoming in me to ask your advice!

Were my eye dazzled by a star,

How could it rejoice to gaze even upon the moon?

He who is formed of worthless clay will not regard the rose,

Although the rose is in nature more estimable than clay!

I wish not for Cæsar, nor Emperor of China,

Nor for any one of the tiara-crowned monarchs of Irān;

The son of Sām, Zāl, alone is my equal,

With his lion-like limbs and arms and shoulders.

You may call him, as you please, an old man or a young;

To me he is in the room of heart and of soul.

Except him, never shall any one have a place in my heart;

Mention not to me any one except him.

Him hath my love chosen unseen,

Yea, hath chosen him only from description.

For him is my affection, not for face or hair;

And I have sought his love in the way of honor.”

[Her vehemence overcomes the reluctance of the slaves, and one of them promises, if possible, to contrive an interview.]

“May hundreds of thousands such as we are be a sacrifice for thee;

May the wisdom of the creation be thy worthy portion;

May thy dark narcissus-eye be ever full of modesty;

May thy cheek be ever tinged with bashfulness!

If it be necessary to learn the art of the magician,

To sew up the eyes with the bands of enchantment,

We will fly till we surpass the enchanter’s bird,

We will run like the deer in search of a remedy.

Perchance we may draw the King nigh unto his moon,

And place him securely at thy side.”

The vermeil lip of Rūdābah was filled with smiles;

She turned her saffron-tinged countenance toward the slave, and said:—

“If thou shalt bring this matter to a happy issue,

Thou hast planted for thyself a stately and fruitful tree,

Which every day shall bear rubies for its fruit,

And shall pour that fruit into thy lap.”

[The story proceeds to say how the slaves fulfill their promise. They go forth, and find Zāl practicing with the bow. Busying themselves in gathering roses, they attract his attention. He shoots an arrow in that direction, and sends his quiver-bearer to bring it back. The slaves inquire who the hero is who draws the bow with so much strength and skill. The boy answers scornfully, “Do they not know that it is Zāl, the most renowned warrior in the world?” In reply, they vaunt the superior attractions of Rūdābah. The boy reports their account of her to Zāl, who goes to speak to them, receives from them a warm description of her charms, and presses them to procure for him the means of obtaining an interview. This little incident is well imagined: it is Zāl who is made to ask for the meeting, and the honor of Rūdābah is not compromised. The slaves return to their mistress and report upon their mission, eulogizing the goodly qualities of the hero. Her ironical answer to their former depreciation is animated and natural.]

Then said the elegant cypress-formed lady to her maidens:—

“Other than this were once your words and your counsel!

Is this then the Zāl, the nursling of a bird?

This the old man, white-haired and withered?

Now his cheek is ruddy as the flower of the arghavān;

His stature is tall, his face beautiful, his presence lordly!

Ye have exalted my charms before him;

Ye have spoken, and made me a bargain!”

She said, and her lips were full of smiles;

But her cheek crimsoned like the bloom of pomegranate.

[The interview takes places in a private pavilion of the Princess; and the account of it is marked with more than one touch of truth and beauty.]

When from a distance the son of the valiant Sām

Became visible to the illustrious maiden,

She opened her gem-like lips and exclaimed:—

“Welcome, thou brave and happy youth!

The blessing of the Creator of the world be upon thee!

On him who is the father of a son like thee!

May Destiny ever favor thy wishes!

May the vault of heaven be the ground thou walkest on!

The dark night is turned into day by thy countenance;

The world is soul-enlivened by the fragrance of thy presence!

Thou hast traveled hither on foot from thy palace;

Thou hast pained, to behold me, thy royal footsteps!”

When the hero heard the voice from the battlement,

He looked up and beheld a face resplendent as the sun,

Irradiating the terrace like a flashing jewel,

And brightening the ground like a flaming ruby.

Then he replied:—“O thou who sheddest the mild radiance of the moon,

The blessing of Heaven, and mine, be upon thee!

How many nights hath cold Arcturus beholden me,

Uttering my cry to God, the Pure,

And beseeching the Lord of the universe

That he would vouchsafe to unveil thy countenance before me!

Now I am made joyful in hearing thy voice,

In listening to thy rich and gracious accents.

But seek, I pray thee, some way to thy presence;

For what converse can we hold, I on the ground and thou on the terrace?”

The Peri-faced maiden heard the words of the hero;

Quickly she unbound her auburn locks,

Coil upon coil and serpent on serpent;

And she stooped and dropped down the tresses from the battlement,

And cried:—“O hero, child of heroes,

Take now these tresses; they belong to thee,

And I have cherished them that they might prove an aid to my beloved.”

And Zāl gazed upward at the lovely maiden,

And stood amazed at the beauty of her hair and of her countenance;

He covered the musky ringlets with his kisses,

And his bride heard the kisses from above;

Then he exclaimed:—“That would not be right—

May the bright sun never shine on such a day!

It were to lay my hand on the life of one already distracted;

It were to plunge the arrow-point into my own wounded bosom.”

Then he took his noose from his boy, and made a running knot,

And threw it, and caught it on the battlement,

And held his breath, and at one bound

Sprang from the ground, and reached the summit.

As soon as the hero stood upon the terrace,

The Peri-faced maiden ran to greet him,

And took the hand of the hero in her own,

And they went like those who were overcome with wine.

Then he descended from the lofty gallery,

His hand in the hand of the tall Princess,

And came to the door of the gold-painted pavilion,

And entered that royal assembly,

Which blazed with light like the bowers of Paradise;

And the slaves stood like houris before them:

And Zāl gazed in astonishment

On her face, and her hair, and her stately form, and on all that splendor.

And Zāl was seated in royal pomp

Opposite that mildly radiant beauty;

And Rūdābah could not rest from looking towards him,

And gazing upon him with all her eyes;

On that arm and shoulder, and that splendid figure,

On the brightness of that soul-enlightening countenance;

So that the more and more she looked,

The more and more was her heart inflamed.

Then he kissed and embraced her, renewing his vows—

Can the lion help pursuing the wild ass?—

And said:—“O sweet and graceful silver-bosomed maiden,

It may not be, that, both of noble lineage,

We should do aught unbecoming our birth;

For from Sām Nariman I received an admonition,

To do no unworthy deed, lest evil should come of it;

For better is the seemly than the unseemly,

That which is lawful than that which is forbidden;

And I fear that Manuchahar, when he shall hear of this affair,

Will not be inclined to give it his approval:

I fear too that Sām will exclaim against it,

And will boil over with passion, and lay his hand upon me.

Yet though soul and body are precious to all men,

Life I will resign, and clothe myself with a shroud—

And this I swear by the righteous God—

Ere I will break the faith which I have pledged thee.

I will bow myself before him, and offer my adoration,

And supplicate him as those who worship him in truth,

That he will cleanse the heart of Sām, King of the earth,

From opposition, and rage, and rancor.

Perhaps the Creator of the world may listen to my prayer,

And thou mayest yet be publicly proclaimed my wife.”

And Rūdābah said:—“And I also, in the presence of the righteous God,

Take the same pledge, and swear to thee my faith;

And He who created the world be witness to my words,

That no one but the hero of the world,

The throned, the crowned, the far-famed Zāl,

Will I ever permit to be sovereign over me.”

The gray dawn began to show itself,

And the drum to be heard from the royal pavilion;

Then Zāl bade adieu to the fair one.

His soul was darkened, and his bosom on fire,

And the eyes of both were filled with tears;

And they lifted up their voices against the sun:—

“O glory of the universe, why come so quick?

Couldst thou not wait one little moment?”

Then Zāl cast his noose on a pinnacle,

And descended from those happy battlements,

As the sun was rising redly above the mountains,

And the bands of warriors were gathering in their ranks.