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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 King and the Hawk

By Vishnu Sharma (Pilpay) (c. 1000 B.C.?)

From the Persian version of Pilpay, ‘Anvár-i Suhailí,’ or ‘Lights of Canopus’

THEY have related that in ancient times there was a king fond of hunting. He was ever giving reins to the courser of his desire in the pursuit of game, and was always casting the lasso of gladness over the neck of sport. Now this king had a hawk, who at a single flight could bring down the Símurgh from the peak of Káf, and in terror of whose claws the constellation Aquila kept himself close in the green nest of the sky.

  • When that bold falcon stretched his pinions wide,
  • Heaven’s bosom then was pierced through with dread;
  • When to the sky with upward flight he hied,
  • The eagle of the spheres his feathers shed.

  • And the king had a prodigious fondness for this hawk, and always cared for it with his own hands. It happened that one day the monarch, holding the hawk on his hand, had gone to the chase. A stag leapt up before him, and he galloped after it with the utmost eagerness. But he did not succeed in coming up with it, and became separated from his retinue and servants; and though some of them followed him, the king rode so hotly that the morning breeze—which in the twinkling of the eye encircles the world—could not have reached the dust he raised, nor could the north wind, in spite of its velocity, attain to the dust of his horse’s hoofs.

  • Unmeasured has thy swiftness been:
  • So swift, no trace of thee is seen!

  • Meantime the fire of his thirst was kindled, and the intense desire to drink overcame the king. He galloped his steed in every direction, and traversed the desert and the waste in search of water, until he reached the skirt of a mountain, and beheld that from its summit limpid water was trickling. The king drew forth a cup which he had in his quiver, and riding under the mountain filled the cup with that water, which fell drop by drop; and was about to take a draught, when the hawk made a blow with his wing and spilled all the water in the goblet. The king was vexed at that action, but held the cup a second time under the rock until it was brimful. He then raised it to his lips again, and again the hawk made a movement and overthrew the cup.

  • Brought to the lip, they then forbid the draught.
  • The king, rendered impatient by thirst, dashed the hawk on the ground and killed it. Shortly after, a stirrup-holder of the king came up, and saw the hawk dead and the king athirst. He then undid a water-vessel from his saddle-cord, and washed the cup clean, and was about to give the king to drink. The latter bade him ascend the mountain, as he had the strongest inclination for the pure water which trickled from the rock, and could not wait to collect it in the cup, drop by drop; and therefore he desired the attendant to fill a cup with it and come down. The stirrup-holder ascended the mountain and beheld a spring like the eye of hard-hearted misers, giving out a drop at a time with a hundred stintings; and a huge serpent lay dead on the margin of the fountain; and as the heat of the sun had taken effect upon it, the poisonous saliva mixed with the water of that mountain, and it trickled drop by drop down the rock. The stirrup-holder was overcome with horror, and came down from the mountain bewildered, and represented the state of the case, and gave the king a cup of cold water from his ewer. The latter raised the cup to his lips, and his eyes overflowed with tears.

  • A little water then he drank: the burnings of his heart were stopped;
  • The fluid that his lips imbibed, back from his flooding eyelids dropped.
  • The attendant asked the reason of his weeping. The king drew a cold sigh from his anguished heart, and said:—

  • “So deep my grief that I to none can tell the secret of my woes;
  • And yet my tale is such that I must still my lips perforce unclose.”
  • He then related in full the story of the hawk and the spilling of the water in the cup; and said, “I grieve for the death of the hawk, and bemoan my own deed in that without inquiry I have deprived a creature so dear to me of life.” The attendant replied, “This hawk protected thee from a great peril, and has established a claim to the gratitude of all the people of this country. It would have been better if the king had not been precipitate in slaying it, and had quenched the fire of wrath with the water of mildness, and had turned back the reins of the courser of his passions with the vigor of endurance, and had not transgressed the monition of the wise, who have said:—

  • Do not the courser of thyself so strain,
  • That thou canst not at will draw in the rein.”
  • The king replied, “I repent of this unseemly action, but my repentance is now unavailing, and the wound of this sorrow cannot be healed by any salve; and as long as I live I shall retain on my bosom the scar of this regret, and lacerate the visage of my feelings with the nail of remorse.

  • What can I do? The deed was mine: for self-made ills there is no cure.”