The poet Ferdusi

Text by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Translated into English by Joseph Massaad

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I

Men of gold and men of silver!
It is silver that the common man
Means when he mentions a thoman;
He means a silver thoman.

In a Shah's mouth however,
A thoman is always of gold,
For he uses golden thomans
When anything is bought or sold.

Worthy people have this notion,
And Ferdusi thought the same way,
When he composed his famous work,
The immortal Shah Nameh.

He composed at the Shah's command
This song, heroic and divine.
The Shah promised that a thoman
Would be paid for every rhyme.

The roses bloomed seventeen times,
And seventeen times did they wilt;
The nightingales who sang for them,
As many times, had to quit.

Meanwhile, the poet was sitting
At the loom of thought, his mind set
On working day and night, weaving
His poem's immense carpet.

Immense carpet, where the poet
Skillfully interweaves and sings
His country's fable chronicles
And Farsistan's primeval kings,

Favorite heroes of his people,
Beings with magical powers,
Demons and knightly adventures,
Intertwined with fabled flowers.

All were blooming, all were alive,
Glowing, burning, color bright,
Heavenly illuminated
By Iran's sacred rays of light,

By the divine primeval light,
Whose last temple, pure and fiery,
In spite of Koran and mufti,
In the poet's heart flamed brightly.

When at last the work was finished,
The poet, without wasting time,
Send the manuscript to the Shah,
Two hundred thousand verses, in rhyme.

It was in the public bath room,
At the Gasna bathing place
That the Shah's black messengers
Could at last find Ferdusi's trace.

Each carried a bag of money,
Which, kneeling, he slowly posed
By the poet's feet, a reward
For the verses he composed.

The poet hastily opened
The bags for his eyes enjoyment,
Having being deprived from gold
For so long, when with amazement,

He saw that all the bags contained
Thomans, thomans made of silver!
Exactly two hundred thousand…
And the poet's laugh was bitter.

Laughing bitterly, the money
He divided, without a word,
Into three equal parts, giving,
Each black messenger, a third,

As a reward for their message;
And the remaining third, he gave,
As drinking money for helping
In the bathroom, to a knave.

Then, he grabbed his pilgrim's stick,
And, off the city he moved;
Before the city gate, the dust,
From under his shoes, he removed.

II

" Had he, like other men before,
Not kept the words he's once spoken,
And simply his promise broken,
I would not anger anymore.

To forgive him, I never will,
That, through double-meanings, he meant
To deceive me with such contempt.
And his silence was falser still.

He was of dignified aspect,
Both in gestures and in stature,
Few could match his stately nature,
A king in every respect.

I once met his fiery glance,
As the sun in the horizon,
He was truth's haughty companion,
Yet, he betrayed my confidence! "

III

Shah Mahomet has had good food,
And his soul is in merry mood.

In the garden at twilight, on purple pillow,
He sits by a fountain; its plashing sounds mellow!

His servants stand with a respectful air,
His favorite Ansari is also there.

From vases of marble, a burning gush
Of luxuriant flowers appears to rush.

Like slave-women with graceful arms
Stand fanning themselves the slender palms.

The cypresses stand there, motionless,
Dreaming of heaven, forgetting the earth.

Joining the strains of the lute, one could hear
A sudden song, soft, mysterious and clear.

The Shah springs up, as if strung by a spell,
" Who composed this song's text, I pray you tell? "

Ansari, to whom the question was posed,
Replied: " This was by Ferdusi composed. "

" Ferdusi? " cried the prince with unease,
" Where is he? How is he? Tell me, please!"

Ansari replied: " He is in great need,
For long, he 's lived in poverty indeed,

At Thus, the poet's fathers town of birth,
Where, to survive, he cultivates the earth.

After a long silence, Shah Mahomet spoke:
" Act with haste, Ansari, this is no joke!

Go to my stables and carefully choose
The best fifty camels and hundred mules.

And load them all with every treasure
That can fill the heart of man with pleasure,

With marvelous articles and things rare,
With costly clothing and furniture fair

Made of sadal wood, ivory inlaid,
With precious things with gold or silver thread;

With goblets with decorated handles and pots
And leopard-skins, dotted all over with spots.

With carpets and shawls and the richest brocade
That, within the realm of my kingdom, are made.

And do not forget to pack with the rest
Glittering arms and saddle-decks of the best,

As well as drinks of all kinds and sorts
And food, such as one in jars transports,

And jams and all sorts of almond cake
And all the gingerbreads one could bake.

And add to all that a dozen steeds
As swift as arrows, of Arab breeds.

And black slaves, a dozen again
With steel bodies, resisting pain.

Once the collecting is out of the way,
Ansari, start your trip without delay.

Go to Thus, to Ferdusi and you may,
With all these treasures, my regards convey.

Ansari fulfilled his lord's request,
Loading mules and camels with the best

And most valuable gifts, costing a sum,
Equal to a whole province's income.

Hardly three days had passed when he left
The residence, fulfilling his quest,

And with a commander's banner red,
Ahead of the caravan he sped.

After eight days, Thus they saw,
Lying in the foothills below.

With shouts and cries the caravan went straight,
Entering the town through the western gate.

The trumpets sounded, the drums beat loud,
And triumphal songs rang through the crowd.

" La Illah illa Allah! " this jubilant cry
Shouted the camel drivers as they went by.

But through the east gate, at the other end
Of Thus, as the same time, sorrowing went

The funeral train, with a most mournful pace,
Bearing dead Ferdusi to his resting place.