Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
 
‘He spoke; and as he ceased, he wept aloud’ (from Sohrab and Rustum)
By Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)
 
(See full text.)

  HE spoke; and as he ceased, he wept aloud,
Thinking of her he left, and his own death.
He spoke; but Rustum listen’d, plunged in thought.
Nor did he yet believe it was his son
Who spoke, although he call’d back names he knew;        5
For he had had sure tidings that the babe,
Which was in Ader-baijan born to him,
Had been a puny girl, no boy at all—
So that sad mother sent him word, for fear
Rustum should seek the boy, to train in arms—        10
And so he deem’d that either Sohrab took,
By a false boast, the style of Rustum’s son;
Or that men gave it him, to swell his fame.
So deem’d he; yet he listen’d, plunged in thought
And his soul set to grief, as the vast tide        15
Of the bright rocking Ocean sets to shore
At the full moon; tears gather’d in his eyes;
For he remember’d his own early youth,
And all its bounding rapture; as, at dawn,
The shepherd from his mountain-lodge descries        20
A far, bright city, smitten by the sun,
Through many rolling clouds—so Rustum saw
His youth; saw Sohrab’s mother, in her bloom;
And that old king, her father, who loved well
His wandering guest, and gave him his fair child        25
With joy; and all the pleasant life they led,
They three, in that long-distant summer-time—
The castle, and the dewy woods, and hunt
And hound, and morn on those delightful hills
In Ader-baijan. And he saw that Youth,        30
Of age and looks to be his own dear son,
Piteous and lovely, lying on the sand,
Like some rich hyacinth which by the scythe
Of an unskilful gardener has been cut,
Mowing the garden grass-plots near its bed,        35
And lies, a fragrant tower of purple bloom,
On the mown, dying grass—so Sohrab lay,
Lovely in death, upon the common sand.
And Rustum gazed on him with grief, and said:—
  “O Sohrab, thou indeed art such a son        40
Whom Rustum, wert thou his, might well have loved.
Yet here thou errest, Sohrab, or else men
Have told thee false—thou art not Rustum’s son.
For Rustum had no son; one child he had—
But one—a girl; who with her mother now        45
Plies some light female task, nor dreams of us—
Of us she dreams not, nor of wounds, nor war.”
  But Sohrab answer’d him in wrath; for now
The anguish of the deep-fix’d spear grew fierce,
And he desired to draw forth the steel,        50
And let the blood flow free, and so to die—
But first he would convince his stubborn foe;
And, rising sternly on one arm, he said:—
  “Man, who art thou who dost deny my words?
Truth sits upon the lips of dying men,        55
And falsehood, while I lived, was far from mine.
I tell thee, prick’d upon this arm I bear
That seal which Rustum to my mother gave,
That she might prick it on the babe she bore.”
  He spoke; and all the blood left Rustum’s cheeks,        60
And his knees totter’d, and he smote his hand
Against his breast, his heavy mailed hand,
That the hard iron corslet clank’d aloud;
And to his heart he press’d the other hand,
And in a hollow voice he spake, and said:—        65
  “Sohrab, that were a proof which could not lie!
If thou show this, then art thou Rustum’s son.”
  Then, with weak hasty fingers, Sohrab loosed
His belt, and near the shoulder bared his arm,
And show’d a sign in faint vermilion points        70
Prick’d; as a cunning workman, in Pekin,
Pricks with vermilion some clear porcelain vase,
An emperor’s gift—at early morn he paints,
And all day long, and, when night comes, the lamp
Lights up his studious forehead and thin hands—        75
So delicately prick’d the sign appear’d
On Sohrab’s arm, the sign of Rustum’s seal.
It was that griffin, which of old rear’d Zal,
Rustum’s great father, whom they left to die,
A helpless babe, among the mountain-rocks;        80
Him that kind creature found, and rear’d, and loved—
Then Rustum took it for his glorious sign.
And Sohrab bared that image on his arm,
And himself scann’d it long with mournful eyes,
And then he touch’d it with his hand and said:—        85
  “How say’st thou? Is that sign the proper sign
Of Rustum’s son, or of some other man’s?”
  He spoke; but Rustum gazed, and gazed, and stood
Speechless; and then he utter’d one sharp cry:
O boy—thy father!—and his voice choked there.        90
And then a dark cloud pass’d before his eyes,
And his head swam, and he sank down to earth.
But Sohrab crawl’d to where he lay, and cast
His arms about his neck, and kiss’d his lips,
And with fond faltering fingers stroked his cheeks,        95
Trying to call him back to life; and life
Came back to Rustum, and he oped his eyes,
And they stood wide with horror; and he seized
In both his hands the dust which lay around,
And threw it on his head, and smirch’d his hair,—        100
His hair, and face, and beard, and glittering arms;
And strong convulsive groanings shook his breast,
And his sobs choked him; and he clutch’d his sword,
To draw it, and for ever let life out.
But Sohrab saw his thought, and held his hands,        105
And with a soothing voice he spake, and said:—
  “Father, forbear! for I but meet to-day
The doom which at my birth was written down
In Heaven, and thou art Heaven’s unconscious hand.
Surely my heart cried out that it was thou,        110
When first I saw thee; and thy heart spoke too,
I know it! but fate trod those promptings down
Under its iron heel; fate, fate engaged
The strife, and hurl’d me on my father’s spear.
But let us speak no more of this! I find        115
My father; let me feel that I have found!
Come, sit beside me on this sand, and take
My head betwixt thy hands, and kiss my cheeks,
And wash them with thy tears, and say: My son!
Quick! quick! for number’d are my sands of life,        120
And swift; for like the lightning to this field
I came, and like the wind I go away—
Sudden, and swift, and like a passing wind.
But it was writ in Heaven that this should be.”
  So said he, and his voice released the heart        125
Of Rustum, and his tears broke forth; he cast
His arms round his son’s neck, and wept aloud,
And kiss’d him. And awe fell on both the hosts,
When they saw Rustum’s grief; and Ruksh, the horse,
With his head bowing to the ground and mane        130
Sweeping the dust, came near, and in mute woe
First to the one then to the other moved
His head, as if inquiring what their grief
Might mean; and from his dark, compassionate eyes,
The big warm tears roll’d down, and caked the sand,        135
But Rustum chid him with stern voice, and said:—
  “Ruksh, now thou grievest; but, O Ruksh, thy feet
Should first have rotted on their nimble joints,
Or ere they brought thy master to this field!”
  But Sohrab look’d upon the horse and said:—        140
“Is this, then, Ruksh? How often, in past days,
My mother told me of thee, thou brave steed,
My terrible father’s terrible horse! and said,
That I should one day find thy lord and thee.
Come, let me lay my hand upon thy mane!        145
O Ruksh, thou art more fortunate than I;
For thou hast gone where I shall never go,
And snuff’d the breezes of my father’s home.
And thou hast trod the sands of Seistan,
And seen the River of Helmund, and the Lake        150
Of Zirrah; and the aged Zal himself
Has often stroked thy neck, and given thee food,
Corn in a golden platter soak’d with wine,
And said: O Ruksh! bear Rustum well!—but I
Have never known my grandsire’s furrow’d face,        155
Nor seen his lofty house in Seistan,
Nor slaked my thirst at the clear Helmund stream;
But lodged among my father’s foes, and seen
Afrasiab’s cities only, Samarcand,
Bokhara, and lone Khiva in the waste,        160
And the black Toorkmun tents; and only drunk
The desert rivers, Moorghab and Tejend,
Kohik, and where the Kalmuks feed their sheep,
The northern Sir; and this great Oxus stream,
The yellow Oxus, by whose brink I die.”        165
  Then, with a heavy groan, Rustum bewail’d:—
“Oh, that its waves were flowing over me!
Oh, that I saw its grains of yellow silt
Roll tumbling in the current o’er my head!”
  But, with a grave mild voice, Sohrab replied:—        170
“Desire not that, my father! thou must live.
For some are born to do great deeds, and live,
As some are born to be obscured, and die.
Do thou the deeds I die too young to do,
And reap a second glory in thine age;        175
Thou art my father, and thy gain is mine.
But come! thou seest this great host of men
Which follow me; I pray thee, slay not these!
Let me entreat for them; what have they done?
They follow’d me, my hope, my fame, my star.        180
Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace.
But me thou must bear hence, not send with them,
But carry me with thee to Seistan,
And place me on a bed, and mourn for me,
Thou and the snow-hair’d Zal, and all thy friends.        185
And thou must lay me in that lovely earth,
And heap a stately mound above my bones,
And plant a far-seen pillar over all.
That so the passing horseman on the waste
May see my tomb a great way off, and cry:        190
Sohrab, the mighty Rustum’s son, lies there,
Whom his great father did in ignorance kill!
And I be not forgotten in my grave.”
  And, with a mournful voice, Rustum replied:—
“Fear not! as thou hast said, Sohrab, my son,        195
So shall it be; for I will burn my tents,
And quit the host, and bear thee hence with me,
And carry thee away to Seistan,
And place thee on a bed, and mourn for thee,
With the snow-headed Zal, and all my friends.        200
And I will lay thee in that lovely earth,
And heap a stately mound above thy bones,
And plant a far-seen pillar over all,
And men shall not forget thee in thy grave.
And I will spare thy host; yea, let them go!        205
Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace!
What should I do with slaying any more?
For would that all that I have ever slain
Might be once more alive; my bitterest foes,
And they who were call’d champions in their time,        210
And through whose death I won that fame I have—
And I were nothing but a common man,
A poor, mean soldier, and without renown,
So thou mightest live too, my son, my son!
Or rather would that I, even I myself,        215
Might now be lying on this bloody sand,
Near death, and by an ignorant stroke of thine,
Not thou of mine! and I might die, not thou;
And I, not thou, be borne to Seistan;
And Zal might weep above my grave, not thine;        220
And say: O son, I weep thee not too sore,
For willingly, I know, thou met’st thine end!
But now in blood and battles was my youth,
And full of blood and battles is my age,
And I shall never end this life of blood.”        225
  Then, at the point of death, Sohrab replied:—
“A life of blood indeed, thou dreadful man!
But thou shalt yet have peace; only not now,
Not yet! but thou shalt have it on that day,
When thou shalt sail in a high-masted ship,        230
Thou and the other peers of Kai Khosroo,
Returning home over the salt blue sea,
From laying thy dear master in his grave.”
  And Rustum gazed in Sohrab’s face, and said:—
“Soon be that day, my son, and deep that sea!        235
Till then, if fate so wills, let me endure.”
  He spoke; and Sohrab smiled on him, and took
The spear, and drew it from his side, and eased
His wound’s imperious anguish; but the blood
Came welling from the open gash, and life        240
Flow’d with the stream;—all down his cold white side
The crimson torrent ran, dim now and soil’d,
Like the soil’d tissue of white violets
Left, freshly gather’d, on their native bank,
By children whom their nurses call with haste        245
Indoors from the sun’s eye; his head droop’d low,
His limbs grew slack; motionless, white, he lay—
White, with eyes closed; only when heavy gasps,
Deep heavy gasps quivering through all his frame,
Convulsed him back to life, he open’d them,        250
And fix’d them feebly on his father’s face;
Till now all strength was ebb’d, and from his limbs
Unwillingly the spirit fled away,
Regretting the warm mansion which it left,
And youth, and bloom, and this delightful world.        255
  So, on the bloody sand, Sohrab lay dead;
And the great Rustum drew his horseman’s cloak
Down o’er his face, and sate by his dead son.
As those black granite pillars, once high-rear’d
By Jemshid in Persepolis, to bear        260
His house, now ’mid their broken flights of steps
Lie prone, enormous, down the mountain side—
So in the sand lay Rustum by his son.
  And night came down over the solemn waste,
And the two gazing hosts, and that sole pair,        265
And darken’d all; and a cold fog, with night,
Crept from the Oxus. Soon a hum arose,
As of a great assembly loosed, and fires
Began to twinkle through the fog; for now
Both armies moved to camp, and took their meal;        270
The Persians took it on the open sands
Southward, the Tartars by the river marge;
And Rustum and his son were left alone.
  But the majestic river floated on,
Out of the mist and hum of that low land,        275
Into the frosty starlight, and there moved,
Rejoicing, through the hush’d Chorasmian waste,
Under the solitary moon;—he flow’d
Right for the polar star, past Orgunjè,
Brimming, and bright, and large; then sands begin        280
To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
And split his currents; that for many a league
The shorn and parcell’d Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles—
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had        285
In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,
A foil’d circuitous wanderer—till at last
The long’d-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
His luminous home of waters opens, bright
And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars        290
Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.
 
 
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