Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
II. Prayer and Aspiration
The Caliph and Satan
James Freeman Clarke (1810–1888)
Versified from Tholuck’s Translation out of the Persian

IN heavy sleep the Caliph lay,
When some one called, “Arise, and pray!”
The angry Caliph cried, “Who dare
Rebuke his king for slighting prayer?”
Then, from the corner of the room,        5
A voice cut sharply through the gloom:
“My name is Satan, Rise! obey
Mohammed’s law; awake, and pray!”
“Thy words are good,” the Caliph said,
“But their intent I somewhat dread.        10
For matters cannot well be worse
Than when the thief says, ‘Guard your purse!’
I cannot trust your counsel, friend,
It surely hides some wicked end.”
Said Satan, “Near the throne of God,        15
In ages past, we devils trod;
Angels of light, to us ’t was given
To guide each wandering foot to heaven.
Not wholly lost is that first love,
Nor those pure tastes we knew above.        20
Roaming across a continent,
The Tartar moves his shifting tent,
But never quite forgets the day
When in his father’s arms he lay;
So we, once bathed in love divine,        25
Recall the taste of that rich wine.
God’s finger rested on my brow,—
That magic touch, I feel it now!
I fell, ’t is true—O, ask not why,
For still to God I turn my eye.        30
It was a chance by which I fell,
Another takes me back from hell.
’T was but my envy of mankind,
The envy of a loving mind.
Jealous of men, I could not bear        35
God’s love with this new race to share.
But yet God’s tables open stand,
His guests flock in from every land;
Some kind act towards the race of men
May toss us into heaven again.        40
A game of chess is all we see,—
And God the player, pieces we.
White, black—queen, pawn,—’t is all the same,
For on both sides he plays the game.
Moved to and fro, from good to ill,        45
We rise and fall as suits his will.”
The Caliph said, “If this be so,
I know not, but thy guile I know;
For how can I thy words believe,
When even God thou didst deceive?        50
A sea of lies art thou,—our sin
Only a drop that sea within.”
“Not so,” said Satan, “I serve God,
His angel now, and now his rod.
In tempting I both bless and curse,        55
Make good men better, bad men worse.
Good coin is mixed with bad, my brother,
I but distinguish one from the other.”
“Granted,” the Caliph said, “but still
You never tempt to good, but ill.        60
Tell then the truth, for well I know
You come as my most deadly foe.”
Loud laughed the fiend. “You know me well,
Therefore my purpose I will tell.
If you had missed your prayer, I knew        65
A swift repentance would ensue;
And such repentance would have been
A good, outweighing far the sin.
I chose this humbleness divine,
Borne out of fault, should not be thine,        70
Preferring prayers elate with pride
To sin with penitence allied.”

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