Sohrab and Rustum

An Episode

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, Poems by Matthew Arnold: A New Edition (1853).
3But all the Tartar camp along the stream
4Was hush'd, and still the men were plunged in sleep;
5Sohrab alone, he slept not; all night long
6He had lain wakeful, tossing on his bed;
7But when the grey dawn stole into his tent,
8He rose, and clad himself, and girt his sword,
9And took his horseman's cloak, and left his tent,
10And went abroad into the cold wet fog,
12     Through the black Tartar tents he pass'd, which stood
13Clustering like bee-hives on the low flat strand
14Of Oxus, where the summer-floods o'erflow
15When the sun melts the snows in high Pamere;
16Through the black tents he pass'd, o'er that low strand,
17And to a hillock came, a little back
18From the stream's brink--the spot where first a boat,
19Crossing the stream in summer, scrapes the land.
20The men of former times had crown'd the top
21With a clay fort; but that was fall'n, and now
22The Tartars built there Peran-Wisa's tent,
23A dome of laths, and o'er it felts were spread.
24And Sohrab came there, and went in, and stood
25Upon the thick piled carpets in the tent,
26And found the old man sleeping on his bed
27Of rugs and felts, and near him lay his arms.
28And Peran-Wisa heard him, though the step
29Was dull'd; for he slept light, an old man's sleep;
30And he rose quickly on one arm, and said:--
31     "Who art thou? for it is not yet clear dawn.
32Speak! is there news, or any night alarm?"
33     But Sohrab came to the bedside, and said:--
34"Thou know'st me, Peran-Wisa! it is I.
35The sun is not yet risen, and the foe
36Sleep; but I sleep not; all night long I lie
37Tossing and wakeful, and I come to thee.
38For so did King Afrasiab bid me seek
39Thy counsel and to heed thee as thy son,
40In Samarcand, before the army march'd;
41And I will tell thee what my heart desires.
42Thou know'st if, since from Ader-baijan first
43I came among the Tartars and bore arms,
44I have still served Afrasiab well, and shown,
45At my boy's years, the courage of a man.
46This too thou know'st, that while I still bear on
47The conquering Tartar ensigns through the world,
48And beat the Persians back on every field,
49I seek one man, one man, and one alone--
50Rustum, my father; who I hoped should greet,
51Should one day greet, upon some well fought field,
52His not unworthy, not inglorious son.
53So I long hoped, but him I never find.
54Come then, hear now, and grant me what I ask.
55Let the two armies rest to-day; but I
56Will challenge forth the bravest Persian lords
57To meet me, man to man; if I prevail,
58Rustum will surely hear it; if I fall--
59Old man, the dead need no one, claim no kin.
60Dim is the rumour of a common fight,
61Where host meets host, and many names are sunk;
62But of a single combat fame speaks clear."
63     He spoke; and Peran-Wisa took the hand
64Of the young man in his, and sigh'd, and said:--
65     "O Sohrab, an unquiet heart is thine!
66Canst thou not rest among the Tartar chiefs,
67And share the battle's common chance with us
68Who love thee, but must press for ever first,
69In single fight incurring single risk,
70To find a father thou hast never seen?
72Unmurmuring; in our tents, while it is war,
73And when 'tis truce, then in Afrasiab's towns.
74But, if this one desire indeed rules all,
75To seek out Rustum--seek him not through fight!
76Seek him in peace, and carry to his arms,
77O Sohrab, carry an unwounded son!
78But far hence seek him, for he is not here.
79For now it is not as when I was young,
80When Rustum was in front of every fray;
81But now he keeps apart, and sits at home,
82In Seistan, with Zal, his father old.
83Whether that his own mighty strength at last
84Feels the abhorr'd approaches of old age,
85Or in some quarrel with the Persian King.
86There go!--Thou wilt not? Yet my heart forebodes
87Danger or death awaits thee on this field.
88Fain would I know thee safe and well, though lost
89To us; fain therefore send thee hence, in peace
90To seek thy father, not seek single fights
91In vain;--but who can keep the lion's cub
92From ravening, and who govern Rustum's son?
93Go, I will grant thee what thy heart desires."
94     So said he, and dropp'd Sohrab's hand, and left
95His bed, and the warm rugs whereon he lay;
96And o'er his chilly limbs his woollen coat
97He pass'd, and tied his sandals on his feet,
98And threw a white cloak round him, and he took
99In his right hand a ruler's staff, no sword;
100And on his head he set his sheep-skin cap,
101Black, glossy, curl'd, the fleece of Kara-Kul;
102And raised the curtain of his tent, and call'd
103His herald to his side, and went abroad.
104     The sun by this had risen, and clear'd the fog
105From the broad Oxus and the glittering sands.
106And from their tents the Tartar horsemen filed
107Into the open plain; so Haman bade--
108Haman, who next to Peran-Wisa ruled
109The host, and still was in his lusty prime.
110From their black tents, long files of horse, they stream'd;
111As when some grey November morn the files,
112In marching order spread, of long-neck'd cranes
113Stream over Casbin and the southern slopes
114Of Elburz, from the Aralian estuaries,
116For the warm Persian sea-board--so they stream'd.
117The Tartars of the Oxus, the King's guard,
118First, with black sheep-skin caps and with long spears;
119Large men, large steeds; who from Bokhara come
120And Khiva, and ferment the milk of mares.
121Next, the more temperate Toorkmuns of the south,
122The Tukas, and the lances of Salore,
123And those from Attruck and the Caspian sands;
124Light men and on light steeds, who only drink
125The acrid milk of camels, and their wells.
126And then a swarm of wandering horse, who came
127From far, and a more doubtful service own'd;
128The Tartars of Ferghana, from the banks
129Of the Jaxartes, men with scanty beards
130And close-set skull-caps; and those wilder hordes
131Who roam o'er Kipchak and the northern waste,
132Kalmucks and unkempt Kuzzaks, tribes who stray
133Nearest the Pole, and wandering Kirghizzes,
134Who come on shaggy ponies from Pamere;
135These all filed out from camp into the plain.
136And on the other side the Persians form'd;--
137First a light cloud of horse, Tartars they seem'd,
138The Ilyats of Khorassan, and behind,
139The royal troops of Persia, horse and foot,
140Marshall'd battalions bright in burnish'd steel.
141But Peran-Wisa with his herald came,
142Threading the Tartar squadrons to the front,
143And with his staff kept back the foremost ranks.
144And when Ferood, who led the Persians, saw
145That Peran-Wisa kept the Tartars back,
146He took his spear, and to the front he came,
147And check'd his ranks, and fix'd them where they stood.
148And the old Tartar came upon the sand
149Betwixt the silent hosts, and spake, and said:--
150     "Ferood, and ye, Persians and Tartars, hear!
151Let there be truce between the hosts to-day.
152But choose a champion from the Persian lords
153To fight our champion Sohrab, man to man."
154     As, in the country, on a morn in June,
155When the dew glistens on the pearled ears,
156A shiver runs through the deep corn for joy--
157So, when they heard what Peran-Wisa said,
158A thrill through all the Tartar squadrons ran
159Of pride and hope for Sohrab, whom they loved.
161Cross underneath the Indian Caucasus,
162That vast sky-neighbouring mountain of milk snow;
163Crossing so high, that, as they mount, they pass
164Long flocks of travelling birds dead on the snow,
165Choked by the air, and scarce can they themselves
166Slake their parch'd throats with sugar'd mulberries--
167In single file they move, and stop their breath,
168For fear they should dislodge the o'er hanging snows--
169So the pale Persians held their breath with fear.
170     And to Ferood his brother chiefs came up
171To counsel; Gudurz and Zoarrah came
172And Feraburz, who ruled the Persian host
173Second, and was the uncle of the King
174These came and counsell'd, and then Gudurz said:--
175     "Ferood, shame bids us take their challenge up,
176Yet champion have we none to match this youth.
177He has the wild stag's foot, the lion's heart.
178But Rustum came last night; aloof he sits
179And sullen, and has pitch'd his tents apart.
180Him will I seek, and carry to his ear
181The Tartar challenge, and this young man's name.
182Haply he will forget his wrath, and fight.
183Stand forth the while, and take their challenge up."
184     So spake he; and Ferood stood forth and cried.--
185"Old man, be it agreed as thou hast said!
186Let Sohrab arm, and we will find a man."
187     He spake: and Peran-Wisa turn'd, and strode
188Back through the opening squadrons to his tent.
189But through the anxious Persians Gudurz ran,
190And cross'd the camp which lay behind, and reach'd,
191Out on the sands beyond it, Rustum's tents.
192Of scarlet cloth they were, and glittering gay
193Just pitch'd; the high pavilion in the midst
194Was Rustum's, and his men lay camp'd around.
195And Gudurz enter'd Rustum's tent, and found
196Rustum; his morning meal was done, but still
197The table stood before him, charged with food--
198A side of roasted sheep, and cakes of bread,
199And dark green melons; and there Rustum sate
200Listless, and held a falcon on his wrist,
201And play'd with it; but Gudurz came and stood
202Before him; and he look'd, and saw him stand,
203And with a cry sprang up and dropp'd the bird,
204And greeted Gudurz with both hands, and said:--
205     "Welcome! these eyes could see no better sight.
206What news? but sit down first, and eat and drink."
207     But Gudurz stood in the tent-door, and said:--
208"Not now! a time will come to eat and drink,
209But not to-day; to-day has other needs.
210The armies are drawn out, and stand at gaze;
211For from the Tartars is a challenge brought
212To pick a champion from the Persian lords
213To fight their champion--and thou know'st his name--
214Sohrab men call him, but his birth is kid.
215O Rustum, like thy might is this young man's!
216He has the wild stag's foot, the lion's heart;
217And he is young, and Iran's chiefs are old,
218Or else too weak; and all eyes turn to thee.
219Come down and help us, Rustum, or we lose!''
220     He spoke; but Rustum answer'd with a smile:--
221"Go to! if Iran's chiefs are old, then I
222Am older; if the young are weak, the King
223Errs strangely; for the King, for Kai Khosroo,
224Himself is young, and honours younger men,
225And lets the aged moulder to their graves.
226Rustum he loves no more, but loves the young--
227The young may rise at Sohrab's vaunts, not I.
228For what care I, though all speak Sohrab's fame?
229For would that I myself had such a son,
230And not that one slight helpless girl I have--
231A son so famed, so brave, to send to war,
232And I to tarry with the snow-hair'd Zal,
233My father, whom the robber Afghans vex,
234And clip his borders short, and drive his herds,
235And he has none to guard his weak old age.
236There would I go, and hang my armour up,
237And with my great name fence that weak old man,
238And spend the goodly treasures I have got,
239And rest my age, and hear of Sohrab's fame,
240And leave to death the hosts of thankless kings,
241And with these slaughterous hands draw sword no more.''
242     He spoke, and smiled; and Gudurz made reply:---
243"What then, O Rustum, will men say to this,
244When Sohrab dares our bravest forth, and seeks
245Thee most of all, and thou, whom most he seeks,
246Hidest thy face? Take heed lest men should say:
247Like some old miser, Rustum hoards his fame,
248And shuns to peril it with younger men."
249     And, greatly moved, then Rustum made reply:--
250"O Gudurz, wherefore dost thou say such words?
251Thou knowest better words than this to say.
252What is one more, one less, obscure or famed,
253Valiant or craven, young or old, to me?
254Are not they mortal, am not I myself?
255But who for men of nought would do great deeds?
256Come, thou shalt see how Rustum hoards his fame!
257But I will fight unknown, and in plain arms;
258Let not men say of Rustum, he was match'd
259In single fight with any mortal man."
260     He spoke, and frown'd; and Gudurz turn'd, and ran
261Back quickly through the camp in fear and joy--
262Fear at his wrath, but joy that Rustum came.
263But Rustum strode to his tent-door, and call'd
264His followers in, and bade them bring his arms,
265And clad himself in steel; the arms he chose
266Were plain, and on his shield was no device,
267Only his helm was rich, inlaid with gold,
268And, from the fluted spine atop, a plume
269Of horsehair waved, a scarlet horsehair plume.
270So arm'd, he issued forth; and Ruksh, his horse,
271Follow'd him like a faithful hound at heel--
272Ruksh, whose renown was noised through all the earth,
273The horse, whom Rustum on a foray once
274Did in Bokhara by the river find
275A colt beneath its dam, and drove him home,
276And rear'd him; a bright bay, with lofty crest,
277Dight with a saddle-cloth of broider'd green
278Crusted with gold, and on the ground were work'd
279All beasts of chase, all beasts which hunters know.
280So follow'd, Rustum left his tents, and cross'd
281The camp, and to the Persian host appear'd.
282And all the Persians knew him, and with shouts
283Hail'd; but the Tartars knew not who he was.
284And dear as the wet diver to the eyes
285Of his pale wife who waits and weeps on shore,
286By sandy Bahrein, in the Persian Gulf,
287Plunging all day in the blue waves, at night,
288Having made up his tale of precious pearls,
289Rejoins her in their hut upon the sands--
290So dear to the pale Persians Rustum came.
291     And Rustum to the Persian front advanced,
292And Sohrab arm'd in Haman's tent, and came.
293And as afield the reapers cut a swath
294Down through the middle of a rich man's corn,
295And on each side are squares of standing corn,
296And in the midst a stubble, short and bare--
297So on each side were squares of men, with spears
298Bristling, and in the midst, the open sand.
299And Rustum came upon the sand, and cast
300His eyes toward the Tartar tents, and saw
301Sohrab come forth, and eyed him as he came.
302     As some rich woman, on a winter's morn,
303Eyes through her silken curtains the poor drudge
304Who with numb blacken'd fingers makes her fire--
305At cock-crow, on a starlit winter's morn,
306When the frost flowers the whiten'd window-panes--
307And wonders how she lives, and what the thoughts
308Of that poor drudge may be; so Rustum eyed
309The unknown adventurous youth, who from afar
310Came seeking Rustum, and defying forth
311All the most valiant chiefs; long he perused
312His spirited air, and wonder'd who he was.
313For very young he seem'd, tenderly rear'd;
314Like some young cypress, tall, and dark, and straight,
315Which in a queen's secluded garden throws
316Its slight dark shadow on the moonlit turf,
317By midnight, to a bubbling fountain's sound--
318So slender Sohrab seem'd, so softly rear'd.
319And a deep pity enter'd Rustum's soul
320As he beheld him coming; and he stood,
321And beckon'd to him with his hand, and said:--
322     "O thou young man, the air of Heaven is soft,
323And warm, and pleasant; but the grave is cold!
324Heaven's air is better than the cold dead grave.
325Behold me! I am vast, and clad in iron,
326And tried; and I have stood on many a field
327Of blood, and I have fought with many a foe--
328Never was that field lost, or that foe saved.
329O Sohrab, wherefore wilt thou rush on death?
330Be govern'd! quit the Tartar host, and come
331To Iran, and be as my son to me,
332And fight beneath my banner till I die!
333There are no youths in Iran brave as thou."
334     So he spake, mildly; Sohrab heard his voice,
335The mighty voice of Rustum, and he saw
336His giant figure planted on the sand,
337Sole, like some single tower, which a chief
338Hath builded on the waste in former years
339Against the robbers; and he saw that head,
340Streak'd with its first grey hairs;--hope filled his soul,
341And he ran forward and embraced his knees
342And clasp'd his hand within his own, and said:--
343     "O, by thy father's head! by thine own soul!
344Art thou not Rustum? speak! art thou not he?"
345     But Rustum eyed askance the kneeling youth,
346And turn'd away, and spake to his own soul:--
347     "Ah me, I muse what this young fox may mean!
348False, wily, boastful, are these Tartar boys.
349For if I now confess this thing he asks,
350And hide it not, but say: Rustum is here!
351He will not yield indeed, nor quit our foes,
352But he will find some pretext not to fight,
353And praise my fame, and proffer courteous gifts,
354A belt or sword perhaps, and go his way.
355And on a feast-tide, in Afrasiab's hall,
356In Samarcand, he will arise and cry:
357`I challenged once, when the two armies camp'd
358Beside the Oxus, all the Persian lords
359To cope with me in single fight; but they
360Shrank, only Rustum dared; then he and I
361Changed gifts, and went on equal terms away.'
362So will he speak, perhaps, while men applaud;
363Then were the chiefs of Iran shamed through me."
364     And then he turn'd, and sternly spake aloud:--
365'Rise! wherefore dost thou vainly question thus
366Of Rustum? I am here, whom thou hast call'd
367By challenge forth; make good thy vaunt, or yield!
368Is it with Rustum only thou wouldst fight?
369Rash boy, men look on Rustum's face and flee
370For well I know, that did great Rustum stand
371Before thy face this day, and were reveal'd,
372There would be then no talk of fighting more.
373But being what I am, I tell thee this--
374Do thou record it in thine inmost soul:
375Either thou shalt renounce thy vaunt and yield,
376Or else thy bones shall strew this sand, till winds
377Bleach them, or Oxus with his summer-floods,
378Oxus in summer wash them all away."
379     He spoke; and Sohrab answer'd, on his feet:--
380"Art thou so fierce? Thou wilt not fright me so!
381I am no girl, to be made pale by words.
382Yet this thou hast said well, did Rustum stand
383Here on this field, there were no fighting then.
384But Rustum is far hence, and we stand here.
385Begin! thou art more vast, more dread than I,
386And thou art proved, I know, and I am young--
387But yet success sways with the breath of Heaven.
388And though thou thinkest that thou knowest sure
389Thy victory, yet thou canst not surely know.
390For we are all, like swimmers in the sea,
391Poised on the top of a huge wave of fate,
392Which hangs uncertain to which side to fall.
393And whether it will heave us up to land,
394Or whether it will roll us out to sea,
395Back out to sea, to the deep waves of death,
396We know not, and no search will make us know;
397Only the event will teach us in its hour."
398     He spoke, and Rustum answer'd not, but hurl'd
399His spear; down from the shoulder, down it came,
400As on some partridge in the corn a hawk,
401That long has tower'd in the airy clouds,
402Drops like a plummet; Sohrab saw it come,
403And sprang aside, quick as a flash; the spear
404Hiss'd, and went quivering down into the sand,
405Which it sent flying wide;--then Sohrab threw
406In turn, and full struck Rustum's shield; sharp rang,
407The iron plates rang sharp, but turn'd the spear.
408And Rustum seized his club, which none but he
409Could wield; an unlopp'd trunk it was, and huge,
410Still rough--like those which men in treeless plains
411To build them boats fish from the flooded rivers,
412Hyphasis or Hydaspes, when, high up
413By their dark springs, the wind in winter-time
414Hath made in Himalayan forests wrack,
415And strewn the channels with torn boughs--so huge
416The club which Rustum lifted now, and struck
417One stroke; but again Sohrab sprang aside,
418Lithe as the glancing snake, and the club came
419Thundering to earth, and leapt from Rustum's hand.
420And Rustum follow'd his own blow, and fell
421To his knees, and with his fingers clutch'd the sand;
422And now might Sohrab have unsheathed his sword,
423And pierced the mighty Rustum while he lay
424Dizzy, and on his knees, and choked with sand;
425But he look'd on, and smiled, nor bared his sword,
426But courteously drew back, and spoke, and said:--
427     "Thou strik'st too hard! that club of thine will float
428Upon the summer-floods, and not my bones.
429But rise, and be not wroth! not wroth am I;
430No, when I see thee, wrath forsakes my soul.
431Thou say'st, thou art not Rustum; be it so!
432Who art thou then, that canst so touch my soul?
433Boy as I am, I have seen battles too--
434Have waded foremost in their bloody waves,
435And heard their hollow roar of dying men;
436But never was my heart thus touch'd before.
437Are they from Heaven, these softenings of the heart?
438O thou old warrior, let us yield to Heaven!
439Come, plant we here in earth our angry spears,
440And make a truce, and sit upon this sand,
441And pledge each other in red wine, like friends,
442And thou shalt talk to me of Rustum's deeds.
443There are enough foes in the Persian host,
444Whom I may meet, and strike, and feel no pang;
445Champions enough Afrasiab has, whom thou
446Mayst fight; fight them, when they confront thy spear!
447But oh, let there be peace 'twixt thee and me!"
448     He ceased, but while he spake, Rustum had risen,
449And stood erect, trembling with rage; his club
450He left to lie, but had regain'd his spear,
451Whose fiery point now in his mail'd right-hand
453The baleful sign of fevers; dust had soil'd
454His stately crest, and dimm'd his glittering arms.
455His breast heaved, his lips foam'd, and twice his voice
456Was choked with rage; at last these words broke way.--
457     "Girl! nimble with thy feet, not with thy hands!
458Curl'd minion, dancer, coiner of sweet words!
459Fight, let me hear thy hateful voice no more!
460Thou art not in Afrasiab's gardens now
461With Tartar girls, with whom thou art wont to dance;
462But on the Oxus-sands, and in the dance
463Of battle, and with me, who make no play
464Of war; I fight it out, and hand to hand.
465Speak not to me of truce, and pledge, and wine!
466Remember all thy valour; try thy feints
467And cunning! all the pity I had is gone;
468Because thou hast shamed me before both the hosts
469With thy light skipping tricks, and thy girl's wiles."
470     He spoke, and Sohrab kindled at his taunts,
471And he too drew his sword; at once they rush'd
472Together, as two eagles on one prey
473Come rushing down together from the clouds,
474One from the east, one from the west; their shields
475Dash'd with a clang together, and a din
476Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters
477Make often in the forest's heart at morn,
478Of hewing axes, crashing trees--such blows
479Rustum and Sohrab on each other hail'd.
480And you would say that sun and stars took part
481In that unnatural conflict; for a cloud
482Grew suddenly in Heaven, and dark'd the sun
483Over the fighters' heads; and a wind rose
484Under their feet, and moaning swept the plain,
485And in a sandy whirlwind wrapp'd the pair.
486In gloom they twain were wrapp'd, and they alone;
487For both the on-looking hosts on either hand
488Stood in broad daylight, and the sky was pure,
489And the sun sparkled on the Oxus stream.
490But in the gloom they fought, with bloodshot eyes
491And labouring breath; first Rustum struck the shield
492Which Sohrab held stiff out; the steel-spiked spear
493Rent the tough plates, but fail'd to reach the skin,
494And Rustum pluck'd it back with angry groan.
495Then Sohrab with his sword smote Rustum's helm,
496Nor clove its steel quite through; but all the crest
497He shore away, and that proud horsehair plume,
498Never till now defiled, sank to the dust;
499And Rustum bow'd his head; but then the gloom
500Grew blacker, thunder rumbled in the air,
501And lightnings rent the cloud; and Ruksh, the horse,
502Who stood at hand, utter'd a dreadful cry;--
503No horse's cry was that, most like the roar
504Of some pain'd desert-lion, who all day
505Hath trail'd the hunter's javelin in his side,
506And comes at night to die upon the sand.
507The two hosts heard that cry, and quaked for fear,
508And Oxus curdled as it cross'd his stream.
509But Sohrab heard, and quail'd not, but rush'd on,
510And struck again; and again Rustum bow'd
511His head; but this time all the blade, like glass,
512Sprang in a thousand shivers on the helm,
513And in the hand the hilt remain'd alone.
514Then Rustum raised his head; his dreadful eyes
515Glared, and he shook on high his menacing spear,
516And shouted: Rustum!--Sohrab heard that shout,
517And shrank amazed; back he recoil'd one step,
518And scann'd with blinking eyes the advancing form,
519And then he stood bewilder'd; and he dropp'd
520His covering shield, and the spear pierced his side.
521He reel'd, and staggering back, sank to the ground;
522And then the gloom dispersed, and the wind fell,
523And the bright sun broke forth, and melted all
524The cloud; and the two armies saw the pair--
525Saw Rustum standing, safe upon his feet,
526And Sohrab, wounded, on the bloody sand.
527     Then, with a bitter smile, Rustum began:--
528"Sohrab, thou thoughtest in thy mind to kill
529A Persian lord this day, and strip his corpse
530And bear thy trophies to Afrasiab's tent.
531Or else that the great Rustum would come down
532Himself to fight, and that thy wiles would move
533His heart to take a gift, and let thee go.
534And then that all the Tartar host would praise
535Thy courage or thy craft, and spread thy fame,
536To glad thy father in his weak old age.
537Fool, thou art slain, and by an unknown man!
538Dearer to the red jackals shalt thou be
539Than to thy friends, and to thy father old."
540     And, with a fearless mien, Sohrab replied:--
541"Unknown thou art; yet thy fierce vaunt is vain.
542Thou dost not slay me, proud and boastful man!
543No! Rustum slays me, and this filial heart.
544For were I match'd with ten such men as thee,
545And I were that which till to-day I was,
546They should be lying here, I standing there.
547But that belovèd name unnerved my arm--
548That name, and something, I confess, in thee,
549Which troubles all my heart, and made my shield
550Fall; and thy spear transfix'd an unarm'd foe.
551And now thou boastest, and insult'st my fate.
552But hear thou this, fierce man, tremble to hear:
553The mighty Rustum shall avenge my death!
554My father, whom I seek through all the world,
555He shall avenge my death, and punish thee!"
556     As when some hunter in the spring hath found
557A breeding eagle sitting on her nest,
558Upon the craggy isle of a hill-lake,
559And pierced her with an arrow as she rose,
560And follow'd her to find her where she fell
561Far off;--anon her mate comes winging back
562From hunting, and a great way off descries
563His huddling young left sole; at that, he checks
564His pinion, and with short uneasy sweeps
565Circles above his eyry, with loud screams
566Chiding his mate back to her nest; but she
567Lies dying, with the arrow in her side,
568In some far stony gorge out of his ken,
569A heap of fluttering feathers--never more
570Shall the lake glass her, flying over it;
571Never the black and dripping precipices
572Echo her stormy scream as she sails by--
573As that poor bird flies home, nor knows his loss,
574So Rustum knew not his own loss, but stood
575Over his dying son, and knew him not.
576     But, with a cold, incredulous voice, he said:--
577"What prate is this of fathers and revenge?
578The mighty Rustum never had a son."
579     And, with a failing voice, Sohrab replied:--
580"Ah yes, he had! and that lost son am I.
581Surely the news will one day reach his ear,
582Reach Rustum, where he sits, and tarries long,
583Somewhere, I know not where, but far from here;
584And pierce him like a stab, and make him leap
585To arms, and cry for vengeance upon thee.
586Fierce man, bethink thee, for an only son!
587What will that grief, what will that vengeance be?
588Oh, could I live, till I that grief had seen!
589Yet him I pity not so much, but her,
590My mother, who in Ader-baijan dwells
591With that old king, her father, who grows grey
592With age, and rules over the valiant Koords.
593Her most I pity, who no more will see
594Sohrab returning from the Tartar camp,
595With spoils and honour, when the war is done.
597From tribe to tribe, until it reach her ear;
598And then will that defenceless woman learn
599That Sohrab will rejoice her sight no more,
600But that in battle with a nameless foe,
601By the far-distant Oxus, he is slain."
602     He spoke; and as he ceased, he wept aloud,
603Thinking of her he left, and his own death.
604He spoke; but Rustum listen'd, plunged in thought.
605Nor did he yet believe it was his son
606Who spoke, although he call'd back names he knew;
607For he had had sure tidings that the babe,
608Which was in Ader-baijan born to him,
609Had been a puny girl, no boy at all--
610So that sad mother sent him word, for fear
611Rustum should seek the boy, to train in arms.
612And so he deem'd that either Sohrab took,
613By a false boast, the style of Rustum's son;
614Or that men gave it him, to swell his fame.
615So deem'd he; yet he listen'd, plunged in thought
616And his soul set to grief, as the vast tide
617Of the bright rocking Ocean sets to shore
618At the full moon; tears gather'd in his eyes;
619For he remember'd his own early youth,
620And all its bounding rapture; as, at dawn,
621The shepherd from his mountain-lodge descries
622A far, bright city, smitten by the sun,
623Through many rolling clouds---so Rustum saw
624His youth; saw Sohrab's mother, in her bloom;
625And that old king, her father, who loved well
626His wandering guest, and gave him his fair child
627With joy; and all the pleasant life they led,
628They three, in that long-distant summer-time--
629The castle, and the dewy woods, and hunt
630And hound, and morn on those delightful hills
631In Ader-baijan. And he saw that Youth,
632Of age and looks to be his own dear son,
633Piteous and lovely, lying on the sand,
634Like some rich hyacinth which by the scythe
635Of an unskilful gardener has been cut,
636Mowing the garden grass-plots near its bed,
637And lies, a fragrant tower of purple bloom,
638On the mown, dying grass--so Sohrab lay,
639Lovely in death, upon the common sand.
640And Rustum gazed on him with grief, and said:--
641     "O Sohrab, thou indeed art such a son
642Whom Rustum, wert thou his, might well have loved!
643Yet here thou errest, Sohrab, or else men
644Have told thee false--thou art not Rustum's son.
645For Rustum had no son; one child he had--
646But one--a girl; who with her mother now
647Plies some light female task, nor dreams of us--
648Of us she dreams not, nor of wounds, nor war."
649     But Sohrab answer'd him in wrath: for now
650The anguish of the deep-fix'd spear grew fierce,
651And he desired to draw forth the steel,
652And let the blood flow free, and so to die--
653But first he would convince his stubborn foe;
654And, rising sternly on one arm, he said:--
655     "Man, who art thou who dost deny my words?
656Truth sits upon the lips of dying men,
657And falsehood, while I lived, was far from mine.
658I tell thee, prick'd upon this arm I bear
659That seal which Rustum to my mother gave,
660That she might prick it on the babe she bore."
661     He spoke; and all the blood left Rustum's cheeks,
662And his knees totter'd, and he smote his hand
663Against his breast, his heavy mailed hand,
664That the hard iron corslet clank'd aloud;
665And to his heart he press'd the other hand,
666And in a hollow voice he spake, and said:--
667     Sohrab, that were a proof which could not lie!
668If thou show this, then art thou Rustum's son."
669     Then, with weak hasty fingers, Sohrab loosed
670His belt, and near the shoulder bared his arm,
671And show'd a sign in faint vermilion points
672Prick'd; as a cunning workman, in Pekin,
673Pricks with vermilion some clear porcelain vase,
674An emperor's gift--at early morn he paints,
675And all day long, and, when night comes, the lamp
676Lights up his studious forehead and thin hands--
677So delicately prick'd the sign appear'd
678On Sohrab's arm, the sign of Rustum's seal.
679It was that griffin, which of old rear'd Zal,
680Rustum's great father, whom they left to die,
681A helpless babe, among the mountain-rocks;
682Him that kind creature found, and rear'd, and loved--
683Then Rustum took it for his glorious sign.
684And Sohrab bared that image on his arm,
685And himself scann'd it long with mournful eyes,
686And then he touch'd it with his hand and said:--
687     "How say'st thou? Is that sign the proper sign
688Of Rustum's son, or of some other man's?"
689     He spoke; but Rustum gazed, and gazed, and stood
690Speechless; and then he utter'd one sharp cry:
691O boy--thy father!--and his voice choked there.
692And then a dark cloud pass'd before his eyes,
693And his head swam, and he sank down to earth.
694But Sohrab crawl'd to where he lay, and cast
695His arms about his neck, and kiss'd his lips,
696And with fond faltering fingers stroked his cheeks,
697Trying to call him back to life; and life
698Came back to Rustum, and he oped his eyes,
699And they stood wide with horror; and he seized
700In both his hands the dust which lay around,
701And threw it on his head, and smirch'd his hair,--
702His hair, and face, and beard, and glittering arms;
703And strong convulsive groanings shook his breast,
704And his sobs choked him; and he clutch'd his sword,
705To draw it, and for ever let life out.
706But Sohrab saw his thoughts, and held his hands
707And with a soothing voice he spake, and said:--
708     "Father, forbear! for I but meet to-day
709The doom which at my birth was written down
710In Heaven, and thou art Heaven's unconscious hand.
711Surely my heart cried out that it was thou,
712When first I saw thee; and thy heart spoke too,
713I know it! but fate trod those promptings down
714Under its iron heel; fate, fate engaged
715The strife, and hurl'd me on my father's spear.
716But let us speak no more of this! I find
717My father; let me feel that I have found!
718Come, sit beside me on this sand, and take
719My head betwixt thy hands, and kiss my cheeks,
720And wash them with thy tears, and say: My son!
721Quick! quick! for number'd are my sands of life
722And swift; for like the lightning to this field
723I came, and like the wind I go away--
724Sudden, and swift, and like a passing wind.
725But it was writ in Heaven that this should be."
726     So said he, and his voice released the heart
727Of Rustum, and his tears broke forth; he cast
728His arms round his son's neck, and wept aloud,
729And kiss'd him. And awe fell on both the hosts,
730When they saw Rustum's grief; and Ruksh, the horse,
731With his head bowing to the ground and mane
732Sweeping the dust, came near, and in mute woe
733First to the one then to the other moved
734His head, as if enquiring what their grief
735Might mean; and from his dark, compassionate eyes,
736The big warm tears roll'd down, and caked the sand.
737But Rustum chid him with stern voice, and said:--
738     "Ruksh, now thou grievest; but, O Ruksh, thy feet
739Should first have rotted on their nimble joints,
740Or ere they brought thy master to this field!"
741     But Sohrab look'd upon the horse and said;--
742"Is this, then, Ruksh? How often, in past days
743My mother told me of thee, thou brave steed,
744My terrible father's terrible horse! and said,
745That I should one day find thy lord and thee.
746Come, let me lay my hand upon thy mane!
747O Ruksh, thou art more fortunate than I;
748For thou has gone where I shall never go,
749And snuff'd the breezes of my father's home.
750And thou hast trod the sands of Seistan
751And seen the River of Helmund, and the Lake
752Of Zirrah; and the aged Zal himself
753Has often stroked thy neck, and given thee food,
754Corn in a golden platter soak'd with wine,
755And said; O Ruksh! bear Rustrum well!--but I
756Have never known my grandsire's furrow'd face,
757Nor seen his lofty house in Seistan,
758Nor slaked my thirst at the clear Helmund stream;
759But lodged among my father's foes, and seen
760Afrasiab's cities only, Samarcand,
761Bokhara, and lone Khiva in the waste,
762And the black Toorkmun tents; and only drunk
763The desert rivers, Moorghab and Tejend,
764Kohik, and where the Kalmuks feed their sheep,
765The northern Sir; and this great Oxus stream,
766The yellow Oxus, by whose brink I die."
767     Then, with a heavy groan, Rustum bewail'd:--
768"Oh, that its waves were flowing over me!
769Oh, that I saw its grains of yellow silt
770Roll, tumbling in the current o'er my head!"
771     But, with a grave mild voice, Sohrab replied:--
772"Desire not that, my father! thou must live.
773For some are born to do great deeds, and live,
774As some are born to be obscured, and die.
775Do thou the deeds I die too young to do,
776And reap a second glory in thine age;
777Thou art my father, and thy gain is mine.
778But come! thou seest this great host of men
779Which follow me; I pray thee, slay not these!
780Let me entreat for them; what have they done?
781They follow'd me, my hope, my fame, my star.
782Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace.
783But me thou must bear hence, not send with them,
784But carry me with thee to Seistan,
785And place me on a bed, and mourn for me,
786Thou, and the snow-hair'd Zal, and all thy friends.
787And thou must lay me in that lovely earth,
788And heap a stately mound above my bones,
789And plant a far-seen pillar over all.
790That so the passing horseman on the waste
791May see my tomb a great way off, and cry:
792Sohral!, the mighty Rustum's son, lies there,
793Whom his great father did in ignorance kill!
794And I be not forgotten in my grave."
795     And, with a mournful voice, Rustum replied:--
796"Fear not! as thou hast said, Sohrab, my son,
797So shall it be; for I will burn my tents,
798And quit the host, and bear thee hence with me,
799And carry thee away to Seistan,
800And place thee on a bed, and mourn for thee,
801With the snow-headed Zal, and all my friends.
802And I will lay thee in the lovely earth,
803And heap a stately mound above thy bones,
804And plant a far-seen pillar over all,
805And men shall not forget thee in thy grave.
806And I will spare thy host; yea, let them go!
807Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace!
808What should I do with slaying any more?
809For would that all whom I have ever slain
810Might be once more alive; my bitterest foes
811And they who were call'd champions in their time,
812And through whose death I won that fame I have--
813And I were nothing but a common man,
814A poor, mean soldier, and without renown,
815So thou mightest live too, my son, my son!
816Or rather would that I, even I myself,
817Might now be lying on this bloody sand,
818Near death, and by an ignorant stroke of thine,
819Not thou of mine! and I might die, not thou;
820And I, not thou, be borne to Seistan;
821And Zal might weep above my grave, not thine;
822And say: O son, I weep thee not too sore,
823For willingly, I know, thou met'st thine end!
824But now in blood and battles was my youth,
825And full of blood and battles is my age,
826And I shall never end this life of blood."
827     Then, at the point of death, Sohrab replied.--
828"A life of blood indeed, thou dreadful man!
829But thou shalt yet have peace; only not now,
830Not yet! but thou shalt have it on that day,
831When thou shalt sail in a high-masted ship,
832Thou and the other peers of Kai Khosroo,
833Returning home over the salt blue sea,
834From laying thy dear master in his grave."
835     And Rustum gazed in Sohrab's face, and said.--
836"Soon be that day, my son, and deep that sea!
837Till then, if fate so wills, let me endure."
838     He spoke; and Sohrab smiled on him, and took
839The spear, and drew it from his side, and eased
840His wound's imperious anguish; but the blood
841Came welling from the open gash, and life
842Flow'd with the stream;--all down his cold white side
843The crimson torrent ran, dim now and soil'd,
844Like the soil'd tissue of white violets
845Left, freshly gather'd, on their native bank,
846By children whom their nurses call with haste
847Indoors from the sun's eye; his head droop'd low,
848His limbs grew slack; motionless, white, he lay--
849White, with eyes closed; only when heavy gasps,
850Deep heavy gasps quivering through all his frame,
851Convulsed him back to life, he open'd them,
852And fix'd them feebly on his father's face;
853Till now all strength was ebb'd, and from his limbs
854Unwillingly the spirit fled away,
855Regretting the warm mansion which it left,
856And youth, and bloom, and this delightful world.
857     So, on the bloody sand, Sohrab lay dead;
858And the great Rustum drew his horseman's cloak
859Down o'er his face, and sate by his dead son.
861By Jemshid in Persepolis, to bear
862His house, now 'mid their broken flights of steps
863Lie prone, enormous, down the mountain side--
864So in the sand lay Rustum by his son.
865     And night came down over the solemn waste,
866And the two gazing hosts, and that sole pair,
867And darken'd all; and a cold fog, with night,
868Crept from the Oxus. Soon a hum arose,
869As of a great assembly loosed, and fires
870Began to twinkle through the fog; for now
871Both armies moved to camp, and took their meal;
872The Persians took it on the open sands
873Southward, the Tartars by the river marge;
874And Rustum and his son were left alone.
875     But the majestic river floated on,
876Out of the mist and hum of that low land,
877Into the frosty starlight, and there moved,
878Rejoicing, through the hush'd Chorasmian waste,
879Under the solitary moon;--he flow'd
880Right for the polar star, past Orgunjè,
881Brimming, and bright, and large; then sands begin
882To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
883And split his currents; that for many a league
884The shorn and parcell'd Oxus strains along
885Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles--
886Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
887In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,
888A foil'd circuitous wanderer--till at last
889The long'd-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
890His luminous home of waters opens, bright
891And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars
892Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.


1] Completed in April 1853, after many interruptions. I "think [it is] by far the best thing I have yet done ... but then the story is a very noble and excellent one" (Arnold). In Poems by Matthew Arnold: A Second Edition, 1854, Arnold appended both the extract from Sir John Malcolm's History ofPersia which was his general source, and Sainte Beuve's notice (Causeries du lundi, I) of a French translation by Mohl of the Shahnama, the Persian national epic by Ferdousi (940?-1020) to which he acknowledged a certain obligation. Arnold insisted, though, "of M. Mohl's book itself I have not been able to obtain sight."
The passage from Malcolm reads as follows: "The young Sohrab was the fruit of one of Rustum's early amours. He had left his mother, and sought fame under the banners of Afrasiab, whose armies he commanded, and soon obtained a renown beyond that of all contemporary heroes but his father. He had carried death and dismay into the ranks of the Persians, and had terrified the boldest warriors of that country, before Rustum encountered him, which at last that hero resolved to do, under a feigned name. They met three times. The first time they parted by mutualconsent, though Sohrab had the advantage; the second, the youth obtained a victory, but granted life to his unknownfather; the third was fatal to Sohrab, who, when writhingin the pangs of death, warned his conqueror to shun the vengeance that is inspired by parental woes, and bade him dread the rage of the mighty Rustum, who must soon learn that he had slain his son Sohrab. These words, we are told, were as death to the aged hero; and when he recovered from a trance, he called in despair for proofs of what Sohrab had said. The afflicted and dying youth tore open his mail, and showed his father a seal which his mother had placed on his arm when she discovered to him the secret of his birth, and bade him seek his father. The sight of his own signet rendered Rustum quite frantic; he cursed himself, attempting to put an end to his existence, and was only prevented by the efforts of his expiring son. After Sohrab's death, he burnt his tents and all his goods, and carried the corpse to Seistan, where it was interred; the army of Turan was, agreeable to the last request of Sohrab, permitted to cross the Oxus unmolested. To reconcile us to the improbability of this tale, we are informed that Rustum could have no idea his son was in existence. The mother of Sohrab had written to him her child was a daughter, fearing to lose her darling infant if she revealed the truth; and Rustum, as before stated, fought under a feigned name, an usage not uncommon in the chivalrous combats of those days."
In Sohrab and Rustum Arnold has used only one incident from the heroic legend of Rustum, the Hercules of Persian mythology, hence the secondary title of the poem, An Episode. Arnold has altered the supposed date of the episode, removing it from the reign of the weak Kai Kaous to that of the great Kai Khosroo (Cyrus the Great?). Back to Line
2] Oxus: the chief river of west-central Asia, now called the Amu Darya, rises in the plateau of Pamir and flows north-eastinto the Aral Sea. The numerous geographic references in the poemare mostly to places in the valley of the Oxus. Back to Line
11] Peran-Wisa: the commander of the army. Back to Line
71] These lines were not in the first edition. Back to Line
115] frore: frozen. Back to Line
160] "Burns says that the pedlars eat them [`sugar'd mulberries'] in crossing the highest passes" (Arnold). Cf. Alexander Burnes, Travels into Bokhara (1834): "This great peak is visible from Cabool, and entirely enveloped in milk-white snow ... Its altitude must be considerable, for travellers complain of the difficulty of breathing, and carry sugar and mulberries with them, to ease their respiration; and the strongest of men suffer from giddiness and vomiting. Thousands of birds are also found dead on the snow, for it is believed that they are unable to fly from the violence of the winds; but it is more probable that they are prevented by the rarity of the atmosphere .... The greatest silence is preserved in crossing Hindoo Koosh; and no one speaks loud, or fires a gun, lest the reverberation cause a fall of snow." Back to Line
452] that autumn-star: Sirius, the dog-star, the brightest star in the heavens, whose rising with the sun in midsummer was thought to bring the intense heat and numerous maladies. Sirius is visible in the late autumn and winter. Arnold probably had in mind the simile describing Achilles' armour, Iliad, XXII, 26-31: "like the star that comes forth at harvest-time, and brightly his rays shine amid the host of stars in the darkness of the night, the star that men call by name the Dog of Orion. He is brightest of all, yet he is a sign of evil, and brings much fever upon wretched mortals." Back to Line
596] bruited: sounded, reported. Back to Line
860] Jemshid: a legendary Persian king, founder of Persepolis, who ruled for seven hundred years, according to the Shahnama. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.218.