The Death of Yazdagird
translated by Arthur Geroge Warner and Edmond Warner
From the Shahnameh
There was a paladin, a Turk by race,
A man of influence and named Bizhan;
He dwelt within the coasts of Samarkand
Where he had many kin. Ill-starred Mahwi,
Becoming self-assertive, wrote to him:--
"Thou prosperous scion of the paladins!
A strife hath risen that will bring thee profit:
The Sháh is of all places here at Marv
And with no troops! His head and crown and state,
Wealth, throne, and host, are thine if thou wilt come.
Recall the vengeance owing to thy sires,
And give this unjust race its just reward."
Bizhan, considering the letter, saw
That insolent Mahwi would win the world,
Then spake thus to his minister: "Thou chief
Of upright men! what sayest thou to this?
If I lead forth a host to aid Mahwi
'Twill be my ruin here."
Replied: "O lion-hearted warrior!
'Twere shame to help Mahwi and then withdraw.
Command Barsám to set forth with a host
To aid upon this scene of strife. The sage
Will term thee daft to go and fight in person
At the insistence of this man of Súr."
Bizhan replied: "'Tis well, I will not go
He therefore bade Barsám to lead
Ten thousand valiant cavaliers and swordsmen
To Marv with all the implements of war
If haply he might take the Sháh. That host
Went like a flying pheasant from Bukhárá
To Marv within one week. One night at cock-crow
The sound of tymbals went up from the plain.
How could the king of kings suspect Mahwi
Of Súr to be his enemy? Shouts rose.
A cavalier reached Yazdagird at dawn
To say: "Mahwi said thus: 'A host of Turks
Hath come. What is the bidding of the Sháh?
The Khán and the Faghfúr of Chin command:
Earth is not able to support their host!'"
The Sháh wroth donned his mail. The armies ranged.
He formed his troops to right and left, and all
Advanced to battle. Spear in hand he held
The center, and the whole world was bedimmed
With flying dust. He saw how lustily
The Turks engaged, unsheathed his sword, and came,
As 'twere an elephant before his troops.
Earth Nile-wise flowed. Like thundering cloud he charged,
But not a warrior supported him;
All turned their backs upon that man of name,
And left him mid the horsemen of the foe.
The world's king, when Mahwi withdrew, perceived
The practice hid till then--the intent and plan
To capture him--yet played the man in fight,
Displaying valour, strength, and warriorship,
Slew many at the centre, but at length
Fled in despair, with falchion of Kábul
In hand, pursued by many Turks. He sped
Like lightning mid night's gloom and spied a mill
On the canal of Zark. Alighting there
The world's king lay in hiding from his foes
Within the mill. The horsemen searched for him;
All Zark was hue and cry. The Sháh abandoned
His gold-trapped steed, his mare, and scimitar
With golden sheath. The Turks with loud shouts sought him,
Excited by that steed and equipage.
The Sháh within the mill-house lurked in hay.
With this false Hostel thus it ever is:
The ascent is lofty and profound the abyss.
With Yazdagird, while fortune slumbered not,
A throne enskied by heaven was his lot,
And now it was a mill! Excess of sweet
Bred bane for him and, if thou art discreet,
Affect not this world for its end is ill.
Whiles a tame serpent to the touch it still
At whiles will bite, and hot that bite will be.
Why then affect this cozening hostelry
While like a drum the signal to be gone
Thou hearest, bidding: "Bind the baggage on.
And for sole throne the grave's floor look upon?"
With mouth untasting and with tearful eyes
The Sháh abode until the sun arose,
And then the miller oped the mill-house door.
He bore a truss of grass upon his back.
A low-born man was he, by name Khusrau,
Poor, foolish, unrespected, purposeless.
He lived upon the profits of his mill,
Which gave him full employment. He beheld
A warrior, like a lofty cypress, sitting
In dolour on the ground with kingly crown
Upon his head and with brocade of Rúm
Bright on his breast; his eyes a stag's, his chest
And neck a lion's; of beholding him
The eye ne'er tired. He was unique in form;
Wore golden boots; his sleeves were fringed with pearls
And gold. Khusrau looked, stood astound, and called
On God, then said: "O man of sunlike mien!
Say in what sort thou camest to this mill?
Why didst thou take it for thy resting-place
Full as it is of wheat and dust and hay?
Who art thou with such form, such Grace and looks?
Sure, heaven never saw the like of thee!"
The Sháh replied: "I am Iránian-born,
In flight before the army of Túrán."
The miller said, abashed: "I have no comrade
Save penury, but still, if barley-bread,
With some poor cresses from the river-bank,
Will serve thee I will bring them; naught have I
Besides: a man so straitened well may wail."
Through stress of fight the Sháh had rested not,
Or eaten, for three days and so replied:--
"Bring what thou hast, that and the sacred twigs
Will serve my turn."
The poor and lowly miller
Brought him the cresses and the barley-bread,
Made haste to fetch the sacred twigs and, reaching
The toll-house on the way, crossed to the chief
Of Zark to make request for them. Máhwi
Had sent men on all sides to find the Sháh,
And so the chieftain asked the miller: "Friend!
For whom need'st thou the sacred twigs?"
Khusrau replied: "There is a warrior at the mill,
And seated on the hay, a cypress slim
In height, a sun in looks, a man of Grace,
With eyebrows arched and melancholy's eyes:
His mouth is full of sighs, his soul is sad.
I set stale fare before him--barley-bread,
Such as I eat myself--but he is fain
To take the sacred twigs while muttering grace.
Thou well mayst muse at him."
The chief rejoined:--
"Go and inform Máhwi of Súr hereof,
For that foul miscreant must not reveal
His proper bent when he shall hear of this."
Forthwith he charged a trusty man to take
The miller to Máhwi who asked of him,
Then anxious for himself; "For whom dist thou
Require the sacred twigs? Tell me the truth."
The miller all a-tremble made reply:--
"I had been out to fetch a load and flung
The mill-door open roughly, when know this:
The sun was in mine eyes, but his are like
Those of a startled fawn; his locks are dark
As the third watch of night; his breath suggesteth
Musk, and his face embellisheth his crown.
One that hath never seen the Graces of God
Should take the mill-house key. His diadem
Is full of uncut jewels, and his breast
Bright with the brocade of Rúm. The mill hath grown
As 'twere a sun through him, and yet his food
Is barley-bread, his seat upon the hay!
'Spring,' thou wouldst say, 'in Paradise is he:
No thane e'er set so tall a cypress-tree.'"
Now when Mahwi had taken thought he knew:--
"'Tis none but Yazdagird!" and bade the miller:--
"Haste and cut off his head forthwith or I
Will cut thine own off presently and leave
None of thy stock alive."
The chiefs, the nobles,
And mighty men heard this and all the assembly
Were filled with wrath at him; their tongues were charged
With words, their eyes with tears. An archimage,
By name Rádwi, whose mind wore wisdom's bridle,
Said to Máhwi: "O thou malignant one!
Why hath the Div confused thine eyes? This know:
The royal and prophetic offices
Are two gems set within one finger-ring.
To break one is to trample life and wisdom
Beneath thy feet. Reflect upon thy words,
And then forbear. Be not the Maker's foe.
First will disaster come on thee herefrom,
Then thou wilt leave a seed-plot for thy child,
With fruit of colocynth and leafage blood.
Ere long thou wilt behold thy head abased;
They villainy will be exposed; thy sons
Will reap what thou hast sown. This deed of thine
Will wreck the Faith of God, and crown and throne
Will curse thee."
Then a devotee devout,
Who never put his hand forth to injustice,
By name Hurmuzd, son of Kharrád, a man
Who rested in the Faith, said to Máhwi:--
"O thou oppressor! quit not thus the way
Of holy God. I see thy heart and sense
Bedimmed. We see thy breast a tomb. Though strong
Thou hast no brain; thy mind is weak; thou seekest
The smoke and not the fire. I see that thou
Wouldst have the malediction of the world,
And, when thou quit'st it, travail, smart, and anguish.
Now will thy lifetime prove a wretched one,
And fire thy dwelling-place when thou departest."
He sat. Shahrán rose and addressed Máhwi:--
"Why this audacity? Thou hast opposed
The king of kings and cottoned with the Khán
And the Faghfúr. Full many of this race
Have proved of no account yet men ne'er hasted
To slay them. Shed not, as thou art a slave,
The blood of Sháhs because thou wilt be cursed
This he said, and sat down weeping
In anguish with heart full and eyes all gall.
Then Mihr-i-Núsh stood forth in deep distress,
With lamentation, and addressed Máhwi:--
"O evil man of evil race, who art
Not well advised or just! a crocodile
Respecteth royal blood, a leopard finding
A slain king doth not rend him. O thou worse
In love and instinct than the beasts of prey!
Thou covetest the Sháh's crown! When Jamshid
Was slaughtered by Zahhák did that affect
Heaven's will? Nay, when Zahhák had won the earth
Abtin appeared, the glorious Faridún
Was born, the fashion of the world was changed,
And thou hast heard what tyrannous Zahhák
Brought on himself as sequel of his crimes.
For though he lived above a thousand years
Still in the end the avenger came to him.
Then, secondly, when Túr, the exalted one,
Afflicted by his longing for Irán,
Slew in his folly virtuous Iraj,
On whom the very dust looked pityingly,
dispatched him to the hero Faridún,
And gave the world to sorrow, Minúchihr,
One of the race, appeared and undid all
Those bonds. When, thirdly, princely Siyáwush
Went forth to war, albeait reluctantly,
Afrásiyáb, inspired by Garsiwaz,
Washed shame and honour from his mind and wits,
And slew the youthful and right royal prince,
So that the world became his enemy.
Sprung from that prince the world-lord Kai Khusrau
Came and filled all the world with hubbub, clave
Asunder with his scimitar his grandsire,
And frayed all those that else had sought revenge.
the fourth count is the feud against Arjásp,
The slayer of Luhrásp. Asfandiyár
Went forth to fight with him and took swift wreak.
Fifth, is the vengeance ta'en for Sháh Hurmuzd.
Khusrau Parwiz, whenas he felt confirmed
In heart and power, dealt in the way we know
both with Bandwi and Gustaham. The sky,
Which then revolved, revolveth still. Forgetting
What they had done for him, when his sire's blood
And love and family appealed to him,
He in his day of strength abated theirs.
One may not scorn the occasion of revenge,
For such a time will quickly come to thee,
And thou wilt suffer for thine evil thoughts.
Thy son will reap what thou hast sown, and fate
Will not rest long from vengeance; so refrain
From all this treasure-hoard, this heritage
Of crown and precious things. Thou art revolting
Because the Div enjoineth, and abjuring
The way of God. The Div, as thou wilt learn,
Is tempting thee with things not for thine honour.
Burn not thy soul and body in Hell-fire;
Dim not this world-illuming crown but gather
Thy scattered troops; recant what thou hast said;
Go ask the Sháh to pardon thee and when
Thou seest him renew thy fealty.
From there prepare to battle with the foe;
Be instant both in counsel and excuse,
For not to hearken to the words of sages
Will mark thee out as evil in both worlds.
Men bring to naught things done a day too late.
Wilt thou treat Yazdagird, the king of kings,
Worse than malignant Turks, for in the fray
He is a lion, on the throne a Sháh
As bright as sun and moon, a memory
Of the Sásánians? None is girdle-girt
Like him. From sire to sire his ancestors
Were mighty men and compassers of wisdom
From Núshirwán, the Sháh, back to Ardshir,
While, seventh backward from Ardshir, Sásán,
The world-lord, had the crown, for God entrusted
To him the Kaian crown, and all the kings
Were of that glorious race. Now many a man
Hath been thy better, but they ne'er conceived
Designs like these. As for Bahrám Chúbina,
Three hundred thousand skilful cavaliers
On barded steeds fled at one shaft of his,
And left the field of fight to him; but when
His heart grew weary of the race of Sháhs
the hear of his resplendent fortune fell.
So Faráyin, who sought the throne of kings
Unworthily and bathed his hands in blood,
Was in like manner miserably slain:
This age endureth not such mockeries.
Fear Him, the Lord, the Maker of the world,
For He created throne and crown and signet.
Defame not thine own person wantonly
Because ere long such things will rise against thee.
Know that whoever speaketh not the truth
To thee is thy soul's foe. Now thou art sick
While I am as the leech, a leech that waileth,
And sheddeth drops of blood. Thou art thyself
Less than the slave of slaves. Be not ambitious
In thy heart's thoughts. Leave strife to holy God,
And seek in honour's way the throne of greatness."
The shepherd-born had set his heart upon
The throne: the archimages' rede was hard.
So hath it ever been; 'tis no new thing:
The flouts of fortune are past reckoning.
Exalting to the sky above this one,
And making that vile, wretched, and undone,
Not leagued with that, on war with this not bent.
But void of wit, shame, Faith, and precedent.
The archmages all, till the world gloomed and moon
Succeeded sun, warned that vindictive man,
Who was not one hair better for their talk,
And said when night came: "Ye must leave me now
O sages! I will ponder this tonight,
And take all kinds of wisdom to my breast.
We will call twenty wise men from the host
That we may well need not to deplore this ill."
The prudent archimages went their ways,
The men of war arrived. Máhwi held session
With his confederates and said: "What think ye
Herein? If Yazdagird remain alive
Troops will collect to him from every side;
My secret purposes have been exposed,
And all, both great and small, have heard thereof!
My life will end through his hostility,
And neither folk nor field and fell be left."
A wise man said: "Thou shouldest not have acted
At first so. If the monarch of Irán
Be ill-disposed toward thee then past doubt
Ill will befall thee from him, yet 'tis ill
To shed his blood for then God will avenge him.
To left and right are cares and pains of all kinds:
Consider how thou need'st must act herein."
Máhwi's son said to him: "Well counselled sire!
Since thou hast made the Sháh thine enemy
Be rid of him; troops from Máchin and Chin
Will come to him and earth grow strait for us.
Hold this no trifle. Since thou hast prevailed
Tempt not the maws of lions. Thou and all
Thy host will be uprooted from the world
If standard-wise the Sháh's skirt be unfurl'd."
Thereat the shameless, infamous Máhwi
Turned fiercely to the miller, saying: "Up!
Take cavaliers and shed my foeman's blood."
The miller, hearing, knew not what to do.
But when at night the moon assumed her throne
Departed mill-ward to the Sháh and when
He left the court-gate of Máhwi his eyes
Were charged with tear-drops and his heart was full.
Forthwith Máhwi dispatched some cavaliers
To follow swift as smoke, instructing them:--
"See that ye sully not the crown and earrings,
The signet and the royal robes with blood.
And strip the Sháh when lifeless."
With his eyes
All tearful and cheeks yellow as the sun
The miller went, exclaiming: "Judge almighty,
Who art above the process of time!
Wring presently his heart and soul for this
With heart all shame and qualm,
With wetted cheeks and tongue all charged with dust,
He reached the Sháh and drawing nigh with caution,
As one would speak a secret in the ear,
Stabbed with a dirk his middle. At the blow
The Sháh cried: "Ah!" Then tumbled head and crown,
And barley-bread before him, to the dust!
He that abideth when he might depart
From this world hath no wisdom in his heart,
And wisdom is not in the turning sky,
Whose love is as its stress and enmity.
'Tis well to look not on the world and so
From these its doings love and wrath not know.
The planets weary of their fosterlings,
And guiltless folk like Yazdagird are slain;
None else hath perished thus of all the kings,
Nor of his host a plier of the rein.
The horsemen of accursed Máhwi, on seeing
That royal Tree thus laid to rest afar
From palace and his scenes of ease, drew near,
Gazed, one and all, upon his face, removed
His cincture, violet robe, and coronet,
His torque and golden boots, and left him there
In miserable case upon the ground--
The monarch of Irán flung on the dust,
Blood-boltered, with gashed side! Those emissaries,
When they arose, all framed their tongues to curse:--
"Oh! may Máhwi himself fare, prostrate thus,
All gory on earth's face."
They told Máhwi:--
"The exalted Sháh hath passed away from throne,
From battle and delights," and he commanded
To take, when it was night, the monarch's corpse,
And fling it in the stream. The miller took
The body of the Sháh forth from the mill,
And flunt it (mark the horror!) in the water,
And there it floated with a bobbing head!
When it was day and people went abroad
Two men of worship visited the spot.
One of these men austere and sober reached
The river-bank and, when he saw the corpse
All naked in the water, hurried back
In consternation to the monastery,
And told the other monks what he had seen:--
"The Sháh, the master of the world, is drowned,
And naked in the water-way of Zark!"
Then many of those holy men--the chief
And others of all ranks--set forth. A cry
Of anguish rose from them: "O noble man,
And royal crown-possessor! none e'er saw
The wearer of it in such a plight as this,
Or ever heard before the time of Christ
A case like this king's through his wicked slave,
This misbegotten dog, this reprobate,
Who fawned upon his master till ill came;
Máhwi's just portion is to be accursed.
Woe for the head and crown, the height and mien!
Woe for the breast and arms, the hands and mace!
Woe for the last descendant of Ardshir!
Woe for that cavalier so young and goodly!
Strong wast thou; thou hadst wisdom in thy soul,
And thou hast gone to bear the news hereof
To Núshirwán that, though thy face was moonlike,
And though thou wast a king and soughtest crowns,
Yet in the mill they pierced thy liverstead,
And flung thy naked body in the stream!"
Four of the monks went stripped into the water,
Seized the bare body of the youthful king,
That grandson of the world-lord Núshirwán,
And drew it to the bank while young and old
Lamented greatly. They prepared for him
Within the garth a charnel-house and raised
Its summet to the clouds. They sealed his wound
With gum, with pitch, with camphor, and with musk,
And then arrayed him in brocade of gold,
With fine Egyptian linen underneath,
And dark-blue Russian cloth o'er all. They decked
His place of rest with wine and gum and camphor,
With musk and with rose-water.
When the form
Was hidden of that noble Cypress-tree
What said that honoured thane of Marv? "In secret
A guerdon waiteth him that after travail
Departeth with good conscience from the world."
Another said: "Though man may laugh, yet know
That he is of the sufferers, for he
Will find the falseness of the turning sky,
Which will reveal to him both rise and fall."
Another said: "Call not him one of wit
That serveth his own form with princes' blood,
And seeketh wealth, despite of infamy,
With soul unfearful of an evil end."
Another said: "Since the Sháh's lips are closed
I see not crown or royal seat or signet,
Or courtiers or a realm or diadem,
Or throne or helmet, and if these possess
No moment in themselves why this expense
Of toil and time?"
"Thy good report, I see,"
Another said, "will win thee worthy praise.
Thou in the garth of Paradise didst set
A cypress: now thy soul beholdeth it."
Another said: "God took thy soul and gave
Thy body to the care of the devout.
Hereby thy soul is profited, hereby
Will harm betide the foe. The Sháh hath now
His work in Paradise; his foeman's soul
Is on the road to Hell."
"Wise, knowledge-loving Sháh sprung from Ardshir!
Thou reapest now the crop that thou didst sow:
The lamp of sovereignty is still alight."
Another said: "Though thou'rt asleep, young king!
Thy spirit is awake. Thy lips are mute,
And with full many a groan thy spirit passed
And left thy body free. Thy work is done:
Thy soul is busy now. Thy foeman's head
Is on the stake. Although thy tongue is tied
Thy spirit speaketh, and thy soul is purged
Although thy form is pierced, while if thy hand
Have dropped the reins thy spirit still will wield
The spear in battle."
Said another one:--
"O famous warrior! thou hast departed
With thine own works as guide. Thy royal seat
Is now in Paradise; this earth of bale
Is now another's share."
"The man that slew
One such as thee," another said, "will look
Upon harsh days anon."
The prelate said:--
"Thy slaves are we and laud thy holy soul.
Be this, thy charnel, as a garth all tulips,
This bier thine upland and thy plain of joy."
They spake, took up the bier and carried it
From waste to mausoleum. Thither came
The hapless Sháh, crown, throne, and casque at end.
O man of many years, whose words still run!
Turn from the path of greed, break off thy strain.
What shall we say hereof? Was justice done
Or vengeance by the seven planets ta'en,
On Yazdagird? The sage, if unresolved
Upon the point, could make me no reply,
Or if he spake 'twould be in words involved
That keep the answer still a mystery.
If thou hast means, good man! indulge thy heart;
Trust not to what the morrow promiseth,
Because the world and thou perforce must part,
And time accounteth for thine every breath;
Thou shouldest sow not any save good seed
In what remaineth of thy mortal strife;
Control the door of appetite and greed;
He that provided will provide through life,
And life itself will but produce for thee
Fair fame and happiness, good friend! Then still
With all thy might eschew iniquity,
For from a wise man should proceed no ill.
Bring wine; our day is nearly o'er and hence
We must away, for what hath been will be.
Had I incomings balancing expense
Then time would be a brother unto me.
The hail this year like death on me hath come,
Though death itself were better than the hail,
And heaven's lofty, far-extending dome
Hath caused my fuel, wheat, and sheep to fail.