The Poem of Amru
HOLLA!—Awake, sweet damsel, and bring our morning draught in thy capacious goblet; nor suffer the rich wines of Enderein to be longer hoarded:
2. Bring the well-tempered wine, that seems to be tinctured with saffron, and, when it is diluted with water, overflows the cup.
3. This is the liquor which diverts the anxious lover from his passion; and, as soon as he tastes it, he is perfectly composed:
4. Hence thou seest the penurious churl, when the circling bowl passes him, grow regardless of his pelf:
5. When its potent flames have seized the discreetest of our youths, thou wouldst imagine him to be in a frenzy.
6. Thou turnest the goblet from us, O mother of Amru; for the true course of the goblet is to the right hand:
7. He is not the least amiable of thy three companions, O mother of Amru, to whom thou hast not presented the morning bowl.
8. How many a cup have I purchased in Balbec! how many more in Damascus and Kasirein!
9. Surely our allotted hour of fate will overtake us; since we are destined to death, and death to us.
10. O stay a while, before we separate, thou lovely rider on camels, that we may relate to thee our sorrows, and thou to us thy delights!
11. O stay!—that we may inquire whether thou hast altered thy purpose of departing hastily, or whether thou hast wholly deceived thy too confident lover:
12. In the hateful day of battle, whilst he struggles amid wounds and blows, may the Ruler of the world refresh thy sight with coolness, and gratify it with every desired object!
13. O Amru, when thou visitest thy fair one in secret, and when the eyes of lurking enemies are closed in rest,
14. She displays two lovely arms, fair and full as the limbs of a long-necked snow-white young camel, that frisks in the vernal season over the sand-banks and green hillocks;
15. And two sweet breasts, smooth and white as vessels of ivory, modestly defended from the hand of those who presume to touch them:
16. She discovers her slender shape, tall and well proportioned, and her sides gracefully rising with all their attendant charms;
17. Her hips elegantly swelling, which the entrance of the tent is scarce large enough to admit, and her waist, the beauty of which drives me to madness;
18. With two charming columns of jasper or polished marble, on which hang rings and trinkets making a stridulous sound.
19. My youthful passion is rekindled, and my ardent desire revives, when I see the travelling camels of my fair one driven along in the evening;
20. When the towns of Yemama appear in sight, exalted above the plains, and shining like bright sabres in the hands of those who have unsheathed them.
21. When she departs, the grief of a she-camel who seeks her lost foal, and returns despairing with piercing cries, equals not my anguish;
22. Nor that of a widow, with snowy locks, whose mourning never ceases for her nine children, of whom nothing remains, but what the tomb has concealed.
23. Such is our fate! This day and the morrow, and the morning after them, are pledges in the hand of destiny for events of which we have no knowledge.
24. O son of Hinda, be not precipitate in giving judgment against us: hear us with patience, and we will give thee certain information;—
25. That we lead our standards to battle, like camels to the pool, of a white hue, and bring them back stained with blood, in which they have quenched their thirst;
26. That our days of prosperity, in which we have refused to obey the commands of kings, have been long and brilliant.
27. Many a chief of his nation, on whom the regal diadem has been placed, the refuge of those who implored his protection,
28. Have we left prostrate on the field, while his horses waited by his side, with one of their hoofs bent, and with bridles richly adorned.
29. Often have we fixed our mansions in Dhu Thaluh, towards the districts of Syria, and have kept at a distance those who menaced us.
30. We were so disguised in our armour, that the dogs of the tribe snarled at us; yet we stripped the branches from every thorny tree (every armed warrior) that opposed us.
31. When we roll the millstone of war over a little clan, they are ground to flour in the first battle;
32. From the eastern side of Najd the cloth of the mill is spread, and whatever we cast into it soon becomes impalpable powder.
33. You alight on our hills as guests are received in their station, and we hasten to give you a warm reception, lest you should complain of our backwardness:
34. We invite you to our board, and speedily prepare for your entertainment a solid rock, which, before daybreak, shall reduce you to dust.
35. Surely hatred after hatred is manifested by thee, O hostile chief! and thy secret rancour has been revealed:
36. But we have inherited glory, as the race of Maad well knows; we have fought with valour till our fame has been illustrious.
37. When the falling pillars of our tents quiver over our furniture, we defend our neighbours from the impending min.
38. We disperse our gifts to our countrymen, but disdain to share their spoils; and the burdens which we bear we support for their advantage.
39• When the troops of the foe are at a distance from us, we dart our javelins; and when we close in the combat, we strike with sharp sabres;—
40. Our dark javelins, exquisitely wrought of Khathaian reeds, slender and delicate; our sabres, bright and piercing:
41. With these we cleave in pieces the heads of our enemies; we mow—we cut down their necks as with sickles:
42. Then might you imagine the skulls of heroes on the plain to be the bales of a camel thrown on rocky ground.
43. Instead of submitting to them, we crush their heads; and their terror is such, that they know not on which side the danger is to be feared.
44. Our scimitars, whose strokes are furiously interchanged, are as little regarded by us as twisted sashes in the hands of playful children.
45. Their armour and ours, stained reciprocally with our blood, seems to be dyed or painted with the juice of the crimson syringa-flower.
46. At a time when the tribe is reluctant to charge the foe, apprehensive of some probable disaster,
47. Then we lead on our troop, like a mountain with a pointed summit; we preserve our reputation, and advance in the foremost ranks,
48. With youths, who consider death as the completion of glory, and with aged heroes experienced in war:
49. We challenge all the clans together to contend with us, and we boldly preclude their sons from approaching the mansion of our children.
50. On the day when we are anxious to protect our families, we keep vigilant guard, clad in complete steel;
51. But on the day when we have no such anxiety for them, our legions assemble in frill council.
52. Led by a chief among the descendants of Josham the son of Becr, we bruise our adversaries, both the weak and the strong.
53. Oh, the nations remember not the time when we bowed the neck, or ever flagged in the conflict!
54. Oh, let no people be infatuated and violent against us; for we will requite their infatuation, which surpasses the folly of the most foolish!
55. On what pretence, O Amru, son of Hinda, should we be subject to the sovereign whom thou wouldst place over us?
56. By what pretence, O Amru, son of Hinda, dost thou yield to our calumniators, and treat us with indignity?
57. Thou hast menaced us: thou hast thought to intimidate us; but, gently, O King!—say, when were we ever the vassals of thy mother?
58. Our javelins, O Amru, disdain to relax their vehemence before thee in assailing our foes:
59. Whenever a man uses force to bend them, they start back, and become inflexibly rigid,-
60. So rigid, that when they return to their former state, they ring with a shrill noise, piercing the neck and forehead of him who touches them.
61. Hast thou ever been informed that Josham the son of Becr, in battles anciently fought, was at any time remiss?
62. We have inherited the renown of Alkama the son of Saif, who by dint of valour obtained admission for us into the castles of glory.
63. We are heirs to Mohalhil, and to Zoheir, the flower of his tribe: O of how noble a treasure were they the preservers!
64. From Attab also and from Celthum we have received the inheritance transmitted from their progenitors.
65. By Dhu’lborra, of whose fame thou hast heard the report, have we been protected; and through him we protect those who seek our aid.
66. Before him the adventurous Coleib sprung from us: and what species of glory is there which we have not attained?
67. When our antagonists twist against us the cords of battle, either we burst the knot or rend the necks of our opponents.
68. We shall be found the firmest of tribes in keeping our defensive alliance, and the most faithful in observing the bond of our treaties.
69. When the flames were kindled in the mountain, on the morning of an excursion, we gave succour more important than the aid of other allies.
70. To give immediate relief, we kept all our herds confined in Dhu Orathei, until our mulch-camels of a noble breed were forced to graze on withered herbs.
71. We protect with generosity the man who submits to us; but chastise with firmness him by whom we are insulted.
72. We reject the offers of those who have displeased us; but accept the presents of those with whom we are satisfied.
73. We succoured the right wing, when our troops engaged in combat, and our valiant brothers gave support to the left.
74. They made a fierce attack against the legions which opposed them, and we not less fiercely assailed the squadrons by which we were opposed.
75. They returned with booty and with rich spoils, and the sons of kings were among our captives.
76. To you, O descendants of Becr, to you we address ourselves;—have you not yet learned the truth concerning us?
77. Have you not experienced with what impetuosity our troops have attacked your troops, and with what force they have darted their javelins?
78. We are armed with bright sabres, and clad in habergeons made in Yemen; our scimitars are part straight, part bent.
79. We have coats of mail that glitter like lightning; the plaits of which are seen in wrinkles above our belts:
80. When at any time our heroes put them off, you may see their skin blackened with the pressure of the steel.
81. The plaits of our hauberks resemble the surface of a pool which the winds have ruffled in their course.
82. On the morning of attack, we are borne into the field on short-haired steeds, which have been known to us from the time when we weaned them, and which we rescued from our foes after they had been taken.
83. They rush to the fight, armed with breastplates of steel; they leave it with their manes dishevelled and dusty, and the reins, tied in knots, lie on their necks.
84. We inherited this excellent breed from our virtuous ancestors; and on our death they will be inherited by our sons.
85. All the tribes of Maad perfectly know, when their tents are pitched in the well-watered valleys,
86. That we support the distressed in every barren year, and are bountiful to such as solicit our bounty;
87. That we defend the oppressed, when we think it just; and fix our abode in Arabia, where we find it convenient;
88. That we give succour to those that are near us, when the bright scimitars make the eyes of our heroes wink.
89. We entertain strangers at our board whenever we are able; but we hurl destruction on those who approach us hostilely.
90. We are the tribe who drink water from the clearest brooks; whilst other clans are forced to drink it foul and muddy.
91. Go, ask the sons of Tamah and of Domia, how they have found us in the conflict!
92. Behind us come our lovely, our charming damsels, whom we guard so vigilantly that they cannot be made captive, or even treated with disrespect:
93. Fair maidens, descended from Josham the son of Becr, who comprise every species of beauty, both in the opinion of men and in truth.
94. They have exacted a promise from their husbands, that, when they engaged with the hostile legions, distinguished by marks of valour,
95. They would bring back, as spoils, coats of mail and scimitars, and captives led chained in pairs.
96. Thou mayst behold us sallying forth into the open plain, whilst every other tribe seeks auxiliaries through fear of our prowess.
97. When our damsels are on foot, they walk with graceful motions, and wave their bodies like those of libertines heated with wine.
98. They feed with their fair hands our coursers of noble birth, and say to us: "You are no husbands of ours, unless you protect us from the foe."
99. Yes, if we defend not them, we retain no possessions of value after their loss, nor do we think even life desirable:
100. But nothing can afford our sweet maids so sure a protection as the strokes of our sabres, which make men's arms fly off like the clashing wands of playful boys.
101. We seem, when our drawn scimitars are displayed, to protect mankind, as fathers protect their children.
102. Our heroes roll the heads of their enemies, as the strong well-made youths roll their balls in the smooth vale.
103. This world is ours, and all that appears on the face of it; and when we do attack, we attack with irresistible force.
104. When a tyrant oppresses and insults a nation, we disdain to degrade ourselves by submitting to his will.
105. We have been called injurious, although we have injured no man; but if they persist in calumniating us, we will show the vehemence of our anger.
106. As soon as a child of our tribe is weaned from his mother, the loftiest chiefs of other clans bend the knee and pay him homage.
107. We force our enemies to taste the unmixed draught of death; and heavy is the overthrow of our adversaries in battle.
108. We fill the earth with our tents, until it becomes too narrow to contain them; and cover the surface of the ocean with our ships.