Monday, September 1, 2014

inscriptions in the city of brass

from the book of the thousand nights and one night

english translation by powys mathers

slightly revised by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus






1.

Enter and hear the story of the rulers: 
They rested a while in the shadow of my towers
And then passed on.
They were scattered like shadows
When the sun goes down;
They were driven like straws 
Before the wind of death.

2.


The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever,
And yet I saw many things,
Seeing my glory in the days of my glory.
The feet of my war-horse
Drummed upon the cities of the world,
I sacked great towns like a hot wind
And fell like thunder upon far lands.
The kings of the earth were dragged behind my chariot And the people of the earth behind my laws:
But now
The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever.

Like foam upon sand.
Death caught me in a net:
My armies warred against him in vain,
My courtiers flattered him in vain.
Listen, O wayfarer, to the words of my death,
For they were not the words of my life:
Save up your soul
And taste the beautiful wine of peace,

For tomorrow the earth shall answer:
He is mine,
My jealous breast holds him for ever.

3.


About this table
Sat many hawk-eyed kings
With many one-eyed kings
To bear them company;
But now all sit in the dark and none are able,
None are able to see.

4.

In the name of the Eternal,
In the name of the Master of Strength,
In the name of Him who moves not!
Wayfarer in this place

Look not upon the glass of appearance,
For a breath may shatter it
And illusion is a pit for the feet of men.
I speak of my power:
I had ten thousand horses
Groomed by captive kings;
I had ten thousand virgins of royal blood
To serve my pleasure.
And a thousand excellent virgins

Chosen from all the world.
They brought forth little princes in my chambers
And the little princes were as brave as lions.
I had peculiar treasures.
And the West and the East were two heads
Bowing before me.
I thought my power eternal
And the days of my life
Fixed surely in the years;
But a whisper came to me
From Him who dies not.

And I called my captains and my strong riders,
Thousands upon thousands
With swords and lances;
I called my tributary kings together
And those who were proud rulers under me.
I opened the boxes of my treasure to them, saying:

"Take hills of gold, mountains of silver
But give me one more day upon the earth."
But they stood silent,
Looking on the ground;
So that I died
And death came to sit upon my throne.

I was Kush bin Shadad bin Ad,
Surnamed the Great.

5.

O sons of men,
You add the future to the future
But your sum is spoiled
By the grey cypher of death.
There is a Master
Who breathes upon armies.
Building a narrow and dark house for kings.
They wake above their dust
In a black commonwealth.

6.

O sons of men,
Why do you put your hands before your eyes
And play in this road as if for ever,
Which is a short passing to another place?
Where are the kings
Whose loins jetted empires,
Where are the very strong men.
Masters of Irak?
Where are the lords of Ispahan, O sons of men?

7.


O sons of men,
You see a stranger walking down the road,
You call to him and he does not stop.
He is your life
Walking towards time,
Hurrying to meet the kings of India and China,
Hurrying to greet the sultans of Sina and Nubia,
Who were blown over the mountain crest
By a certain breath,
Even as he.

8.

O sons of men,
Lean death perches upon your shoulder,
Looking down into your cup of wine,
Looking down on the breasts of your lady.
You are caught in the web of the world
And the spider Nothing waits behind it.
Where are the men with towering hopes?

They have changed paces with owls,
Owls who once lived in tombs,
And now live in palaces. 

9.

O sons of men,
Turn quickly and you will see death

Behind your shoulder,
Adam saw him,
Nimrod saw him
Who wound his horn in the forest,
The masters of Persia saw him,
Alexander, who wrestled with the world
And threw the world,
Turned quickly and saw death
Behind his shoulder.

Hamun and Karan
Shaddad the son of Ad,
Turned and beheld him,
They were ordered to leave their places
And answer a question,
Which the world would not ask.

O sons of men,
When you give yourselves to the sweet trap of life
Leave one limb free for God.
The fear of death is the beginning of wisdom
And the fair things you do
Shall blow in the wind like flowers
On the red and fiery day.

***


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