American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Poems of Places 3

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Khosru Observes Shirin Bathing, 1431

"Khosru Observes Shirin Bathing," miniature from the manuscript "Khamsa" by Nisami, 1431

From Poems of Places, vol. 23, Asia: Persia, India, Chinese Empire, Japan (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1878), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:


On lofty Beysitoun the lingering sun
Looks down on ceaseless labors, long begun;
The mountain trembles to the echoing sound
Of falling rocks that from her sides rebound.
Each day, all respite, all repose, denied,
Without a pause the thundering strokes are plied;
The mist of night around the summits coils,
But still Ferhâd, the lover-artist, toils.
And still, the flashes of his axe between,
He sighs to every wind, “Alas, Shireen!”…

— opening of “Mount Beysitoun” by Nisami (tr. William Rounseville Alger)

The poem is prefaced with the following summary:

Ferhâd was a sculptor of transcendent genius, who, from his passionate love for Shireen, was a troublesome rival to Khosru. The king, to get rid of his presence by engaging him in an impossible task, promised that if he would, unaided, cut through the impassable mountain of Beysitoun a channel for a river, and hew all the masses of rock into statues, the lovely maid he adored should be the reward of his labors. The slave of love accepted the condition. The enamored statuary commenced his work, crying, every time he struck the rock, “Alas, Shireen!”

Written by Ben Friedlander

February 3, 2009 at 12:06 pm

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