Translated by J. Atkinson
Rustam, meanwhile, the thickening tumult hears
And in his heart, untouched by human fears,
Says: 'What is this, that feeling seems to stun!
This battle must be led by Ahriman,
The awful day of doom must have begun.'
In haste he arms, and mounts his bounding steed;
I be growing rage demands redoubled speed;
The leopard's skin he o'er his shoulders throws,
The regal girdle round his middle glows.
When surprised he views
Suhrab, endued with ample breast and thews,
Like Sam Suwar, he beckons him apart;
The youth advances with a gallant heart,
Willing to prove his adversary's might,
By single combat to decide the fight;
And eagerly: 'Together brought, 'he cries,
'Remote from us be foemen, and allies,
And though at once by either host surveyed,
Ours be the strife which asks no mortal aid.'
Rustam, considerate, view'd him o'er and o'er,
So wondrous graceful was the form he bore,
And frankly said: 'Experience flows with age,
And many a foe has felt my conquering rage;
Much have I seen, superior strength and art
Have borne my spear thro' many a demon's heart;
Only behold me on the battle plain,
Wait till thou seest this hand the war sustain,
And if on thee, should changeful fortune smile,
Thou needst not fear the monster of the Nile!
But soft compassion melts my soul to save
A youth so blooming with a mind so brave!'
Suhrab accepts the challenge but asks:
'One question answer, and in answering show
That truth should ever from a warrior flow:
Art thou not Rustam, whose exploits sublime
Endear his name thro' every distant clime?'
But Rustam denies any relation with the House of Nairam:
'I boast no station of exalted birth,
No proud pretensions to distinguished worth;
To him inferior, no such powers are mine,
No offspring I of Nairam's glorious line!'
Suhrab is disappointed as he retires to the place chosen for the single combat:
The prompt denial dampt his filial joy,
All hope at once forsook the Warrior-boy,
His opening day of pleasure, and the bloom
Of cherished life, immersed in shadowy gloom.
Perplexed with what his mother's words implied--
A narrow space is now prepared, aside,
A fierce battle ensues, a dubious battle in which Fate pits an unwary father against his own flesh and blood:
Son and Father driven
To mortal strife! are these the ways of Heaven?
The various swarms which boundless ocean breeds,
The countless tribes which crop the flowery meads,
All know their kind, but hapless man alone
Has no instinctive feeling for his own!
Fighting with swords gives way to showering each other with arrows. Eventually, they wrestle on horseback. The advantage of youth is, of course, with Suhrab:
And now they seize each other's girdle-band;
Rustam, who, if he moved his iron hand,
Could shake a mountain, and to whom a rock
Seemed soft as wax, tried, with one mighty stroke,
To send him thundering from his fiery steed,
But Fate forbids the gallant youth should bleed.
Suhrab springs with terrific grace,
And lifts, from saddle-bow, his ponderous mace;
With gather'd strength the quick descending blow
Wounds in its fall, and stuns the unwary foe;
Then thus contemptuous: 'All thy power is gone;
Thy charger's strength exhausted as thy own;
Thy bleeding wounds with pity I behold;
O seek no more the combat of the bold!'
The combatants then are overwhelmed with armies that arrive from every side. Each becomes engaged with a group of adversaries. When the mele comes to an end, Rustam seeks the Turanian youth and says:
Why with the Persians dost thou war to-day?
Why not with me alone decide the fight,
Thou'rt like a wolf that seek'st the fold by night.'
To this Suhrab, his proud assent expressed--
But it is already late in the afternoon and both champions need their rest. They decide, therefore, to retire to their pavillions and return the next day. The venue for the fight is chosen to be wrestling. That night, however, is a night for drinking, boasting about the victories of the day, and of politiking. Suhrab speaks to Human about his own role in the fight while Rustam talks to the king about the power of the youth:
To him he told Suhrab's tremendous sway,
The dire misfortunes of this luckless day;
Told with what grasping force he tried, in vain,
To hurl the wondrous stripling to the plain:
'The whispering zephyr might as well aspire
To shake a Mountain--such his strength and fire.
But night came on--and, by agreement, we
Must meet again to-morrow--who shall be
Victorious, Heaven knows only--for by Heaven
Victory or death to man is ever given.'
The thought of life and death does not leave Rustam alone. Fearing his adversary's superior strength, he needs to convince himself that strength is only a factor in the fight and that Fate dominates every man's final hour:
Enough of fame my various toils acquired
When warring demons, bathed in blood, expired.
Were life prolonged a thousand lingering years,
Death comes at last and ends our mortal fears;
Garshasp, and Sam, and Nariman, the best
And bravest heroes who have ever blest
This fleeting world, were not endued with power
To stay the march of fate one single hour;
The world for them possessed no fixed abode,
The path to death's cold regions must be trod;
Then why lament the doom ordained for all?
Thus Jamshid fell, and thus must Rustam fall.'
The next day, Suhrab is still searching. He tries to convince Human that the champion he is about to fight is Rustam. But traitorous Human refuses to accept. I have fought with the champion in the Mazandaran War, he says. I know him. Besides, the horse he rides is not Rakhsh, Rustam's beautiful horse. Unconvinced, Suhrab approaches Rustam one last time to make sure that he is not fighting his own father:
When the bright dawn proclaimed the rising day,
The warriors armed, impatient of delay;
But first Suhrab, his proud confederate nigh,
Thus wistful spoke, as swelled the boding sigh:
'Now mark my great antagonist in arms!
His noble form my filial bosom warms;
My mother's tokens shine conspicuous here,
And all the proofs my heart demands appear;
Sure this is Rustam, whom my eyes engage!
Shall I, Oh grief! provoke my Father's rage?
Offended Nature then would curse my name,
And shuddering nations echo with my shame.'
He ceased, then Human: 'Vain, fantastic thought;
Oft have I been where Persia's Champion fought;
And thou hast heard what wonders he performed,
When, in his prime, Mazandaran was stormed;
That horse resembles Rustam's, it is true,
But not so strong, nor beautiful to view.'
Suhrab now buckles on his war-attire,
His heart all softness, and his brain all fire;
Around his lips such smiles benignant played,
He seemed to greet a friend, as thus he said: '
'Here let us sit together on the plain,
Here social sit, and from the fight refrain;
Ask we from heaven forgiveness of the past,
And bind our souls in friendship that may last;
Ours be the feast--let us be warm and free,
For powerful instinct draws me still to thee;
Fain would my heart in bland affection join,
'Then let thy generous ardour equal mine;
And kindly say, with whom I now contend--
What name distinguished boasts my warrior-friend!
Thy name unfit for champion brave to hide,
Thy name so long, long sought, and still denied;
Say, art thou Rustam--whom I bum to know?
Ingenuous say, and cease to be my foe!'
Sternly the mighty Champion cried: 'Away--
Hence with thy wiles--now practised to delay;
The promised struggle, resolute, I claim,
Then cease to move me to an act of shame.'
Suhrab rejoined: 'Old man! thou wilt not hear
The words of prudence uttered in thine ear;
Then, Heaven! look on.'
When the single combat begins, the advantage is with Suhrab:
Suhrab now claps his hands, and forward springs
Impatiently, and round the Champion clings;
Seizes his girdle-belt, with power to tear
The very earth asunder; in despair
Rustam, defeated, feels his nerves give way,
And thundering falls. Suhrab bestrides his prey:
Grim as the lion, prowling through the wood,
Upon a wild ass springs, and pants for blood.
His lifted sword had lopt the gory head,
But Rustam, quick, with crafty ardour said:
'One moment, hold! what, are our laws unknown?
A Chief may fight till he is twice o'erthrown;
The second fall, his recreant blood is split;
These are our laws, avoid the menaced guilt.'
Having "won" the fight, Suhrab leaves the scene. He goes to Human and tells him how he had Rustam at the point of his sword but let him go. Human becomes extremely upset, as he had set this fight up for the express need of getting rid of Iran's most feared champion, Rustam. Rustam, meanwhile, seeks additional strength by praying to the Almighty:
When Rustam was released, in altered mood
He sought the coolness of the murmuring flood,
There quenched his thirst; and bathed his limbs, and prayed,
Beseeching Heaven to yield its strengthening aid.
His pious prayer indulgent Heaven approved,
And growing strength through all his sinews moved.
Again they met. A glow of youthful grace
Diffused its radiance o'er the stripling's face,
And when he saw in renovated guise
The foe so lately mastered, with surprise
He cried: 'What! rescued from my power, again
Dost thou confront me on the battle plain?
Or dost thou, wearied, draw thy vital breath
And seek, from warrior bold, the shaft of death?
Truth has no charms for thee, old man; even now
Some further cheat may lurk upon thy brow;
Twice have I shewn thee mercy, twice thy age
Hath been thy safety--twice it soothed my rage.,
Then mild the Champion: 'Youth is proud and vain!
The idle boast a warrior would disdain;
This aged arm perhaps may yet control
The wanton fury that inflames thy soul!'
Again, dismounting, each the other viewed
With sullen glance, and swift the fight renewed;
Clenched front to front, again they tug and bend,
Twist their broad limbs as every nerve would rend;
With rage convulsive Rustam grasps him round;
Bends his strong back, and hurls him to the ground;
Him, who had deemed the triumph all his own;
But dubious of his power to keep him down,
Like lightning quick he gives the deadly thrust,
And spurns the Stripling weltering in the dust--
Thus as his blood that shining steel imbrues,
Thine too shall flow, when Destiny pursues;
For when she marks the victim of her power,
A thousand daggers speed the dying hour.
Writhing in pain Suhrab in murmurs sighed--
And thus to Rustam: 'Vaunt not, in thy pride;
Upon myself this sorrow have I brought,
Thou but the instrument of fate--which wrought,
My downfall; thou art guiltless--guiltless quite.
As he lies in the field dying, Suhrab speaks unabashedly about his father, especially about the tokens that he had given his wife. These tokens would, he had said even before the son had been born, introduce my son to me wherever I might be:
Oh! had I seen my father in the fight,
My glorious father! Life will soon be o'er,
And his great deeds enchant my soul no more!
Of him my mother gave the mark and sign,
For him I sought, and what an end is mine!
My only wish on earth, my constant sigh,
Him to behold, and with that wish I die.
But hope not to elude his piercing sight,
In vain for thee the deepest glooms of night;
Couldst thou through Ocean's depths for refuge fly,
Or midst the star-beams track the upper sky!
Rustam with vengeance armed, will reach thee there,
His soul the prey of anguish and despair.'
An icy horror chills the Champion's heart,
His brain whirls round with agonizing smart;
O'er his wan cheek no gushing sorrows flow,
Senseless he sinks beneath the weight of woe;
Relieved at length, with frenzied look he cries:
'Prove thou art mine, confirm my doubting eyes!
For I am Rustam!' Piercing was the groan
Which burst from his torn heart--as wild and lone
He gazed upon him. Dire amazement shook
The dying youth, and mournful thus he spoke:
If thou art Rustam, cruel is thy part,
'No warmth paternal seems to fill thy heart;
Else hadst thou known me when, with strong desire,
I fondly claimed thee for my valiant sire;
Now from my body strip the shining mail,
Untie these bands, ere life and feeling fail;
And on my arm the direful proof behold!
Thy sacred bracelet of refulgent gold!
When the loud brazen drums were heard afar,
And, echoing round, proclaimed the pending war,
Whilst parting tears my mother's eyes o'erflowed,
This mystic gift her bursting heart bestowed:
"Take this," she said, "thy father's token wear,
And promised glory will reward thy care."
The hour is come, but fraught with bitterest woe;
We meet in blood to wail the fatal blow.'
The loosened mail unfolds the bracelet bright.
Unhappy gift! to Rustam's wildered sight;
Prostrate he falls--by my unnatural hand,
My son, my son is slain--and from the land,
'Uprooted.' Frantic, in the dust his hair
He rends in agony and deep despair;
The western sun had disappeared in gloom,
And still the Champion wept his cruel doom;
His wondering legions marked the long delay,
And, Seeing Rakhsh riderless astray,
The rumour quick to Persia's Monarch spread,
And there described the mighty Rustam dead.
Suhrab, still breathing, hears the shrill alarms,
His gentle speech suspends the clang of arms;
'My light of life now fluttering sinks in shade,
Let vengeance sleep, and peaceful vows be made.
Beseech the King to spare this Tartar host,
For they are guiltless, all to them is lost;
I led them on, their souls with glory fired,
While mad ambition all my thoughts inspired.
In search of thee, the world before my eyes,
War was my choice, and thou the sacred prize;
With thee, my sire! in virtuous league combined,
No tyrant king should persecute mankind.
That hope is past--the storm has ceased to rave--
My ripening honours wither in the grave;
Then let no vengeance on my comrades fall,
Mine was the guilt, and mine the sorrow, all;
How often have I sought thee--oft my mind
Figured thee to my sight--o'erjoyed to find
My mother's token; disappointment came,
When thou deniedst thy lineage and thy name;
Oh! still o'er thee my soul impassioned hung,
Still to my Father fond affection clung!
But Fate, remorseless, all my hopes withstood,
And stained thy reeking hands in kindred blood.'
His faltering breath protracted speech denied:
Still from his eyelids flowed a gushing tide;
Through Rustam's soul redoubled horror ran,
Heart-rending thoughts subdued the mighty man.
And now, at last, with joy illumined eye,
The Zabul bands their glorious Chief descry;
But when they saw his pale and haggard look,
Knew from what mournful cause he gazed and shook,
With downcast mien they moaned and wept aloud;
While Rustam thus addressed the weeping crowd:
'Here ends the war! let gentle peace succeed.
Enough of death, I--I have done the deed!'
The Persian Chiefs the desperate act represt,
And tried to calm the tumult in his breast:
Thus Gudarz spoke: 'Alas! wert thou to give
Thyself a thousand wounds, and cease to live;
What would it be to him thou sorrowest o'er?
It would not save one pang--then weep no more;
For if removed by death, Oh say, to whom
Has ever been vouchsafed a different doom?
All are the prey of death--the crowned, the low,
And man, through life, the victim still of woe.'
It was believed at the time that the kings had a substance called "nush daru," an anti-poison that cured those afflicted with the most powerful of the potions. Rustam sends a messenger to Ka'us for the remedy. Ka'us delays, mostly because, even though he is Rustam's son, Suhrab is an enemy of Iran:
Then Rustam: 'Fly! and to the King relate
The Pressing horrors which involve my fate;
And if the memory of my deeds e'er swayed
His mind, Oh supplicate his generous aid;
A sovereign balm he has whose wondrous power
All wounds can heal, and fleeting life restore;
Swift from his tent the potent medicine bring.'
--But mark the malice of the brainless King!
Hard as the flinty rock, he stern denies
The healthful draught, and gloomy thus replies:
'Can I forgive his foul and slanderous tongue?
The sharp disdain on me contemptuous flung?
Scorned midst my army by a shameless boy,
Who sought my throne, my sceptre to destroy!
Nothing but mischief from his heart can flow;
Is it, then, wise to cherish such a foe?
The fool who warms his enemy to life,
Only prepares for scenes of future strife.'
Gudarz, returning, told the hopeless tale--
And thinking Rustam's presence might prevail,
The Champion rose, but ere he reached the throne,
Suhrab had breathed the last expiring groan.
Now keener anguish rack'd the father's mind,
Reft of his son, a murderer of his kind;
His guilty sword distained with filial gore,
He beat his burning breast, his hair he tore;
The breathless corse before his shuddering view,
A shower of ashes o'er his head he threw;
'In my old age,' he cried, 'what have I done?
Why have I slain my son, my innocent son!
Why o'er his splendid dawning did I roll
The clouds of death--and plunge my burthened soul
In agony? My son! from heroes sprung;
Better these hands were from my body wrung;
And solitude and darkness, deep and drear,
Fold me from sight than hated linger here.
But when his mother hears, with horror wild,
That I have shed the lifeblood of her child,
So nobly brave, so dearly loved, in vain,
How can her heart that rending shock sustain?'
Now on a bier the Persian warriors place
The breathless Youth, and shade his pallid face;
And turning from that fatal field away,
Move towards the Champion's home in long array.
Then Rustam, sick of material pomp and show,
Himself the spring of all this scene of woe,
Doomed to the flames the pageantry he loved,
Shield, spear, and mace, so oft in battle proved;
Now lost to all, encompassed by despair;
His bright pavilion crackling blazed in air;
The sparkling throne the ascending column fed;
In smoking fragments fell the golden bed;
The raging fire red glimmering died away,
And all the Warrior's pride in dust and ashes lay.
Ka'us, the King, now joins the mournful Chief,
And tries to soothe his deep and settled grief.