Slike strani



SITTING here at my writing-table loaded with magazines, reviews, and recent books, the fire burning cheerily on the hearth, Rosalind meditatively plying her needle, and wind and rain without increasing by contrast the inner warmth and brightness, it is not easy to realize the pathos of life as one reads it in poetry, nor to enter into its mystery of suffering as it has pressed heavily upon some of the greatest poets. The fountains of joy and sorrow are for the most part locked up in ourselves, but there are always those against whom, by some mysterious conjunction of the stars, calamity and disaster are written in a lifelong sentence. It is the lot of all superior natures to suffer as a part of their training and as the price of their gifts; but this suffering has often no thorn of outward loss thrust into its sensitive heart. There are those, however, on whose careers shadows from within and from without meet in a common darkness and complete that slow anguish of soul by which a personal agony is sometimes transmuted into a universal consolation and strength. The anguish of the cross has always been the prelude to the psalms of deliver

ance, and the world has made no new conquest of truth and life except through those who have trodden the via dolorosa.

I am quite sure that these thoughts are in the mind, or rather in the heart, of Rosalind, for she drops her work at intervals and looks into the fire with the intentness of gaze of one who sees something which she does not understand. I am not

blind to the vision which lies before her and fills her with doubt and uncertainty. It is the little town of Tous which the fire pictures before her, its white roofs glistening in the light of the Persian summer day. But it is not the beauty of the Oriental city which holds her gaze, it is the funeral train of a dead poet passing through the western gate while the reward of his immortal work, long withheld by an ignoble king, is borne into the deserted streets by the slow-moving camels. Surely the irony of what men call destiny was never more strikingly illustrated than in the story of Firdousi, the great epic poet who sang for Persia as Homer sang for Greece. Rosalind, who always wants to know a man of genius on the side of his misfortunes or his heart history, began the evening by reading aloud Mr. Gosse's picturesque "Firdousi in Exile," a poem of pleasant descriptive quality, but lacking that undertone of pathos which the story ought to have carried with itself. Such a story puts one in a silent mood, and in the lull of conversation I have read to myself Mr. Arnold's fine rendering of the

famous episode of "Sohrab and Rustem" from the "Epic of Kings"; a noble piece of English blank verse, from which I cannot forbear quoting a wellknown passage, so full of deep, quiet beauty is it:

"But the majestic river floated on,

Out of the mist and hum of that low land,
Into the frosty starlight, and there moved,
Rejoicing, through the hush'd Chorasmian waste,
Under the solitary moon; he flow'd

Right for the polar star, past Orgunjè,

Brimming, and bright, and large; then sands begin
To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
And split his currents; that for many a league
The shorn and parcell'd Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles-
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
In his high mountain cradle in Pamere,

A foil'd circuitous wanderer-till at last

The long'd-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
His luminous home of waters opens, bright

And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars
Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea."

Not unlike the movement of the Oxus was the life of the poet whose song has touched it with a beauty not its own; a life fretted by jealousies, broken by stupid treachery, but sweeping onward, true to its star, and finding peace at last in that fathomless sea to which all life is tributary. The pathos of such life lies not so much in individual suffering as in the contrast between the service rendered and the recognition accorded to it. The poet had immortalized his country and his master,

and his reward after thirty years of toil was a long exile.

"In vain through sixty thousand verses clear

He sang of feuds and battles, friend and foe,
Of the frail heart of Kaous, spent with fear,
And Kal Khosrau who vanished in the snow,
And white-haired Zal who won the secret love
Of Rudabeh where water-lilies blow,
And lordliest Rustem, armed by gods above

With every power and virtue mortals known."

For this inestimable service of holding aloft over Persian history the torch of the imagination until it lay clear and luminous in the sight of the centuries, Firdousi was condemned to learn the bitterness of wide and restless wanderings. Many a Tartar camp knew him; Herat, the mountains about the Caspian, Astrabad, the Tigris, and Bagdad saw the white-haired poet pass, or accorded him a brief and broken rest from journeying. There is an atmosphere of poetry about these ancient names, but no association is likely to linger longer in the memory of men than the fact that they were stations in Firdousi's exile. It is one of the unconscious gifts of genius that it bestows immortality upon all who come into relation with it. But the crowning touch of pathos came at the close, when the long withheld treasure entered the gates of Tous as the body of the poet was borne out of the city to its last repose. The repentance of Mahmoud had come too late; he had blindly thrust aside the rich

est crown of good fame ever offered to a Persian king.

But there are sadder stories than that of Firdousi; one story, notably, which all men recall instinctively when they speak of exile. The Persian poet had written the "Epic of Kings" in a palace, and with the resources of a king at command, but Dante was a homeless wanderer in the years which saw the birth of the Divine Comedy. To that great song in which the heart of Medievalism was to live forever, Florence contributed nothing but the anguish of soul through which the mind slowly finds its way to the highest truth. A noble nature, full of deep convictions, fervent loves, with the sensitiveness and prophetic sight of genius, cut off from all natural channels of growth, activity, and ambition, condemned to


prove how salt a savor ha h

The bread of others, and how hard a path

To climb and to descend the stranger's stairs."

Surely no great man ever ate his bread wet with tears of deeper bitterness than Dante. One has but to recall his stern love of truth and his intense sensitiveness to injustice, to imagine in some degree what fathomless depths of suffering lay hidden from the eyes of men under that calm, majestic composure of manner and speech. The familiar story of his encounter with the Florentine blacksmith comes to mind as indicating how his proud spirit resented the slightest injustice. One morn

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