'The Gift Of Harun Al-Rashid' by William Butler Yeats

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KUSTA BEN LUKA is my name, I write
To Abd Al-Rabban; fellow-roysterer once,
Now the good Caliph's learned Treasurer,
And for no ear but his.
Carry this letter
Through the great gallery of the Treasure House
Where banners of the Caliphs hang, night-coloured
But brilliant as the night's embroidery,
And wait war's music; pass the little gallery;
Pass books of learning from Byzantium
Written in gold upon a purple stain,
And pause at last, I was about to say,
At the great book of Sappho's song; but no,
For should you leave my letter there, a boy's
Love-lorn, indifferent hands might come upon it
And let it fall unnoticed to the floor.
pause at the Treatise of parmenides
And hide it there, for Caiphs to world's end
Must keep that perfect, as they keep her song,
So great its fame.
When fitting time has passed
The parchment will disclose to some learned man
A mystery that else had found no chronicler
But the wild Bedouin.Though I approve
Those wanderers that welcomed in their tents
What great Harun Al-Rashid, occupied
With Persian embassy or Grecian war,
Must needs neglect, I cannot hide the truth
That wandering in a desert, featureless
As air under a wing, can give birds' wit.
In after time they will speak much of me
And speak but fantasy.Recall the year
When our beloved Caliph put to death
His Vizir Jaffer for an unknown reason:
"If but the shirt upon my body knew it
I'd tear it off and throw it in the fire.'
That speech was all that the town knew, but he
Seemed for a while to have grown young again;
Seemed so on purpose, muttered Jaffer's friends,
That none might know that he was conscience-struck --
But that s a traitor's thought.Enough for me
That in the early summer of the year
The mightiest of the princes of the world
Came to the least considered of his courtiers;
Sat down upon the fountain's marble edge,
One hand amid the goldfish in the pool;
And thereupon a colloquy took place
That I commend to all the chroniclers
To show how violent great hearts can lose
Their bitterness and find the honeycomb.
"I have brought a slender bride into the house;
You know the saying, ""Change the bride with spring.''
And she and I, being sunk in happiness,
Cannot endure to think you tread these paths,
When evening stirs the jasmine bough, and yet
Are brideless.'
"I am falling into years.'
"But such as you and I do not seem old
Like men who live by habit.Every day
I ride with falcon to the river's edge
Or carry the ringed mail upon my back,
Or court a woman; neither enemy,
Game-bird, nor woman does the same thing twice;
And so a hunter carries in the eye
A mimic of youth.Can poet's thought
That springs from body and in body falls
Like this pure jet, now lost amid blue sky,
Now bathing lily leaf and fish's scale,
Be mimicry?'
"What matter if our souls
Are nearer to the surface of the body
Than souls that start no game and turn no rhyme!
The soul's own youth and not the body's youth
Shows through our lineaments.My candle's bright,
My lantern is too loyal not to show
That it was made in your great father's reign,
And yet the jasmine season warms our blood.'
"Great prince, forgive the freedom of my speech:
You think that love has seasons, and you think
That if the spring bear off what the spring gave
The heart need suffer no defeat; but I
Who have accepted the Byzantine faith,
That seems unnatural to Arabian minds,
Think when I choose a bride I choose for ever;
And if her eye should not grow bright for mine
Or brighten only for some younger eye,
My heart could never turn from daily ruin,
Nor find a remedy.'
"But what if I
Have lit upon a woman who so shares
Your thirst for those old crabbed mysteries,
So strains to look beyond Our life, an eye
That never knew that strain would scarce seem bright,
And yet herself can seem youth's very fountain,
Being all brimmed with life?'
"Were it but true
I would have found the best that life can give,
Companionship in those mysterious things
That make a man's soul or a woman's soul
Itself and not some other soul.'
"That love
Must needs be in this life and in what follows
Unchanging and at peace, and it is right
Every philosopher should praise that love.
But I being none can praise its opposite.
It makes my passion stronger but to think
Like passion stirs the peacock and his mate,
The wild stag and the doe; that mouth to mouth
Is a man's mockery of the changeless soul.'
And thereupon his bounty gave what now
Can shake more blossom from autumnal chill
Than all my bursting springtime knew.A girl
Perched in some window of her mother's housc
Had watched my daily passage to and fro;
Had heard impossible history of my past;
Imagined some impossible history
Lived at my side; thought time's disfiguring touch
Gave but more reason for a woman's care.
Yet was it love of me, or was it love
Of the stark mystery that has dazed my sight,
perplexed her fantasy and planned her care?
Or did the torchlight of that mystery
Pick out my features in such light and shade
Two contemplating passions chose one theme
Through sheer bewilderment? She had not paced
The garden paths, nor counted up the rooms,
Before she had spread a book upon her knees
And asked about the pictures or the text;
And often those first days I saw her stare
On old dry writing in a learned tongue,
On old dry faggots that could never please
The extravagance of spring; or move a hand
As if that writing or the figured page
Were some dear cheek.
Upon a moonless night
I sat where I could watch her sleeping form,
And wrote by candle-light; but her form moved.
And fearing that my light disturbed her sleep
I rose that I might screen it with a cloth.
I heard her voice, "Turn that I may expound
What's bowed your shoulder and made pale your cheek
And saw her sitting upright on the bed;
Or was it she that spoke or some great Djinn?
I say that a Djinn spoke.A livelong hour
She seemed the learned man and I the child;
Truths without father came, truths that no book
Of all the uncounted books that I have read,
Nor thought out of her mind or mine begot,
Self-born, high-born, and solitary truths,
Those terrible implacable straight lines
Drawn through the wandering vegetative dream,
Even those truths that when my bones are dust
Must drive the Arabian host.
The voice grew still,
And she lay down upon her bed and slept,
But woke at the first gleam of day, rose up
And swept the house and sang about her work
In childish ignorance of all that passed.
A dozen nights of natural sleep, and then
When the full moon swam to its greatest height
She rose, and with her eyes shut fast in sleep
Walked through the house.Unnoticed and unfelt
I wrapped her in a hooded cloak, and she,
Half running, dropped at the first ridge of the desert
And there marked out those emblems on the sand
That day by day I study and marvel at,
With her white finger.I led her home asleep
And once again she rose and swept the house
In childish ignorance of all that passed.
Even to-day, after some seven years
When maybe thrice in every moon her mouth
Murmured the wisdom of the desert Djinns,
She keeps that ignorance, nor has she now
That first unnatural interest in my books.
It seems enough that I am there; and yet,
Old fellow-student, whose most patient ear
Heard all the anxiety of my passionate youth,
It seems I must buy knowledge with my peace.
What if she lose her ignorance and so
Dream that I love her only for the voice,
That every gift and every word of praise
Is but a payment for that midnight voice
That is to age what milk is to a child?
Were she to lose her love, because she had lost
Her confidence in mine, or even lose
Its first simplicity, love, voice and all,
All my fine feathers would be plucked away
And I left shivering.The voice has drawn
A quality of wisdom from her love's
Particular quality.The signs and shapes;
All those abstractions that you fancied were
From the great Treatise of parmenides;
All, all those gyres and cubes and midnight things
Are but a new expression of her body
Drunk with the bitter sweetness of her youth.
And now my utmost mystery is out.
A woman's beauty is a storm-tossed banner;
Under it wisdom stands, and I alone --
Of all Arabia's lovers I alone --
Nor dazzled by the embroidery, nor lost
In the confusion of its night-dark folds,
Can hear the armed man speak.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid: A Literary Masterpiece

Ah, Yeats. The name alone is enough to conjure up images of flowing, lyrical poetry that transports the reader to another realm. And his poem, "The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid," is no exception. Filled with rich imagery, vivid descriptions, and subtle themes, this poem has stood the test of time and is still celebrated as a masterpiece of literature.

The Setting

The poem is set in Baghdad, during the reign of Harun Al-Rashid, a famous caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. And Yeats brings this setting to life with his words. From the bustling markets to the quiet gardens, every detail is carefully crafted to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

Take, for example, the opening lines of the poem:

"In the days of Harun Al-Rashid There lived in Bagdad a merchant Whose name was Musa..."

Just from these few lines, we can imagine the bustling city of Baghdad, with its winding streets and colorful markets. We can almost hear the calls of the merchants as they hawk their wares and the laughter of children playing in the streets.

The Characters

But what truly brings this poem to life are its characters. Musa, the merchant who is the focus of the poem, is a complex and multi-dimensional figure. We see him as a shrewd businessman, always looking for the next deal. But we also see his softer side, as he ponders the meaning of life and the nature of happiness.

And then there is Harun Al-Rashid himself, the powerful caliph who serves as a kind of foil to Musa. While Musa is focused on material wealth, Harun is more interested in spiritual riches. He offers Musa a gift, not of gold or jewels, but of wisdom and enlightenment.

The Themes

And this brings us to the themes of the poem. At its core, "The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid" is a meditation on the nature of happiness and fulfillment. Musa, the merchant, believes that wealth and power are the keys to happiness. But as he travels to meet Harun Al-Rashid and receives his gift, he begins to realize that true happiness comes not from material possessions, but from within.

This theme is subtly woven throughout the poem. We see it in Musa's musings on the meaning of life, in Harun's gift of enlightenment, and in the final lines of the poem, when Musa returns home a changed man:

"And he wept and said, 'I know not whether to be glad or sorry That my long journey is come to an end.'"

Here, we see that Musa's journey has led him to a new understanding of the world and his place in it. He realizes that true happiness is not something that can be bought or sold, but must be earned through inner reflection and growth.

The Language

Of course, none of this would be possible without Yeats' masterful use of language. His words flow like a river, carrying the reader along on a journey of the mind and soul. He uses vivid imagery, like the "rose-red city" of Baghdad, to create a sense of place and time. And his use of repetition, as in the lines:

"And the gold and the silver that he gave away Were not for the things of a day, They were for the long nights of sorrow When the feet of despair are on our threshold..."

adds a musical quality to the poem that makes it almost singable.


In conclusion, "The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that has stood the test of time. Yeats' use of language and imagery bring the setting and characters to life, while his exploration of the nature of happiness and fulfillment resonates with readers to this day.

So take a journey to Baghdad, and let Musa and Harun Al-Rashid guide you on a path of inner discovery. You won't be disappointed.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid: A Masterpiece of Poetry by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their depth, complexity, and beauty. One of his most famous poems is "The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid," which was published in 1913. This poem is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail.

The poem is named after Harun Al-Rashid, who was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. He ruled from 786 to 809 AD and is known for his patronage of the arts and sciences. The poem is set in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, during the reign of Harun Al-Rashid. The city is depicted as a place of great beauty and culture, where poets, musicians, and scholars gather to share their knowledge and talents.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a beautiful woman who is walking through the streets of Baghdad. The woman is described as having "a face like a full moon rising over the desert." The speaker is immediately struck by her beauty and is filled with a sense of longing. He follows her through the streets, watching her every move, and admiring her grace and elegance.

As the woman walks, she passes by a group of musicians who are playing a beautiful melody on their instruments. The speaker is entranced by the music and feels as though he is being transported to another world. He is filled with a sense of joy and wonder, and he realizes that he is experiencing something truly special.

The speaker then describes how the woman approaches a group of poets who are reciting their verses. The poets are described as being "like birds singing in the trees." The woman listens to their words with rapt attention, and the speaker is struck by her intelligence and sophistication. He realizes that she is not just beautiful but also wise and cultured.

The poem then takes a darker turn as the speaker describes how the woman suddenly disappears. He searches for her throughout the city but cannot find her. He is filled with a sense of loss and despair, and he realizes that he may never see her again. He reflects on the fleeting nature of beauty and how it can disappear in an instant.

The poem ends with the speaker receiving a gift from Harun Al-Rashid. The gift is a beautiful piece of jewelry that is adorned with precious stones. The speaker is grateful for the gift but realizes that it cannot replace the woman he has lost. He reflects on the transience of material possessions and how they can never truly satisfy the human soul.

The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. The poem is filled with vivid imagery and beautiful language that transports the reader to the streets of Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate. The poem is also notable for its use of symbolism and metaphor, which add depth and complexity to the text.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its depiction of beauty. The woman in the poem is described as having a face like a full moon rising over the desert. This image is both beautiful and haunting, and it captures the fleeting nature of beauty. The poem also explores the idea that beauty can be found in many forms, including music, poetry, and art.

Another important theme in the poem is the passage of time. The speaker reflects on how quickly beauty can disappear and how we must cherish it while we can. This theme is also reflected in the gift that the speaker receives from Harun Al-Rashid. The gift is beautiful but ultimately fleeting, and it cannot replace the woman the speaker has lost.

The poem is also notable for its use of symbolism and metaphor. The woman in the poem is a symbol of beauty and grace, while the musicians and poets represent the arts and culture of Baghdad. The gift from Harun Al-Rashid is a metaphor for material possessions, which can never truly satisfy the human soul.

In conclusion, The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. The poem is filled with vivid imagery, beautiful language, and powerful symbolism. It is a testament to the enduring power of poetry and its ability to capture the human experience in all its complexity and beauty.

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