Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  In Arabia

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In Arabia

By James Berry Bensel (1856–1886)

[Born in New York, N. Y., 1856. Died there, 1886. In the King’s Garden, and Other Poems. 1885.]

“CHOOSE thou between!” and to his enemy

The Arab chief a brawny hand displayed,

Wherein, like moonlight on a sullen sea,

Gleamed the gray scimitar’s enamelled blade.

“Choose thou between death at my hand and thine!

Close in my power, my vengeance I may wreak,

Yet hesitate to strike. A hate like mine

Is noble still. Thou hast thy choosing,—speak!”

And Ackbar stood. About him all the band

That hailed his captor chieftain, with grave eyes

His answer waited, while that heavy hand

Stretched like a bar between him and the skies.

Straight in the face before him Ackbar sent

A sneer of scorn, and raised his noble head;

“Strike!” and the desert monarch, as content,

Rehung the weapon at his girdle red.

Then Ackbar nearer crept and lifted high

His arms toward the heaven so far and blue

Wherein the sunset rays began to die,

While o’er the band a deeper silence grew.

“Strike! I am ready! Didst thou think to see

A son of Gheva spill upon the dust

His noble blood? Didst hope to have my knee

Bend at thy feet, and with one mighty thrust

“The life thou hatest flee before thee here?

Shame on thee! on thy race! Art thou the one

Who hast so long his vengeance counted dear?

My hate is greater; I did strike thy son,

“Thy one son, Noumid, dead before my face;

And by the swiftest courser of my stud

Sent to thy door his corpse. Aye, one might trace

Their flight across the desert by his blood.

“Strike! for my hate is greater than thy own!”

But with a frown the Arab moved away,

Walked to a distant palm and stood alone,

With eyes that looked where purple mountains lay.

This for an instant: then he turned again

Towards the place where Ackbar waited still,

Walking as one benumbed with bitter pain,

Or with a hateful mission to fulfil.

“Strike, for I hate thee!” Ackbar cried once more.

“Nay, but my hate I cannot find!” said now

His enemy. “Thy freedom I restore.

Live! life were worse than death to such as thou.”

So with his gift of life the Bedouin slept

That night untroubled; but when dawn broke through

The purple East, and o’er his eyelids crept

The long, thin fingers of the light, he drew

A heavy breath and woke: Above him shone

A lifted dagger—“Yea, he gave thee life,

But I give death!” came in fierce undertone.

And Ackbar died. It was dead Noumid’s wife.