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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Persia: Beysitoun, the Mountain

Mount Beysitoun

By Nisami (c. 1141–1209)

  • Translated by W. R. Alger
  • 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!”

  • 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!”

    A hundred arms are weak one block to move

    Of thousands moulded by the hand of love

    Into fantastic shapes and forms of grace,

    That crowd each nook of that majestic place.

    The piles give way, the rocky peaks divide,

    The stream comes gushing on, a foaming tide,—

    A mighty work for ages to remain,

    The token of his passion and his pain.

    As flows the milky flood from Allah’s throne,

    Rushes the torrent from the yielding stone.

    And, sculptured there, amazed, stern Khosru stands,

    And frowning sees obeyed his harsh commands;

    While she, the fair beloved, with being rife,

    Awakes from glowing marble into life.

    O hapless youth! O toil repaid by woe!

    A king thy rival, and the world thy foe.

    Will she wealth, splendor, pomp, for thee resign,

    And only genius, truth, and passion thine?

    Around the pair, lo! chiselled courtiers wait,

    And slaves and pages grouped in solemn state;

    From columns imaged wreaths their garlands throw,

    And fretted roofs with stars appear to glow:

    Fresh leaves and blossoms seem around to spring,

    And feathered throngs their loves seem murmuring.

    The hands of Peris might have wrought those stems

    Where dew-drops hang their fragile diadems,

    And strings of pearl and sharp-cut diamonds shine,

    New from the wave, or recent from the mine.

    “Alas, Shireen!” at every stroke he cries,—

    At every stroke fresh miracles arise.

    “For thee my life one ceaseless toil has been;

    Inspire my soul anew,—alas, Shireen!”