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

Persia: Ispahan

The Persian Peasant

By Ludwig Heinrich von Nicolay (1737–1820)

Translated by C. T. Brooks

IN Erivan

Once on a time there lived a poor, plain man;

A little garden was his sole possession,

To tend it was his only occupation.

A tree that stood upon his ground

Bore fruit well known and everywhere renowned,

So red and rich and round,

Such sunny radiance beaming,

With such balsamic juices teeming,

The very smell

Were quite enough to make a sick man well.

“By all means,” said a neighbor, “take, good man,

A basket of this fruit to Ispahan!

The sheik, they say, has a sweet tooth, ay, marry,

And spends his money freely, I am told.

Mark me! for every piece of fruit you carry,

You shall bring home with you a piece of gold.”

“’Faith, I myself should think so,” says the man;

“The thing looks promising,—I ’ll even do it.”

He buys the finest basket he can find,

And packs into it

The choicest fruits assorted to his mind,

Takes leave of all his friends,

And gayly wends

His way along the road to Ispahan,

Already big and bright with many a plan,

What he will do with all the golden pieces;

Even now, in thought, his house, his ground increases:

And so the lightened moments ran,

And ere he thinks, he is at Ispahan.

To the chief marshals they announce his name;

The way at courts is everywhere the same:

To him who brings, the doors are always open;

Who comes to get, may long stand hoping.

The fruit is taken by the marshal,

Who soon returns, our worthy man informing,

His Majesty the Sheik is very partial,

To fruit so charming,

In his own person had devoured the store,

And praised it much, and asked for more.

Hey! my good Persian, what a trade!

Thou hast thy fortune made!

He watches till the moment suits

Softly to whisper in the emperor’s ear,

He is the peasant with the fruits;

He stands where soon the emperor must appear,

He gazes down along the gorgeous hall,

Stares at the great, who here do seem so small;

At last he spies a dwarf among the swarm,

With such a queer and crooked form,

That the poor man

Must laugh, do all he can.

Unluckily this dwarf was the prime minister:

With a sharp look, so cross and sinister,

He squints at our poor friend. One word: the guard

Drag him away down stairs and through the yard.

Now he may sit and whistle for his purses

Of gold, in prison there; he curses

The tree, the garden; curses thrice,

Body and soul,

The neighbor whose advice

Brought him to this dark hole.

But all his curses cannot mend the matter,

Cannot undo what ’s done, nor make it better.

And so a whole year fled,—

Too long a time by half

For one poor little laugh!—

Men thought no more of him than if he had been dead.

At length the time of fruit came round,

They brought the sheik the best that could be found:

He turned his nose up, laid them down again;

“’T was not such fruit you brought me last year,—then

’T was worth an emperor’s eating! where ’s the fellow

Who brought me then the fruit so mellow?

Will he, perhaps, again come round this way?

Has none had tidings of him since that day?

Whence came he? Whither did he go?

Who is he? Quick, make search, and let me know!”

They search, and solve the mystery.

The emperor laughs to hear the tragic history:

“Good! bring him hither! I myself will see

That the poor devil’s lot shall be

Better than this!”

He comes: “I know your story,

Good friend!” so says the sheik, “I ’m very sorry.

But for lost time, jail fare, and money due you,

Ask what you will, we ’ll freely give it to you.”

“Sir, give me only,” answered the poor man,

“An axe, a bag of salt, and Alcoran.”

The emperor to laugh began:

“What foolish stuff! Axe, salt, and Alcoran!”

“The axe, that I may fell the fruit-tree; then

The salt, to sow, that where

It grew, no thing may ever grow again;

And last the Koran, so that I may swear

A solemn oath, that I will never

(Though I should live forever),

Nor chick nor child of mine,

While sun and moon do shine,

Shall darken any more

The palace-door!”