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

India: Siam

The White Elephant

By Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

Translated by E. A. Bowring

GREAT Mahawasant, of Siam the King,

Has half of India under his wing;

Twelve kings, with the Great Mogul, obey

His rule, and acknowledge his sovereign sway.

Each year, with banner, trumpet, and drum,

To Siam the trains with the tribute come;

Many thousand camels, with backs piled high

With the costliest treasures of earth, draw nigh.

When the camels he sees with their heavy piles,

The soul of the king in secret smiles;

But in public in truth he always deplores

That his storehouses serve not to hold all his stores.

Yet these storehouses all are so lofty and spacious,

So full of magnificence, so capacious,

The reality’s splendor surpasses in glory

The Arabian Nights’ most wondrous story.

The “Castle of Indra,” call they the hall,

In which are displayed the deities all,

The golden images, chiselled with care,

And all incrusted with jewels so rare.

Full thirty thousand their numbers are:

Their ugliness passes description far;

A compound of men and animals dread,

With many a hand and many a head.

In the “Hall of Purple” one wonderingly sees

Some thirteen hundred coral trees,

As big as palms, a singular sight,

With spiral branches, a forest bright.

The floor of purest crystal is made,

And all the trees are in it displayed,

While pheasants of glittering plumage gay

Strut up and down in a dignified way.

The ape on which the monarch doth dote

A ribbon of silk wears round his throat,

Whence hangs the key that opens the hall

Which people the “Chamber of Slumber” call.

All kinds of jewels of value high

All over the ground here scattered lie

Like common peas, with diamonds rare,

That in size with the egg of a fowl compare.

On sacks that stuffed with pearls appear

The monarch is wont to stretch himself here;

The ape lies down by the monarch proud,

And both of them slumber and snore aloud.

But the king’s most precious, costly treasure,

His happiness, his soul’s first pleasure,

The joy and the pride of Mahawasant

Is truly his snow-white elephant.

As a home for a guest so highly respected

A splendid palace the king has erected;

Gay lotos-headed columns uphold

Its roof, all covered with plates of gold.

Three hundred heralds stand at the gate,

As the elephant’s guard of honor to wait;

And kneeling down with low-bent back

There serve him a hundred eunuchs black.

For his proboscis the daintiest meat

On golden dishes they bring him to eat;

From silver buckets he drinks his wine,

Well seasoned with spices sweet and fine.

With perfumes they rub him, and otto of roses,

On his head a chaplet of flowers reposes,

The richest shawls that are made in the East

As carpets serve for the dignified beast.