The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night/Volume 3/10

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The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night , translated by Richard Francis Burton
THE SPARROW AND THE PEACOCK


THE SPARROW AND THE PEACOCK

There was once upon a time a sparrow, that used every day to visit a certain king of the birds and ceased not to wait upon him in the mornings and not to leave him till the evenings, being the first to go in and the last to go out. One day, a company of birds chanced to assemble on a high mountain and one of them said to another, “Verily, we are waxed many, and many are the differences between us, and there is no help for it but we have a king to look into our affairs; so shall we all be at one and our differences will disappear.” Thereupon up came that sparrow and counselled them to choose for King the peacock (that is, the prince he used to visit). So they chose the peacock to their King and he, become their sovereign, bestowed largesse upon them and made the sparrow his secretary and Prime Minister. Now the sparrow was wont by times to quit his assiduous serve in the presence and look into matters in general. So one day he absented himself at the usual time, whereat the peacock was sore troubled; and, while things stood thus, he returned and the peacock said to him, “What hath delayed thee, and thou the nearest to me of all my servants and the dearest of all my dependents?” replied the sparrow, “I have seen a thing which is doubtful to me and whereat I am affrighted.” Asked the peacock, “What was it thou sawest?”; and the sparrow answered, “I saw a man set up a net, hard by my nest, peg down its pegs, strew grain in its midst and withdraw afar off. And I sat watching what he would do when behold, fate and fortune drave thither a crane and his wife, which fell into the midst of the net and began to cry out; whereupon the fowler rose up and took them. This troubled me, and such is the reason for my absence from thee, O King of the Age, but never again will I abide in that nest for fear of the net.” Rejoined the peacock, “Depart not thy dwelling, for against fate and lot forethought will avail the naught.” And the sparrow obeyed his bidding and said, “I will forthwith arm myself with patience and forbear to depart in obedience to the King.” So he ceased not taking care of himself, and carrying food to his sovereign, who would eat what sufficed him and after feeding drink his water and dismiss the sparrow. Now one day as he was looking into matters, lo and behold! he saw two sparrows fighting on the ground and said in his mind, “ How can I, who am the King’s Wazir, look on and see sparrows fighting in my neighbourhood? By Allah, I must make peace between them!” So he flew down to reconcile them; but the fowler cast the net over the whole number and the sparrow happened to be in their very midst. Then the fowler arose and took him and gave him to his comrade, saying, “Take care of him, “ I never saw fatter or finer.” But the sparrow said to himself, “I have fallen into that which I feared and none but the peacock inspired me with false confidence. It availed me naught to beware of the stroke of fate and fortune, since even he who taketh precaution may never flee from destiny. And how well said the poet in this poetry,

Whatso is not to be shall ne’er become; * No wise! and that to be must come to pass;

Yea it shall come to pass at time ordained, * And th’ Ignoramus [1] aye shall cry ‘Alas!’”

Whereupon quoth the King, “O Shahrazad, recount me other of these tales!”; and quoth she, “I will do so during the coming night, if life be granted to by the King whom Allah bring to honour!”-- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.


  1. Arab. “Akh al-Jahálah” = brother of ignorance, an Ignorantin; one “really and truly” ignorant; which is the value of “Ahk” in such phrases as a “brother of poverty,” or, “of purity.”