History of What Befel the Fowl-let with the Fowler
HERE we begin to indite the History of what befel the Fowl-let from the Fowler.
They relate (but Allah is All-knowing) that there abode in Baghdad-city a huntsman-wight in venerie trained aright. Now one day he went forth to the chase taking with him nets and springes and other gear he needed and fared to a garden-site with trees bedight and branches interlaced tight wherein all the fowls did unite; and arriving at a tangled copse he planted his trap in the ground and he looked around for a hiding-place and took seat therein concealed. Suddenly a Birdie approaching the trap-side began scraping the earth and, wandering round about it, fell to saying in himself, "What may this be? Would Heaven I wot, for it seemeth naught save a marvellous creation of Allah!" Presently he considered the decoy which was half buried in the ground and salam'd to it from afar to the far and the Trap returned his salutation, adding thereto, "And the ruth of Allah and His blessings;" and presently pursued, "Welcome and fair welcome to the brother dear and the friend sincere and the companionable fere and the kindly compeer, why stand from me so far when I desire thou become my neighbour near and I become of thine intimates the faithful and of thy comrades the truthful? So draw thee nigh to me and be of thy safety trustful and prove thee not of me fearful." Quoth the Fowl-let, "I beseech thee by
- 1^ MS. pp. 725-739.
Allah, say me who art thou so I may not of thee feel affright and what be thy bye-name and thy name and to which of the tribes dost trace thy tree?" And quoth the Trap, "My name is Hold-fast and my patronymic is Bindfast and my tribe is hight the Sons of Fallfast." Replied the Birdie, "Sooth thou sayest; for such name is truly thy name and such bye-name is without question thy bye-name nor is there any doubt of thy tribe being the noblest of the tribes." The Trap answered him saying, "Alhamdolillah—laud to the Lord—that me thou hast recognised and that I be of thy truest friends thou hast acknowledged, for where shalt thou find a familiar like unto me, a lover soothful and truthful and my fellow in mind? And indeed I a devotee of religious bent and from vain gossip and acquaintances and even kith and kin abstinent; nor have I any retreat save upon the heads of hills and in the bellies of dales which be long and deep; and from mundane tidings I am the true Holdfast and in worldly joys the real Bindfast." The Fowl replied, "Sooth hast spoken, O my lord; and all hail to thee: how pious and religious and of morals and manners gracious art thou? Would to Heaven I were a single hair upon thy body." Rejoined the Trap, "Thou in this world art my brother and in the next world my father;" and the other retorted, "O my brother, fain would I question thee concerning matters concealed within thy thoughts;" whereto the Trap, "Enquire of whatso thou requirest", that I make manifest to thee what in heart thou desirest; for I will truly declare to thee mine every aim and disclose to thee soothly all my case and my thoughts concealed, nor shall remain unrevealed of mine intent aught." So the Birdie began, "O my brother, why and wherefore see I thee on this wise abiding in the dust and dwelling afar from relations and companeers and thou hast parted from thy family
- 2^ Arab. "Zábit," from √ "Zabt" = keeping in subjection, holding tight, tying. Hence "Zabtiyah" = a constable and "Zábit" = a Prefect of Police. See vol. i. 259. The rhyming words are "Rábit" and "Hábit."
and peers and hast departed from the fondness of thy dears?" "Hast thou not learned, O my brother," answered the Trap, "that retirement is permanent heal and farness from folk doth blessings deal and separation from the world is bodily weal; and on this matter hath one of the poets said, and said right well:—
- Fly folk, in public ne'er appearing, ❋ And men shall name thee man God-fearing;
- Nor say I've brother, mate and friend: ❋ Try men with mind still persevering:
- Yea, few are they as thou couldst wish: ❋ Scorpions they prove when most endearing.'
And one of the Sages hath said, "Solitude and not ill associate." Also quoth they to Al-Bahlúl, Why this tarrying of thine amid the homes of the dead and why this sojourning in a barren stead and wherefore this farness from kinsmen and mate and lack of neighbourly love for brother and intimate? But quoth he, "Woe to you! my folk did I dwell amongst them would some day unlove me and the while I abide far from them will never reprove me; nor indeed would they remember my affection nor would they desire my predilection; and so satisfied with my solitude am I that an I saw my family I should start away as in fear of them, and were my parent quickened anew and longed for my society verily I would take flight from them." Replied the Fowl-let, "In good sooth,
- 3^ In text "Ráhib" = monk or lion.
- 4^ The lines are wholly corrupt.
- 5^ The "Bahalul" of D'Herbelot. This worthy was a half-witted Sage (like the Iourodivi of Russia and the Irish Omadhaun) who occupies his own place in contemporary histories, flourished under Harun al-Rashid and still is famous in Persian Story. When the Caliph married him perforce and all the ceremonies were duly performed and he was bedded with the bride, he applied his ear to her privities and forthwith ran away with the utmost speed and alarm. They brought him back and questioned him concerning his conduct when he made answer, "If you had only heard what it said to me you would have done likewise." In the text his conduct is selfish and ignoble as that of Honorius
- "Who strove to merit heaven by making earth a hell."
- And he shows himself heartless and unhuman as the wretched St. Alexius of the Gesta Romanorum (Tale xv.), a warning of the intense selfishness solemnly and logically inculcated by Christianity. See vol. v. 150.
O my brother, truth thou hast pronounced in all by thee announced and the best of rede did from thee proceed; but tell me, prithee, anent that cord about thy middle wound and despite thine expending efforts that abound why thou art neither a-standing nor a-sitting on ground?" To him replied the Trap, "O my brother, learn that I spend every night of every month in prayer, during which exercise whenever sleep would seize me I tighten this cord about my waist and drive slumber from my eyes and become therefrom the more wide-awake for my orisons. Know thou also that Allah (be He glorified and magnified!) affectioneth his servants when devout are they, and stand in worship alway, ever dight to pray and praise Him by night and by day; and who turn on their sides loving the Lord to obey in desire and dismay and doling their good away. And quoth Allah (be He glorified and magnified!):— And for scanty while of the night they take not gentle rest and at rising morn His pardon they obtest and their Lord granteth unto them their request.' And wottest thou not, O my brother, what said the poet?—
- These busy are with worldly gear ❋ Those of their moneys proud appear:
- But some be rich by God's approof— ❋ Praise Him o' nights with love sincere:
- Their Guardian's eye regards them aye ❋ Praying, confessing sins to clear:
- They wot nor worship aught but Him ❋ And hail His name with love and fear."
Therewith quoth the Fowl-let: "Sooth hast thou said, O my brother, in each word by thee sped and right eloquently was announced all by thee pronounced; however (I am thy protected!), do thou tell me why I see thee one half buried in earth and the other half above ground?" And quoth the Trap, "For the reason that I thereby resemble the dead and in life I am shunning the pernicious lusts of the flesh; and Almighty Allah (be He glorified and magnified!) said in His August Volume:—
'From earth have We created you and unto her We will return you and from her will We draw you forth a second time.'" Replied the Birdie, "The truth thou hast told in whatso thou dost unfold, but why do I see thee so bent of back?" and rejoined the Trap, "Learn, O my brother, that the cause for this bowing of my back is my frequent standing in prayer by day and my upstanding by night in the service of the King, the Clement, the One, the Prepotent, the Glorious, the Omnipotent; and verily upon this matter right well the poet hath spoken:—
- None save the pious Youth gains boon of Paradise ❋ (To whom the Lord doth pardon crime and sin and vice),
- Whose back by constant prayer through murk o' night is bent ❋ And longs to merit Heaven in sore and painful guise.
- Hail to the slave who ever would his lord obey ❋ And who by death is saved when he obedient dies."
The Fowl-let continued, "O my brother, of truth the token is that whereof thou hast spoken and I have understood thee and am certified of thy sooth. But yet, I see upon thee a robe of hair!" and the Trap rejoined, "O my brother, knowest thou not of hair and wool that they be the wear of the pious and the religious, whereof one of the poets hath spoken in these words:—
- Folk who in fear of long accompt for naught of worldly care ❋ Hail to them! haply garb of wool they'll change for silken wear:
- In life for provaunt shall suffice them salt and barley bread ❋ Who seek th' Almighty Lord and bow the head in sedulous pray'r.' "
The Birdie resumed, "In very deed thy speech the sooth doth teach; but say me what be this staff thou hendest in hand?" Replied the Trap, "O my brother, know that I have become an
- 7^ Koran xx. 57: it is the famous "Tá-Há" whose first 14-16 verses are said to have converted the hard-headed Omar. In the text the citation is garbled and imperfect.
- 8^ In text "Mas'h."
- 9^ "Hisában tawíl" = a long punishment.
- 10^ The rod of Moses (see pp. 98-99) is the great prototype in Al-Islam of the staff or walking-stick, hence it became a common symbol of dignity and it also served to administer ready chastisement, e.g. in the hands of austere Caliph Omar.
olden man well shotten in years and my strength is minished, wherefor I have taken me a staff that I may prop me thereon and that it aid my endeavour when a-fasting." The Fowl-let pursued, "Thy speech is true, O my brother, and thou speakest as due, yet would I ask thee of a matter nor refuse me information thereanent: tell me why and wherefore this plenty of grain scattered all about thee?" The Trap answered, "Indeed the merchants and men of wealth bring to me this victual that I may bestow it in charity upon the Fakir and the famisht;" and the Birdie rejoined, "O my brother, I also am an-hungered; so dost thou enjoin me to eat thereof?" "Thou art my companion," cried the Trap, "so upon me such injunction is a bounden duty," presently adding, "Be so kind, O my brother, and haste thee hither and eat." Hereat the Fowl-let flew down from off his tree and approaching little by little (with a heart beating for fear of the Trap) picked up a few grains which lay beside it until he came to the corn set in the loop of the springe. Hereupon he pecked at it with one peck nor had he gained aught of good therefrom ere the Trap came down heavily upon him and entangled his neck and held him fast. Hereupon he was seized with a fit of sore affright and he cried out, "Zík! zík!" and "Mík! mík! Verily I have fallen into wreak and am betrayed by friendly freke and oh, the excess of my trouble and tweak, Zík, Zík! O Thou who kennest my case, do Thou enable me escape to seek, and save me from these straits unique and be Thou ruthful to me the meek!" Thereupon quoth to him the Trap, "Thou criest out Zik! Zik! and hast fallen into straits unique and hast strayed from the way didst seek, O Miscreant and Zindík, and naught shall avail thee at this present or brother or friend veridique or familiar freke. Now understand and thy pleasure seek! I have deceived thee with a deceit and thou lentest ear
- 11^ An onomatopy like "Coüic, Coüic." For "Maksah," read "Fa-sáha" = and cried out.
- 12^ "Zindík" = Atheist, Agnostic: see vols. v. 230; viii. 27 .
and lustedst." Replied the Bird, "I am one whom desire hath cast down and ignorance hath seduced and inordinate greed, one for whose neck the collar of destruction is fitted and I have fallen along with those who lowest fall!" Hereupon the Fowler came up with his knife to slaughter the Fowl-let and began saying, "How many a birdie have we taken in all ease for desire of its meat that we may dress their heads with rice or in Harísah or fried in pan and eat thereof pleasurably myself or feed therewith great men and grandees. Also 'tis on us incumbent to feed privily upon half the bodies and the other half shall be for our guests whilst I will take the wings to set before my family and kinsmen as the most excellent of gifts." Hearing these words the Bird fell to speaking and saying:—
- "O Birder, my mother's in misery ❋ And blind with weeping my loss is she.
- I suffice not thy guest nor can serve for gift: ❋ Have ruth and compassion and set me free!
- With my parents I'll bless thee and then will I ❋ Fly a-morn and at e'en-tide return to thee."
Presently resumed he, "Seest thou not how my meat be mean and my maw be lean; nor verily can I stand thee in stead of cate nor thy hunger satiate: so fear Allah and set me at liberty then shall the Almighty requite thee with an abundant requital." But the Fowler, far from heeding his words, made him over to his son saying, "O my child, take this bird and faring homewards slaughter him and of him cook for us a cumin-ragout and a lemon-stew, a mess flavoured with verjuice and a second of mushrooms and a third with pomegranate seeds and a fourth of clotted curd
- 13^ "Harísah" = meat-pudding. In Al-Hariri (Ass. xix.) where he enumerates the several kinds of dishes with their metonomies it is called the "Mother of Strengthening" (or Restoration) because it contains wheat—"the Strengthener" (as opposed to barley and holcus). So the "Mother of Hospitality" is the Sikbáj, the Persian Sikbá, so entitled because it is the principal dish set before guests and was held to be royal food. (Chenery pp. 218, 457.) For the latter see infra.
- 14^ This passage in the MS. (p. 733) is apparently corrupt. I have done my best to make sense of it.
- 15^ In text " Kamburisiyah."
cooked with Summák and a fine fry and eke conserves of pears and quinces and apples and apricots hight the rose-water and vermicelli and Sikbáj; and meat dressed with the six leaves and a porridge and a rice-milk, and an 'Ajíjíyah and fried flesh in strips and Kabábs and meat-olives and dishes the like of these. Also do thou make of his guts strings for bows and of his gullet a conduit for the terrace-roof and of his skin a tray-cloth and of his plumage cushions and pillows." Now when the Fowl-let heard these words (and he was still in the Fowler's hand), he laughed a laugh of sorrow and cried, "Woe to thee, O Birder, whither be wended thy wits and thine understanding? Art Jinn-mad or wine-drunken? Art age-foolish or asleep? Art heavy-minded or remiss in thought? Indeed had I been that long-necked bird the 'Anká, daughter of Life, or were I the she-camel of Sálih to be, or the ram of Isaac the sacrificed, or the loquent calf of Al-Sámiri
- 16^ In the Dicts. a plant with acid flavour, dried, pounded and peppered over meat.
- 17^ In text "Najas" = a pear.
- 18^ "Tutmajíyah" for "Tutmáj."
- 19^ "Sikbáj," a marinated stew like "Zirbájah" (vol. iii. 278): Khusrau Parwez, according to the historians, was the first for whom it was cooked and none ate of it without his permission. See retro.
- 20^ Kishk = ground wheat, oatmeal or barley-flour eaten with soured sheep's milk and often with meat.
- 21^ So in text: I suspect for "'Ajínniyah" = a dish of dough.
- 22^ The Golden Calf is alluded to in many Koranic passages, e.g. Súrah ii. (the Cow) 48; vii. (Al-Aaráf) 146; S. liv. (Woman) 152[a]; but especially in S. xx. (Tá Há) 90, where Sámiri is expressly mentioned. Most Christian commentators translate this by "Samaritan" and unjustly note it as "a grievous ignorance of history on the part of Mohammed." But the word is mysterious and not explained. R. Jehuda (followed by Geiger) says upon the text (Exod. xxxii. 24), "The calf came forth lowing and the Israelites beheld it;" also that "Samael entered into it and lowed in order to mislead Israel" (Pirke R. Eliezer, §45). Many Moslems identify Samiri with Micha (Judges xvii.), who is said to have assisted in making the calf (Raschi, Sanhedr. cii. 2; Hottinger, Hist. Orient. p. 84). Selden (de Diis Syr. Syn. 1. cap.4) supposes that Samiri is Aaron himself, the Shomeer or keeper of Israel during the absence of Moses. Mr. Rodwell (Koran, 2nd Edit. p. 90) who cleaves to the "Samaritan" theory, writes, "It is probable (?) that the name and its application, in the present instance, is to be traced to the old national feud between the Jews and the Samaritans"—of which Mohammed, living amongst the Jews, would be at least as well informed as any modern European. He quotes De Sacy (Chrest. i. 189) who states that Abú Rayhán Mohammed Birúni represents the Samaritans as being nicknamed (not Al-limsahsit as Mr. Rodwell has it, but) "Lá Mesas" or "Lá Mesásiyah" = the people who say "no touch" (i.e. touch me not, from Súrah xx. 97), and Juynboll, Chron. Sam. p. 113 (Leid. 1848). Josephus (Ant. xii. cap. 1) also mentions a colony of Samaritans settled in Egypt by Ptolemy Lagus, some of whose descendants inhabited Cairo as late as temp. Scaliger (De Emend. Temp. vii. 622). Sale notices a similar survival on one of the islands of the Red Sea. In these days the Samaritans or, as their enemies call them the Cuthim ("men from Cutha," Cushites), in physical semblance typical Jews, are found only at Náblús where the colony has been reduced by intermarriage of cousins and the consequent greater number of male births to about 120 souls. They are, like the Shi'ah Moslems, careful to guard against ceremonial pollution: hence the epithet "Noli me tangere."
or even a buffalo fattened daintily all this by thee mentioned had never come from me." Hereat he fell to improvising and saying:—
- "The Ruthful forbiddeth the eating of me ❋ And His Grace doth grace me with clemency:
- A Camel am I whom they overload ❋ And the Birder is daft when my flesh seeth he:
- From Solomon's breed, O my God, I have hope: ❋ If he kill me the Ruthful his drowning decree."
Then quoth the Fowl to the Fowler, "An thou design to slaughter me in thy greed even as thou hast described, verily I shall avail thee naught, but an thou work my weal and set me free I will show thee somewhat shall profit thee and further the fortunes of thy sons' sons and thy latest descendants." "What is that direction thou wouldst deal to me?" asked the Fowler, and answered the Fowl-let, "I will teach a trio of words all-wise and will discover to thee in this earth a Hoard wherewith thou and thy seed and posterity shall ever be satisfied and shall ever pray for the lengthening of my years. Moreover I will point out to thee a pair of Falcons ashen-grey, big of body and burly of bulk who are to me true friends and whom thou didst leave in the gardens untrapped." Asked the Birder, "And what be the three words which so savour of wisdom?" and answered the other "O Fowler, the three words of wisdom are:—Bemourn not what is the past nor at the future rejoice too fast nor believe aught save that whereon thy glance is cast. But as regards the Hoard and the two Falcons, when thou
- 23^ Alluding to the "Sayyád," lit. = a fisherman.
shalt have released me I will point them out to thee and right soon to thee shall be shown the sooth of whatso I have said to thee." Hereat the Birder's heart became well affected toward the Birdie for his joy anent the Treasure and the Falcons; and the device of the captive deceived the Capturer and cut short his wits so that he at once released the prey. Forthright the Fowl-let flew forth the Fowler's palm in huge delight at having saved his life from death; then, after preening his plume and spreading his pinions and his wings, he laughed until he was like to fall earthwards in a fainting-fit. Anon he began to gaze right and left, long breaths a-drawing and increase of gladness ever a-showing; whereupon quoth the Birder, "O Father of Flight, O thou The Wind hight! what saidst thou to me anent pointing out the two Falcons ashen-grey and who were the comrades thou leftest in the gardens?" Quoth the Birdie in reply, "Alack and alas! never saw I thy like for an ass nor aught than thyself meaner of capacity nor mightier of imbecility; for indeed thou carriest in thy head lightness and in thy wits slackness. O Scant of Sense, when sawest thou ever a sparrow company with a Falcon, much less with two Falcons? So short is thine understanding that I have escaped thy hand by devising the simplest device which my nous and knowledge suggested." Hereat he began to improvis and repeat:—
- "When Fortune easy was, from duty didst forbear ❋ Nor from that malady hast safety or repair:
- Then blame thyself nor cast on other wight the fault ❋ And lacking all excuse to death of misery fare!"
Then resumed the Fowl-let, "Woe to thee, O mean and mesquin, thou wottedst not that which thou hast lost in me, for indeed baulked is thy bent and foiled is thy fortune and near to thee is poverty
- 24^ In text "Al-Zahr."
- 25^ "Ajdár."
- 26^ In text "Al-Maláyá."
and nigh to thee is obscurity. Hadst thou when taking me cut my throat and cloven my crop thou hadst found therein a jewel the weight of an ounce which I picked up and swallowed from the treasury of Kisrà Anúshírwán the King." But when the Birder heard the Birdie's words he scattered dust upon his head and buffeted his face and plucked out his beard and rent his raiment, and at last slipped down a-swooning to the ground. And presently recovering his senses he looked towards his late captive and cried, "O Father of Flight, O thou The Wind hight say me is there any return for thee me-wards, where thou shalt with me abide, and thee within the apple of mine eye will I hide, and after all this toil and turmoil I will perfume and fumigate thee with ambergris and with Comorin lign-aloes, and I will bring thee sugar for food and nuts of the pine and with me thou shalt tarry in highmost degree?" Replied the Birdie, "O miserable, past is that which passed; I mean, suffice me not thy fraud and thy flattering falsehood. And laud to the Lord, O thou meanest of men, how soon hast thou forgotten the three charges wherewith I charged thee! And how short are thy wits seeing that the whole of me weighteth not ten drachms and how then can I bear in crop a jewel weighing an ounce? How far from thee is subtilty and how speedily hast thou forgotten mine injunctions wherewith I enjoined thee saying:— Believe not aught save that whereon thine eye is cast nor regret and bemourn the past nor at what cometh rejoice too fast. These words of wisdom are clean gone from thy memory, and hadst thou been nimble of wits thou hadst slaughtered me forthright: however, Alhamdolillah—Glory to God, who caused me not to savour the whittle's sharp edge, and I thank my Lord for my escape and for the loosing of my prosperity from the trap of trouble." Now when the Birder heard these words of the Birdie he repented and regretted
- 27^ In text "Sinaubar," which may also mean pistachio-tree.
- 28^ i.e. 475 to 478 Eng. grains avoir., less than the Ukiyyah or Wukiyyah = ounce = 571.5 to 576 grains. Vol. ix. 216 .
his folly, and he cried, "O my sorrow for what failed me of the slaughter of this volatile," and as he sank on the ground he sang:—
- "O brave was the boon which I held in my right; ❋ Yet, O Maker of man, 'twas in self despight.
- Had my lot and my luck been of opulence, ❋ This emptiness never had proved my plight."
Hereupon the Fowl-let farewelled the Fowler and took flight until he reached his home and household, where he seated him and recited all that had befallen him with the Birder, to wit, how the man had captured him, and how he had escaped by sleight, and he fell to improvising:—
- "I charged you, O brood of my nestlings, and said, ❋ Ware yon Wady, nor seek to draw near a stead
- Where sitteth a man who with trap and with stakes ❋ Entrapped me, drew knife and would do me dead.
- And he longed to destroy me, O children, but I ❋ Was saved by the Lord and to you was sped."
Fowl-let and the Fowler
entire and complete.
- 29^ Not more absurd than an operatic hero singing while he dies.