The Soul Of A Century/King Abgar
Pale in his beauty like a broken blossom
King Abgar, ruler of Armenia,
Reclined upon his bed in distant Rome,
Far from his kin. It was a night of dreams,
Rome, bathed in the sunset’s liquid gold,
Stretched at his feet, a vision of wondrous splendor
A dream but rarely dreamed by mortal man
Since Time began to measure off its flight.
The pride of Rome, its buildings towered to the skies
And further, to the foot of the bluish hills,
A sea of temples and of palaces
Of porphyritic columns, statuettes
Merged softly with the dreaming sombre groves
And with the mystic aromatic gardens.
But Abgar turned away his cheeks and sighed.
Looked away from that imposing, splendid view;
And his weary head/ in an exhausted doze
Fell to the pillows. The enchanting air
And all the splendor of the Ceasars of old Rome
Did not affect or move his worried soul.
Caesar Augustus, who had been his host
For full three years and who loved the ailing youth,
And highly praised his sentiments and thought,
Approached his couch upon the balcony
And said to him; “O Abgar, King of Kings,
Tell me when will that sad smile disappear.
When will it leave you? It seems like a reproach.
What ought I do to make you happier?
My theaters, my combats and my games
Fail to amuse you and you coolly look
On the world’s wonders. Why are you so sad?
You are the ruler of a renowned land,
And youthful too and like Appolo, beautiful,
O, tell me then
What would you have me do? I, master of the world
Promise on oath to gratify your wants.”
Thus spoke Augustus. And the King replied;
“Do I know that? Deep in my heart I feel
Such all-embracing, unlimited longing
For aught unknown, that with grief I am dying.
From early childhood I was melancholy
And with the years, my longing only grew
Until I nearly died. One day my mother
Spoke to me and said. “Dear child, Rome is the center
Of all the world and Augustus its ruler,
Is the light of Rome. Go, hasten to his city.
Perhaps you’ll quench your soul’s thirst at his fountain
Some great ambition may inflame you there
And lend you wings. Go forth! Return in health!”
Thus she advised. I listened and am here.
You tried and did all any man could do.
Your friendship and its gifts I hold most dear,
And clearly see the greatness of your reign.
Rome is a wonder . . . But, my master, still
I am not well . . . The protests of my soul
Outclamor all . . . I shall perish with my grief.
Augustus hear me? Permit me to return
To my mother and my distant native land.”
A long-drawn sigh broke off these bitter words
And vainly pleaded the mighty emperor,
That Abgar stay in Rome. At length, the Roman yielded,
Bade Abgar farewell. Two heralds sped ahead
With this plaintive message to the mother;
“I am returning with a saddened soul
Just as I left the Armenian hills.
Prepare a chamber for me where the sun
Creeps in at evening for a fleeting look
As if it tried to say: “Come after me.”
The messengers sped forth and Abgar followed;
Slowly he rode a grieving, youthful king,
Over high mountains and wide stretching fields,
And rivers as blue as the heaven’s arching dome.
And when he reached Armenia’s steep hills
And reached the city, his mother welcomed him,
Suppressing tears and just a feeble smile
That tried to hide them, spoke their eloquence.
“Welcome, dear child! Be welcomed to your home,”
She whispered as she led Abgar away
To his secluded, longed-for quiet room
Where the dying rays of the swiftly setting sun
Crept through a darkening wall of cypress trees.
An ivory inlaid bedstead stood prepared;
And across the polished/ mosaic floor were spread
Colorful Persian carpetries and cloths;
A harp was hanging near the open door;
And in the corners, vessels of heavy gold
Held blushing apples and pomegranates.
King Abgar knew full well what all this meant.
According to his people’s old belief,
The angels linger over a sick-room bed
Waiting until the Lord of life and death
Gives forth the sign for the soul to either flee
Or-else remain within a healthy form.
These Persian rugs for the angels are prepared
To rest upon, the while the tempting fruits
Refresh them with their scent, and the stringed harp
Hangs near so every visitor that comes
To cheer the sick man with a kindly word
Or with a warming hand-clasp or a smile,
Can strike the silver strings
To amuse the souls . . .
All this Abgar knew, as he gave his mother a melancholy smile,
Removed the harp, and rested peacefully
His weary head sinking into the lap
Of her who bore him. The mother slowly rose,
As if to show her strength, she stilled a rising sigh,
And smothering her weeping soul’s lament,
Began to humor him with softly spoken words:
“Apparently, Rome cannot heal all hearts?
I thought as much and while my child was gone,
Seeking in vain, away from our shores,
Wherewith to still a grieving, ailing soul,
I found, perhaps, the solace that you sought.”
When questioningly Abgar raised his head,
The mother thus continued, with a smile;
“You will not guess! But I will now explain.
During the months you dwelt in distant Rome,
I sent my messengers to foreign lands
That with their brush, they capture on the cloth
The prettiest of maidens of all lands.
If we but find the one whose very touch
Will ope the portals of your enclosed soul
Than all the flowers/ hid within its depths
Will rise to light, beneath the magic touch.”
Upon these words, she motioned with her hand.
A slave drew wide a drape of precious cloth
And a host of artists stood beyond the door,
Each carrying a painted masterpiece
Of some fair maiden from a distant land.
King Abgar flushed, turned sulkily away,
And only when his mother begged of him
He looked, but showed no interest or warmth,
And in his mother’s eyes, hope swiftly died,
Hope that had risen in a troubled heart.
When all the artists left, the mother saw
One, who still lingered at the open door,
Without a picture, a strangely lonely man,
With cheeks of pallor and bright burning eyes.
He waited in his dark, close-fitting cloak.
“Where is your painting?” kindly asked the queen.
Without a word, he loosed his heavy cloak;
And rays of light illumined the dark room
With the light of stars. This light poured
From out the fringes of a folded/ snow-white cloth.
King Abgar stirred with ill concealed foreboding.
“You have brought me news?” he asked. “Then speak, good man.
The artist approached the king and his words flowed
As from afar. They sounded dreamily
Like the winds that blow through the cypress trees.
As thus he told the king this narrative:
“Commanded by your mother/ I went forth
To where the Jordan flows. Judea’s women
Blinded me with their beauty. Each one seemed
More beautiful to me. I heard of one,
A sinner she was called, and this was said of her;
That she had met a strangely gifted man
Who made of her a saint with but a glance.
I was so curious/ that I set out
At once to reach the seat of Judea
Where she dwelt alone. And the nearer I approached
The more I heard about this gifted man
Whom men called Holy. Wearily/ at length I came
To far Jerusalem. My mind over filled
With thoughts of this strange man, and I forgot
To seek the sinner of whose varied charms
They spoke throughout that distant, foreign land.
My King, ’twas there that I saw Jesus Christ.
His look contained more in one passing glance
Than could be stated in the words of man.
I knelt before him and I humbly begged
Of him the right to paint his countenance,
Hoping that I could bring to you. My Lord,
His shining features to Armenia.
Christ smiled and nodded in a dreamy way
And I began to work. But all in vain.
My hands just trembled and into my eyes
Rose unchecked tears; My heart began to beat
With so much sadness and unbridled joy,
That I was blinded and could no longer work.
Thrice I attempted to record those lines
With brush on canvas and thrice ill luck
Filled my soul with despair, and wretchedly
I hid my tear-stained face. Then Christ, who saw
My struggling grief, came near and said to me
Softly; “Man, cease your sorrowing lament,
For I will help you.” From his mother’s hand
He took a white cloth and gently buried there
His holy countenance in the soft wool web.
That very moment. Mighty miracle!
His features shone upon the snow-white cloth
As brightly as a star that gleams above.
And his holy picture, look, rests in my hands.”
Upon these words, he unfolded the cloth,
And Abgar, seeing Christ’s sweet countenance
Fell to his knees, and an unbounded joy
And holy ardor stirred him fervently,
And joyously, ’mid tears, he sighed and said;
“My soul is healed at last and grieves no more.”
Then he began to kiss Christ’s saintly cheek.
With pleading hands/ he begged the artist speak
And tell him more of Christ. The artist spoke
And told about Christ’s mission on this earth;
Spoke of his holy life and miracles;
About Christ’s more than human kindliness;
About God’s kingdom and the destruction that
Perils the sons of man in Judea.
The night passed thus and with fatigue
King Abgar fell into a troubled sleep.
And when he woke, he said: “Send messengers
To far Canaan and let them take to Christ
The message that I will entrust to them.”
He took a parchment and wrote in words of gold:
“O Saviour? O son of God on earth!
I have heard about you and your many deeds.
And learned that, in their blindness, Christ, your kin
Plot ill against you. Listen to my plea!
I have a wondrous city, dreaming in a grove;
A golden palace; all is open wide
My city and my home of famed kings.
Come to me, Christ! My soul is weak with grief.”
The messengers sped swiftly to Canaan,
But came too late for on a wooden cross,
Christ gave his soul into the hands of God.
Then sadly they returned, with heavy feet,
As men who know that grief shall follow them
Into the home of one whom they hold dear.
While the heralds plodded on their weary way,
King Abgar lingered between life and death
Upon the bed within his darkened room.
“!f they would only come,” he prayed incessantly,
With his mother who, with grief, bent over him
As a willow-tree bends over a lonely grave.
With the night at length the messengers returned
And whispered haltingly, their grievous news
To the queen. King Abgar slept and did not feel
The flow of burning tears that fell
Upon his wasted head; nor did he feel
The mother’s greying, gently stirring hair
With which she deftly wiped the tears away.
Suddenly, Abgar opened wide his eyes
And the room was filled with pure-white, blinding rays,
And He, who was to have been Abgar’s guest
Appeared in all the burning glory there
And with a tender voice of mystic dreaminess
He said to Abgar; “I came unto your house
To realize the wish you had expressed.
Your city is wondrous, dreaming in the grove,
But far more wondrous is my city, O King!
Come with me hence! Your soul will rest and heal.”
And while the mother, tremulous with grief,
Pressed Abgar’s body to her aching heart,
His soul went up with Christ. For he was not
Of those whose kingdom is upon the Earth.
This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) between 1928 and 1977 (inclusive) without a copyright notice.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1987, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 35 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.