Kusta Ben Luka is my name, I write
to Abd Al-Rabban; fellow-roysterer once,
now the good Caliph's learned Treasurer,
and for no ear but his.
Carry this letter
through the great gallery of the treasure House
where banners of the caliphs hang, night-coloured
but brilliant as the night's embroidery,
and wait war's music; pass the little gallery;
Pass books of learning from Byzantium
written in gold upon a purple stain,
and pause at last, I was about to say,
at the great book of Sappho's song; but no,
for should you leave my letter there, a boy's
love-lorn, indifferent hands might come upon it
and let it fall unnoticed to the floor.
pause at the Treatise of parmenides
and hide it there, for Caiphs to world's end
must keep that perfect, as they keep her song,
so great its fame.
When fitting time has passed
the parchment will disclose to some learned man
a mystery that else had found no chronicler
but the wild bedouin. Though I approve
those wanderers that welcomed in their tents
what great Harun Al-Rashid, occupied
with Persian embassy or Grecian war,
Must needs neglect, I cannot hide the truth
That wandering in a desert, featureless
As air under a wing, can give birds' wit.
In after time they will speak much of me
And speak but fantasy. Recall the year
When our beloved Caliph put to death
His Vizir Jaffer for an unknown reason:
"If but the shirt upon my body knew it
I'd tear it off and throw it in the fire.'
That speech was all that the town knew, but he
seemed for a while to have grown young again;
Seemed so on purpose, muttered Jaffer's friends,
that none might know that he was conscience-struck