The World is but Shadows


(from The Book of Golden Meadows, by Ali al-Mas’udi)

The historian Asmaiy relates the following anecdote:

One day theCaliph Harun al-Rashid gave a feast in a magnificently decorated hall. During the feast he sent for the poet Abu’l Atahiyah, and commandedhim to depict in verse the gorgeous scene. The poet began: “Live, O’ Caliph, in the fulfilment of all your wishes, in the shelter of your lofty palace!”

“Very good!” exclaimed Rashid. “Let us hear the rest.”

The poet continued: “Each morn and eve be all your servitors swift to execute your behests!”

“Excellent!” said the Caliph. “Go on!”

The poet replied: “But when the death-rattle chokes your breath you will learn, alas! that all your delights were a shadow.”

Rashid burst into tears. Fazl, the son of Yahya (Haroun’s Vizier), seeing this, said to the poet: “The Caliph sent for you to divert him, and you have plunged him into melancholy.”

“Let him be,” said Rashid; “He saw us in a state of blindness, and tried to open our eyes.”


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