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A Legend of Old Persia and Other Poems

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Altruism: A Legend of Old Persia.

In the flowery land of Persia

Long ago, as poets tell,

Where three rivers met together

Did a happy people dwell.

Never did these happy people

Suffer sickness, plague, or dearth,

Living in a golden climate

In the fairest place on earth,

Living thus thro' endless summers

And half-summers hardly colder,

Growing, tho' they hardly guessed it,

Very gradually older.

I can very well imagine

These old Persian lords and ladies

Sitting in their pleasant gardens,

Dreaming, dozing, where the shade is;

Almond trees a mass of blossom,

Roses, roses, red as wine,

With the helmets of the tulips

Flaming in a martial line,

While beside a marble basin,

With a fountain gushing forth,

Stands a red-legged crane, alighted

From the deserts of the North.

So they lived these ancient people,

With the happy harmless faces,

Dreaming till the purple twilight

In their flowery garden-places,

Finding every year the sunshine

And the wind a little colder,

Growing, tho' they hardly guessed it,

Very gradually older,

Till at last they grew so frail

That to their gardens they were carried,

Very feeble and exhausted,

Weak as babes—But still they tarried,

Lying till the purple twilight

Wrapped in wool but hardly warm,

Wearing shawls of costliest texture

Lest the wind might do them harm,

Feeling very faint sensations

Of delight in each old breast,

Twittering with tiny voices

Like young swallows in a nest.

Then the young men spoke together

As they feasted in the taverns,

"It is time to take our Fathers,

We must bear them to the Caverns."

In a mountain were the Caverns,

Fourteen leagues across the sand,

Fourteen leagues across the desert

In a naked golden land.

Black and bold and bare the mountain

Modelled into many shapes,

Cones and pyramids and pillars,

Beetling cliffs and jutting capes.

And within it were the Caverns

Tunnelled into every part,

Some by ancient Persian devils,

Others by a modern art.

Where the terraced lawns lay dreaming,

Underneath a cedar-tree

Dozed an ancient, ancient person

Tiny as a child of three.

Every day a gobbling negro

To his place the old man carried;

Very feeble and exhausted

Did he seem—but still he tarried.

Then Hasan, the young lord, murmured,

As he feasted in the taverns,

"It is time to take my Father,

I must bear him to the Caverns."

So he took his long-maned pony,

Her who wore the silver shoes,

Galloped thro' the crowded highways

Like one with no time to lose.

Purpose in his warning outcry

(Was he not the next of kin?)

Till he reached his palace gateway,

Flung the rein and fled within,

Chose with care a wicker basket

Very strong and deep and wide,

Laying shawls of costliest texture

And an eider quilt inside.

Underneath the spreading cedar,

In an arbour newly built,

Found Hasan his ancient person,

Put him underneath the quilt,

Mounted then his long-maned pony

With the basket on his arm,

Carrying it very firmly

Lest his father might take harm.

Galloped thro' the crowded highway,

Passing by the Street of Taverns,

Fourteen leagues across the desert

Till he came unto the Caverns....