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Lament in Old Age

By:
Abu Abullah Rudaki
Document type:
Book Chapter

    Lament in Old Age

    Commentary

    Considered the founder of Persian-Tajik literature, Abu Abullah Rudaki was the product of an era of enormous artistic and scientific achievement. He was born in 858 in Rudak, a city 150 miles from Samarkand, the prosperous center of Silk Road commerce and seat of the Sāmānid dynasty. Under the Sāmānids, Transoxiana (the Oxus River area comprising modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and southwest Kazakhstan) could lay claim to the medieval world's foremost thinkers, scientists, and artists, among them mathematician Khwarazmi, polymath Al-Farabi, and physician-philosopher Ibn Sina. Rudaki's entry into these influential environs came after he was summoned to the court of Sāmānid ruler Nasr bin Ahmad in the early part of the 10th century; an accomplished chang (Iranian harp) player and poet, Rudaki had been performing throughout mountain villages in the empire to great renown. Impressed, Nasr appointed him court poet. While the substance of Rudaki's verse is rightly lauded, perhaps his most enduring legacy lies in his style; whereas Muslim-conquered lands had adopted Arabic in all forms of expression, Rudaki—under the auspices of his similarly homegrown rulers—published in Dari, the ancient Persian language. Additionally, Rudaki helped popularize indigenous Persian verse forms such as the masnavi, the rhyming couplet, exemplified in the poem below, titled Lament in Old Age. In 937 Nasr dismissed Rudaki, and he lived the remaining three years of his life in poverty.

    Translated by

    A. V. William Jackson

    Every tooth, ah me! has crumbled, dropped and fallen in decay! Tooth it was not, nay say rather, 'twas a brilliant lamp's bright ray; Each was white and silvery-flashing, pearl and coral in the light, Glistening like the stars of morning or the raindrop sparkling bright; Not a one remaineth to me, lost through weakness and decay, Whose the fault? ‘Twas surely Saturn's planetary rule, long lapse of days; No, the fault of Saturn 'twas not, not the long long lapse of days; “What then?” I will answer truly: “Providence which God displays.” Ever like to this world is—ball of dust as in the past, Ball of dust for aye remaineth, long as its great law doth last. That same thing which once was healing, may become a source of pain; And the thing that now is painful, healing balm may prove again— Time, in fact, at the same moment bringeth age where once was youth, And anon rejuvenateth what was gone in eld, forsooth. Many a desert waste existeth where was once garden glad; And a garden glad existeth where was once a desert sad. Ah, thou moon-faced, musky-tressed one, how cans't thou e'er know or deem What was once thy poor slave's station—how once held in high esteem? On him now thy curling tresses, coquettish thou dost bestow, In those days thou didst not see him, when his own rich curls did flow. Where are the days when my tresses could make you run! Time there was when he in gladness, happy did himself disport, Pleasure in excess enjoying, though his silver store ran short; Always brought he in the market, countless-priced above the rest, Every captive Turki damsel with a round pomegranate breast. Ah, how many a beauteous maiden, in whose heart love for him reigned, Came by night as pilgrim to him, and secret there remained! Sparkling wine and eyes that ravish, and the face of beauty deep, High-priced though they might be elsewhere, at my door were ever cheap. Always happy, never knew I what might be the touch of pain, And my heart to gladsome music opened like a wide champaign. Many a heart to silk was softened by the magic of my verse, Yea, though it were hard as flintstone, anvil-hard, or even worse. Ever was my keen eye open for a maid's curled tresses long, Ever alert my ear to listen to the world-wise man of song. House I had not, wife nor children, no, nor female family ties, Free from these and unencumbered have I been in every wise. Rudaki's sad plight in old age, Sage, thou verily dost see; In those days thou didst not see him as this wretch of low degree. In those days thou didst not see him when he roved the wild world o'er, Songs inditing, chatting gaily, with a thousand tales and more. Time there was when that his verses broadcast through the whole world ran, Time there was when he all-hailed was, as the bard of Khurasan, Who had greatness? Who had favour, of all people in the land? I it was had favour, greatness, from the Saman scions' hand; Khurasan's own Amir, Nasr, forty thousand dirhams gave, And a fifth to this was added by Prince of Pure and Brave; From his nobles, widely scattered, came a sixty thousand more; Those the times when mine was fortune, fortune good in plenteous store. Now the times have changed—and I, too, changed and altered must succumb, Bring the beggar's staff here to me; time for staff and script has come!

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