Caliph ‘Umar and Hurmuzan–A Poem by Richard Chenevix Trench (d. 1886)

The exchange between the second caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (d. 644) and Hurmuzan, one of the Persian princes who was taken captive and sent to Medina during the course of the Arab conquest of Iran is well known. Muslim tradition asserts that the latter converted to Islam and became an important political/military adviser to ‘Umar. This poem, written in the late nineteenth century, is an interesting representation of the initial exchange between the two men. 

“Now the third and fatal conflict for the Persian throne was done,

And the Muslim’s fiery valor had the crowning victory won.

Harmosan, the last and boldest the invader to defy,

Captive, overborne by numbers, they were bringing forth to die.

Then exclaimed that noble captive: “Lo, I perish in my thirst;

Give me but one drink of water, and let then arrive the worst!”

In his hand he took the goblet: but awhile the draught forbore,

Seeming doubtfully the purpose of the foeman to explore.

Well might then have paused the bravest—for, around him, angry foes

With a hedge of naked weapons did the lonely man enclose.

“But what fear’st thou?” cried the caliph; “is it, friend, a secret blow?

Fear it not! Our gallant Muslims no such treacherous dealing know.

“Thou may’st quench thy thirst securely, for thou shalt not die before

Thou hast drunk that cup of water—this reprieve is thine—no more!”

Quick the satrap dashed the goblet down to earth with ready hand,

And the liquid sank forever, lost amid the burning sand.

“Thou hast said that mine my life is, till the water of that cup

I have drained; then bid thy servants that spilled water gather up!”

For a moment stood the caliph as by doubtful passions stirred—

Then exclaimed: “Forever sacred must remain a monarch’s word.

Bring another cup, and straightway to the noble Persian give:

Drink, I said before, and perish—now I bid thee drink and live!”


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