Abu Midjan

George MacDonald

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"It is only just
To laud good wine:
If I sit in the dust,
So sits the vine."

Abu Midjan sang, as he sat in chains,
For the blood of the grape was the juice of his veins.
The prophet had said, "O Faithful, drink not"--
Abu Midjan drank till his heart was hot;
Yea, he sang a song in praise of wine,
And called it good names, a joy divine.
And Saad assailed him with words of blame,
And left him in irons, a fettered flame;
But he sang of the wine as he sat in chains,
For the blood of the grape ran fast in his veins.

"I will not think
That the Prophet said,
Ye shall not drink
Of the flowing red.

"But some weakling head,
In its after pain,
Moaning said,
Drink not again.

"But I will dare,
With a goodly drought,
To drink and not spare,
Till my thirst be out.

"For as I quaff
The liquor cool,
I do not laugh,
Like a Christian fool;

"But my bosom fills,
And my faith is high;
Through the emerald hills
Goes my lightning eye.

"I see them hearken,
I see them wait;
Their light eyes darken
The diamond gate.

"I hear the float
Of their chant divine;
Each heavenly note
Mingles with mine.

"Can an evil thing
Make beauty more?
Or a sinner bring
To the heavenly door?

"'Tis the sun-rays fine
That sink in the earth,
And are drunk by the vine,
For its daughters' birth.

"And the liquid light,
I drink again;
And it flows in might
Through the shining brain,

"Making it know
The things that are
In the earth below,
Or the farthest star.

"I will not think
That the Prophet said,
Ye shall not drink
Of the flowing Red.

"For his promise, lo!
Shows more divine,
When the channels o'erflow
With the singing wine.

"But if he did, 'tis a small annoy
To sit in chains for a heavenly joy."

Away went the song on the light wind borne.
His head sank down, and a ripple of scorn,
At the irons that fettered his brown limbs' strength.
Waved on his lip the dark hair's length.
But sudden he lifted his head to the north--
Like a mountain-beacon his eye blazed forth:
'Twas a cloud in the distance that caught his eye,
Whence a faint clang shot on the light breeze by;
A noise and a smoke on the plain afar--
'Tis the cloud and the clang of the Moslem war.
And the light that flashed from his black eyes, lo!
Was a light that paled the red wine's glow;
And he shook his fetters in bootless ire,
And called on the Prophet, and named his sire.
But the lady of Saad heard the clang,
And she knew the far sabres his fetters rang.
Oh! she had the heart where a man might rest,
For she knew the tempest in his breast.
She rose. Ere she reached him, he called her name,
But he called not twice ere the lady came;
And he sprang to his feet, and the irons cursed,
And wild from his lips the Tecbir burst:
"Let me go," he said, "and, by Allah's fear,
At sundown I sit in my fetters here,
Or lie 'neath a heaven of starry eyes,
Kissed by moon-maidens of Paradise."

The lady unlocked his fetters stout,
Brought her husband's horse and his armour out,
Clothed the warrior, and bid him go
An angel of vengeance upon the foe;
Then turned her in, and from the roof,
Beheld the battle, far aloof.

Straight as an arrow she saw him go,
Abu Midjan, the singer, upon the foe.
Like home-sped lightning he pierced the cloud,
And the thunder of battle burst more loud;
And like lightning along a thunderous steep,
She saw the sickle-shaped sabres sweep,
Keen as the sunlight they dashed away
When it broke against them in flashing spray;
Till the battle ebbed o'er the plain afar,
Borne on the flow of the holy war.
As sank from the edge the sun's last flame,
Back to his bonds Abu Midjan came.

"O lady!" he said, "'tis a mighty horse;
The Prophet himself might have rode a worse.
I felt beneath me his muscles' play,
As he tore to the battle, like fiend, away.
I forgot him, and swept at the traitor weeds,
And they fell before me like broken reeds;
Dropt their heads, as a boy doth mow
The poppies' heads with his unstrung bow.
They fled. The faithful follow at will.
I turned. And lo! he was under me still.
Give him water, lady, and barley to eat;
Then come and help me to fetter my feet."

He went to the terrace, she went to the stall,
And tended the horse like a guest in the hall;
Then to the singer in haste returned.
The fire of the fight in his eyes yet burned;
But he said no more, as if in shame
Of the words that had burst from his lips in flame.
She left him there, as at first she found,
Seated in fetters upon the ground.

But the sealed fountain, in pulses strong,
O'erflowed his silence, and burst in song.

"Oh! the wine
Of the vine
Is a feeble thing;
In the rattle
Of battle
The true grapes spring.

"When on force
Of the horse,
The arm flung abroad
Is sweeping,
And reaping
The harvest of God.

"When the fear
Of the spear
Makes way for its blow;
And the faithless
Lie breathless
The horse-hoofs below.

"The wave-crest,
Round the breast,
Tosses sabres all red;
But under,
Its thunder
Is dumb to the dead.

"They drop
From the top
To the sear heap below;
And deeper,
Down steeper,
The infidels go.

"But bright
Is the light
On the true-hearted breaking;
Rapturous faces,
Bent for embraces,
Wait on his waking.

"And he hears
In his ears
The voice of the river,
Like a maiden,
Go wandering ever.

"Oh! the wine
Of the vine
May lead to the gates;
But the rattle
Of battle
Wakes the angel who waits.

"To the lord
Of the sword
Open it must;
The drinker,
The thinker,
Sits in the dust.

"He dreams
Of the gleams
Of their garments of white:
He misses
Their kisses,
The maidens of light.

"They long
For the strong,
Who has burst through alarms,
Up, by the labour
Of stirrup and sabre,
Up to their arms.

"Oh! the wine of the grape is a feeble ghost;
But the wine of the fight is the joy of a host."

When Saad came home from the far pursuit,
He sat him down, and an hour was mute.
But at length he said: "Ah! wife, the fight
Had been lost full sure, but an arm of might
Sudden rose up on the crest of the war,
With its sabre that circled in rainbows afar,
Took up the battle, and drove it on--
Enoch sure, or the good St. John.
Wherever he leaped, like a lion he,
The fight was thickest, or soon to be;
Wherever he sprang, with his lion cry,
The thick of the battle soon went by.
With a headlong fear, the sinners fled;
We followed--and passed them--for they were dead.
But him who had saved us, we saw no more;
He had gone, as he came, by a secret door;
And strange to tell, in his holy force,
He wore my armour, he rode my horse."

The lady arose, with her noble pride,
And she walked with Saad, side by side;
As she led him, a moon that would not wane,
Where Midjan counted the links of his chain!

"I gave him thy horse, and thy armour to wear;
If I did a wrong, I am here to bear."

"Abu Midjan, the singer of love and of wine!
The arm of the battle--it also was thine?
Rise up, shake the fetters from off thy feet;
For the lord of the battle, are fetters meet?
Drink as thou wilt--till thou be hoar--
Let Allah judge thee--I judge no more."

Abu Midjan arose and flung aside
The clanging fetters, and thus he cried:
"If thou give me to God and his decrees,
Nor purge my sin by the shame of these;
I dare not do as I did before--
In the name of Allah, I drink no more."

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