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Back to: Thousand Nights & One Night


There lived in the city of Baghdad, in the reign of the Khalif Haroun er Reshid, a porter named Sindbad, a poor man who carried [burdens] on his head for hire. One day of great heat he was carrying a heavy load and what with the heat and the burden, he became exceeding weary and sweated amain. Presently he came to the gate of a merchant's house, before which the ground was swept and watered, and there the air was temperate. There was a wide bench beside the door; so he set his load thereon, to rest and take breath, and there came out upon him from the porch a pleasant breeze and a delicious fragrance. He sat down on the edge of the bench, to enjoy this, and heard from within the melodious sound of lutes and other stringed instruments and heart-delighting voices singing and reciting all manner verses with clear and goodly speech, together with the song of birds warbling and glorifying God the Most High in various voices and tongues, turtles and mocking-birds and merles and nightingales and cushats and curlews, whereat he marvelled in himself and was moved to great delight.

Then he went up to the gate and saw within a great garden, wherein were slaves and pages and such a train of servants and attendants and so forth as is only found with kings and sultans, and there was wafted to him the fragrance of all manner rich and delicate meats and generous wines. So he raised his eyes to heaven and said, 'Glory to Thee, O Lord, O Creator and Provider, who providest whom Thou wilt without stint! O my God, I cry Thee pardon for all sins and repent to Thee of all offences! O Lord, there is no gainsaying Thee in Thine ordinance and Thy dominion, neither wilt Thou be questioned of that Thou dost, for Thou indeed art Almighty, extolled be Thy perfection! Whom Thou wilt Thou makest rich and whom Thou wilt Thou makest poor! Whom Thou wilt Thou exaltest and whom Thou wilt Thou abasest and there is no god but Thou! How great is Thy majesty and how mighty Thy dominion and how excellent Thy governance! Verily, Thou favourest whom Thou wilt of Thy servants, whereby the owner of this place abideth in all delight of life and taketh his ease of pleasant scents and delicious meats and generous wines of all kinds. For indeed Thou appointest unto Thy servants that which Thou wilt and that which Thou hast foreordained unto them; wherefore are some weary and some easeful and some enjoy fair fortune and delight, whilst other some suffer the extreme of travail and misery, even as do I.' And he recited the following verses:

How many by my toil, unresting and unstayed, Do joy in pleasant food and cool, delightful shade!
Indeed, I pass my days in weariness galore; Strange is my case and sore the load upon me laid;
Whilst others, who ne'er knew a burden like to mine, Delight in fortune fair, untroubled nor dismayed.
They take their ease of life and eat and drink at Will, With affluence and power by favouring Fate purveyed;
Yet am I like to these and they are like to me, And of a drop of sperm each living soul is made.
Natheless. 'twixt them and me a difference there is, As 'twere 'twixt vinegar and wine, when all is said.
Yet, nowise, O my God, I think to rail at Thee; Thou'rt wise and just Thy sway and none may Thee upbraid.
When he had made an end of his verses, he took up his burden and was about to fare on, when there came forth the gate to him a little fair-faced page, well-shaped and richly clad, who caught him by the hand, saying, 'Come in and speak with my lord, for he calls for thee.' The porter would have excused himself, but the page would take no refusal; so he left his load with the doorkeeper in the vestibule and followed the boy into the house, which he found goodly of ordinance and full of majesty and cheer, till he brought him to a vast and splendid saloon, wherein he saw a company of nobles and great lords, seated, each according to his rank, at tables heaped with all manner flowers and sweet-scented herbs, besides great plenty of rich meats and fruits and confections and wines of the choicest vintages. There also were fair maids, singing and playing upon instruments of music, and in the highest room sat a man of reverend and majestic aspect, whose cheeks hoariness had smitten, and he was well-made and fair of favour, stately of aspect and full of gravity and venerance and dignity.

The porter was confounded at that which he beheld and said in himself, 'By Allah, this must be either one of the pavilions of Paradise or some king's palace!' Then he saluted the company respectfully, wishing them all kinds of prosperity, and kissing the earth before them, stood in a humble attitude, with his head bowed down. The master of the house bade him draw near and be seated and bespoke him kindly, bidding him welcome. Then he set before him various kinds of rich and delicate meats, and the porter called upon the name of God and ate his fill, after which he exclaimed, 'Praised be God, come what may!' and washing his hands, returned thanks to the company for his entertainment. Quoth the host, 'Thou art welcome and thy day is a blessed one. But what is thy name and condition?' 'O my lord,' answered the other, 'my name is Sindbad the porter, and I carry folk's goods on my head for hire.' The host smiled and rejoined, 'Know, O porter, that my name is even as thine, for I am Sindbad the Sailor; and now I would have thee repeat to me the verses thou didst recite at the gate but now.' The porter was abashed and replied, 'God on thee! Excuse me, for toil and misery and lack of good teach a man ill manners and indiscretion.' 'Be not ashamed,' said the host; 'thou art become my brother; but repeat to me the verses, for they pleased me, when I heard thee recite them at the gate.' So the porter repeated the verses and they pleased the merchant, who said to him, 'Know, O porter, that my story is a wonderful one, and thou shalt hear all that befell me and all I underwent before I won to this state of prosperity and became stablished whereas thou seest me; for I came not to this high estate but after sore travail and great weariness and perils galore, and how much toil and trouble have I not suffered aforetime! Indeed, I have made seven voyages, by each of which hangs a marvellous history, such as confounds the reason, and all this came to pass by the decree of fortune and fore-ordained fate; for there is neither flight nor refuge from that which is written. Know, then, O my lords,' continued he, turning to his guests, 'that



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