A Prelude

Hassan Ben Abdul at the Ivory Gate
Of Bagdad sat and chattered in the sun,
Like any magpie chattered to himself
And four lank, swarthy Arab boys that stopt
A gambling game with peach-pits, and drew near.
Then Iman Khan, the friend of thirsty souls,
The seller of pure water, ceased his cry,
And placed his water-skins against the gate—
They looked so like him, with their sallow cheeks
Puffed out like Iman's. Then a eunuch came
And swung a pack of sweetmeats from his head,
And stood— a hideous pagan cut in jet.
And then a Jew, whose sandal-straps were red
With desert-dust, limped, cringing, to the crowd—
He, too, would listen; and close after him
A jeweller that glittered like his shop.
Then two blind mendicants, who wished to go
Six diverse ways at once, came stumbling by,
But hearing Hassan chatter, sat them down.
And if the Khaleef had been riding near,
He would have paused to listen like the rest,
For Hassan's fame was ripe in all the East.
From white-walled Cairo to far Ispahan,
From Mecca to Damascus, he was known,
Hassan, the Arab with the Singing Heart.
His songs were sung by boatmen on the Nile,
By Beddowee maidens, and in Tartar camps,
While all men loved him as they loved their eyes;
And when he spake, the wisest, next to him,
Was he who listened. And thus Hassan sung.
—And I, a stranger lingering in Bagdad,
Half English and half Arab, by my beard!
Caught at the gilded epic as it grew,
And for my Christian brothers wrote it down.

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