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Short poem

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Recollections of the Arabian Nights

              1When the breeze of a joyful dawn blew free
              2In the silken sail of infancy,
              3The tide of time flow'd back with me,
              4    The forward-flowing tide of time;
              5And many a sheeny summer-morn,
              6Adown the Tigris I was borne,
              7By Bagdat's shrines of fretted gold,
              8High-walled gardens green and old;
              9True Mussulman was I and sworn,
            10      For it was in the golden prime
            11          Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            12Anight my shallop, rustling thro'
            13The low and bloomed foliage, drove
            14The fragrant, glistening deeps, and clove
            15The citron-shadows in the blue:
            16By garden porches on the brim,
            17The costly doors flung open wide,
            18Gold glittering thro' lamplight dim,
            19And broider'd sofas on each side:
            20    In sooth it was a goodly time,
            21    For it was in the golden prime
            22        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            23Often, where clear-stemm'd platans guard
            24The outlet, did I turn away
            25The boat-head down a broad canal
            26From the main river sluiced, where all
            27The sloping of the moon-lit sward
            28Was damask-work, and deep inlay
            29Of braided blooms unmown, which crept
            30Adown to where the water slept.
            31    A goodly place, a goodly time,
            32    For it was in the golden prime
            33        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            34A motion from the river won
            35Ridged the smooth level, bearing on
            36My shallop thro' the star-strown calm,
            37Until another night in night
            38I enter'd, from the clearer light,
            39Imbower'd vaults of pillar'd palm,
            40Imprisoning sweets, which, as they clomb
            41Heavenward, were stay'd beneath the dome
            42    Of hollow boughs.--A goodly time,
            43    For it was in the golden prime
            44        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            45Still onward; and the clear canal
            46Is rounded to as clear a lake.
            47From the green rivage many a fall
            48Of diamond rillets musical,
            49Thro' little crystal arches low
            50Down from the central fountain's flow
            51Fall'n silver-chiming, seem'd to shake
            52The sparkling flints beneath the prow.
            53    A goodly place, a goodly time,
            54    For it was in the golden prime
            55        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            56Above thro' many a bowery turn
            57A walk with vary-colour'd shells
            58Wander'd engrain'd. On either side
            59All round about the fragrant marge
            60From fluted vase, and brazen urn
            61In order, eastern flowers large,
            62Some dropping low their crimson bells
            63Half-closed, and others studded wide
            64    With disks and tiars, fed the time
            65    With odour in the golden prime
            66        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            67Far off, and where the lemon-grove
            68In closest coverture upsprung,
            69The living airs of middle night
            70Died round the bulbul as he sung;
            71Not he: but something which possess'd
            72The darkness of the world, delight,
            73Life, anguish, death, immortal love,
            74Ceasing not, mingled, unrepress'd,
            75    Apart from place, withholding time,
            76    But flattering the golden prime
            77        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            78Black the garden-bowers and grots
            79Slumber'd: the solemn palms were ranged
            80Above, unwoo'd of summer wind:
            81A sudden splendour from behind
            82Flush'd all the leaves with rich gold-green,
            83And, flowing rapidly between
            84Their interspaces, counterchanged
            85The level lake with diamond-plots
            86    Of dark and bright. A lovely time,
            87    For it was in the golden prime
            88        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

            89Dark-blue the deep sphere overhead,
            90Distinct with vivid stars inlaid,
            91Grew darker from that under-flame:
            92So, leaping lightly from the boat,
            93With silver anchor left afloat,
            94In marvel whence that glory came
            95Upon me, as in sleep I sank
            96In cool soft turf upon the bank,
            97    Entranced with that place and time,
            98    So worthy of the golden prime
            99        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

          100Thence thro' the garden I was drawn--
          101A realm of pleasance, many a mound,
          102And many a shadow-chequer'd lawn
          103Full of the city's stilly sound,
          104And deep myrrh-thickets blowing round
          105The stately cedar, tamarisks,
          106Thick rosaries of scented thorn,
          107Tall orient shrubs, and obelisks
          108    Graven with emblems of the time,
          109    In honour of the golden prime
          110        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

          111With dazed vision unawares
          112From the long alley's latticed shade
          113Emerged, I came upon the great
          114Pavilion of the Caliphat.
          115Right to the carven cedarn doors,
          116Flung inward over spangled floors,
          117Broad-based flights of marble stairs
          118Ran up with golden balustrade,
          119    After the fashion of the time,
          120    And humour of the golden prime
          121        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

          122The fourscore windows all alight
          123As with the quintessence of flame,
          124A million tapers flaring bright
          125From twisted silvers look'd to shame
          126The hollow-vaulted dark, and stream'd
          127Upon the mooned domes aloof
          128In inmost Bagdat, till there seem'd
          129Hundreds of crescents on the roof
          130    Of night new-risen, that marvellous time,
          131    To celebrate the golden prime
          132        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

          133Then stole I up, and trancedly
          134Gazed on the Persian girl alone,
          135Serene with argent-lidded eyes
          136Amorous, and lashes like to rays
          137Of darkness, and a brow of pearl
          138Tressed with redolent ebony,
          139In many a dark delicious curl,
          140Flowing beneath her rose-hued zone;
          141    The sweetest lady of the time,
          142    Well worthy of the golden prime
          143        Of good Haroun Alraschid.

          144Six columns, three on either side,
          145Pure silver, underpropt a rich
          146Throne of the massive ore, from which
          147Down-droop'd, in many a floating fold,
          148Engarlanded and diaper'd
          149With inwrought flowers, a cloth of gold.
          150Thereon, his deep eye laughter-stirr'd
          151With merriment of kingly pride,
          152    Sole star of all that place and time,
          153    I saw him--in his golden prime,
          154        THE GOOD HAROUN ALRASCHID!


1] This poem first appeared in the volume of 1830, and has only undergone slight alterations in text. It paints a series of pictures, charming from their sensuous beauty, which are suggested to Tennyson's imagination by reminiscences of the "Arabian Nights", more particularly of one of the stories, that of "Nur Al-Din Ali and the Damsel Anis al Jalis", especially of that part of the story narrated on the Thirty-sixth Night. The varying arrangement of the rhymes in the several stanzas should be noted.

7] Bagdat. A city situated on both banks of the Tigris, some 500 miles from its mouth.
fretted. See note on Gray's "Elegy", 1. 39.

9] sworn. 'Close' or 'firm', cf. the expression "sworn friends".

11] Haroun, surnamed Al-Raschid ('the orthodox'), flourished 786-809 A.D., caliph of Bagdat, famed for his bravery and magnificence, and for his patronage of literature and art.

15] citron-shadows. Citron is applied to lemon-trees and allied species.

23] clear-stemm'd platans. Oriental plane-trees which run up smoothly for some height before sending out their wide-spreading branches.

47] rivage. Bank; "Faerie Queene", IV.6.20:
"The which Pactolus with his waters shere
Throws forth upon the rivage round about him near."

58] engrain'd. Properly 'dyed in fast colours'; the poet seems still to have the idea of a woven fabric in his mind, as at line 28.

64] With disks and tiars. "Disks" suggests round, flattish blossoms, "tiars" more elongated and convex forms. "Tiara" is properly an eastern hat, and is naturally suggested by the locality of the poem. For the poetical form "tiar," cf. "Par. Lost", iii, 625.

70] bulbul. The Persian name for nightingale.

76] flattering. 'Lending a lustre to', cf. "Aylmer's Field": "A splendid presence flattering the poor roofs", and Shakespeare, "Sonnet", 33: "Full many a glorious morning have I seen / Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye."

81] A sudden splendour. The light from the Pavilion of the Caliphat (see 1. 114).

101] pleasance. Archaic and poetical for 'pleasure'. Cf. the following passage from the original story in the "Arabian Nights": "Now this garden was named the Garden of Gladness and therein stood a belvedere hight the Palace of Pleasure."

106] rosaries. In the sense of the Latin original (rosarium), 'gardens or beds, of roses'.

114] Caliphat (usually "Caliphate") the dominion of the Caliphs, or successors of Mahomet.

123] quintessence. The stress is usually upon the second syllable, but the pronunciation which the metre here requires, is also admissible.

125] silvers. A bold use of the plural, meaning, of course, silver candlesticks.

127] mooned. 'Ornamented with crescents'--the symbol of Turkish dominion, hence an anachronism here.

135] argent-lidded. "Argent" refers to the colour; so in "Dream of Fair Women", l. 158: "the polish'd argent of her breast".

148] diaper'd. The word is applied to material covered with a regularly repeated pattern produced in the weaving without use of colour.

148-49] The lines seem to suggest that the cloth of gold had inwrought upon it garlands of flowers (as a border probably) and, besides that, a regularly repeated pattern (presumably in the main body of the cloth).

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Alfred Tennyson, Poems, Chiefly lyrical (London: E. Wilson, 1830). tenn T366 P645 1830 (Fisher Library). Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a (Fisher Library).
First publication date: 1830
RPO poem editor: W. J. Alexander, William Hall Clawson
RP edition: RP (1912), pp. 198-202; RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/17

Form note: Varying rhymed stanzas

Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson