When the first ax-blade on the timber rang, The timid doves, as if foreboding ill, Had fled from Sikri and its quiet groves.
But as he promised, Akbar sent and bade The wise men of all nations to his court, Brahman and Christian, Buddhist and Pa.r.s.ee, Jain and stiff Mohammedan and Jew, All followers of the One with many names, Bringing the ghostly wisdom of the earth.
And so they came of every hue and creed.
From the twelve winds of heaven their caravans Drew into Sikri as Akbar summoned them, To spend long afternoons in council grave, Sifting tradition for the seed of truth, In the great mosque in Futtehpur at peace.
And Salim Chisti lived his holy life, Beloved and honored there as Akbar's friend.
But light and changeable are the hearts of men.
Soon in that city dedicate to peace Dissensions spread and rivalries grew rife, Envy and bitterness and strife returned Once more, and truth before them fled away.
Then Salim Chisti, coming to Akbar spoke, "Lord, give thy servant leave now to depart And follow where the fluttered wings have gone, For here there is no longer any peace, And truth cannot prevail where discord dwells."
"Nay then," said Akbar, "'tis not thou but I Who am the servant here and must go hence.
I found thee master of this solitude, Lord of the princedom of a quiet mind, A sovereign vested in tranquillity, And I have done thee wrong and stayed thy feet From following perfection, with my horde Of turbulent malcontents; and my loved dream To build a city of abiding peace Was but a vain illusion. Therefore now This foolish people shall be driven forth From this fair place, to live as they may choose In disputance and wrangling longer still, Until they learn, if Allah wills it so, To lay aside their folly for the truth."
And as the king commanded, so it was.
More quickly than he came, with all his court And hosts of followers he went away, Leaving the place to solitude once more,-- A rose to wither where it once had blown.
To-day the all-kind unpolluted sun Shines through the marble fret-work with no sound; The winds play hide and seek through corridors Where stately women with dark glowing eyes Have laughed and frolicked in their fluttering robes; The rose leaves drop with none to gather them, In gardens where no footfall comes with eve, Nor any lovers watch the rising moon; And ancient silence, truer than all speech, Still holds the secrets of the Council Hall, Upon whose walls frescoes of many faiths Attest the courtesy of open minds.
Before the last camp-follower was gone, The doves returned and took up their abode In the main gate of those deserted walls.
And in their custody this "Gate of Peace"
Bears still the grandeur of its origin, Firing anew the wistful hearts of men To brave endeavor with replenished hope, Though since that time three hundred years ago, The magic hush of those forsaken streets And empty courtyards has been undisturbed Save by the gentle whirring of grey wings, With cooing murmurs uttered all day long, And reverent tread of those from near and far, Who still pursue the immemorial quest.
_Warwick Bros. & Rutter, Limited_
_Printers and Bookbinders_
When all my writing has been done Except the final colophon,
And I must bid beloved verse Farewell for better or for worse,
Let me not linger o'er the page In doubting and regretful age;
But as an unknown scribe in some Monastic dim scriptorium,
When twilight on his labour fell At the glad-heard refection bell,
Might add poor Body's thanks to be From spiritual toils set free,
Let me conclude with hearty zest _Laus Deo! Nunc bibendum est!_
[Ill.u.s.tration: back end papers]
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