The Cynic's Bequest - Poem by Ambrose Bierce
In that fair city, Ispahan,
There dwelt a problematic man,
Whose angel never was released,
Who never once let out his beast,
But kept, through all the seasons' round,
Silence unbroken and profound.
No Prophecy, with ear applied
To key-hole of the future, tried
Successfully to catch a hint
Of what he'd do nor when begin 't;
As sternly did his past defy
Mild Retrospection's backward eye.
Though all admired his silent ways,
The women loudest were in praise:
For ladies love those men the most
Who never, never, never boast-
Who ne'er disclose their aims and ends
To naughty, naughty, naughty friends.
Yet, sooth to say, the fame outran
The merit of this doubtful man,
For taciturnity in him,
Though not a mere caprice or whim,
Was not a virtue, such as truth,
High birth, or beauty, wealth or youth.
'Twas known, indeed, throughout the span
Of Ispahan, of Gulistan
These utmost limits of the earth
Knew that the man was dumb from birth.
Unto the Sun with deep salaams
The Parsee spreads his morning palms
(A beacon blazing on a height
Warms o'er his piety by night.)
The Moslem deprecates the deed,
Cuts off the head that holds the creed,
Then reverently goes to grass,
Muttering thanks to Balaam's Ass
For faith and learning to refute
Idolatry so dissolute!
But should a maniac dash past,
With straws in beard and hands upcast,
To him (through whom, whene'er inclined
To preach a bit to Madmankind,
The Holy Prophet speaks his mind)
Our True Believer lifts his eyes
Devoutly and his prayer applies;
But next to Solyman the Great
Reveres the idiot's sacred state.
Small wonder then, our worthy mute
Was held in popular repute.
Had he been blind as well as mum,
Been lame as well as blind and dumb,
No bard that ever sang or soared
Could say how he had been adored.
More meagerly endowed, he drew
An homage less prodigious. True,
No soul his praises but did utter
All plied him with devotion's butter,
But none had out-'t was to their credit
The proselyting sword to spread it.
I state these truths, exactly why
The reader knows as well as I;
They've nothing in the world to do
With what I hope we're coming to
If Pegasus be good enough
To move when he has stood enough.
Egad! his ribs I would examine
Had I a sharper spur than famine,
Or even with that if 'twould incline
To examine his instead of mine.
Where was I? Ah, that silent man
Who dwelt one time in Ispahan-
He had a name-was known to all
As Meerza Solyman Zingall.
There lived afar in Astrabad,
A man the world agreed was mad,
So wickedly he broke his joke
Upon the heads of duller folk,
So miserly, from day to day,
He gathered up and hid away
In vaults obscure and cellars haunted
What many worthy people wanted,
A stingy man!-the tradesmen's palms
Were spread in vain: 'I give no alms
Without inquiry'-so he'd say,
And beat the needy duns away.
The bastinado did, 'tis true,
Persuade him, now and then, a few
Odd tens of thousands to disburse
To glut the taxman's hungry purse,
But still, so rich he grew, his fear
Was constant that the Shah might hear.
(The Shah had heard it long ago,
And asked the taxman if 'twere so,
Who promptly answered, rather airish,
The man had long been on the parish.)
The more he feared, the more he grew
A cynic and a miser, too,
Until his bitterness and pelf
Made him a terror to himself;
Then, with a razor's neckwise stroke,
He tartly cut his final joke.
So perished, not an hour too soon,
The wicked Muley Ben Maroon.
From Astrabad to Ispahan
At camel speed the rumor ran
That, breaking through tradition hoar,
And throwing all his kinsmen o'er,
The miser'd left his mighty store
Of gold-his palaces and lands-
To needy and deserving hands
(Except a penny here and there
To pay the dervishes for prayer.)
'Twas known indeed throughout the span
Of earth, and into Hindostan,
That our beloved mute was the
The people said 'twas very well,
And each man had a tale to tell
Of how he'd had a finger in 't
By dropping many a friendly hint
At Astrabad, you see. But ah,
They feared the news might reach the Shah!
To prove the will the lawyers bore 't
Before the Kadi's awful court,
Who nodded, when he heard it read,
Confirmingly his drowsy head,
Nor thought, his sleepiness so great,
Himself to gobble the estate.
'I give,' the dead had writ, 'my all
To Meerza Solyman Zingall
Of Ispahan. With this estate
I might quite easily create
Ten thousand ingrates, but I shun
Temptation and create but one,
In whom the whole unthankful crew
The rich man's air that ever drew
To fat their pauper lungs I fire
Vicarious with vain desire!
From foul Ingratitude's base rout
I pick this hapless devil out,
Bestowing on him all my lands,
My treasures, camels, slaves and bands
Of wives-I give him all this loot,
And throw my blessing in to boot.
Behold, O man, in this bequest
Philanthropy's long wrongs redressed:
To speak me ill that man I dower
With fiercest will who lacks the power.
Allah il Allah! now let him bloat
With rancor till his heart's afloat,
Unable to discharge the wave
Upon his benefactor's grave!'
Forth in their wrath the people came
And swore it was a sin and shame
To trick their blessed mute; and each
Protested, serious of speech,
That though _he'd_ long foreseen the worst
He'd been against it from the first.
By various means they vainly tried
The testament to set aside,
Each ready with his empty purse
To take upon himself the curse;
For _they_ had powers of invective
Enough to make it ineffective.
The ingrates mustered, every man,
And marched in force to Ispahan
(Which had not quite accommodation)
And held a camp of indignation.
The man, this while, who never spoke-
On whom had fallen this thunder-stroke
Of fortune, gave no feeling vent
Nor dropped a clue to his intent.
Whereas no power to him came
His benefactor to defame,
Some (such a length had slander gone to)
Even whispered that he didn't want to!
But none his secret could divine;
If suffering he made no sign,
Until one night as winter neared
From all his haunts he disappeared
Evanished in a doubtful blank
Like little crayfish in a bank,
Their heads retracting for a spell,
And pulling in their holes as well.
All through the land of Gul, the stout
Young Spring is kicking Winter out.
The grass sneaks in upon the scene,
Defacing it with bottle-green.
The stumbling lamb arrives to ply
His restless tail in every eye,
Eats nasty mint to spoil his meat
And make himself unfit to eat.
Madly his throat the bulbul tears
In every grove blasphemes and swears
As the immodest rose displays
Her shameless charms a dozen ways.
Lo! now, throughout the utmost span
Of Ispahan-of Gulistan-
A big new book's displayed in all
The shops and cumbers every stall.
The price is low-the dealers say 'tis-
And the rich are treated to it gratis.
Engraven on its foremost page
These title-words the eye engage:
'The Life of Muley Ben Maroon,
Of Astrabad-Rogue, Thief, Buffoon
And Miser-Liver by the Sweat
Of Better Men: A Lamponette
Composed in Rhyme and Written all
By Meerza Solyman Zingall!'
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