Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Canning’s Iter Ad Meccam (1789)



Quæ populis Mahumeda suis praeceperat olim
Servanda æternum officia; et quo more, quotannis,
Quo studio, variis diversæ e partibus orbis
Inter se coeant gentes, opulentaque Meccæ
Delubra, et celebri stipent penetralia pompa,
Expediam; quæ tanta adeo per sæcula perstet
Relligio in seros longum deducta nepotes.
Non etenim leve nomen habes, quae cara Prophetae,
Quae patria, imperiique audis sanctissima sedes,
Obluctata diu quamvis, atque ausa nefandis   10
Ipsum odiis vexare, adversaque bella movere,
Mox reducem primis cumulabas, Mecca, triumphis.
Quinetiam, ni vana fides, tibi rnaximus hospes
Successit, profugus patriam cum numine fausto
Linqueret Abramus, tuaque inter mesnia fertur
Ipse aras posuisse novas, purisque litasse
Ritibus, et magno cultum instaurasse Jehovae.
Ergo te sanctam ante alias, te rite colendam
Praestabat, regnique sui Mahumeda jubebat
Esse caput. Tibi rite ergo solemnia gentes   20
Dona ferunt; tantum venerandi jussa Prophetae,
Et pietas valet, et promissi gaudia coeli.
Contra autem quicunque tui neque limina temple
Intrant supplex, neque humum semel ore sacratam
Attigerit; non sese illi ccelestia pandent
Ostia, non ilium ridentes suaviter Horae
Accipient venientem, et laeta in sede locabunt;
Sed lacrymis scelus ille suum, tristique piabit
Supplicio, aeternam in noctem, et pallentia missus
Tartara, nec valles Paradisi adjturus amoenas.   30
Ergo omnes idem ardor agit; jamque omnia circum
Littora—qua sese Byzanti regia moles
Erigit, et late subjecti marmora ponti,
Edomitamque Asiam Europes prospectat ab ora;—
Fervere agros turba innumera, mistumque videbis
Effundi populum, et laeto strepere undique plausu.
Non aliter, quam si ipse viros in bella cieret
Othmanides, strueretque aciem, quae maxima sese
Auderet, Catharina, tuis opponere coeptis,
Amissasque urbes, et rapta resposcere signa,   40
Nec minor—indigenis quondam regnata tyrannis
Qua tollit Memphis caput, et monumenta priorum
Vesta virum, antiquae ostentat vestigia famae,
Nunc Satrapae imperils, et saevo subdita Turcae;—
Turba coit, quos centum urbes, atque ultima misit
Africa; queis laetas segetes, et ditia late
Pascua felici foecundat flumine Nilus;
Quique feram Barcen, et magni nominis olim
Cyrenen; sterilesque colunt Mareotidos agros,
Vexatamque urbem multo Ptolemaida bello;    50
Quos Tripolis, vel quos Carthaginis aucta minis
Moenia Tuneti, aut flavescens Tingis arista
Mittit, et Angliacam spectantia littora Calpen.
Accensi pietate omnes, fremituque secundo
Incedunt, tardoque ingens pede flectitur agmen.
Jamque et Erythraei supremo in littore ponti
Arsinoen, claro quam nomine regia pellex
Ornavit, jussitque suam Cleopatra vocari,
Praetereunt; montes Melanum quoque, et ardua Sinae
Culmina, ubi Amramidae quondam dum armenta regebat   60
Pastor, Isacidum volvebat mente dolores,
Adfuit e coelo praesens Deus; ipse vocantem
Audiit; ipse locum insolitis splendescere flammis
Vidit, et ardentem manifesto Numine dumum.
At neque per deserta phalanx Memphitica cursu
Tendere, nec sacram properant contingere terram,
Ante peragratis Syria? quam finibus, arma
Ferre, et per colles demum adventare propinquos
Prospiciant Turcarum aciem, et socia agmina jungant.
Ilia quidem multo stipata Satellite dudum,      70
Armorumque ferax graditur, totaque coacta
Secum Asia; vel quos Byzantius alluit arcto
AEquore, et opposita secernit Bosporus ora;
Vel quos Euphrates fluviorum maximus inter
Volvitur, ingenti miscens cum Tigride fluctus
Ambiguos. Ipse in medio Dux agmine, claros
Enumcrans a stirpe atavos, sanctumque Prophetam
Stemmatis auctorem, et viridem de more tiaram
Implicitus capiti, et magno se munere jactans,
Palantes cohibet turmas, et rite locatis   80
Undique prassidiis, et fido milite servat.
Qua veto in medio tanta? pars maxima pompae,
Votivae portantur opes, aurumque tapetesque,
Ipsius dona Othmanidae: praetoria circum,
Densa magis glomerari acies, horrentibus hastis,
Tymparraque, et strepere assiduo resonantia pulsn
Æra; et vexillis fluitantibns intertexta,
Sanctum insigne, mieant crescentis cornua Lunae.

Vos, altae O Solymarum arces! vos saepe superbam
Conspicitis pompam vestra inter mcenia duci.   90
Namque illos, spreto quantumvis Numine Christi,
Relligio tamen ista tenet; sanctosque verentur
Praeteriisse locos temere, et juga celsa Sionis
Plena Deo quandam, et summo dilecta Jehovae.
Mox ubi jam ulterius tendunt, jam mille laborum
Taedia perpessi, et discrimina tanta viarum;
Hie vero trepidant animis, ubi vasta sine ullo
Hospitio immensi pandunt sese aequora campi,
Foeda situ informi, et congestis obruta arenis.
Ilia ergo nec laeta suo se gramine vestit;   100
Nec cultu, tellus, hominumque exetcita curis,
Induit auratas, Cerealia munera, messes,
Aut viridem ramorum umbram; tam fervida coeli
Urit humum rabies, tanto impete tela diei
Lucida, perpetuumque jubar puro aethere fundit,
Arentesque siti torret sol igneus agros.
Infelix! quicunque istis se ignarus arenis
Credat, ubi infido, tanquam maria alta, tumultu
Fluctuat omne solum, et vestigia fallit euntis.
Praesertim magno incumbat si turbine ventus,   110
Pulvereamque trahat, miscens late omnia, nubem.
Volvitur ilia alte coeli sublata per auras,
Et saspe errantes confusa strage catervas
Obruit, ingentique premit sub mole sepultas.
Quin et saepe illic trans aequora lata citatis
Fertur equis effraenus Arabs, aut cum alta soporem
Nox tulerit, praedae cupidi rapiuntque feruntque
Castra virum; aut sepsere vias, et euntibus ultro
Opposuere acies, atque aspera praelia miscent.
Ergo omnis properanda via est; nec si obvia forte   120
Prodat se, tenui prorumpens gurgite lympha,
Arboribus circum, et muscoso cespite cincta;
Non tamen hie, licet herba virens invitet, et amnis
Purus aqua, et gelidae texant umbracula palmae,
Ullam audent traherc ante moram, confinia Meccae
Quam demum optata attigerint, metamque laborum.
Est locus aerii propter latera ardua montis,
(Bederam indigenas dicunt) ubi prima movebat
Praelia, et ibat ovans primis Mahumeda triumphis.
Nunc etiam lustrare locum juvat, omniaque ultro   130
Facta referre Ducis, totamque ex ordine pugnam.
Quanta hostes coiere manu, quam tenue Prophetae
Agmen erat; stetit ille tamen, nomenque verendum
Extulit, alta sonans, Allae; tum, pulvere jacto,
Occupat ad versos hostes, ac devovet Orco.
Tum vero et referunt, medio in certamine, qualis
AEtheream prodens speciem, coelestiaque arma,
Palantes ageret Gabriel magno impete turmas,
Et dira ultrici misceret praelia dextra.
Hinc primum ut turres, et sole micantia Meccae   140
Culmina, delubrique vident fastigia summi;
Solvunt se in lacrymas omnes, et quos sibi quisque
Intus habet scelerum stimulos, culpaeque nefandae.
Jam tacita sub mente dolent, vestesque nitentes
Protenus, externaeque adeo decora omnia formae
Projiciunt, et membra nigro velantur amictu.
Turn pura purgantur aqua, et, de more, fluentem
Caesariem ferro minuunt; deinde agmine facto
Incedunt; passim audiri suspiria ab imo
Ducta sinu, et tunsis resonantia pectora palmis.   150
Jamque adeo intrarunt urbem, temploquo propinquant.
Quinquaginta aditus illi, centumque columnae
Ex solido stant aere, illas argentea circum
Volvitur, et nodis ambit capita alta catena.
Tum rutilae fulvo dependent lampades auro.
Ipsa autem, tanta quanquam septa undique mole,
Parva ipsa, et simplex, et nullo splendida luxu,
Stat sacrata domus; sed quae sibi nomen Abrami
Vindicat, auctoremque Deum: nec sanctior ulla
Relligio est, Mahumeda, tuis, nec quam magis isti   160
In votum metuunt conceptis poscere verbis,
Ambiguaque fide, et perjura fallere lingua.
Ergo ubi jam admissam excepit vasta area turbam,
Dilectam venerantur humum, et ferventia figunt
Oscula parietibus: tum summi in culmine tecti
Obducunt nigros, solennia dona, tapetas.
Ipse olim quales, antiqua ex urbe Damasci
Misit Omar, quales, dum res et fata sinebant,
Pollentes opibus Pharii misere tyranni,
Inclyta progenies Fatimae; nunc maximus ista    170
Jura habet Othmanides, solium magno omine firmans,
Et sanctum imperii pignus sibi vindicat uni.
Tum passim sternuntur humi, et ter voce vocantea
Alia, colunt; solus nutu qui temperat orbem,
Sincerumque Deum, purosque Unius honores.
Inde decus, Mahumeda, tuum, et tua carmine dicunt
Rite ministeria; ut lectum Deus ipse Prophetam
Per medios hostes, per tanta pericula belli
Sustulerit, demumque aeterna in pace locarit.
Tu solus penetrare polum, et spatia ultima coeli;   180
Tu super Angelicis cinctos custodibus orbes
Tendere iter potuisti, et puro in fonte lavari,
Et scelerum ad terras abluta labe remitti.
Tu quoque laeta potes venturae gaudia vitae,
Coelorumque arces, sedesque aperire beatas.
Dulcis ibi requies, et molli stratus in herba
Somnus, et egelidis placidae in convallibus umbrae;
Alta domus, lautaeque epulae, et madentia fusis
Vina favis; trepido miscens ibi murmura lapsu
Lactea purpureos interstrepit unda lapillos.    190
Accinget lateri comitem, amplexuque fovebit
Ambrosio, et teneros virgo spirabit amores.
Haec adeo, haec turpes tangentia praemia sensus
Pollicitus, stimulisque animos haud mollibus urgens,
Terrarum Mahumeda aequa plus parte triumphat.
Atqui non tali studio, nec ritibus istis,
Integra se jactat pietas; neque inania nobis
Tu, Christe, officia, et tantum cumulanda superbis
Muneribus templa, et steriles vano ordine pompas,
Mandasti! Tibi firma fides, Tibi criminis expers    200
Vita placet, puroque incoctum pectus honesto!
Ergo te, natumque Deo, soliique Paterni
Participem, humano commistum corpore Numen,
Te memores colimus! Tu nostram, Maxima, culpam
Victima, morte luis! Tu nobis, sanguine fuso,
Sola Salus, sola amissi Spes reddita coeli!


One thing I know: this needs a lot of work.  But here you are, anyhow: 

Mohammed led his people, long ago,
in holy rites and offices, and other duties: year by year
he united diverse tribes from various parts of the world
into one pious nation.  The opulent shrines of Mecca
where a great crowd circles the holy places—
I will unfold all this; and so down through long ages
a religion still revered by long descended great-grandchildren.

This is no insignificant name, shared between the beloved Prophet,
and this country, where glory surrounds the holy seat,
through long struggles, when impious opposition   10
when warlike adversaries despicably drove him away,
yet when he triumphantly returned, Mecca, you were first to shower incense on him.
Moreover yours was no vain faith: to you the great wanderer
Came, a fugitive led to this land by divine omens
Abraham, a refugee, welcomed into your courts
Where he built a new and most pure shrine
and restored the rites of worship to great Jehovah.
So, considering you more sacred than any other place,
And more excellent, Mohammed founded his kingdom here,
made it his capital.  Therefore were solemn rites,    20
established here, the commands of the Prophet revered
strong piety and the promised joys of heaven preached.

But the unwilling, those who never cross your temple threshold
With humility, who never kiss the holy ground—
they shall never reach the enter the doors of heaven,
no sweetly smiling Houris will receive him,
greet him gladly and settle him in the happy couch;
only bitter tears await him: he will propitiate misery
with his punishment, the endless night of banishment in pale
Hell—the pleasant valleys of Paradise eternally denied him.   30

Behold! A multitude, fired with a single passion, surrounds
The wide walls of royal Byzantium—
The broad marble towers from where Europe overlooks
And dominates the borderlands of Asia:—
A fervid innumerable crowd gathered, watching the darkened lands
People pouring out, joyous applause resounding everywhere.
Just as if he had mustered a great army for war
Followers of the Prophet drawn up in ranks and files, his great
daring, Catharine, was to try recapture the cities
he had lost to you, and repossess his captured standards.  40

The force that obeyed their tyrant kings was not smaller than this
Raised by Memphis kings—their earlier monuments
Amongst the antique vestiges of her former fame
The haughty Turkish satrap now despotically rules;—

A hundred cities supply the army, drawing every last man out of
Africa, where the crops grow far and wide, and rich
Happy pastures are watered by the river Nile;
From the land of Libyan Barca, and from once-famous
Cyrenaica; from sterile Mareotis’ uncultivated fields,
A city ruined by long Ptolemaic war;   50
From Tripoli, where Carthage rises again,
From the walled-city of Tunis, and the golden wheat-fields of Tangiers [Tingis],
Watched over by the English flag from Gibraltar’s [Calpe’s] shores.

Inflamed by piety and with great clamour
the huge close-formed phalanx slowly moves
and now they come to Arsinoe, on the shores of the wide
Red Sea, the town famous for its royal mistress,
a place she beautified and ordered to be named after her, ‘Cleopatris’.

Now they pass over Moriah’s holy mountain; and arduous high lands of Sinai
where Amram’s son once shepherded the flocks    60
of Isaac,  and his mind turned round in pain [or ‘meditated in awe’]
hearing the divine voice from heaven; God himself calling
to be heard; in that place the miraculous fire shone
and he saw God manifested in a burning bush.

Still, the phalanx, crossing the Egyptian desert, dares not
overstretch itself, nor can they seize the Holy Land,
without first crossing the boundaries of Syria.  Accordingly
finally advancing from the nearby hills, they discern
the front ranks of the well-armed Turks, and join with this troop as allies.

Asia: long hemmed about by neighbouring armies,   70
Enemies who can easily strike at her from every side,
the waters of Byzantium washing close
the Bosphorus separating her by mere yards from the opposite coast;
No further than the distance between the rolling river
of the Euphrates and where the great Tigris’s tidal
flow.  Their general marches in their midst:
most sacred Prophet, descended from Enumcran stock,
easily identified by his green turban, a commander
who leads from the front, throwing himself forward,
keeping his roving bands in check, and properly placed   80
everywhere to protect and guide his loyal soldiers.

And in the very heart of this vast parade
are carried votive treasures of tapestried gold,
gifts of the Turkish royal family [the Othmanidae]: chosen guards surround these
ranked in a right circle, bristling with spears,
a constant bustle of movement to the beat of drums
music filling the air, and banners woven with the
holy emblem of the gleaming crescent moon.

O high-towered Jerusalem! in your pride
you have seen many generals parade between your walls.   90
yet, though they mock the Deity of Christ,
for them religion still holds holy dread
having passed so many places, the lofty peaks of Zion
are full of God’s grace, the dearly beloved of Jehovah.

Soon they march on; and now a thousand trials afflict them:
exhaustion, suffering, crises on the road;
here in the desert their minds give way to panic
viewing the immense and comfortless plain,
the many leagues of rude sand and heaped-up debris.
No smiling greenery clothes the arid ground;     100
nothing is cultivated in that region,
mankind has neither tamed nor cultivated that world,
nor dressed it in the gold of Ceres’ harvests;
no green shade is cast by branches: instead scorching air
has drained soil with madness, shafts of sunlight
perpetual dazzling radiance poured from the pure ether,
parching drought and the fiery sun scorching all agriculture.

Unlucky are those who must navigate these sands
where the untrustworthy terrain mimics the deep seas—a tumult
of shifting ground—following the steps of a lost company.   110
Especially unlucky is he who meets a sandstorm,
when the clouds and winds whip up everything
stir it all up sky-high through the air;
and often the army wanders in confusion
Leaving behind it many bodies buried beneath the ground.

Often the rapid Arabian cavalry lead the disordered mass
across the wide expanse, or when night tempts
other travellers to deep sleep, they raid their settlements
preying upon the unwary, and bringing battle
to the camps of men, as different paths    120
throw opposing armies together—rough war the result.

So they hurry onwards; if by chance they find
a thin rivulet of water, gushing out, surrounded
by desert trees, and bordered by moss and turf;
they pause, where green grass is inviting, and a river
of pure water, with cool shadows woven by the palms.
Yet they dare not delay long; all thought is of Mecca
and focus all their efforts on reaching the desired end.

And now they reach the steep mountain sides
where (the natives of Beder say), battle colours were    130
first raised, the scene of Mohammed’s first triumph.
Now with delight they survey the scene, the whole battle
rallied to their leader, and the whole of the order of battle.
Here they met the enemy hand-to-hand, the Prophet leading them;
How small his army was! Yet he took his stand, the great name
Lifted high on their voices, Allah!  They tossed into the dust
the usurping enemy, overthrew them, sends them to the land of the Dead.
Then, or so it is said, and in the midst of the conflict,
Than the heavenly arms themselves appeared,
The angel Gabriel led a great assault against the straggling troops,  140
Fighting, his fiery sword held in his right hand.

From here they first saw the towers of Mecca, the topmost pinnacles
of the highest temples glinting in the sun
They all dissolve in tears, each man of himself
thinking of his sins—unspeakable wickednesses
stinging the mind.  Their white clothing
and all their foreign fashions, howsoever beautiful,
is all discarded: they wear instead plain black, covered with a robe.
They wash themselves with pure water, and cut away
their flowing locks with iron blades.  Then the ranks    150
advance; everywhere heartfelt sighs are heard,
chests heave, and the men beat their breasts with their hands.

So now they enter the city, hard by the temples.
Fifty gates open, and the army moves through
where one hundred standing columns of solid brass
are linked by silver chains, entwining each with each.
and hanging lamps of yellow gold burn red.
So great a city, yet within its bounds
standing small, and simple, bright, and free of any luxury,
the sacred house, that took its name from Abraham’s faith    160
claiming God’s authority, that no religion is
holier, Mohammed, than yours, nor more to this than
none dare to utter words of fraud, or the language of perjury
or doubt the faith based in this place.
So the open square now accepted the happy crowd,
they worshipped, bowing to the ground, with earnest zeal
kissing the walls, then dressing the central structure
replacing the black tapestries that surround the shrine.

This holy gift of new drapes, woven in the city of Damascus
was sent by Omar, what manner of men, fate and time permitting,   170
once the work was sent by the tyrant Pharaohs
now this great task falls to Othman’s son;  a great omen confirming his throne,
and holy is the one who dedicates himself to the pledge of empire.
Then, covering the ground in all directions, they thrice cry aloud
Allah; who made the world from nothing
most pure God, honouring His perfect Oneness.
From the ground they praise you, Mohammed, and celebrate your song
and holy offices; how the Prophet was chosen by God Himself
through the midst of the enemy, through the fortunes of war
kept safe, until finally achieving eternal peace.    180

You alone can rise above world’s axis and cross into heaven;
to where the angels oversee the girded orbs
you can to encompass that journey, and be washed in the pure fountain
and return to earth washed clean of all stain of sin.
For you is reserved the happiness of endless life
where the highest Heaven reveals happy couches.
Sweet rest is there, lying prone on the soft grass
and sleep, and cool valleys filled with placid shade;
tall houses, and delicious food, and poured wine
Flowing over honeycombs there, as mingling murmurs swoop,   190
streams of milk gurgling over purple pebbles.
And at your side the warmth of a companion’s ambrosial
embrace, and a young girl breathing her love.

So: these are the low and sensual rewards promised
To the faithful, with ungentle goads such as this
has Mohammed triumphed over half the world.
But it is not dedication like this, nor are these the rites
the vain and empty boastful pieties
that are your offices, O Christ; though the proud raise
temples gifts, and make vain and barren displays,     200
under compulsion.  Yours is a firm faith, you free us from sin,
giving us a purer Life, an honest unspotted breast!
So you, son of God, seated beside the Father
who once partook of the human body, though commixed with deity,
Our remembrance and service is yours! You, great one, made wickedness
your victim, the plague of death! You, by shedding your blood
Gave heaven and salvation to those who had lost all hope!

4 comments:

thefrankfurtschool said...

hello there - I've always enjoyed your blog since I stumbled across it about a year ago and I couldn't help noticing, with my typically observant eye, that you seemed to have stopped your daily missives of erudition. Where are you? Is everything alright? A concerned fan.

Adam Roberts said...

Thank you for your concern. This blog has come, I think, to the end of its useful life. But everything in fine with me otherwise!

Ruzz said...

O. Shame. First Punkadiddle, now this. But thank you - I appreciate we have no inherent right to your unpaid labours. Equally, given your phenomenal output, it seems unlikely that you will disappear from the blogosphere in the long term!

Ruzz said...

O. Shame. First Punkadiddle, now this. But thank you - I appreciate we have no inherent right to your unpaid labours. Equally, given your phenomenal output, it seems unlikely that you will disappear from the blogosphere in the long term!