The Shah Jehan sat with his much-loved wife,
The Empress Mahal, one hot summer day,
In a cool arbor far from courtly strife,
Close by the Jumna, winding on its way.
In silence played they long their game of chess,
But Jehan’s eyes rose oft to Mahal’s brow,
His ardent love he could not well repress,
Nor tried–she was his own rich jewel now.
He stayed the game to breathe some words of love
And press her lips with lips that knew no guile,
And felt the thrill, and peace like white-winged dove
Flew down, and she repaid with loving smile.
Then said, “What would you do if I should die?”
He paused a moment, some bright thought to woo,
And then, in solemn tone, made this reply:
“This thing, by Allah’s help, I’ll surely do:
“I’ll build upon the spot where we now sit
The grandest tomb a woman ever had;
All sombre tints I deem would be unfit;
For never have such tints thy bosom clad.
“Of pure white marble shall its walls be built,
Adorned with gold, and earth’s most costly gems;
Each minaret shall glow like jewelled hilt,
Sarcophagus surpass kings’ diadems.
“Then to the world it shall the truth proclaim
That Moomtaza surpassed all woman kind,
And I esteemed her more than gold or fame:
Thus cycles vast will find our names combined.”
The summer breeze now sighed among the flowers
As they play on with solemn thoughts; and sweet
As running brook passed by the pleasant hours,
And likewise passed the burning summer heat.
And like the fading day, the Empress, too,
For scarce a year had passed ere set her sun,
But Shah Jehan, to promise ever true,
Thought of the tomb his loving wife had won.
No common architect would he engage;
From far and near he sought with eager heart.
At last there came one Issa, gifted sage,
Whose plan pleased the great shah in whole and part.
On the same spot where they that day had played
The game of chess, and he the promise gave,
The massive stone foundation strong was laid,
On which would rest a palace o’er her grave.
Then Issa disappeared, but where, none knew;
Cast in the Jumna stream, by foes, some thought.
They dragged the stream, nor came the slightest clue,
And on his fate the oracles were dumb.
The years rolled by, yet Jehan rested not,
Tho’ hope, so long delayed, engendered gloom,
Content to live himself in any cot;
But no inferior hand must touch her tomb.
Seven years had gone, when Issa came again,
And offered this excuse for his delay,
“The soil is spongy all along this glen–
To have it settle I have stayed away.
“I now can build on base that will not sink,
Though pierced the clouds which bend so kindly down,
‘Twere fit this long delay, dost thou not think?
So chide me not nor on thy servant frown.”
Then on this base as firm as granite rock,
He built its walls as fair as falling snow,
And built them well, nor storm, nor earthquake shock
Has moved, tho’ built two hundred years ago.
For ten long years wrought twenty thousand men,
While many thousand carts the marble drew;
And proud Jehan told o’er his love again;
To love so Jacob-like the years seemed few.
From every part of his domain they brought
Rare gems and precious stones of every hue;
Skilled hands, in form of birds and flowers inwrought
In snow-white walls, these gems the building through,
The name of God, one hundred times save one,
On the sarcophagus, by cunning hand,
Then lined with gold ere they pronounced it done;
But then the grandest tomb in any land.
By Titans built, it seems, as mountain high
Of pure white marble, based on pink sandstone;
In length it is a thousand feet well nigh,
Its width three hundred feet by measure shown.
It seems a temple of the living One,
Though tomb to hide the dust of Jehan’s queen.
It serves each purpose well–her course was run,
Returned to God, love must the dust ensheen.
To many hearts it speaks of God and rest,
And lifts our thoughts above the things of earth;
It teaches us that love will give its best,
And then regard its gifts of little worth.