Aurungzebe, the emperor of Delhi, entertains Abdalla, who recently abdicated his throne to his son Aliris and is on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Prophet. Aurungzebe has promised his daughter Lalla Rookh (Tulip Cheek) in marriage to Aliris. The lonely princess is to journey to Kashmir, where she and Aliris will meet and be married.
Lalla Rookh’s caravan, of the finest and most comfortable equipment, is manned by the most loyal and efficient of servants, the entire cavalcade having been sent by Aliris to conduct his bride to him. Among the servants sent by Aliris is a young poet of Kashmir, Feramorz. Feramorz captivates all the women with his beauty and charming musical ability as he sings and recites to the accompaniment of his kitar. Lalla Rookh, not immune, becomes enamored of the young poet.
Fadladeen, the chamberlain traveling as Lalla Rookh’s protector, is a bumptious, all-knowing, perspicacious authority on any subject: food, science, religion, and literature. His criticism is so detailed and harsh that the person being assessed is reduced to feeling like a virtual ignoramus. Fadladeen criticizes Feramorz’s poem “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,” which tells the story of Azim and Zelica, young lovers who live in the province of Khorassan.
In the story, after Azim goes off to fight in the wars in Greece, Zelica is enticed into the harem of Mokanna, the “veiled prophet of Khorassan,” in the belief that she will gain admission into Paradise; there she will be reunited with Azim, whom she believes has been killed in the Greek wars. Mokanna is a dastardly, cruel ruler who has gained the throne through magic. When Azim learns, in a dream, of Zelica’s plight, he returns to his country to join the army of the veiled prophet. Discovering the truth of his vision of Zelica’s unhappy state, he joins the troops of an enemy caliph and fights against Mokanna.
Mokanna, defeated, commits suicide by plunging into a vat of corrosive poison. Zelica, feeling remorse for having become Mokanna’s wife and sadness at seeing her young lover but not being able to be his, puts on the veil of Mokanna and confronts the caliph’s army, with the intention of being mistaken for Mokanna and being killed. Azim does mistake her for Mokanna and attacks her; before she dies of her wounds, her identity is revealed and the lovers exchange vows of devotion and forgiveness. Azim grows old grieving by Zelica’s grave, where he finally dies after another vision in which Zelica appears and tells him she is blessed.
Feramorz, unaccustomed to criticism, is taken aback by Fadladeen’s reaction to this beautiful love poem. Fadladeen is caustic. He belabors the subject of long speeches by the characters in the story, contrasts Feramorz’s poem with the fluency and tone of poems of other writers of the day, and analyzes the meters of specific lines in the poem. Feramorz does not attempt to tell another story for some days.
Finally, encouraged to sing by Lalla...
(The entire section is 1232 words.)