The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1232

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 Rookh, he begins his second poem only after an appealing look at Fadladeen as he explains that this tale, “Paradise and the Peri,” is in a lighter and humbler vein than the first. In the poem, the peri, wishing to be admitted to Paradise, is told to bring as her passport the gift most treasured by heaven. Her first offering is a drop of blood from a dying Indian patriot; this unacceptable gift is followed by the last sigh of an Egyptian maiden as she dies of grief at the loss of the lover whom she has nursed through the plague. Rejected for this gift, the peri is finally admitted to Paradise when she presents the penitential tear of a hardened criminal of Balbec. The criminal’s tear had been shed as he heard a child’s prayer. Fadladeen is even more outspoken in his criticism of Feramorz’s second story. He refuses to be halted in his critical onslaught, despite Lalla Rookh’s attempt to intervene.

By the time the party arrives in Lahore, Lalla Rookh realizes not only that she is in love with Feramorz but also that the handsome singer is in love with her, and she resolves that he should not be admitted to her presence again. Although the heart she is to give to her bridegroom will be cold and broken, it must be pure.

As they journey on, the travelers come upon the ruins of an ancient tower, a structure that arouses the curiosity of the entire group. Fadladeen, who has never before been outside Delhi, proceeds learnedly to show that he knows nothing whatever about the building. Despite Lalla Rookh’s admonition that Feramorz not be called to identify the ruins for them, he is brought before her. The tower, he says, is all that remains of an ancient Fire-Temple, built by Ghebers, or Zoroastrian Persians, who fled to the site from their Arab conquerors in order to have liberty in a foreign country rather than persecution in their own land.

This historical detail gives rise to Feramorz’s third song, “The Fire-Worshippers.” In this story, Hafed, the leader of the resisting Gheber forces in the mountains, falls in love with Hinda, the daughter of the Arabian emir who has come to rout the insurrectionists. Hafed, his identity concealed, gains access to Hinda’s quarters and wins her love before he is captured by the Ghebers. The Arabs defeat the Ghebers in a sudden attack, and Hafed sacrifices himself on a funeral pyre. As Hinda watches from a distance, she plunges into a lake and is drowned.

On this occasion Fadladeen decides to forgo criticism of Feramorz’s tale. Rather, Fadladeen decides to report this profane story to Aliris. Fadladeen hopes in this manner to bring about punishment for Feramorz and to secure for himself a place in Aliris’ court.

In the tranquil, beautiful valley of Hussun Abdaul, Feramorz sings his last song, “The Light of the Haram,” an account of married love reconciled after a misunderstanding between husband and wife. The “Light of the Haram” is Sultana Nourmahal, the favorite wife of the emperor Selim, son of the great Acbar. During the celebration of the Feast of Roses, Nourmahal quarrels with Selim. The couple’s period of sadness and remorse because of their harsh words to each other ends when Nourmahal learns a magic song from an enchantress, Namouna. Masked, Nourmahal sings the song to Selim at the emperor’s banquet, and they are reunited in undying love for each other.

After considerable hardship, the party crosses the mountains that separate Kashmir from the rest of India. At a temple where they rest, the young king arrives to welcome his bride into his kingdom. Lalla Rookh, seeing his face in full view for the first time, faints. The king is the young singer, Feramorz. He has traveled disguised as a poet because he wished to win Lalla Rookh’s love.

Learning the identity of the man whose songs he has criticized so caustically, Fadladeen recants immediately and declares that Aliris is the greatest poet of all time. In his new position of prestige, bestowed on him by Aliris, Fadladeen recommends the whip for anyone who questions Aliris’s poetic ability. To her dying day, Lalla Rookh never calls the king by any name other than Feramorz.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 258

Birley, Robert. “Thomas Moore: Lalla Rookh. In Sunk Without Trace: Some Forgotten Masterpieces Reconsidered. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962. Discusses the reputation of Lalla Rookh, both in and since its own time.

Heseltine, J. E. “The Royame of Perse.” In The Legacy of Persia, edited by Arthur J. Arberry. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1953. Positions Lalla Rookh in a survey of English writing on Persia in the Oriental tradition.

Jones, Howard Mumford. The Harp That Once—A Chronicle of the Life of Thomas Moore. New York: Henry Holt, 1937. Points out some aesthetic successes of Lalla Rookh, especially in the context of other Romantic works.

Mack, Robert L. Introduction to Oriental Tales. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1992. Discusses the tradition of Orientalism in British literature.

Schwab, Raymond. Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680-1880. Translated by Gene Patterson-Black and Victor Reinking. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Discusses development of British interest in things Oriental.

Strong, L. A. G. The Minstrel Boy: A Portrait of Tom Moore. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937. Advocates a reevaluation of Moore’s poetry as music.

Tidrick, Kathryn. Heart-Beguiling Araby. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Follows the interest in Orientalism in the nineteenth century.

Wickens, G. M. “Lalla Rookh and the Romantic Tradition of Islamic Literature in English.” Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 20 (1971): 61-66. Discusses Moore’s effect on English translations of Islamic literature. Shows Moore to be very much at the heart of the Romantic movement, but suggests ways in which translators might revise their methods to render more faithfully the originals.

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