Sohrab and Rustum

by Matthew Arnold

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Sohrab

Sohrab is a young warrior from Ader-baijan who has joined the army of Afrasiab, King of the Tartars and become their greatest champion, despite his youth. He knows that Rustum is his father and has spent many years seeking him. Sohrab is portrayed as a formidable warrior, not as large or strong as Rustum but more agile.

Sohrab is courteous and chivalrous, refusing to take advantage of his opponent’s mistakes and suggesting that they should not be enemies, though he is clearly not afraid of fighting or even of death. When he is about to die, it is he who comforts his father, telling him “with a soothing voice” that he is not to blame for his son’s death and saying,

Father, forbear! for I but meet to-day

The doom which at my birth was written down

In Heaven, and thou art Heaven's unconscious hand.

Surely my heart cried out that it was thou,

When first I saw thee; and thy heart spoke too,

I know it! but fate trod those promptings down

Under its iron heel; fate, fate engaged

The strife, and hurl'd me on my father's spear.

But let us speak no more of this! I find

My father; let me feel that I have found!

Come, sit beside me on this sand, and take

My head betwixt thy hands, and kiss my cheeks,

And wash them with thy tears, and say: My son!

These words reveal Sohrab’s character and his priorities. He has been seeking his father for years and has now found him. Although he has such a short time left to live, he wants to spend this time in showing his love for the great man he knows only by reputation and in trying to allay his grief. He is also perceptive, believing instinctively that Rustum is his father and trying to prevent the fight as soon as they meet.

Rustum

Rustum is the greatest warrior chieftain of the Persians. He is growing old and resents the young King of Persia, Kai Khosroo, for giving his favor to younger men. He shows respect and concern for Sohrab but is also irritated by the confidence and agility of the younger man.

Rustum has spent his life fighting and is proud of his military glory but undergoes a change of heart at the end of the poem when he learns that he has killed the son he never knew he had. When the dying Sohrab asks him not to fight the Tartars, he readily agrees, saying,

What should I do with slaying any more?

For would that all whom I have ever slain

Might be once more alive; my bitterest foes,

And they who were call'd champions in their time,

And through whose death I won that fame I have—

And I were nothing but a common man,

A poor, mean soldier, and without renown,

So thou mightest live too, my son, my son!

This softer side of Rustum’s nature is foreshadowed earlier in the poem. Before he acknowledges Sohrab as his son, he feels pity for the youth, who reminds him of himself when he was young and of the carefree, peaceful life he lived with his wife in Ader-baijan.

At the end of the poem, Rustum sees the hollowness of military triumph but retains other elements of his proud nature and traditional code of honor. His sense of family responsibility is undiminished as he swears to return home to his own father, Zal.

Peran-Wisa

Peran-Wisa is the commander of the Tartar army. He is an old man and feels a fatherly responsibility towards Sohrab,...

(This entire section contains 742 words.)

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but he understands that he cannot restrain him or shield him from danger or even death.

Haman

Haman is an officer in the Tartar army, second in command to Peran-Wisa. He is a vigorous man, “still in his lusty prime.”

Ferood

Ferood is the commander of the Persian army. He acknowledges that although Rustum is refusing to fight, no one else among the lords of Persia is capable of taking on Sohrab.

Gudurz

Gudurz is an elderly Persian lord. He suggests to Ferood that they ask Rustum to fight against Sohrab, since they have no other champion capable of defeating him. He is diplomatic and crafty, and he persuades Rustum to fight by insisting that if he does not, people will say,

Like some old miser, Rustum hoards his fame,

And shuns to peril it with younger men.

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