The Khan's Devil

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

The Khan came from Bokhara town
To Hamza, santon of renown.

"My head is sick, my hands are weak;
Thy help, O holy man, I seek."

In silence marking for a space
The Khan's red eyes and purple face,

Thick voice, and loose, uncertain tread,
"Thou hast a devil!" Hamza said.

"Allah forbid!" exclaimed the Khan.
Rid me of him at once, O man!"

"Nay," Hamza said, "no spell of mine
Can slay that cursed thing of thine.

"Leave feast and wine, go forth and drink
Water of healing on the brink

"Where clear and cold from mountain snows,
The Nahr el Zeben downward flows.

"Six moons remain, then come to me;
May Allah's pity go with thee!"

Awestruck, from feast and wine the Khan
Went forth where Nahr el Zeben ran.

Roots were his food, the desert dust
His bed, the water quenched his thirst;

And when the sixth moon's scimetar
Curved sharp above the evening star,

He sought again the santon's door,
Not weak and trembling as before,

But strong of limb and clear of brain;
"Behold," he said, "the fiend is slain."

"Nay," Hamza answered, "starved and drowned,
The curst one lies in death-like swound.

"But evil breaks the strongest gyves,
And jins like him have charmed lives.

"One beaker of the juice of grape
May call him up in living shape.

"When the red wine of Badakshan
Sparkles for thee, beware, O Khan,

"With water quench the fire within,
And drown each day thy devilkin!"

Thenceforth the great Khan shunned the cup
As Shitan's own, though offered up,

With laughing eyes and jewelled hands,
By Yarkand's maids and Samarcand's.

And, in the lofty vestibule
Of the medress of Kaush Kodul,

The students of the holy law
A golden-lettered tablet saw,

With these words, by a cunning hand,
Graved on it at the Khan's command:

"In Allah's name, to him who hath
A devil, Khan el Hamed saith,

"Wisely our Prophet cursed the vine
The fiend that loves the breath of wine,

"No prayer can slay, no marabout
Nor Meccan dervis can drive out.

"I, Khan el Hamed, know the charm
That robs him of his power to harm.

"Drown him, O Islam's child! the spell
To save thee lies in tank and well!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Khan's Devil' by John Greenleaf Whittier

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy