One day the caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid, made a great feast. The feast was held in the grandest room of the palace. The walls and ceiling glittered with gold and precious gems. The table was decorated with rare and beautiful plants and flowers.
All the noblest men of Persia and Arabia were there. Many wise men and poets and musicians had also been invited.
In the midst of the feast the caliph called upon the poet, Abul Atayah, and said, “O prince of verse makers, show us thy skill. Describe in verse this glad and glorious feast.”
The poet rose and began: “Live, O caliph and enjoy thyself in the shelter of thy lofty palace.”
“That is a good beginning,” said Raschid. “Let us hear the rest.” The poet went on: “May each morning bring thee some new joy. May each evening see that all thy wishes have been performed.”
“Good! good!” said the caliph, “Go on.”
The poet bowed his head and obeyed: “But when the hour of death comes, O my caliph, then alas! thou wilt learn that all thy delights were but a shadow.”
The caliph’s eyes were filled with tears. Emotion choked him. He covered his face and wept.
Then one of the officers, who was sitting near the poet, cried out: “Stop! The caliph wished you to amuse him with pleasant thoughts, and you have filled his mind with melancholy.”
“Let the poet alone,” said Raschid. “He has seen me in my blindness, and is trying to open my eyes.”
Haroun-al-Raschid (Aaron the Just) was the greatest of all the caliphs of Bagdad. In a wonderful book, called “The Arabian Nights,” there are many interesting stories about him.