Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

The Peri-Wife

THE son of a merchant in a city of Hindostan, having been driven from his father's house on account of his undutiful conduct, assumed the garb of a Kalenderee or wandering Derweesh, and left his native town. On the first day of his travels, being overcome with fatigue before he reached any place of rest, he went off the high road and sat down at the foot of a tree by a piece of water: while he sat there, he saw at sunset four doves alight from a tree on the edge of the pond, and resuming their natural form (for they were Peries) take off their clothes and amuse themselves by bathing in the water. He immediately advanced softly, took up their garments, without being seen, and concealed them in the hollow of a tree, behind which he placed himself. The Peries when they came out of the water and missed their clothes were distressed beyond measure. They ran about on all sides looking for them, but in vain. At length, finding the young man and judging that he had possessed himself of them, they implored him to restore them. He would only consent on one condition, which was that one of them should become his wife. The Peries asserted that such a union was impossible between them whose bodies were formed of fire and a mortal who was composed of clay and water; but he persisted, and selected the one which was the youngest and handsomest. They were at last. obliged to consent, and having endeavoured to console their sister, who shed copious floods of tears at the idea of parting with them and spending her days with one of the sons of Adam; and having received their garments, they took leave of her and flew away.
The young merchant then led home his fair bride and clad her magnificently; but he took care to bury her Peri-raiment in a secret place, that she might not be able to leave him. He made every effort to gain her affections, and at length succeeded in his object: "she placed her foot in the path of regard, and her head on the carpet of affection." She bore him children, and gradually began to take pleasure in the society of his female relatives and neighbours. All doubts of her affection now vanished from his mind, and he became assured of her love and attachment.
At the end of ten years the merchant became embarrassed in his circumstances, and he found it necessary to undertake a long voyage. He committed the Peri to the care of an aged matron in whom he had the greatest confidence, and to whom he revealed the secret of her real nature, and showed the spot where he had concealed her raiment. He then "placed the foot of departure in the stirrup of travel," and set out on his journey. The Peri was now overwhelmed with sorrow for his absence, or for some more secret cause, and continually uttered expressions of regret. The old woman sought to console her, assuring her that "the dark night of absence would soon come to an end, and the bright dawn of interview gleam from the horizon of divine bounty." One day when the Peri had bathed, and was drying her amber-scented tresses with a corner of her veil, the old woman burst out into expressions of admiration at her dazzling beauty. "Ah, nurse," replied she, "though you think my present charms great, yet had you seen me in my native raiment, you would have witnessed what beauty and grace the Divine Creator has bestowed upon Peries; for know that we are among the most finished portraits on the tablets of existence. If then thou desirest to behold the skill of the divine artist, and admire the wonders of creation, bring the robes which my husband has kept concealed, that I may wear them for an instant, and show thee my native beauty, the like of which no human eye, but my lord's, hath gazed upon."
The simple woman assented, and fetched the robes and presented them to the Peri. She put them on, and then, like a bird escaped from the cage, spread her wings, and, crying Farewell, soared to the sky and was seen no more. When the merchant returned from his voyage "and found no signs of the rose of enjoyment on the tree of hope, but the lamp of bliss extinguished in the chamber of felicity, he became as one Peri-stricken, [possessed, insane] a recluse in the cell of madness. Banished from the path of understanding, he remained lost to all the bounties of fortune and the useful purposes of life."

The Peri has been styled "the fairest creation of poetical imagination." No description can equal the beauty of the female Peri, [a] and the highest compliment a Persian poet can pay a lady is to liken her to one of these lovely aerial beings. [b] Thus Sadee, in the lines prefixed to this section, declares that only the beauty of a Peri can be compared with that of the fair one he addresses; and more lately, Aboo Taleeb Khan says to Lady Elgin, as he is translated by M. von Hammer, [c]
The sun, the moon, the Peries, and mankind,
Compared with you, do far remain behind;
For sun and moon have never form so mild,
The Peries have, but roam in deserts wild.
Sir W. Ouseley is at a loss what to compare them to. They do not, he thinks, resemble the Angels, the Cherubim and Seraphim of the Hebrews, the Daemons of the Platonists, or the Genii of the Romans; neither do they accord with the Houri of the Arabs. Still less do they agree with the Fairies of Shakspeare; for though fond of fragrance, and living on that sweet essential food, we never find them employed in
Killing cankers in the musk-rose buds,
or obliged
To serve the fairy queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
Neither is their stature ever represented so diminutive as to make key-holes pervious to their flight, or the bells of flowers their habitations. But Milton's sublime idea of a 'faery vision,' he thinks, corresponds more nearly with what the Persian poets have conceved of the Peries.
Their port was more than human, as they stood;
I took it for a faery vision
Of some gay creatures of the element
That in the colours of the rainbow live
And play i' the plighted clouds. I was awestruck,
And as I pass'd I worshipp'd.--Comus.
"I can venture to affirm," concludes Sir William gallantly, "that he will entertain a pretty just idea of a Persian Peri, who shall fix his eyes on the charms of a beloved and beautiful mistress."
If poetic imagination exhausted itself in pourtraying the beauty of the Peries, it was no less strenuous in heaping attributes of deformity on the Deevs. They may well vie in ugliness with the devils of our forefathers. "At Lahore, in the Mogul's palace," says William Finch, "are pictures of Dews, or Dives, intermixed in most ugly shapes, with long horns, staring eyes, shaggy hair, great fangs, ugly paws, long tails, with such horrible difformity and deformity, that I wonder the poor women are not frightened therewith." [d]
Such then is the Peri-system of the Mohammedan Persians, in which the influence of Islam is clearly perceptible, the very names of their fabled country and its kings being Arabic. Had we it as it was before the Arabs forced their law on Persia, we should doubtless find it more consistent in all its parts, more light, fanciful, and etherial.

[a] It must be recollected that the Peries are of both sexes: we have just spoken of Peri kings, and of the brothers of Merjan.

[b] in the Shah Nameh it is said of Prince Siyawush, that when be was born he was bright as a Peri. We find the poets everywhere comparing female beauty to that of superior beings. The Greeks and Romans compared a lovely woman to Venus, Diana, or the nymphs; the Persians to a Peri: the ancient Scandinavians would say she was Frith sem Alfkone, "fair as an Alf-woman;" and an Anglo-Saxon poet says of Judith that she was Elf-sheen, or fair as an Elf. In the lay of Gugemer it is said,
Dedenz la Dame unt trovée
Ki de biauté resanbloit Fée.
The same expression occurs In Méon (3, 412); and in the Remant de Ia Rose we meet, jure que plus belle est que fée (10, 425). In the Pentamerone it is said of a king's son, lo quale essenno bello comme a no fato.

[c] Mines de l'Orient, vol. iii. p. 40. To make his version completely English, M. von Hammer uses the word Fairies; we have ventured to change it.

[d] In Purchas' Pilgrims, vol. 1., quoted by Sir W. Ouseley.

Next: Arabian Romance