Yussouf – James Russell Lowell – Analysis

Yussouf
A stranger came one night to Yussouf’s tent,
Saying, “Behold one outcast and in dread,
Against whose life the bow of power is bent,
Who flies, and hath not where to lay his head;
I come to thee for shelter and for food,
To Yussouf, called through all our tribes ‘The Good.’”
“This tent is mine,” said Yussouf, “but no more
Than it is God’s; come in, and be at peace;
Freely shalt thou partake of all my store
As I of his who buildeth over these
Our tents his glorious roof of night and day,
And at whose door none ever yet heard Nay.”
So Yussouf entertained his guest that night,
And, waking him ere day, said: “Here is gold,
My swiftest horse is saddled for thy flight,
Depart before the prying day grow bold.”
As one lamp lights another, nor grows less,
So nobleness enkindleth nobleness.
That inward light the stranger’s face made grand,
Which shines from all self-conquest; kneeling low,
He bowed his forehead upon Yussouf’s hand,
Sobbing: “O Sheik, I cannot leave thee so;
I will repay thee; all this thou hast done
Unto that Ibrahim who slew thy son!”
“Take thrice the gold,” said Yussouf, “for with thee
Into the desert, never to return,
My one black thought shall ride away from me;
First-born, for whom by day and night I yearn,
Balanced and just are all of God’s decrees;
Thou art avenged, my first-born, sleep in peace!”
James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891)

This is a prose story poem between the two characters Yussouf and Ibrahim set to an Arab background.

Yussouf is a sheik, a leader of his people, and many years ago Ibrahim murdered his son. Ibrahim is an outcast and is now in fear for his life and seeks sanctuary in the tent of Yussouf. Yussouf accepts him as his guest and gives him shelter and food, stating that his tent is akin to the home of God.

In the tradition of treating a guest with kindness, in the morning he gives a horse and gold to Ibrahim before sending him on his way stating –

As one lamp lights another, nor grows less,
So nobleness enkindleth nobleness.

This is all too much for Ibrahim and sobbing confesses that he has murdered Yussouf’s son.

And here is the critical decision point in the story. Yussouf does not take revenge. He quite astounds the reader by giving more gold coins before sending Ibrahim on his way.

Why does he do this – well for one reason Ibrahim is repentant and for many years Yussouf has held revenge in his heart as a dark shadow and by this act he is released of this shackle. At the same time Yussouf forgives. A wonderful example of great humanity and perhaps indicative of how God would respond.

balanced and just are all of God’s decrees.

If there is a new way of thinking and acting, then it is easy to aid and give ‘poetic gold’ in assistance in the new life of the offender. Consider the conversion of Paul the Apostle on the road to Damascus that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and become a follower of Jesus.

But ‘Love’ your enemies takes on a whole new way of thinking when there is no repentance; especially when your own life is threatened.

James Russell Lowell on Wikipedia

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