Illustration of his poem by Palmer Cox, 1882


The Sultan of the East

by Palmer Cox

There was a sultan of the East
Who used to ride a stubborn beast;
A marvel of the donkey-kind,
That much perplexed his owner’s mind.
By turns he moved a rod ahead.
Then backed a rod or so instead.
And thus the day would pass around,
The Sultan gaining little ground.
The servants on before would stray
And pitch their tents beside the way,
And pass the time as best they might
Until their master hove in sight.
The Sultan many methods tried:
He clicked and coaxed and spurs applied,
And stripped a dozen trees, at least,
Of branches, to persuade the beast.
But all his efforts were for naught;
No reformation could be wrought.
At length, before the palace gate
He called the wise men of the state,
And bade them now their skill display
By finding where the trouble lay.

With solemn looks and thoughts profound,
The men of learning gathered round.
The beast was measured o’er with care;
They proved him by the plumb and square,
The compass to his ribs applied,
And every joint by rule was tried;
But nothing could the doctors find
To prove he differed from his kind.
Said they: “Your Highness! It appears
The beast is sound from hoof to ears;
No outward blemishes we see
To limit action fair and free.
In view of this, the fact is plain
The mischief lies within the brain.
Now, we suggest, to stop his tricks,
A sail upon his back you fix,
Of goodly size, to catch the breeze
And urge him forward where you please.”

The Sultan well their wisdom praised.
Two masts upon the beast were raised.
And, schooner-rigged from head to tail,
With halliards, spanker-boom, and sail,
In proper shape equipped was he,
As though designed to sail the sea!

And then the Sultan next bestrode
That beast upon a lengthy road,
With favoring winds that whistle strong
And swiftly urged the craft along,
The people cleared the track with speed;
And old and young alike agreed
A stranger sight could not be found,
From side to side the province round.

From St. Nicholas Magazine, July, 1882, IX(9):688-689.