This poem retells a renowned episode from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh: in which two champions from opposing armies agree to a single combat prior to the general melee. Rustum elects to fight incognito – without identifying emblems or heraldry: to the bemusement of his antagonist, who remains proud of his ancestry although never having seen his own father.
The combat begins: and after several fierce encounters, the younger Sohrab is brought down to the dust by Rustum. While Sohrab lies dying, he proudly declares his ancestral lineage, promising that his own father – Rustum – will somehow hear of his demise and revenge him.
Admiring the lad’s spirit – but frankly disbelieving his words – the victorious Rustum demands certain proofs to establish Sohrab’s claim. Sohrab readily complies – finally revealing a heraldic emblem tattooed upon his upper arm by his mother when still a child. Rustum – recognising his own heraldry – and convinced too late of the truth of Sohrab’s words: drops his arms and tears his hair; wailing in grief and shame. Holding his only son – whom he had never before met, and whom he has now just unwitting has slain: Rustum disdains any further part in the warfare, and the opposing armies withdraw in peace.
- Can Rustum – having slain his own son and heir – ever bring himself to again lead the Shah’s armies to victory?