The son of the Abassid Caliph al-Mahdi and a Yemeni slave girl, Harun al-Rashid became caliph during the peak of what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. During his rule, Baghdad grew into the greatest city of the world. The historian Mas’udi writes that shortly before the death of Harun al-Rashid, he was reading poetry about the ephemeral nature of power and life. The Arabic poem was written by the famous poet Abul ‘Atahiya and the entire incident was versified into the following English poem by the 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
One day, Haroun Al Raschid read
A book wherein the poet said:–
“Where are the kings, and where the rest
Of those who once the world possessed?
“They’re gone with all their pomp and show,
They’re gone the way that thou shalt go.
“O thou who choosest for thy share
The world, and what the world calls fair,
“Take all that it can give or lend,
But know that death is at the end!”
Haroun Al Raschid bowed his head:
Tears fell upon the page he read.