This epyllion (brief epic) was completed in April 1853, after many interruptions. I "think [it is] by far the best thing I have yet done ... but then the story is a very noble and excellent one," remarked Arnold. In Poems by Matthew Arnold: A Second Edition, 1854, Arnold appended both the extract from Sir John Malcolm's History of Persia, which was his general source, and Sainte Beuve's notice (Causeries du lundi, I) of a French translation by Mohl of the Shahnama, the Persian national epic by Ferdousi (940?-1020) to which he acknowledged a certain obligation. Arnold insisted, though, "of M. Mohl's book itself I have not been able to obtain sight."
In "Sohrab and Rustum," Arnold has used only one incident from the heroic legend of Rustum, a Hercules figure from Persian mythology, hence the secondary title of the poem, "An Episode." Arnold has altered the supposed date of the episode, removing it from the reign of the weak Kai Kaous to that of the great Kai Khosroo (Cyrus the Great?). In form, the poem follows the blank verse (iambic pentameter unrhymed poetry) of Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) rather than of Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad (1715-20) into Heroic (iambic pentameter) Couplets.
Last modified 26 August 2004