Saturday, 12 January 2013

Chess problems in poetry

The following poem, attributed to "M.E.Y." from Middle Temple, descibes a game of Chess between two Persians said to have taken place in the tenth century. One player, white, had lost steadily throughout that game and had subsequently lost more and more of his wealth in bets. Right at the end, he wagers the hand of his wife.

At this point, from a room above, comes the voice of his wife (who was clearly the better chess player of the two) giving him advise on how to win the game. I thought it quite a neat way to present a chess puzzle.

For those who don't care for poetry, the hint is in the final verse, alongside an illustration the position of the game.

The Persian Gamester

Where the stream of Solofrena
Winds along the silent vale;
Where the palm trees softly murmur,
Waving to the gale.

By the myrtie woven windows
Of an old romantic feat,
Sat at Chefs two noble Persions,
Shelter'd from the scorching heat.

Here with beating brest, Alcanzor
View'd the deep eventful play,
Here with black o'er-arching eye-brows
Sat the Caliph Mahmed Bey.

But with wary eye the Persian
Arks each passion of the heart;
And the gallant brave Alcanzor
Yields, a victim to his art.

Soon his ancient store of treasures.
Soon his wealth and wide doman,
Soon the glories of his Fathers
Fall – the crafty Caliph's gain.

Now he maddens as the lion
Raging thro' the desert grove;
Now with desperate death he pledges.
Zaida's beauty, Zaida's love.

Mohmed-Bey the offer seizes,
Triumph glistens in his eyes.
Ah! Rash youth, that thou hadst never
Dar'd to risk so fair a prize!

For impending ruin threatens
To devote the hapless love:
But what piercing accents issue
From the latticed height above?

'Tis the beauteous Zaida crying,
Half-distracted – "Oh! My life,
"To thy foe concede thy Castle,
"And from death preserve thy Wife!"

The Monthly Magazine, May 1800, Vol 9:1, p365
However, Michael J Franklin writes in his book "Orientalist Jones: Sir William Jones, Poet, Lawyer, and Linguist, 1746-1794" (2011) that the poem predates 1800. It may be worth noting that later that year, in the Derby Mercury from 6 November 1800, the poem is reproduced on page three but with the attribution to "M.E.Y." missing.

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