Agatha Christie Wiki

Gates of Damascus is a poem by James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915). The poem inspired the title of the novel Postern of Fate, and is quoted in the short story The Gate of Baghdad.

The poem talks about the four gates of Damascus, with the gatekeepers of each gate telling the story of their gate in turn. The section that is relevant to Christie is the first one, concerning the east gate which leads to Baghdad.

The Section on the East Gate[]

Four great gates has the city of Damascus,
      And four Grand Wardens, on their spears reclining,
All day long stand like tall stone men
      And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining.

      This is the song of the East Gate Warden
      When he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden.

Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster's Cavern; Fort of Fear,
The Portal of Bagdad am I, the Doorway of Diarbekir.

The Persian Dawn with new desires may net the flushing mountain spires:
But my gaunt buttress still rejects the suppliance of those mellow fires.

Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird?

​Pass not beneath! Men say there blows in stony deserts still a rose
But with no scarlet to her leaf—and from whose heart no perfume flows.

Wilt thou bloom red where she buds pale, thy sister rose? Wilt thou not fail
When noonday flashes like a flail? Leave nightingale the caravan!

Pass then, pass all! "Bagdad!" ye cry, and down the billows of blue sky
Ye beat the bell that beats to hell, and who shall thrust ye back? Not I.

The Sun who flashes through the head and paints the shadows green and red,—
The Sun shall eat thy fleshless dead, O Caravan, O Caravan!

And one who licks his lips for thirst with fevered eyes shall face in fear
The palms that wave, the streams that burst, his last mirage, O Caravan!

And one—the bird-voiced Singing-man—shall fall behind thee, Caravan!
And God shall meet him in the night, and he shall sing as best he can.

​And one the Bedouin shall slay, and one, sand-stricken on the way
Go dark and blind; and one shall say—"How lonely is the Caravan!"

Pass out beneath, O Caravan, Doom's Caravan, Death's Caravan!
I had not told ye, fools, so much, save that I heard your Singing-man.

Christie's epigraph for Postern of Fate[]

In Christie's epigraph to her last novel Postern of Fate, she only used the following excerpts:

  Four great gates has the city of Damascus...
  Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster's
        Cavern; Fort of Fear...
  Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass
  not singing. Have you heard
  That silence where the birds are dead yet
        something pipeth like a bird?

The main plot plays on the theme that old sins can cast long shadows, like in Sleeping Murder, Elephants Can Remember and Nemesis. Christie was probably thinking of the fact that the silence from the past could speak:

  That silence where the birds are dead yet
        something pipeth like a bird?

There is also the admonition that there could be danger in digging into the past. It is not something to be taken lightly:

  Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass
        not singing.