The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî or “Lay of the Higher Law”
“Translated and annotated by his friend and pupil, F.B.”
Richard F. Burton
TO THE READER
The Translator has ventured to entitle a “Lay of the Higher Law” the following composition, which aims at being in advance of its time; and he has not feared the danger of collision with such unpleasant forms as the “Higher Culture.” The principles which justify the name are as follows:—
The Author asserts that Happiness and Misery are equally divided and distributed in the world.
He makes Self-cultivation, with due regard to others, the sole and sufficient object of human life.
He suggests that the affections, the sympathies, and the “divine gift of Pity” are man’s highest enjoyments.
He advocates suspension of judgment, with a proper suspicion of “Facts, the idlest of superstitions.”
Finally, although destructive to appearance, he is essentially reconstructive.
For other details concerning the Poem and the Poet, the curious reader is referred to the end of the volume.
Vienna, Nov., 1880.
The hour is nigh; the waning Queen
walks forth to rule the later night;
Crown’d with the sparkle of a Star,
and throned on orb of ashen light:
The Wolf-tail1 sweeps the paling East
to leave a deeper gloom behind,
And Dawn uprears her shining head,
sighing with semblance of a wind:
1 The false dawn.
The highlands catch yon Orient gleam,
while purpling still the lowlands lie;
And pearly mists, the morning-pride,
soar incense-like to greet the sky.
The horses neigh, the camels groan,
the torches gleam, the cressets flare;
The town of canvas falls, and man
with din and dint invadeth air:
The Golden Gates swing right and left;
up springs the Sun with flamy brow;
The dew-cloud melts in gush of light;
brown Earth is bathed in morning-glow.
Slowly they wind athwart the wild,
and while young Day his anthem swells,
Sad falls upon my yearning ear
the tinkling of the Camel-bells:
O’er fiery wastes and frozen wold,
o’er horrid hill and gloomy glen,
The home of grisly beast and Ghoul,2
the haunts of wilder, grislier men;—
2 The Demon of the Desert.
With the brief gladness of the Palms,
that tower and sway o’er seething plain,
Fraught with the thoughts of rustling shade,
and welling spring, and rushing rain;
With the short solace of the ridge,
by gentle zephyrs played upon,
Whose breezy head and bosky side
front seas of cooly celadon;—
’Tis theirs to pass with joy and hope,
whose souls shall ever thrill and fill
Dreams of the Birthplace and the Tomb,
visions of Allah’s Holy Hill.3
3 Arafât, near Mecca.
But we? Another shift of scene,
another pang to rack the heart;
Why meet we on the bridge of Time
to ’change one greeting and to part?
We meet to part; yet asks my sprite,
Part we to meet? Ah! is it so?
Man’s fancy-made Omniscience knows,
who made Omniscience nought can know.
Why must we meet, why must we part,
why must we bear this yoke of MUST,
Without our leave or askt or given,
by tyrant Fate on victim thrust?
That Eve so gay, so bright, so glad,
this Morn so dim, and sad, and grey;
Strange that life’s Registrar should write
this day a day, that day a day!
Mine eyes, my brain, my heart, are sad,—
sad is the very core of me;
All wearies, changes, passes, ends;
alas! the Birthday’s injury!
Friends of my youth, a last adieu!
haply some day we meet again;
Yet ne’er the self-same men shall meet;
the years shall make us other men:
The light of morn has grown to noon,
has paled with eve, and now farewell!
Go, vanish from my Life as dies
the tinkling of the Camel’s bell.
In these drear wastes of sea-born land,
these wilds where none may dwell but He,
What visionary Pasts revive,
what process of the Years we see:
Gazing beyond the thin blue line
that rims the far horizon-ring,
Our sadden’d sight why haunt these ghosts,
whence do these spectral shadows spring?
What endless questions vex the thought,
of Whence and Whither, When and How?
What fond and foolish strife to read
the Scripture writ on human brow;
As stand we percht on point of Time,
betwixt the two Eternities,
Whose awful secrets gathering round
with black profound oppress our eyes.
“This gloomy night, these grisly waves,
these winds and whirlpools loud and dread:
What reck they of our wretched plight
who Safety’s shore so lightly tread?”
Thus quoth the Bard of Love and Wine,4
whose dream of Heaven ne’er could rise
Beyond the brimming Kausar-cup
and Houris with the white-black eyes;
4 Hâfiz of Shirâz.
Ah me! my race of threescore years
is short, but long enough to pall
My sense with joyless joys as these,
with Love and Houris, Wine and all.
Another boasts he would divorce
old barren Reason from his bed,
And wed the Vine-maid in her stead;—
fools who believe a word he said!5
5 Omar-i-Kayyâm, the tent-maker poet of Persia.
And “‘Dust thou art to dust returning.’
ne’er was spoke of human soul”
The Soofi cries, ’tis well for him
that hath such gift to ask its goal.
“And this is all, for this we’re born
to weep a little and to die!”
So sings the shallow bard whose life
still labours at the letter “I.”
“Ear never heard, Eye never saw
the bliss of those who enter in
My heavenly kingdom,” Isâ said,
who wailed our sorrows and our sin:
Too much of words or yet too few!
What to thy Godhead easier than
One little glimpse of Paradise
to ope the eyes and ears of man?
“I am the Truth! I am the Truth!”
we hear the God-drunk gnostic cry
“The microcosm abides in ME;
Eternal Allah’s nought but I!”
Mansûr6 was wise, but wiser they
who smote him with the hurlèd stones;
And, though his blood a witness bore,
no wisdom-might could mend his bones.
6 A famous Mystic stoned for blasphemy.
“Eat, drink, and sport; the rest of life’s
not worth a fillip,” quoth the King;
Methinks the saying saith too much:
the swine would say the selfsame thing!
Two-footed beasts that browse through life,
by Death to serve as soil design’d,
Bow prone to Earth whereof they be,
and there the proper pleasures find:
But you of finer, nobler, stuff,
ye, whom to Higher leads the High,
What binds your hearts in common bond
with creatures of the stall and sty?
“In certain hope of Life-to-come
I journey through this shifting scene”
The Zâhid7 snarls and saunters down
his Vale of Tears with confi’dent mien.
7 The “Philister” of “respectable” belief.
Wiser than Amrân’s Son8 art thou,
who ken’st so well the world-to-be,
The Future when the Past is not,
the Present merest dreamery;
8 Moses in the Koran.
What know’st thou, man, of Life? and yet,
forever twixt the womb, the grave,
Thou pratest of the Coming Life,
of Heav’n and Hell thou fain must rave.
The world is old and thou art young;
the world is large and thou art small;
Cease, atom of a moment’s span,
To hold thyself an All-in-All!
Fie, fie! you visionary things,
ye motes that dance in sunny glow,
Who base and build Eternities
on briefest moment here below;
Who pass through Life liked cagèd birds,
the captives of a despot will;
Still wond’ring How and When and Why,
and Whence and Whither, wond’ring still;
Still wond’ring how the Marvel came
because two coupling mammals chose
To slake the thirst of fleshly love,
and thus the “Immortal Being” rose;
Wond’ring the Babe with staring eyes,
perforce compel’d from night to day,
Gript in the giant grasp of Life
like gale-born dust or wind-wrung spray;
Who comes imbecile to the world
’mid double danger, groans, and tears;
The toy, the sport, the waif and stray
of passions, error, wrath and fears;
Who knows not Whence he came nor Why,
who kens not Whither bound and When,
Yet such is Allah’s choicest gift,
the blessing dreamt by foolish men;
Who step by step perforce returns
to couthless youth, wan, white and cold,
Lisping again his broken words
till all the tale be fully told:
Wond’ring the Babe with quenchèd orbs,
an oldster bow’d by burthening years,
How ’scaped the skiff an hundred storms;
how ’scaped the thread a thousand shears;
How coming to the Feast unbid,
he found the gorgeous table spread
With the fair-seeming Sodom-fruit,
with stones that bear the shape of bread:
How Life was nought but ray of sun
that clove the darkness thick and blind,
The ravings of the reckless storm,
the shrieking of the rav’ening wind;
How lovely visions ’guiled his sleep,
aye fading with the break of morn,
Till every sweet became a sour,
till every rose became a thorn;
Till dust and ashes met his eyes
wherever turned their saddened gaze;
The wrecks of joys and hopes and loves,
the rubbish of his wasted days;
How every high heroic Thought
that longed to breathe empyrean air,
Failed of its feathers, fell to earth,
and perisht of a sheer despair;
How, dower’d with heritage of brain,
whose might has split the solar ray,
His rest is grossest coarsest earth,
a crown of gold on brow of clay;
This House whose frame be flesh and bone,
mortar’d with blood and faced with skin,
The home of sickness, dolours, age;
unclean without, impure within:
Sans ray to cheer its inner gloom,
the chambers haunted by the Ghost,
Darkness his name, a cold dumb Shade
stronger than all the heav’nly host.
This tube, an enigmatic pipe,
whose end was laid before begun,
That lengthens, broadens, shrinks and breaks;
—puzzle, machine, automaton;
The first of Pots the Potter made
by Chrysorrhoas’ blue-green wave;9
Methinks I see him smile to see
what guerdon to the world he gave!
9 The Abana, River of Damascus.
How Life is dim, unreal, vain,
like scenes that round the drunkard reel;
How “Being” meaneth not to be;
to see and hear, smell, taste and feel.
A drop in Ocean’s boundless tide,
unfathom’d waste of agony;
Where millions live their horrid lives
by making other millions die.
How with a heart that would through love
to Universal Love aspire,
Man woos infernal chance to smite,
as Min’arets draw the Thunder-fire.
How Earth on Earth builds tow’er and wall,
to crumble at a touch of Time;
How Earth on Earth from Shînar-plain
the heights of Heaven fain would climb.
How short this Life, how long withal;
how false its weal, how true its woes,
This fever-fit with paroxysms
to mark its opening and its close.
Ah! gay the day with shine of sun,
and bright the breeze, and blithe the throng
Met on the River-bank to play,
when I was young, when I was young:
Such general joy could never fade;
and yet the chilling whisper came
One face had paled, one form had failed;
had fled the bank, had swum the stream;
Still revellers danced, and sang, and trod
the hither bank of Time’s deep tide,
Still one by one they left and fared
to the far misty thither side;
And now the last hath slipt away
yon drear Death-desert to explore,
And now one Pilgrim worn and lorn
still lingers on the lonely shore.
Yes, Life in youth-tide standeth still;
in manhood streameth soft and slow;
See, as it nears the ’abysmal goal
how fleet the waters flash and flow!
And Deaths are twain; the Deaths we see
drop like the leaves in windy Fall;
But ours, our own, are ruined worlds,
a globe collapst, last end of all.
We live our lives with rogues and fools,
dead and alive, alive and dead,
We die ’twixt one who feels the pulse
and one who frets and clouds the head:
And,—oh, the Pity!—hardly conned
the lesson comes its fatal term;
Fate bids us bundle up our books,
and bear them bod’ily to the worm:
Hardly we learn to wield the blade
before the wrist grows stiff and old;
Hardly we learn to ply the pen
ere Thought and Fancy faint with cold.
Hardly we find the path of love,
to sink the self, forget the “I,”
When sad suspicion grips the heart,
when Man, the Man begins to die:
Hardly we scale the wisdom-heights,
and sight the Pisgah-scene around,
And breathe the breath of heav’enly air,
and hear the Spheres’ harmonious sound;
When swift the Camel-rider spans
the howling waste, by Kismet sped,
And of his Magic Wand a wave
hurries the quick to join the dead.10
10 Death in Arabia rides a Camel, not a pale horse.
How sore the burden, strange the strife;
how full of splendour, wonder, fear;
Life, atom of that Infinite Space
that stretcheth ’twixt the Here and There.
How Thought is imp’otent to divine
the secret which the gods defend,
The Why of birth and life and death,
that Isis-veil no hand may rend.
Eternal Morrows make our Day;
our Is is aye to be till when
Night closes in; ’tis all a dream,
and yet we die,—and then and THEN?
And still the Weaver plies his loom,
whose warp and woof is wretched Man
Weaving th’ unpattern’d dark design,
so dark we doubt it owns a plan.
Dost not, O Maker, blush to hear,
amid the storm of tears and blood,
Man say Thy mercy made what is,
and saw the made and said ’twas good?
The marvel is that man can smile
dreaming his ghostly ghastly dream;-
Better the heedless atomy
that buzzes in the morning beam!
O the dread pathos of our lives!
how durst thou, Allah, thus to play
With Love, Affection, Friendship, all
that shows the god in mortal clay?
But ah! what ’vaileth man to mourn;
shall tears bring forth what smiles ne’er brought;
Shall brooding breed a thought of joy?
Ah hush the sigh, forget the thought!
Silence thine immemorial quest,
contain thy nature’s vain complaint
None heeds, none cares for thee or thine;—
like thee how many came and went?
Cease, Man, to mourn, to weep, to wail;
enjoy thy shining hour of sun;
We dance along Death’s icy brink,
but is the dance less full of fun?
What Truths hath gleaned that Sage consumed
by many a moon that waxt and waned?
What Prophet-strain be his to sing?
What hath his old Experience gained?
There is no God, no man-made God;
a bigger, stronger, crueller man;
Black phantom of our baby-fears,
ere Thought, the life of Life, began.
Right quoth the Hindu Prince of old,11
“An Ishwara for one I nill,
Th’ almighty everlasting Good
who cannot ’bate th’ Eternal Ill:”
“Your gods may be, what shows they are?”
hear China’s Perfect Sage declare;12
“And being, what to us be they
who dwell so darkly and so far?”
“All matter hath a birth and death;
’tis made, unmade and made anew;
“We choose to call the Maker ‘God’:—
such is the Zâhid’s owly view.
“You changeful finite Creatures strain”
(rejoins the Drawer of the Wine)13
“The dizzy depths of Inf’inite Power
to fathom with your foot of twine”;
13 The Soofi or Gnostic opposed to the Zâhid.
“Poor idols of man’s heart and head
with the Divine Idea to blend;
“To preach as ‘Nature’s Common Course’
what any hour may shift or end.”
“How shall the Shown pretend to ken
aught of the Showman or the Show?
“Why meanly bargain to believe,
which only means thou ne’er canst know?
“How may the passing Now contain
the standing Now—Eternity?—
“An endless is without a was,
the be and never the to-be?
“Who made your Maker? If Self-made,
why fare so far to fare the worse
“Sufficeth not a world of worlds,
a self-made chain of universe?
“Grant an Idea, Primal Cause,
the Causing Cause, why crave for more?
“Why strive its depth and breadth to mete,
to trace its work, its aid to ’implore?
whate’er you choose to call it, call;
“But leave it vague as airy space,
dark in its darkness mystical.
“Your childish fears would seek a Sire,
by the non-human God defin’d,
“What your five wits may wot ye weet;
what is you please to dub ‘design’d;’
“You bring down Heav’en to vulgar Earth;
your maker like yourselves you make,
“You quake to own a reign of Law,
you pray the Law its laws to break;
“You pray, but hath your thought e’er weighed
how empty vain the prayer must be,
“That begs a boon already giv’en,
or craves a change of law to see?
“Say, Man, deep learnèd in the Scheme
that orders mysteries sublime,
“How came it this was Jesus, that
was Judas from the birth of Time?
“How I the tiger, thou the lamb;
again the Secret, prithee, show
“Who slew the slain, bowman or bolt
or Fate that drave the man, the bow?
“Man worships self: his God is Man;
the struggling of the mortal mind
“To form its model as ’twould be,
the perfect of itself to find.
“The God became sage, priest and scribe
where Nilus’ serpent made the vale;
“A gloomy Brahm in glowing Ind,
a neutral something cold and pale:
“Amid the high Chaldean hills
a moulder of the heavenly spheres;
“On Guebre steppes the Timeless-God
who governs by his dual peers:
“In Hebrew tents the Lord that led
His leprous slaves to fight and jar;
“Yahveh,14 Adon or Elohîm,
the God that smites, the Man of War.
“The lovely Gods of lib’ertine Greece,
those fair and frail humanities
“Whose homes o’erlook’d the Middle Sea,
where all Earth’s beauty cradled lies,
“Ne’er left its blessèd bounds, nor sought
the barb’arous climes of barb’arous gods
“Where Odin of the dreary North
o’er hog and sickly mead-cup nods:
“And when, at length, ‘Great Pan is dead’
uprose the loud and dol’orous cry
“A glamour wither’d on the ground,
a splendour faded in the sky.
“Yea, Pan was dead, the Nazar’ene came
and seized his seat beneath the sun,
“The votary of the Riddle-god,
whose one is three and three is one;
“Whose sadd’ening creed of herited Sin
spilt o’er the world its cold grey spell;
“In every vista showed a grave,
and ’neath the grave the glare of Hell;
“Till all Life’s Po’esy sinks to prose;
romance to dull Real’ity fades;
“Earth’s flush of gladness pales in gloom
and God again to man degrades.
“Then the lank Arab foul with sweat,
the drainer of the camel’s dug,
“Gorged with his leek-green lizard’s meat,
clad in his filthy rag and rug,
“Bore his fierce Allah o’er his sands
and broke, like lava-burst upon
“The realms where reigned pre-Adamite Kings,
where rose the Grand Kayânian throne.15
15 Kayâni—of the race of Cyrus; old Guebre heroes.
“Who now of ancient Kayomurs,
of Zâl or Rustam cares to sing,
“Whelmed by the tempest of the tribes
that called the Camel-driver King?
“Where are the crown of Kay Khusraw,
the sceptre of Anûshirwân,
“The holy grail of high Jamshîd,
Afrâsiyab’s hall?—Canst tell me, man?
“Gone, gone, where I and thou must go,
borne by the winnowing wings of Death,
“The Horror brooding over life,
and nearer brought with every breath:
“Their fame hath filled the Seven Climes,
they rose and reigned, they fought and fell,
“As swells and swoons across the wold
the tinkling of the Camel’s bell.”
There is no Good, there is no Bad;
these be the whims of mortal will:
What works me weal that call I ‘good,’
what harms and hurts I hold as ‘ill:’
They change with place, they shift with race;
and, in the veriest span of Time,
Each Vice has worn a Virtue’s crown;
all Good was banned as Sin or Crime:
Like ravelled skeins they cross and twine,
while this with that connects and blends;
And only Khizr16 his eye shall see
where one begins, where other ends:
16 Supposed to be the Prophet Elijah.
What mortal shall consort with Khizr,
when Musâ turned in fear to flee?
What man foresees the flow’er or fruit
whom Fate compels to plant the tree?
For Man’s Free-will immortal Law,
Anagkê, Kismet, Des’tiny read
That was, that is, that aye shall be,
Star, Fortune, Fate, Urd, Norn or Need.
“Man’s nat’ural state is God’s design;”
such is the silly sage’s theme;
“Man’s primal Age was Age of Gold;”
such is the Poet’s waking dream:
Delusion, Ign’orance! Long ere Man
drew upon Earth his earliest breath
The world was one contin’uous scene
of anguish, torture, prey and Death;
Where hideous Theria of the wild
rended their fellows limb by limb;
Where horrid Saurians of the sea
in waves of blood were wont to swim:
The “fair young Earth” was only fit
to spawn her frightful monster-brood;
Now fiery hot, now icy frore,
now reeking wet with steamy flood.
Yon glorious Sun, the greater light,
the “Bridegroom” of the royal Lyre,
A flaming, boiling, bursting mine;
a grim black orb of whirling fire:
That gentle Moon, the lesser light,
the Lover’s lamp, the Swain’s delight,
A ruined world, a globe burnt out,
a corpse upon the road of night.
What reckt he, say, of Good or Ill
who in the hill-hole made his lair,
The blood-fed rav’ening Beast of prey,
wilder than wildest wolf or bear?
How long in Man’s pre-Ad’amite days
to feed and swill, to sleep and breed,
Were the Brute-biped’s only life,
a perfect life sans Code or Creed?
His choicest garb a shaggy fell,
his choicest tool a flake of stone;
His best of orn’aments tattoo’d skin
and holes to hang his bits of bone;
Who fought for female as for food
when Mays awoke to warm desire;
And such the Lust that grew to Love
when Fancy lent a purer fire.
Where then “Th’ Eternal nature-law
by God engraved on human heart?”
Behold his simiad sconce and own
the Thing could play no higher part.
Yet, as long ages rolled, he learnt
from Beaver, Ape and Ant to build
Shelter for sire and dam and brood,
from blast and blaze that hurt and killed;
And last came Fire; when scrap of stone
cast on the flame that lit his den,
Gave out the shining ore, and made
the Lord of beasts a Lord of men.
The “moral sense,” your Zâhid-phrase,
is but the gift of latest years;
Conscience was born when man had shed
his fur, his tail, his pointed ears.
What conscience has the murd’erous Moor,
who slays his guest with felon blow,
Save sorrow he can slay no more,
what prick of pen’itence can he know?
You cry the “Cruelty of Things”
is myst’ery to your purblind eye,
Which fixed upon a point in space
the general project passes by:
For see! the Mammoth went his ways,
became a mem’ory and a name;
While the half-reasoner with the hand17
survives his rank and place to claim.
17 The Elephant.
Earthquake and plague, storm, fight and fray,
portents and curses man must deem
Since he regards his self alone,
nor cares to trace the scope, the scheme;
The Quake that comes in eyelid’s beat
to ruin, level, ’gulf and kill,
Builds up a world for better use,
to general Good bends special Ill:
The dreadest sound man’s ear can hear,
the war and rush of stormy Wind
Depures the stuff of human life,
breeds health and strength for humankind:
What call ye them or Goods or Ills,
ill-goods, good-ills, a loss, a gain,
When realms arise and falls a roof;
a world is won, a man is slain?
And thus the race of Being runs,
till haply in the time to be
Earth shifts her pole and Mushtari18-men
another falling star shall see:
18 The Planet Jupiter.
Shall see it fall and fade from sight,
whence come, where gone no Thought can tell,—
Drink of yon mirage-stream and chase
the tinkling of the camel-bell!
All Faith is false, all Faith is true:
Truth is the shattered mirror strown
In myriad bits; while each believes
his little bit the whole to own.
What is the Truth? was askt of yore.
Reply all object Truth is one
As twain of halves aye makes a whole;
the moral Truth for all is none.
Ye scantly-learned Zâhids learn
from Aflatûn and Aristû,19
While Truth is real like your good:
th’ Untrue, like ill, is real too;
19 Plato and Aristotle.
As palace mirror’d in the stream,
as vapour mingled with the skies,
So weaves the brain of mortal man
the tangled web of Truth and Lies.
What see we here? Forms, nothing more!
Forms fill the brightest, strongest eye,
We know not substance; ’mid the shades
shadows ourselves we live and die.
“Faith mountains move” I hear: I see
the practice of the world unheed
The foolish vaunt, the blatant boast
that serves our vanity to feed.
“Faith stands unmoved”; and why? Because
man’s silly fancies still remain,
And will remain till wiser man
the day-dreams of his youth disdain.
“’Tis blessèd to believe”; you say:
The saying may be true enow
And it can add to Life a light:—
only remains to show us how.
E’en if I could I nould believe
your tales and fables stale and trite,
Irksome as twice-sung tune that tires
the dullèd ear of drowsy wight.
With God’s foreknowledge man’s free will!
what monster-growth of human brain,
What powers of light shall ever pierce
this puzzle dense with words inane?
Vainly the heart on Providence calls,
such aid to seek were hardly wise
For man must own the pitiless Law
that sways the globe and sevenfold skies.
“Be ye Good Boys, go seek for Heav’en,
come pay the priest that holds the key;”
So spake, and speaks, and aye shall speak
the last to enter Heaven,—he.
Are these the words for men to hear?
yet such the Church’s general tongue,
The horseleech-cry so strong so high
her heav’enward Psalms and Hymns among.
What? Faith a merit and a claim,
when with the brain ’tis born and bred?
Go, fool, thy foolish way and dip
in holy water burièd dead!
Yet follow not th’ unwisdom-path,
cleave not to this and that disclaim;
Believe in all that man believes;
here all and naught are both the same.
But is it so? How may we know?
Haply this Fate, this Law may be
A word, a sound, a breath; at most
the Zâhid’s moonstruck theory.
Yes Truth may be, but ’tis not Here;
mankind must seek and find it There,
But Where nor I nor you can tell,
nor aught earth-mother ever bare.
Enough to think that Truth can be:
come sit we where the roses glow,
Indeed he knows not how to know
who knows not also how to ’unknow.
Man hath no Soul, a state of things,
a no-thing still, a sound, a word
Which so begets substantial thing
that eye shall see what ear hath heard.
Where was his Soul the savage beast
which in primeval forests strayed,
What shape had it, what dwelling-place,
what part in nature’s plan it played?
This Soul to ree a riddle made;
who wants the vain duality?
Is not myself enough for me?
what need of “I” within an “I”?
Words, words that gender things! The soul
is a new-comer on the scene;
Sufficeth not the breath of Life
to work the matter-born machine?
We know the Gen’esis of the Soul;
we trace the Soul to hour of birth;
We mark its growth as grew mankind
to boast himself sole Lord of Earth:
The race of Be’ing from dawn of Life
in an unbroken course was run;
What men are pleased to call their Souls
was in the hog and dog begun:
Life is a ladder infinite-stepped,
that hides its rungs from human eyes;
Planted its foot in chaos-gloom,
its head soars high above the skies:
No break the chain of Being bears;
all things began in unity;
And lie the links in regular line
though haply none the sequence see.
The Ghost, embodied natural Dread
of dreary death and foul decay,
Begat the Spirit, Soul and Shade
with Hades’ pale and wan array.
The Soul required a greater Soul,
a Soul of Souls, to rule the host;
Hence spirit-powers and hierarchies,
all gendered by the savage Ghost.
Not yours, ye Peoples of the Book,
these fairy visions fair and fond,
Got by the gods of Khemi-land20
and faring far the seas beyond!
20 Egypt; Kam, Kem, Khem (hierogl.), in the Demotic Khemi.
“Th’ immortal mind of mortal man!”
we hear yon loud-lunged Zealot cry;
Whose mind but means his sum of thought,
an essence of atomic “I.”
Thought is the work of brain and nerve,
in small-skulled idiot poor and mean;
In sickness sick, in sleep asleep,
and dead when Death lets drop the scene.
“Tush!” quoth the Zâhid, “well we ken
the teaching of the school abhorr’d
“That maketh man automaton,
mind a secretion, soul a word.”
“Of molecules and protoplasm
you matter-mongers prompt to prate;
“Of jelly-speck development
and apes that grew to man’s estate.”
Vain cavil! all that is hath come
either by Mir’acle or by Law;—
Why waste on this your hate and fear,
why waste on that your love and awe?
Why heap such hatred on a word,
why “Prototype” to type assign,
Why upon matter spirit mass?
wants an appendix your design?
Is not the highest honour his
who from the worst hath drawn the best;
May not your Maker make the world
from matter, an it suit His hest?
Nay more, the sordider the stuff
the cunninger the workman’s hand:
Cease, then, your own Almighty Power
to bind, to bound, to understand.
“Reason and Instinct!” How we love
to play with words that please our pride;
Our noble race’s mean descent
by false forged titles seek to hide!
For “gift divine” I bid you read
the better work of higher brain,
From Instinct diff’ering in degree
as golden mine from leaden vein.
Reason is Life’s sole arbiter,
the magic Laby’rinth’s single clue:
Worlds lie above, beyond its ken;
what crosses it can ne’er be true.
“Fools rush where Angels fear to tread!”
Angels and Fools have equal claim
To do what Nature bids them do,
sans hope of praise, sans fear of blame!
There is no Heav’en, there is no Hell;
these be the dreams of baby minds;
Tools of the wily Fetisheer,
to ’fright the fools his cunning blinds.
Learn from the mighty Spi’rits of old
to set thy foot on Heav’en and Hell;
In Life to find thy hell and heav’en
as thou abuse or use it well.
So deemed the doughty Jew who dared
by studied silence low to lay
Orcus and Hades, lands of shades,
the gloomy night of human day.
Hard to the heart is final death:
fain would an Ens not end in Nil;
Love made the senti’ment kindly good:
the Priest perverted all to ill.
While Reason sternly bids us die,
Love longs for life beyond the grave:
Our hearts, affections, hopes and fears
for Life-to-be shall ever crave.
Hence came the despot’s darling dream,
a Church to rule and sway the State;
Hence sprang the train of countless griefs
in priestly sway and rule innate.
For future Life who dares reply?
No witness at the bar have we;
Save what the brother Potsherd tells,—
old tales and novel jugglery.
Who e’er return’d to teach the Truth,
the things of Heaven and Hell to limn?
And all we hear is only fit
for grandam-talk and nursery-hymn.
“Have mercy, man!” the Zâhid cries,
“of our best visions rob us not!
“Mankind a future life must have
to balance life’s unequal lot.”
“Nay,” quoth the Magian, “’tis not so;
I draw my wine for one and all,
“A cup for this, a score for that,
e’en as his measure’s great or small:
“Who drinks one bowl hath scant delight;
to poorest passion he was born;
“Who drains the score must e’er expect
to rue the headache of the morn.”
Safely he jogs along the way
which ‘Golden Mean’ the sages call;
Who scales the brow of frowning Alp
must face full many a slip and fall.
Here èxtremes meet, anointed Kings
whose crownèd heads uneasy lie,
Whose cup of joy contains no more
than tramps that on the dunghill die.
To fate-doomed Sinner born and bred
for dangling from the gallows-tree;
To Saint who spends his holy days
in rapt’urous hope his God to see;
To all that breathe our upper air
the hands of Dest’iny ever deal,
In fixed and equal parts, their shares
of joy and sorrow, woe and weal.
“How comes it, then, our span of days
in hunting wealth and fame we spend
“Why strive we (and all humans strive)
for vain and visionary end?”
Reply: mankind obeys a law
that bids him labour, struggle, strain;
The Sage well knowing its unworth,
the Fool a-dreaming foolish gain.
And who, ’mid e’en the Fools, but feels
that half the joy is in the race
For wealth and fame and place, nor sighs
when comes success to crown the chase?
Again: in Hind, Chîn, Franguestân
that accident of birth befell,
Without our choice, our will, our voice:
Faith is an accident as well.
What to the Hindu saith the Frank:
“Denier of the Laws divine!
“However godly-good thy Life,
Hell is the home for thee and thine.”
“Go strain the draught before ’tis drunk,
and learn that breathing every breath,
“With every step, with every gest,
something of life thou do’est to death.”
Replies the Hindu: “Wend thy way
for foul and foolish Mlenchhas fit;
“Your Pariah-par’adise woo and win;
at such dog-Heav’en I laugh and spit.”
“Cannibals of the Holy Cow!
who make your rav’ening maws the grave
“Of Things with self-same right to live;—
what Fiend the filthy license gave?”
What to the Moslem cries the Frank?
“A polygamic Theist thou!
“From an imposter-Prophet turn;
Thy stubborn head to Jesus bow.”
Rejoins the Moslem: “Allah’s one
tho’ with four Moslemahs I wive,
“One-wife-men ye and (damnèd race!)
you split your God to Three and Five.”
The Buddhist to Confucians thus:
“Like dogs ye live, like dogs ye die;
“Content ye rest with wretched earth;
God, Judgment, Hell ye fain defy.”
Retorts the Tartar: “Shall I lend
mine only ready-money ‘now,’
“For vain usurious ‘Then’ like thine,
avaunt, a triple idiot Thou!”
“With this poor life, with this mean world
I fain complete what in me lies;
“I strive to perfect this my me;
my sole ambition’s to be wise.”
When doctors differ who decides
amid the milliard-headed throng?
Who save the madman dares to cry:
“’Tis I am right, you all are wrong?”
“You all are right, you all are wrong,”
we hear the careless Soofi say,
“For each believes his glimm’ering lamp
to be the gorgeous light of day.”
“Thy faith why false, my faith why true?
’tis all the work of Thine and Mine,
“The fond and foolish love of self
that makes the Mine excel the Thine.”
Cease then to mumble rotten bones;
and strive to clothe with flesh and blood
The skel’eton; and to shape a Form
that all shall hail as fair and good.
“For gen’erous youth,” an Arab saith,
“Jahim’s21 the only genial state;
“Give us the fire but not the shame
with the sad, sorry blest to mate.”
21 Jehannum, Gehenna, Hell.
And if your Heav’en and Hell be true,
and Fate that forced me to be born
Force me to Heav’en or Hell—I go,
and hold Fate’s insolence in scorn.
I want not this, I want not that,
already sick of Me and Thee;
And if we’re both transform’d and changed,
what then becomes of Thee and Me?
Enough to think such things may be:
to say they are not or they are
Were folly: leave them all to Fate,
nor wage on shadows useless war.
Do what thy manhood bids thee do,
from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies
who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
All other Life is living Death,
a world where none but Phantoms dwell,
A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice,
a tinkling of the camel-bell.
How then shall man so order life
that when his tale of years is told,
Like sated guest he wend his way;
how shall his even tenour hold?
Despite the Writ that stores the skull;
despite the Table and the Pen;22
Maugre the Fate that plays us down,
her board the world, her pieces men?
22 Emblems of Kismet, or Destiny.
How when the light and glow of life
wax dim in thickly gath’ering gloom,
Shall mortal scoff at sting of Death,
shall scorn the victory of the Tomb?
One way, two paths, one end the grave.
This runs athwart the flow’ery plain,
That breasts the bush, the steep, the crag,
in sun and wind and snow and rain:
Who treads the first must look adown,
must deem his life an all in all;
Must see no heights where man may rise,
must sight no depths where man may fall.
Allah in Adam form must view;
adore the Maker in the made.
Content to bask in Mâyâ’s smile,23
in joys of pain, in lights of shade.
He breaks the Law, he burns the Book,
he sends the Moolah back to school;
Laughs at the beards of Saintly men;
and dubs the Prophet dolt and fool,
Embraces Cypress’ taper-waist;
cools feet on wavy breast of rill;
Smiles in the Nargis’ love-lorn eyes,
and ’joys the dance of Daffodil;
Melts in the saffron light of Dawn
to hear the moaning of the Dove;
Delights in Sundown’s purpling hues
when Bulbul woos the Rose’s love.
Finds mirth and joy in Jamshid-bowl;
toys with the Daughter of the vine;
And bids the beauteous cup-boy say,
“Master I bring thee ruby wine!”24
24 That all the senses, even the ear, may enjoy.
Sips from the maiden’s lips the dew;
brushes the bloom from virgin brow:—
Such is his fleshly bliss that strives
the Maker through the Made to know.
I’ve tried them all, I find them all
so same and tame, so drear, so dry;
My gorge ariseth at the thought;
I commune with myself and cry:—
Better the myriad toils and pains
that make the man to manhood true,
This be the rule that guideth life;
these be the laws for me and you:
With Ignor’ance wage eternal war,
to know thy self forever strain,
Thine ignorance of thine ignorance is
thy fiercest foe, thy deadliest bane;
That blunts thy sense, and dulls thy taste;
that deafs thine ears, and blinds thine eyes;
Creates the thing that never was,
the Thing that ever is defies.
The finite Atom infinite
that forms thy circle’s centre-dot,
So full-sufficient for itself,
for other selves existing not,
Finds the world mighty as ’tis small;
yet must be fought the unequal fray;
A myriad giants here; and there
a pinch of dust, a clod of clay.
Yes! maugre all thy dreams of peace
still must the fight unfair be fought;
Where thou mayst learn the noblest lore,
to know that all we know is nought.
True to thy Nature, to Thy self,
Fame and Disfame nor hope nor fear:
Enough to thee the small still voice
aye thund’ering in thine inner ear.
From self-approval seek applause:
What ken not men thou kennest, thou!
Spurn ev’ry idol others raise:
Before thine own Ideal bow:
Be thine own Deus: Make self free,
liberal as the circling air:
Thy Thought to thee an Empire be;
break every prison’ing lock and bar:
Do thou the Ought to self aye owed;
here all the duties meet and blend,
In widest sense, withouten care
of what began, for what shall end.
Thus, as thou view the Phantom-forms
which in the misty Past were thine,
To be again the thing thou wast
with honest pride thou may’st decline;
And, glancing down the range of years,
fear not thy future self to see;
Resign’d to life, to death resign’d,
as though the choice were nought to thee.
On Thought itself feed not thy thought;
nor turn from Sun and Light to gaze,
At darkling cloisters paved with tombs,
where rot the bones of bygone days:
“Eat not thy heart,” the Sages said;
“nor mourn the Past, the buried Past;”
Do what thou dost, be strong, be brave;
and, like the Star, nor rest nor haste.
Pluck the old woman from thy breast:
Be stout in woe, be stark in weal;
Do good for Good is good to do:
Spurn bribe of Heav’en and threat of Hell.
To seek the True, to glad the heart,
such is of life the HIGHER LAW,
Whose differ’ence is the Man’s degree,
the Man of gold, the Man of straw.
See not that something in Mankind
that rouses hate or scorn or strife,
Better the worm of Izrâil25
than Death that walks in form of life.
25 The Angel of Death.
Survey thy kind as One whose wants
in the great Human Whole unite;26
The Homo rising high from earth
to seek the Heav’ens of Life-in-Light;
26 The “Great Man” of the Enochites and the Mormons.
And hold Humanity one man,
whose universal agony
Still strains and strives to gain the goal,
where agonies shall cease to be.
Believe in all things; none believe;
judge not nor warp by “Facts” the thought;
See clear, hear clear, tho’ life may seem
Mâyâ and Mirage, Dream and Naught.
Abjure the Why and seek the How:
the God and gods enthroned on high,
Are silent all, are silent still;
nor hear thy voice, nor deign reply.
The Now, that indivis’ible point
which studs the length of inf’inite line
Whose ends are nowhere, is thine all,
the puny all thou callest thine.
Perchance the law some Giver hath:
Let be! let be! what canst thou know?
A myriad races came and went;
this Sphinx hath seen them come and go.
Haply the Law that rules the world
allows to man the widest range;
And haply Fate’s a Theist-word,
subject to human chance and change.
This “I” may find a future Life,
a nobler copy of our own,
Where every riddle shall be ree’d,
where every knowledge shall be known;
Where ’twill be man’s to see the whole
of what on Earth he sees in part;
Where change shall ne’er surcharge the thought;
nor hope defer’d shall hurt the heart.
But!—faded flow’er and fallen leaf
no more shall deck the parent tree;
And man once dropt by Tree of Life
what hope of other life has he?
The shatter’d bowl shall know repair;
the riven lute shall sound once more;
But who shall mend the clay of man,
the stolen breath to man restore?
The shiver’d clock again shall strike;
the broken reed shall pipe again:
But we, we die, and Death is one,
the doom of brutes, the doom of men.
Then, if Nirwânâ27 round our life
with nothingness, ’tis haply best;
Thy toils and troubles, want and woe
at length have won their guerdon—Rest.
27 Comparative annihilation.
Cease, Abdû, cease! Thy song is sung,
nor think the gain the singer’s prize;
Till men hold Ignor’ance deadly sin,
till man deserves his title “Wise:”28
28 “Homo sapiens.”
In Days to come, Days slow to dawn,
when Wisdom deigns to dwell with men,
These echoes of a voice long stilled
haply shall wake responsive strain:
Wend now thy way with brow serene,
fear not thy humble tale to tell:—
The whispers of the Desert-wind;
the tinkling of the camel’s bell.
- ► 2008 (31)
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