Richard Burton's Kasidah - A Lay of the Higher Law
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,1
whose dream of Heaven ne'er could rise
Beyond the brimming Kausar-cup
and Houris with the white-black eyes;
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!2
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!
Mansûr3 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.
"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 Zâhid4 snarls and saunters down
his Vale of Tears with confi'dent mien.
Wiser than Amrân's Son5 art thou,
who ken'st so well the world-to-be,
The Future when the Past is not,
the Present merest dreamery;
What know'st thou, oh 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!
1. Hâfiz of Shirâz.
2. Omar-i-Kayyâm, the tent-maker poet of Persia.
3. A famous Mystic stoned for blasphemy.
4. The "Philister" of "respectable" belief.
5. Moses in the Koran.
Previous | Top | Next