Richard Burton's Kasidah - A Lay of the Higher Law


A FEW words concerning the Kasîdah itself. Our Hâjî begins with a mise en scène; and takes leave of the Caravan setting out for Mecca. He sees the "Wolf's tail" (Dum i gurg), the lykaugési, or wolf gleam, the Diluculum, the Zodiacal dawn light, the first faint brushes of white radiating from below the Eastern horizon. It is accompanied by the morning breath (Dam i Subh), the current of air, almost imperceptible except by the increase of cold, which Moslem physiologists suppose to be the early prayer offered by Nature to the First Cause. The Ghoul i Biyâbân (Desert Demon) is evidently the personification of man's fears and of the dangers that surround travelling in the wilds. The "wold where none save He (Allah) can dwell" is a great and terrible wilderness (Dasht i lâ siwâ Hu); and Allah's Holy Hill is Arafât, near Mecca, which the Caravan reaches after passing through Medina. The first section ends with a sore lament that the "meetings of this world take place upon the highway of Separation;" and the original also has:--
The chill of sorrow numbs my thought:
   methinks I hear the passing knell;
As dies across yon thin blue line
   the tinkling of the Camel bell.

The next section quotes the various aspects under which Life appeared to the wise and foolish teachers of humanity. First comes Hafiz, whose well known lines are quoted beginning with Shab i târîk o bîm i mauj, etc. Hûr is the plural of Ahwar, in full Ahwar el Ayn, a maid whose eyes are intensely white where they should be white, and black elsewhere: hence our silly "Houries." Follows Umar i Khayyâm, who spiritualized Tasawwof, or Sooffeism, even as the Soofis (Gnostics) spiritualized Moslem Puritanism. The verses alluded to are:

You know, my friends, with what a brave carouse
I made a second marriage in my house,
Divorced old barren Reason from my bed
And took the Daughter of the Vine to spouse.
(St. 60, Mr. Fitzgerald's translation.)

Here "Wine" is used in its mystic sense of entranced Love for the Soul of Souls. Umar was hated and feared because he spoke boldly when his brethren the Soofis dealt in innuendoes. A third quotation has been trained into a likeness of the "Hymn of Life," despite the commonplace and the navrante vulgarité which characterize the pseudo Schiller Anglo American School. The same has been done to the words of Isâ (Jesus); for the author, who is well read in the Ingîl (Evangel), evidently intended the allusion. Mansur el Hallâj the (Cotton Cleaner) was stoned for crudely uttering the Pantheistic dogma Ana `l Hakk (I am the Truth, i.e., God), wa laysa fi jubbatî il` Allah (and within my coat is nought but God). His blood traced on the ground the first quoted sentence. Lastly, there is a quotation from "Sardanapalus, son of Anacyndaraxes," etc.: here paîksi may mean sport; but the context determines the kind of sport intended. The Zâhid is the literal believer in the letter of the Law, opposed to the Soofi, who believes in its spirit: hence the former is called a Zâhiri (outsider), and the latter a Bâtini, an insider. Moses is quoted because he ignored future rewards and punishments. As regards the "two Eternities," Persian and Arab metaphysicians split Eternity, i.e., the negation of Time, into two halves, Azal (beginninglessness) and Abad (endlessness); both being mere words, gatherings of letters with a subjective significance. In English we use "Eternal" (Æviternus, age long, life long) as loosely, by applying it to three distinct ideas; (1) the habitual, in popular parlance; (2) the exempt from duration; and (3) the everlasting, which embraces all duration. "Omniscience Maker" is the old Roman sceptic's Homo fecit Deos.

The next section is one long wail over the contradictions, the mysteries, the dark end, the infinite sorrowfulness of all existence, and the arcanum of grief which, Luther said, underlies all life. As with Euripides "to live is to die, to die is to live." Hâjî Abdû borrows the Hindu idea of the human body. "It is a mansion," says Menu, "with bones for its beams and rafters; with nerves and tendons for cords; with muscles and blood for cement; with skin for its outer covering; filled with no sweet perfume, but loaded with impurities; a mansion infested by age and sorrow; the seat of malady; harassed with pains; haunted with the quality of darkness (Tama guna), and incapable of standing." The Pot and Potter began with the ancient Egyptians. "Sitting as a potter at the wheel, Cneph (at Philæ) moulds clay, and gives the spirit of life to the nostrils of Osiris." Hence the Genesitic "breath." Then we meet him in the Vedas, the Being "by whom the fictile vase is formed; the clay out of which it is fabricated." We find him next in Jeremiah's "Arise and go down unto the Potter's house," etc. (xviii. 2), and lastly in Romans (ix. 20), "Hath not the potter power over the clay?" No wonder that the first Hand who moulded the man-mud is a lieu commun in Eastern thought. The "waste of agony" is Buddhism, or Schopenhauerism pure and simple, I have moulded "Earth on Earth" upon "Seint Ysidre" 's well known rhymes (A.D. 1440):--

Erthe out of Erthe is wondirli wrouzt,
Erthe out of Erth hath gete a dignity of nouzt,
Erthe upon Erthe hath sett all his thouzt
How that Erthe upon Erthe may be his brouzt, etc.

The "Camel rider," suggests Ossian, "yet a few years and the blast of the desert comes." {p. 107} The dromedary was chosen as Death's vehicle by the Arabs, probably because it bears the Bedouin's corpse to the distant burial ground, where he will lie among his kith and kin. The end of this section reminds us of:

How poor, how rich; how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful is Man!

The Hâjî now passes to the results of his long and anxious thoughts: I have purposely twisted his exordium into an echo of Milton:--

Till old experience doth attain
To something of prophetic strain.

He boldly declares that there is no God as man has created his Creator. Here he is at one with modern thought: "En général les croyants font le Dieu comme ils sont eux mêmes," (says J. J. Rousseau, "Confessions," I. 6): "les bons le font bon: les méchants le font méchant: les dévots haineux et bilieux, ne voient que l'enfer, parce qu'ils voudraient damner tout le monde; les âmes aimantes et douces n'y croient guère; et l'un des étonnements dont je ne reviens pas est de voir le bon Fénélon en parler dans son Télemaque comme s'il y croyoit tout de bon: mais j'espère qu'il mentoit alors; car enfin quelque véridique qu'on soit, il faut bien mentir quelquefois quand on est évêque." "Man depicts himself in his gods," says Schiller. Hence the Natur gott, the deity of all ancient peoples, and with which every system began, allowed and approved of actions distinctly immoral, often diabolical. Belief became moralized only when the conscience of the community, and with it of the individual items, began aspiring to its golden age, Perfection. "Dieu est le superlatif, dont le positif est l'homme," says Carl Vogt; meaning, that the popular idea of a numen is that of a magnified and non-natural man.

He then quotes his authorities. Buddha, whom the Catholic Church converted to Saint Josaphat, refused to recognize Ishwara (the deity), on account of the mystery of the "cruelty of things." Schopenhauer, Miss Cobbe's model pessimist, who at the humblest distance represents Buddha in the world of Western thought, found the vision of man's unhappiness, irrespective of his actions, so overpowering that he concluded the Supreme Will to be malevolent, "heartless, cowardly, and arrogant." Confucius, the "Throneless king, more powerful than all kings," denied a personal deity. The Epicurean idea rules the China of the present day. "God is great, but he lives too far off," say the Turanian Santâls in Aryan India; and this is the general language of man in the Turanian East.

Hâjî Abdû evidently holds that idolatry begins with a personal deity. And let us note that the latter is deliberately denied by the "Thirty nine Articles." With them God is "a Being without Parts (personality) or Passions." He professes a vague Agnosticism, and attributes popular faith to the fact that Timor fecit Deos; "every religion being, without exception, the child of fear and ignorance" (Carl Vogt). He now speaks as the "Drawer of the Wine," the "Ancient Taverner, the "Old Magus," the "Patron of the Mughân or Magians"; all titles applied to the Soofi as opposed to the Zâhid. His "idols" are the eidola (illusions) of Bacon, "having their foundations in the very constitution of man," and therefore appropriately called fabulæ. That "Nature's Common Course" is subject to various interpretation, may be easily proved. Aristotle was as great a subverter as Alexander; but the quasi prophetical Stagyrite of the Dark Ages, who ruled the world till the end of the thirteenth century, became the "twice execrable" of Martin Luther; and was finally abolished by Galileo and Newton. Here I have excised two stanzas. The first is:--

Theories for truths, fable for fact;
   system for science vex the thought
Life's one great lesson you despise
   to know that all we know is nought.

This is in fact:--

Well didst thou say, Athena's noblest son,
The most we know is nothing can be known.

The next is:--

Essence and substance, sequence, cause,
   beginning, ending, space and time,
These be the toys of manhood's mind,
   at once ridiculous and sublime.

He is not the only one who so regards "bothering Time and Space." A late definition of the "infinitely great," viz., that the idea arises from denying form to any figure; of the "infinitely small," from refusing magnitude to any figure, is a fair specimen of the "dismal science"--metaphysics.

Another omitted stanza reads:--

How canst thou, Phenomen! pretend
   the Noumenon to mete and span?
Say which were easier probed and proved,
   Absolute Being or mortal man?

One would think that he had read Kant on the "Knowable and the Unknowable," or had heard of the Yankee lady, who could "differentiate between the Finite and the Infinite." It is a common place of the age, in the West as well as the East, that Science is confined to phenomena, and cannot reach the Noumena, the things themselves. This is the scholastic realism, the "residuum of a bad metaphysic," which deforms the system of Comte. With all its pretensions, it simply means that there are, or can be conceived, things in themselves (i.e., unrelated to thought); that we know them to exist; and, at the same time, that we cannot know what they are. But who dares say "cannot"? Who can measure man's work when he shall be as superior to our present selves as we are to the Cave man of past time?

The "Chain of Universe" alludes to the Jain idea that the whole, consisting of intellectual as well as of natural principles, existed from all eternity; and that it has been subject to endless revolutions, whose causes are the inherent powers of nature, intellectual as well as physical, without the intervention of a deity. But the Poet ridicules the "non human," i.e., the not ourselves, the negation of ourselves and consequently a non-existence. Most Easterns confuse the contradictories, in which one term stands for something, and the other for nothing (e.g., ourselves and not ourselves), with the contraries (e.g., rich and not-rich = poor), in which both terms express a something. So the positive negative "infinite" is not the complement of "finite," but its negation. The Western man derides the process by making "not-horse" the complementary entity of "horse." The Pilgrim ends with the favourite Soofi tenet that the five (six?) senses are the doors of all human knowledge, and that no form of man, incarnation of the deity, prophet, apostle or sage, has ever produced an idea not conceived within his brain by the sole operation of these vulgar material agents. Evidently he is neither spiritualist nor idealist.

He then proceeds to show that man depicts himself in his God, and that "God is the racial expression"; a Pedagogue on the Nile, an abstraction in India, and an astrologer in Chaldæa; where Abraham, says Berosus (Josephus, Ant. I. 7, §2, and II. 9, §2) was "skilful in the celestial science." He notices the Akârana Zamân (endless Time) of the Guebres, and the working dual, Hormuzd and Ahriman. He brands the God of the Hebrews with pugnacity and cruelty. He has heard of the beautiful creations of Greek fancy which, not attributing a moral nature to the deity, included Theology in Physics; and which, like Professor Tyndall, seemed to consider all matter everywhere alive. We have adopted a very different Unitarianism; Theology, with its one Creator; Pantheism with its "one Spirit's plastic stress"; and Science with its one Energy. He is hard upon Christianity and its "trinal God": I have not softened his expression (### = a riddle), although it may offend readers. There is nothing more enigmatical to the Moslem mind than Christian Trinitarianism: all other objections they can get over, not this. Nor is he any lover of Islamism, which, like Christianity, has its ascetic Hebraism and its Hellenic hedonism; with the world of thought moving between these two extremes. The former, defined as predominant or exclusive care for the practice of right, is represented by Semitic and Arab influence, Korânic and Hadîsic. The latter, the religion of humanity, a passion for life and light, for culture and intelligence; for art, poetry and science, is represented in Islamism by the fondly and impiously cherished memory of the old Guebre kings and heroes, beauties, bards and sages. Hence the mention of Zâl and his son Rostam; of Cyrus and of the Jâm i Jamshîd, which may be translated either grail (cup) or mirror: it showed the whole world within its rim; and hence it was called Jâm i Jehân numâ (universe exposing). The contemptuous expressions about the diet of camel's milk and the meat of the Susmâr, or green lizard, are evidently quoted from Firdausi's famous lines beginning:

Arab-râ be-jâî rasîd'est kâr.

The Hâjî is severe upon those who make of the Deity a Khwân i yaghmâ (or tray of plunder) as the Persians phrase it. He looks upon the shepherds as men,

--Who rob the sheep themselves to clothe.

So Schopenhauer (Leben, etc., by Wilhelm Gewinner) furiously shows how the "English nation ought to treat that set of hypocrites, imposters and money graspers, the clergy, that annually devours £3,500,000."

The Hâjî broadly asserts that there is no Good and no Evil in the absolute sense as man has made them. Here he is one with Pope:--

And spite of pride, in erring nature's spite
One truth is clear--whatever is, is right.

Unfortunately the converse is just as true: whatever is, is wrong. Khizr is the Elijah who puzzled Milman. He represents the Soofi, the Bâtini, while Musâ (Moses) is the Zâhid, the Zâhiri; and the strange adventures of the twain, invented by the Jews, have been appropriated by the Moslems. He derides the Freewill of man; and, like Diderot, he detects "pantaloon in a prelate, a satyr in a president, a pig in a priest, an ostrich in a minister, and a goose in a chief clerk." He holds to Fortune, the Túxh of Alcman, which is, Eu?nomías te kaì Peiðoûs a?delfà kaì Promaðeías ðugáthr, Chance, the sister of Order and Trust, and the daughter of Forethought. The Scandinavian Spinners of Fate were Urd (the Was, the Past), Verdandi (the Becoming, or Present), and Skuld (the To be, or Future). He alludes to Plato, who made the Demiourgos create the worlds by the Logos (the Hebrew Dabar) or Creative Word, through the Æons. These Ai?w^nes of the Mystics were spiritual emanations from Ai?w'n, lit. a wave of influx, an age, period, or day; hence the Latin ævum, and the Welsh Awen, the stream of inspiration falling upon a bard. Basilides, the Egypto Christian, made the Creator evolve seven Æons or Pteromata (fulnesses); from two of whom, Wisdom and Power, proceeded the 365 degrees of Angels. All were subject to a Prince of Heaven, called Abraxas, who was himself under guidance of the chief Æon, Wisdom. Others represent the first Cause to have produced an Æon or Pure Intelligence; the first a second, and so forth till the tenth. This was material enough to affect Hyle, which thereby assumed a spiritual form. Thus the two incompatibles combined in the Scheme of Creation.

He denies the three ages of the Buddhists: the wholly happy; the happy; mixed with misery, and the miserable tinged with happiness,--the present. The Zoroastrians had four, each of 3,000 years. In the first, Hormuzd, the good god, ruled alone; then Ahriman, the bad god, began to rule subserviently: in the third both ruled equally; and in the last, now current, Ahriman has gained the day.

Against the popular idea that man has caused the misery of this world, he cites the ages, when the Old Red Sandstone bred gigantic cannibal fishes; when the Oolites produced the mighty reptile tyrants of air, earth, and sea; and when the monsters of the Eocene and Miocene periods shook the ground with their ponderous tread. And the world of waters is still a hideous scene of cruelty, carnage, and destruction.

He declares Conscience to be a geographical and chronological accident. Thus he answers the modern philosopher whose soul was overwhelmed by the marvel and the awe of two things, "the starry heaven above and the moral law within." He makes the latter sense a development of the gregarious and social instincts; and so travellers have observed that the moral is the last step in mental progress. His Moors are the savage Dankali and other negroid tribes, who offer a cup of milk with one hand and stab with the other. He translates literally the Indian word Hâthî (an elephant), the animal with the Hâth (hand, or trunk). Finally he alludes to the age of active volcanoes, the present, which is merely temporary, the shifting of the Pole, and the spectacle to be seen from Mushtari, or the planet Jupiter.

The Hâjî again asks the old, old question, What is Truth? And he answers himself, after the fashion of the wise Emperor of China, "Truth hath not an unchanging name." A modern English writer says: "I have long been convinced by the experience of my life, as a pioneer of various heterodoxies, which are rapidly becoming orthodoxies, that nearly all truth is temperamental to us, or given in the affections and intuitions; and that discussion and inquiry do little more than feed temperament." Our poet seems to mean that the Perceptions, when they perceive truly, convey objective truth, which is universal; whereas the Reflectives and the Sentiments, the working of the moral region, or the middle lobe of the phrenologists, supplies only subjective truth, personal and individual. Thus to one man the axiom, Opes irritamenta malorum, represents a distinct fact; while another holds wealth to be an incentive for good. Evidently both are right, according to their lights.

Hâjî Abdû cites Plato and Aristotle, as usual with Eastern songsters, who delight in Mantik (logic). Here he appears to mean that a false proposition is as real a proposition as one that is true. "Faith moves mountains" and "Manet immota fides" are evidently quotations. He derides the teaching of the "First Council of the Vatican" (cap. v.), "all the faithful are little children listening to the voice of Saint Peter," who is the "Prince of the Apostles." He glances at the fancy of certain modern physicists, "devotion is a definite molecular change in the convolution of grey pulp." He notices with contumely the riddle of which Milton speaks so glibly, where the Dialoguists,

--reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute.

In opposition to the orthodox Mohammedan tenets which make Man's soul his percipient Ego, an entity, a unity, the Soofi considers it a fancy, opposed to body, which is a fact; at most a state of things, not a thing; a consensus of faculties whereof our frames are but the phenomena. This is not contrary to Genesitic legend. The Hebrew Ruach and Arabic Ruh, now perverted to mean soul or spirit, simply signify wind or breath, the outward and visible sign of life. Their later schools are even more explicit. "For that which befalls man befalls beasts; as the one dies, so does the other; they have all one death; all go unto one place" (Eccles. iii 19). But the modern soul, a nothing, a string of negations, a negative in chief, is thus described in the Mahâbhârat: "It is indivisible, inconceivable, inconceptible: it is eternal, universal, permanent, immovable: it is invisible and unalterable." Hence the modern spiritualism which, rejecting materialism, can use only material language.

These, says the Hâjî, are mere sounds. He would not assert "Verba gignunt verba," but "Verba gignunt res," a step further. The idea is Bacon's "idola fori, omnium molestissima," the twofold illusions of language; either the names of things that have no existence in fact, or the names of things whose idea is confused and ill-defined.

He derives the Soul idea from the "savage ghost" which Dr. Johnson defined to be a "kind of shadowy being." He justly remarks that it arose (perhaps) in Egypt; and was not invented by the "People of the Book." By this term Moslems denote Jews and Christians who have a recognized revelation, while their ignorance refuses it to Guebres, Hindus, and Confucians.

He evidently holds to the doctrine of progress. With him protoplasm is the Yliastron, the Prima Materies. Our word matter is derived from the Sanskrit mâtrâ, which, however, signifies properly the invisible type of visible matter; in modern language, the substance distinct from the sum of its physical and chemical properties. Thus, Mâtrâ exists only in thought, and is not recognizable by the action of the five senses. His "Chain of Being" reminds us of Prof. Huxley's Pedigree of the Horse, Orohippus, Mesohippus, Meiohippus, Protohippus, Pleiohippus, and Equus. He has evidently heard of modern biology, or Hylozoism, which holds its quarter million species of living beings, animal and vegetable, to be progressive modifications of one great fundamental unity, an unity of so called "mental faculties" as well as of bodily structure. And this is the jelly speck. He scoffs at the popular idea that man is the great central figure round which all things gyrate like marionettes; in fact, the anthropocentric era of Draper, which, strange to say, lives by the side of the telescope and the microscope. As man is of recent origin, and may end at an early epoch of the macrocosm, so before his birth all things revolved round nothing, and may continue to do so after his death.

The Hâjî, who elsewhere denounces "compound ignorance," holds that all evil comes from error; and that all knowledge has been developed by overthrowing error, the ordinary channel of human thought. He ends this section with a great truth. There are things which human Reason or Instinct matured, in its undeveloped state, cannot master; but Reason is a Law to itself. Therefore we are not bound to believe, or to attempt belief in, any thing which is contrary or contradictory to Reason. Here he is diametrically opposed to Rome, who says, "Do not appeal to History; that is private judgment. Do not appeal to Holy Writ; that is heresy. Do not appeal to Reason; that is Rationalism."

He holds with the Patriarchs of Hebrew Holy Writ, that the present life is all sufficient for an intellectual (not a sentimental) being; and, therefore, that there is no want of a Heaven or a Hell. With far more contradiction the Western poet sings:--

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self-place; but when we are in hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be,
And, to be short, when all this world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell which are not heaven.

For what want is there of a Hell when all are pure? He enlarges upon the ancient Buddhist theory, that Happiness and Misery are equally distributed among men and beasts; some enjoy much and suffer much; others the reverse. Hence Diderot declares, "Sober passions produce only the commonplace . . . the man of moderate passion lives and dies like a brute." And again we have the half truth:--

That the mark of rank in nature Is capacity for pain.

The latter implies an equal capacity for pleasure, and thus the balance is kept.

Hâjî Abdû then proceeds to show that Faith is an accident of birth. One of his omitted distichs says:

Race makes religion; true! but aye
   upon the Maker acts the made,
A finite God, and infinite sin,
   in lieu of raising man, degrade.

In a manner of dialogue he introduces the various races each fighting to establish its own belief. The Frank (Christian) abuses the Hindu, who retorts that he is of Mlenchha, mixed or impure, blood, a term applied to all non Hindus. The same is done by Nazarene and Mohammedan; by the Confucian, who believes in nothing, and by the Soofi, who naturally has the last word. The association of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph with the Trinity, in the Roman and Greek Churches, makes many Moslems conclude that Christians believe not in three but in five Persons. So an Englishman writes of the early Fathers, "They not only said that 3 = 1, and that 1 = 3: they professed to explain how that curious arithmetical combination had been brought about. The Indivisible had been divided, and yet was not divided: it was divisible, and yet it was indivisible; black was white and white was black; and yet there were not two colours but one colour; and whoever did not believe it would be damned." The Arab quotation runs in the original:--

Ahsanu `l-Makâni l` il-Fatâ 'l-Jehannamu

The best of places for (the generous) youth is Gehenna.

Gehenna, alias Jahim, being the fiery place of eternal punishment. And the second saying, Al nâr wa lâ `l `Ar "Fire (of Hell) rather than Shame," is equally condemned by the Koranist. The Gustâkhi (insolence) of Fate is the expression of Umar-i-Khayyam (St. xxx):--

What, without asking hither hurried whence? And, without asking whither hurried hence! Oh many a cup of this forbidden wine Must drown the memory of that insolence.

Soofistically, the word means "the coquetry of the beloved one," the divinæ particula auræ. And the section ends with Pope's:--

He can't be wrong whose life is in the right.

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