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


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,1
While Truth is real like your good:
   th' Untrue, like ill, is real too;

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.

1. Plato and Aristotle.

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