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


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-land1
   and faring far the seas beyond!

"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 differing 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!

1. Egypt; Kam, Kem, Khem (hierogl.), in the Demotic Khemi.

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