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

VIII

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 Confucius 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-beaded 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's1 the only genial state;
"Give us the fire but not the shame
   with the sad, sorry blest to mate."

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.


1. Jehannum, Gehenna, Hell.


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