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


THE hour is nigh; the waning Queen
   walks forth to rule the later night;
Crown'd with the sparkle of a Star,
   and throned on orb of ashen light:

The Wolf-tail1 sweeps the paling East
   to leave a deeper gloom behind,
And Dawn uprears her shining head,
   sighing with semblance of a wind:

The highlands catch yon Orient gleam,
   while purpling still the lowlands lie;
And pearly mists, the morning-pride,
   soar incense-like to greet the sky.

The horses neigh, the camels groan,
   the torches gleam, the cressets flare;
The town of canvas falls, and man
   with din and dint invadeth air:

The Golden Gates swing right and left;
   up springs the Sun with flamy brow;
The dew-cloud melts in gush of light;
   brown Earth is bathed in morning-glow.

Slowly they wind athwart the wild,
   and while young Day his anthem swells,
Sad falls upon my yearning ear
   The tinkling of the camel-bells:

O'er fiery wastes and frozen wold,
   o'er horrid hill and gloomy glen,
The home of grisly beast and Ghoul2,
   the haunts of wilder, grislier men;--

With the brief gladness of the Palms,
   that tower and sway o'er seething plain,
Fraught with the thoughts of rustling shade,
   and welling spring, and rushing rain;

With the short solace of the ridge,
   by gentle zephyrs played upon,
Whose breezy head and bosky side
   front seas of cooly celadon;--

'Tis theirs to pass with joy and hope,
   whose souls shall ever thrill and fill
Dreams of the Birthplace and the Tomb,
   visions of Allah's Holy Hill.3

But we? Another shift of scene,
   another pang to rack the heart;
Why meet we on the bridge of Time
   to 'change one greeting and to part?

We meet to part; yet asks my sprite,
   Part we to meet? Ah! is it so?
Man's fancy-made Omniscience knows,
   who made Omniscience nought can know.

Why must we meet, why must we part,
   why must we bear this yoke of MUST,
Without our leave or askt or given,
   by tyrant Fate on victim thrust?

That Eve so gay, so bright, so glad,
   this Morn so dim, and sad, and grey;
Strange that life's Registrar should write
   this day a day, that day a day

Mine eyes, my brain, my heart, are sad,
   sad is the very core of me;
All wearies, changes, passes, ends;
   alas! the Birthday's injury!

Friends of my youth, a last adieu!
   haply some day we meet again;
Yet ne'er the self-same men shall meet;
   the years shall make us other men:

The light of morn has grown to noon,
   has paled with eve, and now farewell!
Go, vanish from my Life as dies
   the tinkling of the camel's bell.

1. The False Dawn.
2. The Demon of the Desert.
3. Arafât, near Mecca.

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