Richard Burton's Kasidah - A Lay of the Higher Law
WHAT Truths hath gleaned that Sage consumed
by many a moon that waxt and waned?
What Prophet-strain be his to sing?
What hath his old Experience gained?
There is no God, no man-made God;
a bigger, stronger, crueller man;
Black phantom of our baby-fears,
ere Thought, the life of Life, began.
Right quoth the Hindu Prince of old,1
"An Ishwara for one I nill,
Th' almighty everlasting Good
who cannot 'bate th' Eternal ill:"
"Your gods may be, what shows they are?"
hear China's Perfect Sage declare;2
"And being, what to us be they
who dwell so darkly and so far?"
"All matter hath a birth and death;
'tis made, unmade and made anew;
"We choose to call the Maker 'God'"--
such is the Zâhid's owly view.
"You changeful finite Creatures strain"
(rejoins the Drawer of the Wine)3
"The dizzy depths of Infinite Power
to fathom with your foot of twine;"
"Poor idols of man's heart and head
with the Divine Idea to blend;
"To preach as 'Nature's Common Course'
what any hour may shift or end.
"How shall the Shown pretend to ken
aught of the Showman or the Show?
"Why meanly bargain to believe,
which only means thou ne'er canst know?
"How may the passing Now contain
the standing Now--Eternity?--
"An endless is without a was,
the be and never the to-be?
"Who made your Maker? If Self-made,
why fare so far to fare the worse
"Sufficeth not a world of worlds,
a self-made chain of universe?
"Grant an Idea, Primal Cause,
the Causing Cause, why crave for more?
"Why strive its depth and breadth to mete,
to trace its work, its aid to 'implore?
"Unknown, Incomprehensible, whate'er
you choose to call it, call;
"But leave it vague as airy space,
dark in its darkness mystical.
"Your childish fears would seek a Sire,
by the non-human God defin'd,
"What your five wits may wot ye weet;
what is you please to dub 'design'd;'
"You bring down Heav'en to vulgar Earth;
your maker like yourselves you make,
"You quake to own a reign of Law,
you pray the Law its laws to break;
"You pray, but hath your thought e'er weighed
how empty vain the prayer must be,
"That begs a boon already giv'en,
or craves a change of law to see?
"Say, Man, deep learnèd in the Scheme
that orders mysteries sublime,
"How came it this was Jesus, that
was Judas from the birth of Time?
"How I the tiger, thou the lamb;
again the Secret, prithee, show
"Who slew the slain, bowman or bolt
or Fate that drave the man, the bow?
"Man worships self: his God is Man;
the struggling of the mortal mind
"To form its model as 'twould be,
the perfect of itself to find.
"The God became sage, priest and scribe
where Nilus' serpent made the vale;
"A gloomy Brahm in glowing Ind,
a neutral something cold and pale:
"Amid the high Chaldean hills
a moulder of the heavenly spheres;
"On Guebre steppes the Timeless-God
who governs by his dual peers:
"In Hebrew tents the Lord that led
His leprous slaves to fight and jar;
"Yahveh,4 Adon or Elohim,
the God that smites, the Man of War.
"The lovely Gods of lib'ertine Greece,
those fair and frail humanities
"Whose homes o'erlook'd the Middle Sea,
where all Earth's beauty cradled lies,
"Ne'er left its blessèd bounds, nor sought
the barb'arous climes of barb'arous gods
"Where Odin of the dreary North
o'er hog and sickly mead-cup nods:
"And when, at length, 'Great Pan is dead,
uprose the loud and dol'orous cry
"A glamour wither'd on the ground,
a splendour faded in the sky.
"Yea, Pan was dead, the Nazar'ene came
and seized his seat beneath the sun,
"The votary of the Riddle-god,
whose one is three and three is one;
"Whose sadd'ening creed of herited Sin
spilt o'er the world its cold grey spell;
"In every vista showed a grave,
and 'neath the grave the glare of Hell;
"Till all Life's Po'esy sinks to prose;
romance to dull Real'ity fades;
"Earth's flush of gladness pales in gloom
and God again to man degrades.
"Then the lank Arab foul with sweat,
the drainer of the camel's dug,
"Gorged with his leek-green lizard's meat,
clad in his filthy rag and rug,
"Bore his fierce Allah o'er his sands
and broke, like lava-burst upon
"The realms where reigned pre-Adamite Kings,
where rose the Grand Kayânian throne.5
"Who now of ancient Kayomurs,
of Zâl or Rustam cares to sing,
"Whelmed by the tempest of the tribes
that called the Camel-driver King?
Where are the crown of Kay Khusraw,
the sceptre of Anûshirwân,
"The holy grail of high Jamshîd,
Afrâsiyab's hall?--Canst tell me, man?
"Gone, gone, where I and thou must go,
borne by the winnowing wings of Death,
"The Horror brooding over life,
and nearer brought with every breath:
"Their fame hath filled the Seven Climes,
they rose and reigned, they fought and fell,
"As swells and swoons across the wold
the tinkling of the Camel's bell."
3. The Soofi or Gnostic opposed to the Zâhid.
5. Kayâni--of the race of Cyrus; old Guebre heroes.
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