Richard Burton's Kasidah - A Lay of the Higher Law
How then shall man so order life
that when his tale of years is told,
Like sated guest he wend his way;
how shall his even tenour hold?
Despite the Writ that stores the skull;
despite the Table and the Pen;1
Maugre the Fate that plays us down,
her board the world, her pieces men?
How when the light and glow of life
wax dim in thickly gath'ering gloom,
Shall mortal scoff at sting of Death,
shall scorn the victory of the Tomb?
One way, two paths, one end the grave.
This runs athwart the flowery plain,
That breasts the bush, the steep, the crag,
in sun and wind and snow and rain:
Who treads the first must look adown,
must deem his life an all in all;
Must see no heights where man may rise,
must sight no depths where man may fall.
Allah in Adam form must view;
adore the Maker in the made.
Content to bask in Mâyâ's smile,2
in joys of pain, in lights of shade.
He breaks the Law, he burns the Book,
he sends the Moolah back to school;
Laughs at the beards of Saintly men;
and dubs the prophet dolt and fool,
Embraces Cypress' taper-waist;
cools feet on wavy breast of rill;
Smiles in the Nargis' love-lorn eyes,
and 'joys the dance of Daffodil;
Melts in the saffron light of Dawn
to hear the moaning of the Dove;
Delights in Sundown's purpling hues
when Bulbul woos the Rose's love.
Finds mirth and joy in Jamshid-bowl;
toys with the Daughter of the vine;
And bids the beauteous cup-boy say,
"Master I bring thee ruby wine!"3
Sips from the maiden's lips the dew;
brushes the bloom from virgin brow:--
Such is his fleshly bliss that strives
the Maker through the Made to know.
I've tried them all, I find them all
so same and tame, so drear, so dry;
My gorge ariseth at the thought;
I commune with myself and cry:--
Better the myriad toils and pains
that make the man to manhood true,
This be the rule that guideth life;
these be the laws for me and you:
With Ignor'ance wage eternal war,
to know thy self forever strain,
Thine ignorance of thine ignorance
is thy fiercest foe, thy deadliest bane;
That blunts thy sense, and dulls thy taste;
that deafs thine ears, and blinds thine eyes;
Creates the thing that never was,
the Thing that ever is defies.
The finite Atom infinite
that forms thy circle's centre-dot,
So full-sufficient for itself,
for other selves existing not,
Finds the world mighty as 'tis small;
yet must be fought the unequal fray;
A myriad giants here; and there
a pinch of dust, a clod of clay.
Yes! maugre all thy dreams of peace
still must the fight unfair be fought;
Where thou mayst learn the noblest lore,
to know that all we know is nought.
True to thy Nature, to Thy self,
Fame and Disfame nor hope nor fear:
Enough to thee the small still voice
aye thund'ering in thine inner ear.
From self-approval seek applause:
What ken not men thou kennest, thou!
Spurn ev'ry idol others raise:
Before thine own Ideal bow:
Be thine own Deus: Make self free,
liberal as the circling air:
Thy Thought to thee an Empire be;
break every prison'ing lock and bar:
Do thou the Ought to self aye owed;
here all the duties meet and blend,
In widest sense, withouten care
of what began, for what shall end.
Thus, as thou view the Phantom-forms
which in the misty Past were thine,
To be again the thing thou wast
with honest pride thou may'st decline;
And, glancing down the range of years,
fear not thy future self to see;
Resign'd to life, to death resign'd,
as though the choice were nought to thee.
On Thought itself feed not thy thought;
nor turn from Sun and Light to gaze,
At darkling cloisters paved with tombs,
where rot the bones of bygone days:
"Eat not thy heart," the Sages said;
"nor mourn the Past, the buried Past;"
Do what thou dost, be strong, be brave;
and, like the Star, nor rest nor haste.
Pluck the old woman from thy breast:
Be stout in woe, be stark in weal;
Do good for Good is good to do:
Spurn bribe of Heav'en and threat of Hell.
To seek the True, to glad the heart,
such is of life the HIGHER LAW.,
Whose differ'ence is the Man's degree,
the Man of gold, the Man of straw.
See not that something in Mankind
that rouses hate or scorn or strife,
Better the worm of Izrâil4 than Death
that walks in form of life.
Survey thy kind as One whose wants
in the great Human Whole unite;5
The Homo rising high from earth
to seek the Heav'ens of Life-in-Light;
And hold Humanity one man,
whose universal agony
Still strains and strives to gain the goal,
where agonies shall cease to be.
Believe in all things; none believe;
judge not nor warp by "Facts" the thought;
See clear, hear clear, tho' life may seem
Mâyâ and Mirage, Dream and Naught.
Abjure the Why and seek the How:
the God and gods enthroned on high,
Are silent all, are silent still;
nor hear thy voice, nor deign reply.
The Now, that indivisible point
which studs the length of infinite line
Whose ends are nowhere, is thine all,
the puny all thou callest thine.
Perchance the law some Giver hath:
Let be! let be! what canst thou know?
A myriad races came and went;
this Sphinx hath seen them come and go.
Haply the Law that rules the world
allows to man the widest range;
And haply Fate's a Theist-word,
subject to human chance and change.
This "I" may find a future Life,
a nobler copy of our own,
Where every riddle shall be ree'd,
where every knowledge shall be known;
Where 'twill be man's to see the whole
of what on Earth he sees in part;
Where change shall ne'er surcharge the thought;
nor hope defer'd shall hurt the heart.
But!--faded flow'er and fallen leaf
no more shall deck the parent tree;
And man once dropt by Tree of Life
what hope of other life has he?
The shatter'd bowl shall know repair;
the riven lute shall sound once more;
But who shall mend the clay of man,
the stolen breath to man restore?
The shiver'd clock again shall strike;
the broken reed shall pipe again:
But we, we die, and death is one,
the doom of brutes, the doom of men.
Then, if Nirwâna6 round our life
with nothingness, 'tis haply best;
Thy toils and troubles, want and woe
at length have won their guerdon--Rest.
Cease, Abdû, cease! Thy song is sung,
nor think the gain the singer's prize;
Till men hold Ignor'ance deadly sin,
till man deserves his title "Wise:"7
In Days to come, Days slow to dawn,
when Wisdom deigns to dwell with men,
These echoes of a voice long stilled
haply shall wake responsive strain:
Wend now thy way with brow serene,
fear not thy humble tale to tell:--
The whispers of the Desert-wind;
the tinkling of the camel's bell.
1. Emblems of Kismet, or Destiny.
3. That all the senses, even the ear, may enjoy.
4. The Angel of Death.
5. The "Great Man" of the Enochites and the Mormons.
6. Comparative annihilation.
7. "Homo sapiens."
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