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


THERE is no Good, there is no Bad;
   these be the whims of mortal will:
What works me weal that call I "good,"
   what harms and hurts I hold as "ill:"

They change with place, they shift with race;
   and, in the veriest span of Time,
Each Vice has won a Virtue's crown;
   all Good was banned as Sin or Crime:

Like ravelled skeins they cross and twine,
   while this with that connects and blends;
And only Khizr1 his eye shall see
   where one begins, where other ends:

What mortal shall consort with Khizr,
   when Musâ turned in fear to flee?
What man foresees the flow'er or fruit
   whom Fate compels to plant the tree?

For Man's Free-will immortal Law,
   Anagkê, Kismet, Des'tiny read
That was, that is, that aye shall be,
   Star, Fortune, Fate, Urd, Norn or Need.

"Man's nat'ural state is God's design;"
   such is the silly sage's theme;
"Man's primal Age was Age of Gold;"
   such is the Poet's waking dream:

Delusion, Ign'orance! Long ere Man
   drew upon Earth his earliest breath
The world was one contin'uous scene
   of anguish, torture, prey and Death;

Where hideous Theria of the wild
   rended their fellows limb by limb;
Where horrid Saurians of the sea
   in waves of blood were wont to swim:

The "fair young Earth" was only fit
   to spawn her frightful monster-brood;
Now fiery hot, now icy frore,
   now reeking wet with steamy flood.

Yon glorious Sun, the greater light,
   the "Bridegroom" of the royal Lyre,
A flaming, boiling, bursting mine;
   a grim black orb of whirling fire:

That gentle Moon, the lesser light,
   the Lover's lamp, the Swain's delight,
A ruined world, a globe burnt out,
   a corpse upon the road of night.

What reckt he, say, of Good or Ill
   who in the hill-hole made his lair,
The blood-fed rav'ening Beast of prey,
   wilder than wildest wolf or bear?

How long in Man's pre-Ad'amite days
   to feed and swill, to sleep and breed,
Were the Brute-biped's only life,
   a perfect life sans Code or Creed?

His choicest garb a shaggy fell,
   his choicest tool a flake of stone;
His best of orn'aments tattoo'd skin
   and holes to hang his bits of bone;

Who fought for female as for food
   when Mays awoke to warm desire;
And such the Lust that grew to Love
   when Fancy lent a purer fire.

Where then "Th' Eternal nature-law
   by God engraved on human heart?"
Behold his simiad sconce and own
   the Thing could play no higher part.

Yet, as long ages rolled, he learnt
   from Beaver, Ape and Ant to build
Shelter for sire and dam and brood,
   from blast and blaze that hurt and killed;

And last came Fire; when scrap of stone
   cast on the flame that lit his den,
Gave out the shining ore, and made
   the Lord of beasts a Lord of men.

The "moral sense," your Zâhid-phrase,
   is but the gift of latest years;
Conscience was born when man had shed
   his fur, his tail, his pointed ears.

What conscience has the murd'erous Moor,
   who slays his guest with felon blow,
Save sorrow he can slay no more,
   what prick of pen'itence can he know?

You cry the "Cruelty of Things "
   is myst'ery to your purblind eye,
Which fixed upon a point in space
   the general project passes by:

For see! the Mammoth went his ways,
   became a mem'ory and a name;
While the half-reasoner, with the hand2
   survives his rank and place to claim.

Earthquake and plague, storm, fight and fray,
   portents and curses man must deem
Since he regards his self alone,
   nor cares to trace the scope, the scheme;

The Quake that comes in eyelid's beat
   to ruin, level, 'gulf and kill,
Builds up a world for better use,
   to general Good bends special Ill:

The dreadest sound man's ear can hear,
   the war and rush of stormy Wind
Depures the stuff of human life,
   breeds health and strength for human-kind:

What call ye them or Goods or Ills,
   ill-goods, good-ills, a loss, a gain,
When realms arise and falls a roof;
   a world is won, a man is slain?

And thus the race of Being runs,
   till haply in the time to be
Earth shifts her pole and Mushtari3-men
   another falling star shall see:

Shall see it fall and fade from sight,
   whence come, where gone no Thought can tell,--
Drink of yon mirage-stream and chase
   the tinkling of the camel-bell!

1. Supposed to be the Prophet Elijah.
2. The Elephant.
3. The Planet Jupiter.

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