Ma‘arrí stands for the largest humanistic culture of his time. While he may properly be called a philosopher in so far as he sought after a reasoned view of life and the world, he was only an amateur of scientific philosophy. He reflects on its problems, takes up this or that theory in turns, and concludes that nothing is certain except death. His speculations are capricious and incoherent. “He is almost entirely wanting in the gift of combination. He can analyse, but he does not hit upon any synthesis, and his learning bears no fruit*.” There is, however, something to be said on the other side. Philosophy is defined by Jáḥiẓ as “Knowledge of the essences of things and the doing of that which is best*.” Ma‘arrí is not primarily concerned with abstract truth. He seeks the True for the sake of the Good, and seldom loses sight of the practical end. We should also recollect that neither the form of his verse nor the circum­stances in which it was composed allow us to see his philo­sophical and theological ideas in orderly relation to each other. He presents them as jumbled fragments of truth— and to this fact he may have partly owed his immunity from persecution— but it is at least arguable that for him they were a more or less consistent whole. Recently an attempt has been made by a Mohammedan savant to harmonise them*, and we may assume that Ma‘arrí himself endeavoured to do the same. If so, the reticence which he practised in his correspondence with Ibn Abí ‘Imrán and extols in many of his poems* is all the more tantalising; but while he disbelieved or doubted what is accepted as a matter of course by Moslems, his own beliefs seem to be deeply involved in contradiction and cannot, I think, have given him any firm ground for a solution of the problems with which he wrestled.

Upon those who pretend that his learning is barren one might retort that if he achieved no system of ethics, his moral creed was in some respects worthy of Socrates or Kant. But the result, let us admit, counts for little in com­parison with the method. What gives Ma‘arrí importance in the history of Moslem thought is his critical attitude, his assertion of the rights of reason against the claims of custom, tradition and authority, and his appeal from the code of religion to the unwritten law of justice and conscience: in a word, his rationalism. He is a free-thinker at heart. Without openly denying Revelation or defying the authority of the Koran, he uses his own judgment in matters which Moham­medan orthodoxy regards as indisputable. For him, reason is “the most precious of gifts*”; it is the source of right knowledge and right action. Infallible it is not— many questions it must leave in suspense; yet wise men trust and obey it, convinced that nowhere will they meet with a surer guide “to point the morning and the evening ways*.” In the moral domain he reaches a positive goal: virtue is not in doubt, whatever else may be*.

When he applies this principle to metaphysical investiga­tion, it does not take him very far, though his thoughts are sometimes suggestive. He appears to have had but a slight acquaintance with Greek and Moslem philosophy, but he could boast of an acute mind well stored with “curious information about every age*.” I may notice here a coinci­dence which illustrates his erudition. Mr Baerlein happens to remark that “he (Ma‘arrí) would have been as much bewildered as Herodotus if he had known that Lycians took their mother’s, not their father’s, name*.” Now, the poet knew the fact of which Mr Baerlein imagines him to have been ignorant, and these verses prove that he was not at all bewildered by it:

We are in error and delusion. If thou hast a certainty, produce it!
Love of truth caused the people of Rúm (Asia Minor) to prefer that a man should trace his descent to his maternal ancestry in the female line.
Who his father was they knew not save by supposition— and the young antelope follows its dam*.

It would be a long business to collect all the passages in which Reason is honoured and commended. I will translate a few of them.

(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Whene’er thou thinkest a thought unmixed with any decay
Of sound intelligence, easy comes the thing that was hard.
The reason, if it be sane, doth ever weaken the soul*
Until she die: to her work it gives the name but of play.
Fair ladies, thronging betimes their wonted pleasure to take,
Seem phantoms glittering by, the puppet-shows of an hour.
Too great a body makes grief for him who bears it away
To earth; and ere ’tis interred, augments the gravedigger’s toil*.
Reason forbade me many things whereto
Instinctively my nature’s bias drew;
And ’tis perpetual loss if, knowing, I
Believe a falsehood or give Truth the lie*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Oh, cleave ye to Reason’s path that rightly ye may be led:
Let none set his hopes except upon the Preserver!
And quench not the Almighty’s beams, for lo, He hath given to all
A lamp of intelligence for use and enjoying.
I see humankind are lost in ignorance: even those
Of ripe age at random guess, like boys playing mora*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Traditions come from the past, of high import if they be
True; ay, but weak is the chain of those who warrant their truth.
Consult thy reason and let perdition take others all:
Of all the conference Reason best will counsel and guide*.

The poet complains that men are too stupid to think for themselves.

(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I cared not to climb the hill of glory, because I know
’Tis always the lowland vales that gather the water.
Our full-grown, they seem to lisp like infants a few months old,
As though on their dromedaries the saddles were cradles.
Whatever you speak, they understand not; and being called,
They answer confusèdly ’twixt sleeping and waking.
No doubt but they rank as men, albeit the life they lead,
Given over to drowsiness, proclaims them for lynxes*.
Certainty is not to be found in a time whose sagacity brought us no result but supposition.
We said to the lion, “Art thou a lion?” and he replied doubt&­fully, “Perhaps I am” or “I seem to be.”*

The service which Ma‘arrí performed by his criticism of conventional beliefs would have been more effectual if he had shown himself able to think constructively. He is not a sceptic in the strict sense of the term, he concedes that truth can be attained by means of reflection*, but as a rule his reasoning leads him to a negative conclusion.

When a blind man goes by, pity him and know for sure that ye all are blind, even if ye have sight.
*     *     *     *     *
I live in the present: the past I have forgotten, and I feel no savour of what shall come.
Some have held that nothing is real: did they affirm, then, as a fact that there is no misery or happiness?
We are in dispute and contention with them— and the Lord of mankind knows which of us are the greater liars*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Is any tale true that we should credit him that relates,
Or are not all of them worthless fables told in the night?
As for our reason, it questions not, but swears they are lies;
And reason’s tree ever hath veracity for its fruit*.
Experience nests in thickets of close shade,
Who gives his mind and life may hunt it down.
How many months and years have I outstayed!
And yet, methinks, I am but a fool and clown.
And Falsehood like a star all naked stands,
But Truth still hides her face ’neath hood and veil.
Is there no ship or shore my outstretched hands
May grasp, to save me from this sea of bale?*
Gall knoweth not what first embittered it,
Nor honey read the riddle of its sweet.
I could not answer when ye asked me why;
Whoso pretends to knowledge, ’tis a lie*.
Bewildered, searching how things stand with me,
I ask to-day, “To-morrow what shall be?”
There is no certainty: my mind but tries
Its utmost in conjecture and surmise*.

History shows that many freethinkers, not daring to express their thoughts freely, have sheltered themselves behind a religion in which they disbelieved. Such was Euripides, and such was Ma‘arrí*. In the works of both we find three elements:

(a) orthodox religious beliefs;
(b) rational doubts as to the truth of these beliefs;
(c) philosophical views inconsistent with these beliefs.

In Ma‘arrí’s case the contrast is sharper, because he does not write as a dramatist but as a moralist directly exhibiting or disguising his own character throughout. Like Euripides, he wrote for the minority who saw at once that if the pious asseverations were sincere, the parallel questionings were absurd, and who judged that the poet was more likely to want faith than wit. He, on his side, expected them to take hints in lieu of plain speech*; and no one can study the Luzúm without recognising that it is a masterpiece of innuendo. Apart from subtle ironies— of which the words italicised in the following passage may serve as a specimen:

’Tis said, “We all are weak and helpless creatures,
Unable or to hasten or retard.
A Power o’errules us: if we sin, no blame
To the evil-doer, no praise if we excel”:
Doctrine for which I in my time have found
Some proofs, tho’ piety forbade me hold it.
*     *     *     *     *
Men race along the beaten track to reach
What inexperience imagines new.
These maiden thoughts are wed to minds that come
In every age to cull them and deflower*

the whole spirit of the book is anti-clerical and anti-orthodox, pleading for inquiry, suggesting incredulity, and shaking the foundations of revealed religious truth. Of course, Ma‘arrí knew perfectly well what he was about. He must have known what inference as to moral responsibility and the reality of a future state would be drawn by some persons from these lines, for instance:

Shall I go forth from underneath this sky? Ḥow shall I escape? Whither shall I flee?
How many a year have I lived in Time! How many a Rajab and Ṣafar have I passed!*
Claws were given to the lion of the jungle that he might seek victory (over his prey)*.
God curse people who call me an infidel when I tell them the truth!*

As regards the essential articles of Islam, his position is easily determined. When a dogma which it would have been suicidal to reject outright is professed on one page and doubted on the next, his credo is a refusal of martyrdom, and we take it for what it is worth. “Be veracious,” he says, “until thou deemest veracity a danger to thy life; then lie through thick and thin*”; and again, “Do not acquaint rascals with the essence of thy religion, else thou wilt expose thyself to ruin*.” Similarly, where the question is not one of faith or infidelity, but of orthodoxy or heterodoxy, and we find him wavering between two doctrines, it will appear probable that in his heart he agrees with the heretics. The positive beliefs or opinions to which he unconditionally commits himself are few. He loves interrogations and hypotheses. It is characteristic of him to turn a problem over in his mind, look at it from different aspects, and incline now to one solution, now to another. His curiosity exhausts itself in climbing hills of thought*, only to discover that their summits are capped with mist.

Before examining his treatment of religion, including Islam, let us see the principles from which he starts.

He favours the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of matter. Against one verse in which it is expressly denied,

I do not believe in the everlastingness of the stars or hold the eternity of the world*,

there are many suggesting belief in it. That he should use guarded language will not surprise any one who knows what horror this theory inspires in Moslems of every sect.

If what the Sage* said is true, then Time has never been void of me and never will be.
By turns I am separated and united: the lote and the palm resemble me in the changes that befall them*.
’Tis possible that the sun will be extinguished, which burned from the epoch of ‘Ád* and whose fire the Lord made to blaze;
And if its red glow shall be quenched for evermore, then inevitably must Heaven be ruined*.
Mankind passed, and were it not that their Judge is all-knowing, I should ask with Zuhayr*, “What way did they take?*
In the kingdom (world) whence they went not forth and from which they removed not, how shall I believe that they perished?*
(Metre: Kámil.)
I swear, my body will cease not ever to be in pain,
Until it come to its element eterne again*;
And thither when I go back, my bones that once were strong
To earth will crumble during endless ages long*.
Use my dust for your ablutions: perchance your doing so will bring to me after extinction the objects of my desire*.
And if by God’s decree I shall be made into a clay pot that serves for purification, I am thankful and content*.
(Bodies are) substances put together and disjoined by a mar&­vellous Power, so that they became like accidents*.

That is to say, bodies consist of eternal and indestructible substances (elements) which, in so far as they are subject to combination and decomposition, thereby assume the form of accidents. According to the orthodox (Ash‘arite) view, both substance and accident are created by the will of God and have only a momentary duration*.

On the other hand, Ma‘arrí asks whether the stars are acquainted with the Unseen and adds that in his opinion they are not eternal*, though elsewhere he describes them as eternal and everlasting*.

How many a pearl Time strings and strews at last!
His Pleiad necklace holds for ever fast,
But dark he leaves the fame and splendour of the Past*.

It appears to me difficult to explain these and similar contradictions, which occur regularly when his orthodoxy is at stake, except by supposing that he means to contradict himself, and that his real or predominant view is the one which a writer accused of infidelity would be anxious to disown. He makes a practice of affirming or denying more or less explicitly what in other passages he affirms or denies with precaution in the contrary sense: the former class of statements is to be suspected*.

I lift my voice whene’er I talk in vain,
But do I speak the truth, hushed are my lips again*.

Religious dissimulation (taqiyyat) is well understood by Moslems; almost every zindíq (freethinker) employed it in self-defence, and it was cultivated as a fine art. Appreciation of our poet’s skill in taking cover beneath this species of irony is the key to much that has puzzled European readers of the Luzúm. As to the influence of the stars, he shares the belief which prevailed amongst his contemporaries; but here too we find him vacillating. Have the planets a soul and intelligence, in virtue of which they operate on matter, or are they celestial bodies deriving their power from the motions of the spheres? Apparently Ma‘arrí embraced the second opinion, though he rather suggests than expresses it.

“A body of four (elements) overseen by seven (planets) which abide in twelve (zodiacal signs)*.”
“Did those (Moslems) who wrought good works win Paradise, while Nawbakht was lodged in Hell-fire?
’Tis the crowning injustice that thou shouldst be held guilty of what Mars and Venus brought upon thee*.”
“The celestial world, as we are told, hath natural dispositions which the power of the stars causes to descend (to the earth)*.”
“Men will never be without evil in their time whilst Mars or Saturn continues over them*.”

Mars and Saturn, however, are “two slaves forced to serve (God)*: I care not though they overtop me*.”

In some of his poems he plays fancifully with the theory that the planets and constellations belong to an upper world of intelligences and souls, which is the archetype of the terrestrial world.

“Dead are the stars of Night, or sentient beings?
Irrational, or does reason dwell in them?*
“If it be true that the luminaries of heaven are percipient, why do ye deny their loving one another and their relationship by marriage?
Maybe Canopus, the stallion of the stars, wedded a daughter of Arcturus on payment of a dowry*.”
The world celestial, as the world below,
(Philosophers have held) can feel and know;
And some aver the planets are endowed
With minds intelligent and speak aloud.
Then are the stars about religion too
At odds like us— this Moslem and that Jew?
Perchance in Heaven a Mecca may be found
Like Mecca here, with Mecca’s hills around.
We needs must think that Light was made: the prime
Eternal origin is darkful Time;
Virtue a track untrodden, deep in sand,
But Vice a highway through our human land*.
From inborn nature ne’er canst thou be free
Thy life long, and one more is learned by thee*.
If now the rulers wax unjust, there comes
A fiercer tyrant dealing wounds and dooms:
Even so to wrangling doves a hawk will cry,
“If ye are wicked, wickeder am I*.”
Look, while the lion’s claws attain full span,
How trimmed and cut short are the nails of man.
Such is the World’s decree concerning all;
The wild ass hath large ears, the ostrich small.
Immortal wouldst thou be, then draw no breath:
This life is but a ladder unto death*.

Ma‘arrí might have said with Kant, “Two things there are which the oftener and the more steadfastly we consider them, fill the mind with an ever new and an ever increasing admiration and reverence— the starry heaven above and the moral law within.” It is not unlikely that in his blindness he retained, as Milton seems to have done, a peculiarly vivid recollection of “all luminous effects, all contrasts of light and darkness.” Be this as it may, some of his finest poems are those in which his imagination contemplates

the great dome of Heaven,
whose poles Have ever awed men’s souls*.
Feel shame in presence of the daily sun,
The moon of night, and shining troops untold
Of stars which in the sky their courses hold
By Allah’s leave, nor fails them breath to run.
These have a nearer claim and right, I trow,
To reverence than sons of noblest sire*.
Glory to Him who made them! Shall their fire
Sink in the dust of Time? I say not so.
Nay, but I muse— Are they endowed with mind
Whereby they can distinguish foul from fair?
Are feminine and masculine up there
By birth related and in marriage joined?
*     *     *     *     *
I clean renounce the fool whose hidden track
And open prove him still to error sworn,
Who bans the prayer of afternoon with scorn
And casts the prayer of noon behind his back.
Give the poor man who comes to thee a dole,
Scant though it be, nor frown away thy guest,
But raise for him a flame of ruddy crest
That frolics in the darkness like a foal!*

Time and Space are eternal and infinite: they encompass every sensible object and have no perceptible colour (quality) or magnitude*.

Two fates still hold us fast,
A future and a past;
Two vessels’ vast embrace
Surrounds us— Time and Space*.
Whene’er we ask what end
Our Maker did intend,
Some answering voice is heard
That utters no plain word*.
Space hath no limit and doth ever last,
But Time is fleeting, never standing fast.
The fool said, “I have thrown to earth my foe”;
Perish his hands! What gave him power to throw?
Man, like a fire that blazed awhile and ceased
In ashes, lives most blest presuming least.
*     *     *     *     *
Let Rabbis laud their Sabbath as they may,
The truly wise keep Sabbath every day*.

His view of the nature of Time differs from that commonly accepted by Moslem philosophers. In the Risálatu ’l-Ghufrán he writes as follows: “Abuse of Time increased to such an extent that it was prohibited in the Apostolic Tradition, ‘Do not abuse Time, for God is Time.’ What this means is well-known*, and also that its inner sense is not that which appears on the surface, since none of the prophets ever held that Time is the Creator or the Object of worship; and we read in the Koran (45, 23), ‘Nothing but Time destroys us*.’ The statement of certain people, that Time is the motion of the heavenly sphere, is a phrase devoid of reality....I have given a definition that well deserves to have been anticipated, though I never heard it before, namely, that Time is a thing whereof the least part is capable of enclosing all objects of perception. In this respect it is the contrary of Space, because the least part of the latter cannot enclose a thing in the same way as a vessel encloses its contents*.”

We have already seen how he turns these ideas to account in the Luzúm, and I will now select a few passages where he develops them more clearly.

First, as to the eternity and infinity of Time:

“I see that Time is eternal and everlasting— glory to (God) the Preserver, the Perfect!*
“Time is old, and beside his life, if thou wouldst measure it, the lives of the Eagles are brief*.”
“If Gabriel were to fly away from Time for the remainder of his life, he would not be able to go outside of Time*.”

Time, being independent of the revolutions of the celestial spheres, does not affect the course of events, which (indirectly, at any rate) is determined by the ever-changing position of the planets relatively to one another. Time brings nothing to pass; it is, so to speak, the neutral, unconscious atmo­sphere of all action and suffering. Man sins, by freewill or by fate: Time cannot sin and therefore ought not to be reviled*.

I hold that humankind are worse
Than Time’s containing universe.
Was any creature found within it
Of real worth? Each hour and minute
Ever most falsely they decry;
Their hours and minutes tell no lie*.
The pillars of our world are the natures of four (elements) which were made substrates for Him who is over us;
And God fashioned for the earth and its people two vessels, Space and passing Time.
Time knoweth not what comes to be within it: how, then, is it reproached for what came to be?
*     *     *     *     *
We weep and laugh, and Fate is our appointed ruler: Time did not make us laugh or weep.
We complain of Time, though he never sinned; and could he speak, he would complain of us,
Who with one mind consent to the unjust deeds implanted in us —and the most innocent of us is nigh unto the most wicked*.

The following poem has a harmony of rhythm and power of expression equal to the high thoughts which inspired it.

When ’tis said that Time destroyed a thing, the meaning is “the Lord of Time,” for Time is but a servant.
Thou canst not set a bound to the birth-time of this Sun, and reason declares that it is without beginning.
The whole universe underlies the least atom of existence, and existing objects are not perceived by the short-haired hard-hoofed mares (the Hours).
When they go by, they return not, and others like them suc&­ceed: Time is past and future.
None of them that vanished came back after vanishing, yet nothing exists without Time, which is renewed continuously.
’Tis as though Thou (God) hadst placed souls in the images (bodies) and wert repenting of negligence therein.
According to the view of reason, there is not one Adam, but logically there are many Adams*.
Men are diverse in their aims: forgetful and mindful, careless and anxious, building and ruining*.

The conclusion stated in the penultimate verse rests on the premiss that the world is eternal; whence it follows that the number of human souls is infinite.

In all this we can trace many resemblances to the Pythagorean natural philosophy, of which the physician Abú Bakr al-Rází (Rhazes) is the most illustrious exponent. Al-Rází died forty or fifty years before Ma‘arrí was born. His meta­physic “starts from old doctrines, which his contemporaries ascribed to Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Mani and others. At the apex of his system stand five co-eternal principles— the Creator, the Universal Soul, the First or Primeval Matter, Absolute Space, and Absolute Time or Eternal Duration. In these the necessary conditions of the actually existing world are given. The individual sense-perceptions, generally, pre­suppose an existing Matter, just as the grouping of different perceived objects postulates Space. Perceptions of change further constrain us to assume the condition of Time. The existence of living beings leads us to recognise a Soul; and the fact that some of these living beings are endowed with Reason, i.e. have the faculty of bringing the Arts to the highest perfection, necessitates our belief in a wise Creator, whose Reason has ordered everything for the best*.”

Ma‘arrí, too, believes in a Creator*, whom he identifies with Allah. He emphatically repudiates atheism. God is a reality (ḥaqq)*, One, eternal, omnipotent, and wise (ḥakím): His wisdom is demonstrated by His works. While it is neces­sary to have an intelligent belief in the Supreme Being*, speculation concerning His essence and attributes is futile, since the mind cannot comprehend them*.

In the verse (11. 219, 14):

Dost not thou see that the planets move in their spheres by the power of a Lord who moveth not?

Ma‘arrí probably means that God transcends all change, that He is eternal and infinite in His nature— not “motionless” (ghayr muntaqil) in the sense that, being actus purus, He never passes from potentiality to actuality*.

God fashioned me— the why of it I know not;
To Him omnipotent and One the glory!
Let all mine hours and moments bear me witness
That I abjure the miscreants who deny Him*.
God, He is God sans peer. Deceived
Are they that scoffed and disbelieved.
When thy soul mounts, in Him have faith
Even to thy last remaining breath;
So mayst thou hope forgiveness on a day
When, thy grave dug, the digger goes his way*.
If thou art atheist from excess of folly,
Bear witness, O denier, I am none.
I dread the chastisement from God hereafter
And own the power supreme in hands of One*.
I marvel at a physician who denies the Creator after having studied anatomy;
And the astronomer has been taught what affirms the truth of Religion—
Stars of fire and stars akin to earth and water and wind*.
The sagacious man of the company is he that understands a hint, so that he deems it a plain statement*.

It appears, then, that Ma‘arrí was a monotheist. But was he a monotheist in the same sense as Mohammed was, or as the Moslem scholastic theologians were? For him, Time and Space are infinite: therefore the Creator cannot be outside of them.

Ye said, “A Wise One us created”;
’Tis very true, and so say we.
“Sans Time and Space,” ye postulated—
Then why not say at once that ye
Propound a mystery immense
Which signifies our want of sense?*

The problem of reconciling the Greek idea of “a Divinity which invests the whole of Nature*” with the Semitic “con­ception of God as will, as the sovereign over all*,” is not touched by Ma‘arrí. If reason convinced him that the world is eternal and has a Creator, a divine intelligence which eternally moves and maintains it*, the facts of life as he saw them stood hopelessly against this theory* and threw him back upon the notion of an all-powerful and inscrutable will working throughout the universe of evil which it created for some mysterious end. Beyond this he seems to have been unable to go, and here his rationalism breaks down. He finds the world so radically unreasonable that in order to account for it he must call in a deus ex machinâ— the Allah of the Koran. The decree of Allah, i.e. Fate, makes things what they are.

While Ma‘arrí acknowledges that Fate, like Time, is sub­ject to Allah*, his language occasionally suggests that he felt the pressure of an impersonal necessity emanating from the planets and controlling all human action; but since he writes with the freedom of a poet, we cannot safely give his words an interpretation which they do not demand. He holds God, or Fate, responsible for the evil nature implanted in mankind and for its consequences, and declares that God is just, without attempting to prove it.

“Our natures did not become evil by our choice, but in con&­sequence of a (divine) command which the fates made a means (to its fulfilment)*.”
“I see evidences of a compulsion (jabr) which I do not assert to be a fact: ’tis as though every one were dragged to (commit) evil*.”
“O Lord of mankind, thou art exalted above every doubt: it seems as though we are obliged to commit sins*.”
“The ill of life is one bad element
Sought out with malice by the mixer’s hand*.”
“A nature immeshed in corruption: if man shall blame it, he blames its Creator*.”
“For whose sake dost thou inflict punishment for the sin that occurred? The bell did not move until it was put in motion*.”
Why blame the world? The world is free
Of sin: the blame is yours and mine.
Grapes, wine, and drinker— there are three,
But who was at fault, I wonder? He
That pressed the grapes, or that sipped the wine?*
If criminals are fated,
’Tis wrong to punish crime.
When God the ores created,
He knew that on a time
They should become the sources
Whence sword-blades dripping blood
Flash o’er the manes of horses
Iron-curbed, iron-shod*.

While in these passages he approaches an absolute deter­minism, in others (which are exceptional, however) he keeps clear of it, and his moral rationalism assures him that God, who creates injustice, is Himself just.

(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The Artificer of the stars, exalted is He above
The doctrine that He compels the ill-doer to his deed*.
I perceived that men are naturally unjust to one another, but there is no doubt of the justice of Him who created injustice*.

Here reason triumphs over experience, but for the most part it struggles in vain against the fatalistic pessimism which has been amply illustrated in these pages*. Ma‘arrí cannot “justify the ways of God to man.” Only once, I think, does he make the least advance in that direction:

(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
By sin’s ladder it may be that men to religion climb,
As digging makes fire spark up ere gushes the water*.

He concludes by dismissing the whole question of pre­destination as a sterile theological controversy which inter­feres with the practice of virtue, and by telling his readers that the truth lies somewhere between the rival schools.

And touching my creed if men shall ask, ’tis but fear devout
Of Allah: nor freedom I uphold nor necessity*.
Do not be either a Necessitarian or a Libertarian, but endeavour to take a position midway between them*.

It would be rash to infer that he accepted the orthodox (Ash‘arite) via media, the view that while God creates all human actions He also creates the power of men to appro­priate them. This really explains nothing, as he must have been aware. He had the practical free-thinking moralist’s contempt for scholasticism, whether liberal or the reverse. He treats the Mu‘tazilites no better than their obscurantist opponents. The former might assert divine justice and interpret the Koran by the light of reason, but they were theologians, they did not make reason independent of Reve­lation or authorise it to decide all things, beginning with the credibility of Revelation itself. Therefore he says, thrusting both parties aside,

Ask pardon of God and never mind what Abu ’l-Hudhayl and Ibn Kalláb told their followers*.
No books of polemic had been composed—
Mughní or ‘Umdas* —did not men with men
Strive panting after pelf. They have run neck-high
In disputation, reared on baselessness
A dazzling monument of mere fine words;
And still they cease not ever, north and south,
Drawing out syllogisms interminable.
Their vile trade let them ply: enough for thee
The omnipotent, the all-sustaining Lord!*

Partly on rational grounds and partly, perhaps, by instinct Ma‘arrí believed in the existence of a divine Creator. But, according to the second article of the Mohammedan creed, that Creator is revealed through prophecy: belief in Allah involves belief in the Koran, Mohammed, and Islam.

I have already remarked on the poet’s ambiguous attitude towards the religion which he professed. In the Luzúm he speaks with two voices, one pious and conventional in tone, the other critical, ironic, irritating to men of firm faith, and anything but reassuring to the weaker brethren. His doubts are not concerned with minor points of doctrine; they are fundamental. We cannot dispose of them by setting his affirmations against them, as though it were simply a ques­tion of striking a balance. The anti-Islamic tendency is too deep and deliberate to be explained away. If the author was a Moslem, why should he have written so equivocally and yet significantly? If he was not a Moslem but wished to pass for one, it is easy to understand both the orthodox expres­sions and his peculiar method of insinuating disbelief. This hypothesis does not oblige us to maintain that during his forty years’ seclusion he consistently held the same views and never doubted his own doubts. In some moods he may have reverted to the more positive state of mind which he finally abandoned for a bare deism*. “I confess,” he says, “belief in One God and the avoidance of evil actions. For a long time I deceived myself and judged that one who is a liar spoke the truth about certain things*.” Such fluctuations are, in any case, unimportant. On the whole, his Mohammedan senti­ments (where they are not mere forms of speech) must be regarded as fictitious and insincere. Nevertheless, he could not do without them— in his books: their omission would have condemned him. While he used them to mystify and baffle the enemies of free-thought, he also knew how to make them serve the cause of its friends.

Further evidence comes from his prose writings. In a work entitled al-Fusúl wa ’l-gháyát*, he imitated or parodied the Koran— an act of irreverence in which he followed the example set by several Moslem free-thinkers*; yet he vio­lently censures one of these, Ibnu ’l-Ráwandí, who had been guilty of the same impiety, and pays an eloquent tribute to the Koran, describing it as a book that “overcame and disabled and caused the Prophet’s foes to shiver when confronted with it*.” The Risálatu ’l-Ghufrán, an epistle which Ma‘arrí addressed to the scholar and poet Ibnu ’l-Qáriḥ (‘Alí ibn Manṣúr al-Ḥalabí), contains, in addition to many anecdotes of the zindíqs and blasphemous quota­tions from their poetry, a burlesque description of Paradise, where in the manner of Lucian he depicts the pre-Islamic heathen bards revelling and quarrelling and taking part in a literary causerie. Although some persons upheld his ortho­doxy, the mask was thin and might not have availed him, if the state of Syria during his lifetime had left the authorities at leisure to deal with offences of this kind. As it was, he ran no great risk. The Fáṭimids were indulgent, and the Mirdá­sids indifferent, to religious scepticism, which indeed found plenty of support both amongst the learned classes and men of the world.

Ma‘arrí nowhere asserts that the dogma of Revelation is false. His way of handling this question has not hitherto been studied with sufficient care. If we wish to understand the Luzúmiyyát, we must realise that the author intended not only to disguise his opinions but also to make the disguise a means of indicating them. Dissimulation was, in all the cir­cumstances, inevitable: under its safeguard might not the truth venture out— duly chaperoned and veiled? Such a deli­cate experiment in the art of “implying things” called for correspondingly fine apprehension on the part of the reader, and Ma‘arrí knew his contemporaries well enough to feel sure that not many of them would master his secret. He gave them a chance of convincing themselves, none of convicting him. At the worst, his faith would be impeached on the ground of inferences which are apparently disproved by orthodox confessions.

To begin with, he divides men into two classes, according as they are religious or intelligent: they cannot be both.

Although your mouths hymn Allah One and Peerless,
Your hearts and souls from that ye owe Him shrink.
I swear your Torah gives no light to lead us,
If there ’tis found that wine is lawful drink.
*     *     *     *     *
They all err— Moslems, Christians, Jews, and Magians;
Two make Humanity’s universal sect:
One man intelligent without religion,
And one religious without intellect*.

These verses are addressed or refer to the followers of Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, and Zoroaster, i.e. to all whose religion is derived from a scripture brought by a prophet*.

The second couplet is highly characteristic. Taken out of the context, it might be read as a good Moslem’s appeal to the authority of the Koran, which forbids wine-drinking, against the corrupt doctrine of the Pentateuch. That inter­pretation, however, pays no regard to logic. Ma‘arrí’s objection to wine-drinking, as we learn from many poems in the Luzúm, is non-religious.

Say to wine, which is contrary to Reason and ever causes the warrior’s sword to be unsheathed,
“If thou wert interdicted by nothing but pain (after pleasure), thou wouldst have been allowable to the drinker;
But thou art banned by sovereign Reason, so get thee gone into the dusty soil!”*
Men say wine destroys old griefs that bide in the breast;
And were it not destructive to the intellect, I should have been a friend of wine and jollity*.

Manifestly, therefore, his meaning is: “If the Torah sanc­tions wine-drinking, the Torah misguides us: we must obey Reason, not Revelation.” The fact that in this instance he happens to agree with Mohammed leaves the general prin­ciple untouched. All religions are mixed with falsehood and, so far, stand on the same level. When he says

Follow Reason and do what it deems good, for it gathers the honey of counsel,
And accept not a commandment from the Torah, for verily the truth is hidden from it*

his readers must be dull if they fail to see why in preaching rationalism to Moslems he attacks the supernaturalism of Jews. One guesses, too, that the following lines have a wider application than appears on the surface:

The Jews went astray: their Torah is an invention of the doctors and rabbis,
Who pretended to have derived it from one (a prophet) like them&­selves; then traced it further back to the Almighty.
Whenever you discomfit a man who argues for his religion, he hands over its keys (the task of defending it) to the traditions (by which it is attested)*.

Another of his devices consists in putting forward an orthodox statement which is immediately discredited by the sequel.

The Christians built for their Messiah churches
Which almost rail at what the churchfolk do;
And if Mohammed and his Book I mention,
Then out with his Book comes the scoffing Jew.
*     *     *     *     *
Can any one deny Islam’s religion,
Fashioned and brought to us by Fate divine?
Oh, where is Truth, that we may toil to seek it
With cruel pain o’er sands without a sign?*

Since good and evil alike are “fashioned and brought to us by Fate divine,” the compliment to Islam seems a little unhappy; but letting that pass, we discover in the next verse that the religion “which nobody can deny” is not identical with Truth*. Some Mohammedan critics have attributed the poet’s eccentric opinions to the necessities of the difficult rhyme*. To speak plainly, this is nonsense. Ma‘arrí does not write at random: within a certain orbit his eccentricities are calculated and logical. His doubts, perplexities, and real inconsistencies only begin, as I have said, when his rationalism breaks down. Reason led him to conclusions which were not the less firm because they were chiefly of a negative kind; it showed him, for example, that Reve­lation is a false earthly light kindled and spread by men who had their own interests in view. Reason showed him this— and left him, believing in God, to wrap himself in his virtue as best he could.

I shall pass away, not misdoubting the Creator, so weep not for me nor let others weep.
Follow my ways, since they are good for you, and pray and give alms as long as ye live.
Do not listen to tellers of lying stories which the feeble mind deems true.
I see action as (vain as) inaction, and a world dragged to ruin by a violent Fate,
And lines copied on a palimpsest and afterwards obliterated or rubbed out*.

We have examined a few specimens of the irony which Ma‘arrí cultivated in order to publish his opinions with impunity, and which has been ignored by most students of the Luzúmiyyát, if it has not eluded them entirely. He had no need to employ it in his criticism of the Jewish and Christian sacred books; for, according to Mohammed, the Pentateuch and Gospel are corrupt in their present form, though originally they contained the same Word which Allah revealed in the Koran. The poet, therefore, attacks Judaism and Chris­tianity without any disguise. I will only cite two passages concerning the Crucifixion.

The Christians have testified that the Jews sought Jesus in order to crucify him;
And (in admitting this) they took no heed, though they had made him a god for the sake of preserving him from disparagement and reproach*.
Because of the natural evil wherewith men are imbued, their minds spurn the truth deposited in them*.
Marvellous! The Messiah amongst mankind, he who was said to be unbegotten!
The Christians delivered him to the Jews and confessed that they crucified him.
When a child is beaten by lads of the same age, the judicious and reasonable man takes pity on him;
And if what they say about Jesus is true, where was his father?.
How did He abandon His son to the enemy? Or do they suppose that they (the Jews) overcame Him?*

It was as easy for Ma‘arrí to deny the divinity of Christ as it was difficult to express any doubts about the prophetic inspiration which, according to the Koran, he shared with Moses and Mohammed. The prophets stood or fell together. Frank scepticism being thus excluded, the poet resorts to his favourite weapon, but does not forget that the words “Mohammed is the Apostle of God” form half of the Moslem profession of faith.

Some parties declared that your God did not send Jesus and Moses (as prophets) to mankind,
But they only provided a means of livelihood for their followers and made a net to catch all men.
Had I been able, I would have punished those who were uncon&­scionably impious, until (all) the miscreants were entombed*.

At first sight these lines arouse no suspicion: the author means that disbelievers in prophecy are blasphemous scoun­drels and ought to be punished with death*. This, of course, is the Moslem view. Ma‘arrí durst not impugn it openly, and he may be professing it here, but readers familiar with his style will remark that the tag, “some people say,” is often used by him to introduce rationalistic judgments for which he declines to be held accountable. Further, “they” in the second verse is equivocal: we can refer it, as we please, either to the disbelievers in prophecy or to the prophets themselves; and the latter reference is suggested by the rhyme-word námús, which in this context would naturally be taken as the Arabicised form of <Greek> so that the translation would run:

“And they (the prophets) only provided a means of livelihood for their followers and made a religious law for all men.”

The verse has not passed unscathed through the hands of Mohammedan scribes. We find the oldest and probably genuine tradition in the Oxford Codex, where it stands thus:

<Arabic> * <Arabic>

“But they made the Merciful (God) a means of livelihood and turned their religion into a trick for gaining power.”

Who, then, are the miscreants of the last verse? The heretics or the pseudo-prophets? If that question had been put to Ma‘arrí, he might have answered by quoting his own advice:

“O credulous man, if thou art endowed with understanding, con&­sult it; for every understanding is a prophet*.”

When the poet writes a brief eulogy of Mohammed*, he restricts himself to terms which might be used of any religious and moral reformer*. Only with the final blessing— <Arabic>— comes a suggestion of the Moslem’s attitude. “Do not begin a quarrel with me,” he says, appealing to the Christians, “for in my opinion your Messiah is the peer of Mohammed,” i.e. the prophets are just as much in the dark as all the rest of us*.

Ma‘arrí, in fact, regards Islam, and positive religion generally, as a human institution. As such, it is false and rotten to the core. Its founders sought to procure wealth and power for themselves, its dignitaries pursue worldly ends, its defenders rely on spurious documents which they ascribe to divinely inspired apostles, and its adherents accept mechanically whatever they are told to believe.

The following passages illustrate his point of view.

If knowledge aids not me nor baulks my foe,
The losers in Life’s game are those who know.
As Allah laid our fortune, so it lies
For ever— O vain wisdom of the wise!
Can this doomed caitiff man, tho’ far he fly,
’Scape from his Lord’s dominion, earth and sky?
Nay, soon shall we, the hindmost gang, tread o’er
The path our fellow-slaves have trod before.
Surveying humankind, I marvel still
How one thirsts while another drinks his fill.
I draw my bow and every shaft flies wide,
The arrow aimed at me ne’er turns aside.
*     *     *     *     *
O fools, awake! The rites ye sacred hold
Are but a cheat contrived by men of old,
Who lusted after wealth and gained their lust
And died in baseness— and their law is dust*.
The Christian, as more anciently the Jew,
Told thee traditions far from proven true;
And Persia boasted of the Fire she lit,
No power ever should extinguish it.
These holy days are birds of the same feather,
Sabbath and Sunday make a pair together*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)  
This world of yours hath uttered a thing portentous:
O witnesses, hearken ye to its information!
When they that have understanding reflect and ponder,
They see in the tale it tells right cause for waking.
The people of all religions are in a quarrel
That keeps them as though on pebbles they lay unquiet.
The Christians have lied concerning the Son of Mary,
The Jews also lied concerning the Son of Amram.
And never the Days have brought forth new in nature,
Nor ever did Time depart from his ways accustomed*.
Religion and infidelity, and stories that are related, and a Revelation* that is cited as authority, and a Pentateuch and a Gospel.
Lies are believed amongst every race; and was any race ever the sole possessor of Truth?*
Fate governs all: what canst thou but bring in
Predestination as excuse for sin?
Our souls we live with, blind to them are we:
How, when the tomb contains them, shall we see?
So soon as forty years are overpast,
The body dwindles, and woes wax more vast.
Souls conscious of another life cross here
A bridge to it— a bridge of pain and fear.
Who warrants a clear way for buried men
To rise dust-stained out of the grave again?
The world rolls on and on, the peoples die,
Despair believes a legend and a lie.
Sages profound, their cogitations ended,
Affirm what death has marred can ne’er be mended;
And Adam comes (they say) whence Awbar came,
And naught is known of Awbar but his name*.
All that ye tell of God is vamped-up news,
Old fables artfully set out by Jews;
’Twas thus the Rabbins sought to sate their greed,
And ruin overtakes the wicked deed*.
Let thy soul practise virtue, forasmuch
’Tis best and fairest, not for guerdon’s sake.
*     *     *     *     *
The chiefs’ disunion gives sworn evidence
Their followers have not found the way to Truth.
*     *     *     *     *
They crossed the sands for wealth, and some attained it,
But safe was kept the Secret from them all*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)  
I found Truth was in a house well guarded by those within*,
And trying the robber’s way, about them I prowled and spied.
They said to me, “Get thee gone! No place for the like of thee
Beside us— and oh, beware of Truth when she eyes thee hard!
For seest thou not that we have happily brought her home,
Whilst thou art a castaway, a poor wretch with broken wings?”
The man that is famous for religion and piety,
He ranks not with one whose quest of knowledge distinguished him.
But over thy mind, alas, thy tyrannous nature rules,
The passions in changeful sway increasingly grind it down.
Thou drankest a draught whereof, for coolness, none wished thee joy,
And after the pangs of thirst thou sufferest choking pain*.
They live as lived their fathers and receive
By rote the same religion which they leave,
Unheeding what they hear or what they say
Or whom they worship— far from Truth astray!
Want more delights the soul than ne’er so deep
In luxury like theirs to wake and sleep*.
Our young man grows up in the belief to which his father has accustomed him.
It is not Reason that makes him religious, but he is taught religion by his next of kin.
The Persian’s child had guardians who trained him in the rites of Magianism*.
I perceive that the Nights wear out Religion, even as the Shar‘abí mantle becomes outworn.
’Tis all (a matter of) custom: the greybeard follows the same bent to which the youth is habituated*.
In all that concerns thee thou art satisfied with a blind conformity, even in thy declaration that God is One and Single*.
We have been commanded to think on His wondrous works; and some persons, if they think on Him, fall into error.
All bigoted disputants, when they see the light of a manifest truth, deny it*.
They have not based their religion on any logical ground, whereby they might decide between Shí‘ites and Sunnís.
In the opinion of some whom I do not mention (with praise)*, the Black Stone is only a remnant of idols and (sacrificial) altar-stones*.
If a man of sound judgment appeals to his intelligence, he will hold cheap the various creeds and despise them.
Do thou take thereof so much as Reason delivered (to thee), and let not ignorance plunge thee in their stagnant pool!*
Had they been left alone with Reason, they would not have accepted a spoken lie; but the whips were raised (to strike them).
Traditions were brought to them, and they were bidden say, “We have been told the truth”; and if they refused, the sword was drenched (in their blood).
They were terrified by scabbards full of calamities, and tempted by great bowls brimming over with food for largesse*.
A blind man reading with his fingers’ ends
The scrolls beside him— such is he that reads
The stars. Long hath he laboured, and how long
Will pore o’er lines the writer blotted out!
Prophets arose and vanished: Moses, Jesus,
Mohammed last, who brought the prayers five—
And ’tis foretold there comes another Faith
Than this— and men still perishing away
Between a morrow and a yesterday.
But who dare warrant me the Faith, renewing
Its youthful spring, shall feed religious souls
That wellnigh faint with thirst? Here, fall what may,
Thou never wilt be free of moon and sun.
Like to the world’s beginning is its end,
Its eve as full of portents as its dawn—
The young arriving and the old departing,
A house-quitting, a settling in a tomb.
God’s curse upon this life! its gulfs of woe
Are very sooth, no sad deceiving tale.
I lift my voice whene’er I talk in vain,
But do I speak the truth, hushed are my lips again*.

Life and death— these, for Ma‘arrí, are the everlasting certainties. There may be a life after death, for aught we know, but it is only something to speculate about.

I have no knowledge of what is after death: already this nose-ring hath made my nose bleed*.
Night and dawn and heat and cold and house and graveyard!
How many a one before us sought to probe the mystery! but Omnipotence proclaimed, “Never shalt thou probe it (to the bottom).”*

As regards the soul and its relation to the body, while he sometimes follows Plato, he not seldom inclines to a material­istic view. Hence his meditations on immortality are vague and inconclusive.

O spirit, how long wilt thou with pleasure wear
This body? Fling it off, ’tis worn threadbare*.
If thou hast chosen to lodge thus all these years,
Thine is the blame— and smiles oft end in tears.
Or if the fault was Fate’s, then thou art blind,
As water feels no barrier, though confined.
Wert thou not there, to sin it ne’er had stirred,
But would have lain like earth without a word.
The lamp of mind neglecting, thou dost stray,
Although in Reason’s light thou hast a God-given ray*.
The body, which gives thee during life a form,
Is but thy vase: be not deceived, my soul!
Cheap is the bowl thou storest honey in,
But precious for the contents of the bowl*.
My body and my spirit are like a child and its mother: they are tied, that to this, by the hand of the Lord.
They die simultaneously*, and neither is the body lost (to the spirit) nor does the spirit lose (the body)*.
When a spirit is joined to a body, the one and the other are ever in the sickness of carking pain.
If thou art wind, O wind, be still! or if thou art flame, O flame, be quenched!*
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
The soul was ever before to-day in comfort and peace,
Until by Allah’s decree it made the body its home;
But now the twain not an instant suffer thee to be free
Of pain and smart, let alone malice and enviousness.
The ignoble man says to Pelf, which set him over the folk,
“Yea, thee will I honour: but for thee, I never had ruled.”*
The spirit is a subtle thing, confined
Close in the body, unperceived by mind*.
Glory to God! will it retain the power
To judge aright? and will it in the hour
Of exit feel what then it must explore?
That ’tis that sheds on bodies dark a light
Of beauty as of lamps discerned beneath the night.
’Twill stay beside its body, some pretend;
Some think on meeting Death it will ascend*
But never they that watch him take his toll
Will smell the fragrance of a human soul.
Happiest of all the hermit who doth ban
The sons o’ the world and dies a childless man*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
We buried them in the earth, ay, surely we buried them;
But all that we know about their souls is conjecture.
And man’s searching after lore which Allah enscrolled and sealed
Is reckoned a madness or akin to a madness*.
Time passes and in tomb the body lays:
Did ever man rejoice in length of days?
And some opine the soul of earthly mould;
Nay, for it mounts to heaven (as others hold),
And whether it remove to bale or bliss,
Wears in that world the form it had in this;
Where, being incarnate, it must suffer pain
Still to be dressed and eat and drink in vain.
’Tis certain Allah’s power, resistless, dread,
Can judge His creatures and can raise the dead.
Behold and marvel how the planets, some
Endowed with voices, roll, tho’ rumoured dumb.
Obey not rascals who religion use
Only to clutch increasing revenues.
A Jew that bears in hand the Torah, greed
Incites him, not a holy wish to read.
What feuds between us hath religion twined
And given us o’er to hates of every kind!
Did not a prophet’s ordinance bestow
On Arab lords the women of their foe?*
When the soul leaves
This frame to which it cleaves,
Some say it after grieves.
If with it go
The Reason, it may know
And recollect past woe.
Else, all the reams
O’erwrit with dead men’s dreams
Are wasted ink, meseems!*
If, when my spirit shall take the road to death,
My mind escort it, well mayst thou admire;
And if in vasty air it go to naught,
Even as my body in earth, alas the ruin!
The one religion is that thou be just
To all— and what religion owneth he
That scorns due right? Man cannot lead his soul
To virtue, though he lead a host in arms.
Would he but fast a month from sin, ’twould serve him
Instead of fasting through Sha‘bán and Rajab.
I imitated in nobility
None, but in death I follow noble princes.
Beware the curse of wronged night-brooding wretch!
All barriers oft are pierced by sobs of prayer*.
Some have asserted that the souls continue to exist (after death), shackled in their bodies and being purified,
And that they are removed thence (after a time), and the blest man meets with an honourable fate, while the unblest is stripped (of honour)*.
Dead are the stars of night or sentient beings?
Irrational, or does reason dwell in them?
Some men believe in retribution, some
Declare ye are only herbs that grow and fade;
But I enjoin you to shun wickedness
And not to hate fair deeds. I have observed
How oft the soul, her hour of parting nigh,
Will show contrition for the sins she wrought;
And if our spirits now rust in us, anon
Like brass re-burnished they may newly shine*.

Ma‘arrí rejects the doctrine of metempsychosis and even derides it. In the Risálatu ’l-Ghufrán he quotes these verses by one of the Nuṣayrís, a sect which had many adherents in the districts lying south and west of the river Orontes:

Marvel, mother, at the accidents of Time, that made our sister dwell in a mouse.
Drive these cats away from her and let her have the straw in the sack*.

So in the Luzúm:

O apple-eater, mayst thou not perish! and let none mourn thee as lost on the day of thy death!
The Nuṣayrí said— not I (hearken, therefore, and encourage thy recreants on the battle-field!):
“Thou hast been an apple in thy time, and the apple thou eatest was once thine eater.”*
’Tis said that spirits remove by transmigration
From body into body, till they are purged;
But disbelieve what error may have urged,
Unless thy mind confirm the information.
Tho’ high their heads they carry, like the palm,
Bodies are but as herbs that grow and fade.
Hard polishing wears out the Indian blade,
Allay thy soul’s desires and live calm*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Oh, long, very long, hath been the way to the night-rider
Who sees in the pitchy dark no flame stirred to leaping.
Obedience to Law we found a yoke on the minds of men,
Tho’ none that hath proved the Days denies abrogation.
If once on a time some Jews were changed into animals*,
What aileth this age that no such miracle happens?
And some transmigrationist fanatics have gone so far,
They deem souls alive in plants or minerals and metals.
How generous soe’er thou be and fain to forgive, yet more
Forgiving our Maker is, and more open-handed*.

The fact that the Koran reveals the existence of angels and other good and evil spirits (Jinn) does not hinder Ma‘arrí from using his long experience of life as an argument for incredulity*. If there are no human beings in Heaven, then there are no angels on earth or below it*. God is omnipotent: therefore angels are possible; and at this point our knowledge ends.

I deny not the power of Allah to create forms of light, fleshless and bloodless—
And the seer is blind like me: come on, then, let us knock against one another in the dark!*
Fear thou the Lord, unafraid, albeit in darkness
With tales of Jinn they scare thee and make thee fearful.
All that is a patched-up bogey for beguiling
The thoughtless and stupid. Far from thee such stuff be!*

He also finds unconvincing the tradition that women who wear anklets are loved and followed by evil spirits*.

Resurrection and Retribution are the twin corner-stones of Islam. We have seen what Ma‘arrí thought of the authority on which these doctrines depend, and we know that he could not take them ready-made from that source. If he had any genuine belief in them, it was based on grounds which he considered reasonable. To judge from his writings, he neither believed nor wholly disbelieved in a conscious existence after death, but remained a sceptic because no empirical evidence was forthcoming. Besides, what proof would have satisfied a mind like his? Not, I think, our books of psychical research, much as they might have interested him. Clearly, if he was unable to affirm the immortality of the soul, he would be even less inclined to admit the resurrection of the body, a doctrine which he sometimes professes in agreement with the Koran, while in other poems his real attitude towards it is hardly disguised.

Most of the passages written from the orthodox stand­point are formal in tone*. Here is one in a different vein, but we cannot suppose that it was meant to be taken seriously:

The astrologer and physician, both of them,
Deny the resurrection of the body.
“Oh, get ye gone!” said I; “if your belief
Be true, then I lose nothing; or if mine,
’Tis upon you perdition falls, not me.”*

The possibility of such a resurrection is acknowledged:

By the wisdom of my Creator comes to pass my folding and unfolding,
And the Creator is not incapable of raising me from the dead*.
As for the Resurrection, the controversy about it is notorious, but the mystery thereof is not revealed.
Some have said that the pearl of the diver will never return to the darkness of the shell*;
But the wonders of Almighty God are many: our reason con&­templating them becomes infirm and dumbfounded*.

This is designedly “economical” and its meaning could not be missed by any intelligent reader of the Luzúm. I will quote a few more examples.

(Metre: Wáfir.)
Our bodies are raised by feet of travellers passing
In gloom of the night across some crumbling sand-flat.
A life and a death— ’tis all that our fate shows clearly,
Tho’ pietists work in hope of a resurrection.
No foot is imparadised by a dainty anklet,
No ear is beatified by a pearly earring*.
Death’s debt is then and there
Paid down by dying men;
But ’tis a promise bare
That they shall rise again*.
With optic glass go question thou the stars that roll o’erhead,
The stars that take away the taste of honey gatherèd*:
They point to death, no doubt, but not to rising from the dead*.
O star, in heaven thou shinest from of old
And point’st a flawless moral to the wise.
Death’s fixed and certain date thou hast foretold;
Then why not tell us when the dead shall rise?*
We laugh, but inept is our laughter,
We should weep, and weep sore,
Who are shattered like glass and thereafter
Remoulded no more*.
Were thy body left after death in the state which it was in before, we might have hoped for its restoration (to life),
Even as wine returned once again to the emptied jar that was not broken in pieces;
But it became parts divided, and then atoms of dust ever being swept away in the wind-blasts*.

In his references to the Mohammedan doctrine of future rewards and punishments the poet is similarly versatile. He often writes as one who believes in Paradise and Hell and even in the Koranic representation of them*. He says more than once that he hopes, not to enter the Garden, but to be saved from the Fire*; and he accepts the dogma of ever­lasting damnation qualified sometimes by faith in the infinite mercy of God.

Dust of mine ancient mother I shake off,
And that is deemed a cutting of one’s kin.
Oh, little I care what Allah threateneth
His creatures with, if once the Fire consume
And char my limbs to ashes. But— ’tis life
Endless, an immortality of pain
Whilst ages pass, and mercy nevermore*.

God will not let the labours of the pious be lost: on that point Abú Nuwás, the libertine, concurs with Abu ’l-‘Atáhiya, the ascetic*. Manifestly, virtue is not rewarded in this world*. Do good for its own sake: the Almighty can, if He please, bestow the thawáb upon us; otherwise, Death is our recompense*. The following passages are more or less tinged with scepticism.

(Metre: Basíṭ.)
If Death come but to erase the form and person of me
And ruin that which I wrought, then all Life’s trouble is vain.
It may be some shall receive a recompense from their Lord
When Him they meet, forasmuch they often fasted and prayed*.
They averred that I shall grow young again. How, oh, how may that come to me, although I desire it?
And I shall visit Paradise, they say, and my face will be made bright with gladness after the long decay in the tomb,
And the evil eyes will be removed from me, if it be my fate to be dipped there in the fountain of life*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Astray did I amble on? or fated to reach the plain
Abounding in meadows fair, where herbs never cease to spring?—
And over my camels Night lay brooding so lone and still,
Her stars, thou mightst think, were Jews whose journey the Sabbath stayed.
A tale that is told about the guarded preserve, ’twas that
Aroused me, but no sure man is he who related it*.
If blest I shall be proven past denying,
Oh, would in earth’s lap I were lying!
After my lifelong fast,
Who knows?— I may at last
Keep holiday upon my day of dying.
Their tales about the reckoning and awarding
Scared me, but ’twas in vain they talked.
Its farness did beguile
My fears, tho’ all the while
On right and left of me there walked
An angel, every act recording.
*     *     *     *     *
If true we hope will come
The promise, how not fear the threat of doom?*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
And men see the last of me the day when shall o’er me close
The deep well of Death whose sides are lined with the hateful stones.
Does any one going hence expect robes of green beyond,
When these dusky shrouds within the earth have been torn to shreds?
To me thereanent came news, a medley of tangled tales,
By ways that perplex and foil men eager to know the truth.
Ay, short of it fell the Zoroastrian archimage,
The bishop of Christian folk, the rabbin and scribe of Jews,
And wrote legends of their own in volumes which long ago
Have surely been lost, their ink and paper consumed away.
The sects disagreed about the happenings after death,
And those are engulfing seas whereof none may reach the shore.
’Twas said, “Human souls have power and freedom in what they do,”
And some answered, “Nay, ’tis plain they act by necessity.”
And oh, had our bodies been created of marble rock,
They scarce had endured the shocks of ever recurring change*.
We hope for that world’s bliss,
Although our deeds in this
Are not so fair that we should hope Heaven’s balconies.
Folk carry not from here
The gauds of wealth and gear,
But laden with their sins depart and disappear.
Reason was dumb. “Ask, then,”
Said I, “the reverend men”;
But naught could they decide: this lay beyond their ken.
They talked and lied. When pressed
To put all to the test
Of logic, they broke down in impotence confessed*.

As Ma‘arrí appeals to Reason against Revelation, so does he contrast the observance of religion with the practice of morality. Not that pietism is inconsistent with virtue, but it is distinctly subordinate: prayers, fasts, and almsgivings are all very well; righteousness is essential. The emphasis placed upon the latter implies a certain indifference to the former and almost conveys the impression that le mieux est l’ennemi du bon.

You think the pious man is he
That worships there on bended knee.
Look out! for sadly you mistake,
Meseems you are but half-awake*.
Praise God and pray,
Walk seventy times, not seven, the Temple round—
And impious remain!
Devoutness is to them unknown that may
Enjoy, and are not found
With courage to abstain*.
If thou wilt put into practice the plain texts which are the foun&­dation of the Book (the Koran), thou wilt find them sufficient for the performance of thy obligations.
Neither a (book of) Revelation nor a sermon relieved thy mind (from doubt), but wert thou obedient to God, a single verse would relieve thee*.

When the poet says, “Fear and obey God,” he means, of course, “shun evil and do good.” This, in his eyes, is the kernel of the Koran.

O fool! thou didst esteem thyself religious:
I swear by Allah thou hast no religion.
Thou mak’st the pilgrimage devoutly— meanwhile
Some poor retainer, injured, cries against thee*.

Ma‘arrí’s criticism of Islam goes to the root of the matter. If he is right, there is an end of the divine authority on which the whole system rests: its laws and institutions can be judged on their merits and approved or rejected as the prin­ciples of a rational ethic require. From this standpoint its ascetic features (including the prohibition of wine) com­mended themselves to him. Although, by his own confession, he was somewhat lax in regard to public worship*, he assails only one— and that the most vulnerable— of the five “pillars” of Mohammedanism. The Ḥajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) was taken over by the Prophet from the pagan Arabs and incorporated in Islam as a concession to national sentiment: all Moslem men and women are bound, “if they can find a way,” to perform it at least once in their lives. Ma‘arrí had a good excuse for neglecting this injunction, which in any case he would have disobeyed. Others might be impressed by the religious enthusiasm of the pilgrims; he saw in the Ḥajj a relic of heathendom*, a carnival of superstition and immorality.

Fortune is (so strangely) allotted, that rocks are visited (by pilgrims) and touched with hands and lips,
Like the Holy Rock (at Jerusalem) or the two Angles of Quraysh*, howbeit all of them are stones that once were kicked*.
Methinks, the metropolis (Mecca) is deserted and her ants have departed from her villages*.
And how oft did the companies (of pilgrims) journey by night towards Ṣaláḥ* and suffer great hardships in their journey!
Every year they used to come to the (holy) building, that they might cast their foul deeds upon its back—
Guests whom Allah entertained not with forgiveness, but with calamities He entertained them.
Why should I travel to the stones of a temple in whose precinct cups of wine are drunk,
And the earth of its water-courses, since they existed, hath ever been defiled by harlots?*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I see multitudes that hope the grace of their Lord to win
By kissing a corner-stone and wearing a crucifix.
But pardon me, O my God! At Mecca shall I throw on
Amongst pilgrims newly come the raiment of one insane*,
And go down to water-pools along with some fine fellows
From Yemen, who never cared to dig for themselves a well?*
Stay at home! No obligation
I account the Pilgrimage,
Lady, on thy sex in virgin
Youth nor yet in wedded age.
Mecca’s valley breeds the worst of
Miscreants, who never feel
Fierceness to defend the weaker,
Never flame with knightly zeal.
Men of Shayba, temple-guardians,
Standing there bemused with wine*,
Shove the pilgrim-folk in couples
Through the gateway of the Shrine.
When the people throng around it,
Leave to enter they refuse
None that slips a piece of silver—
Christians jostle in with Jews*.
Lady, canst thou do a kindness?
Bless, then, having power to bless,
And if Charity invite thee
To a good act, answer “Yes”!
Oh, if dupes e’er heeded warning,
Surely wouldst thou recognise
That I tear from specious falsehood
Its invisible disguise.
Put no trust in their inventions:
Crafty were the plots they spun,
But they rode the way to ruin
And their race is wellnigh run.
Though awhile they galloped bravely,
They will soon give up the chase,
For against eternal Justice
Idle ’tis to run a race.
*     *     *     *     *
Some there be with eyes unsleeping,
Feigning in the darkness sleep;
And their words belie their deep thoughts,
And their thoughts in doubt sink deep*.

We have noted how the poet censures whatever seems to him superstitious and irrational. Thus, to mention some slighter instances, he condemns augury* and belief in omens, e.g. the custom of exclaiming “God be praised!” (al-ḥamd) when any one sneezes*. He declares that the descendants of Ham owe their colour to nature, not to the sins of their pro­genitor*. Concerning the legends which attribute extraordinary length of life to certain patriarchs, heroes, and wizards*, he remarks that those who reckoned the age of such persons appear to have counted months as years*. In his opinion, holy men never flew in air or walked on water*. The words, “if thou wilt devote thy heart entirely to God, the beasts of prey will do thee no hurt*,” immediately follow an exhortation to act according to reason and cannot be taken as evidence of his belief in miracles; the context rather suggests that “the beasts of prey” are women of bad char­acter. He had nothing of the mystical spirit, and his allusions to Ṣúfism— a name which in his time covered much vaga­bondage and licence— are contemptuous. He gives the cor­rect derivation from ṣúf (wool):

Ṣúfís— their name bore witness to Reason that they are woolly sheep with necks (hanging as though) broken*.

He doubts whether their rapture is so religious as they pretend*, calls them “one of Satan’s armies*,” and accuses them of travelling from land to land to fill their bellies and gratify their lusts*. This description, however, applies only to the evil-doers amongst them: “the God-fearing (Ṣúfí), when thou wouldst rival him, surpasses thee; he is like the sun, whose radiance no defilement comes near, and the full moon, which is too glorious to be affected by vituperation*.” That a free-thinker should speak of mystics with admiration and respect will not surprise those who remember how often extremes meet. Free-thought and mysticism converge from opposite sides in order to strike at orthodoxy. Ṣúfís, who regard forms of creed and ritual as relatively true and there­fore as obstacles to the attainment of essential truth, have something in common with zindíqs like Ma‘arrí, who “acknowledge neither prophet nor sacred book*” nor any law that is not sanctioned by the inner light of reason. Both these ways of thought are hostile to sectarianism and lead in practice to a large toleration which places Jews and Christians on the same level with Moslems. Many poems in the Luzúm express the view that “man’s inhumanity to man” is fostered and made fiercer by religion, while in others the poet protests against bigotry*, pleads for religious equality, and declares that if men act rightly it does not matter what they believe.

Falsehood hath so corrupted all the world,
Ne’er deal as true friends they whom sects divide;
But were not hate Man’s natural element,
Churches and mosques had risen side by side*.
As I live, they that take refuge (with God) are safe from trouble, whereas the fanatical hater was gripped (by his foe) and grappled with him.
Therefore, O Quss (Christian bishop), sign an order to pay the fees of the khaṭíb (Moslem preacher), and do thou, O Manasseh, fill the office of náẓir (warden) in our mosque*.
Was not the notary ashamed when his reputation was evil in the ears of men?
Thy (Christian) deacon did not judge unjustly, nor was thy Jew covetous (corruptible).
In my opinion, the (Christian) priest is better for thee than a
Moslem who preaches in the congregational mosque*.
Ye wronged others, and they in turn were made to prevail against you: the best of men pronounce mankind to be wrong-doers.
Ye treated the metropolitan of the Christians with indignity, though he was revered by the followers of Mary’s son;
And yet your own Prophet said to you, “When he that is honoured by his people comes (amongst you), show him honour!”
Therefore, let not your khaṭíb return with rancour when he meets them (the Christians) and they withhold from him his due meed of respect*.
If a man refrain from injuring me, then may (divine) bounty and mercy bless him as long as he lives!
Let him read the Book of Moses, if he will, or let him, if he likes, conceive in his heart devotion to Isaiah*.

After what we have seen of Ma‘arrí’s views on the subject of religion it is evident that he would not be described accu­rately by any designation which connotes belief in a divine Word revealed through prophecy or in a religious code deriving its authority from tradition. His whole creed might be expressed in some such formula as “God, the Creator, is One: fear and obey Him*.” The nearest Arabic equivalent to “deist” is zindíq; but this term is opprobrious and com­monly associated with immorality, being applied by Moslems not only to deists, atheists, pantheists, and persons sus­pected of holding Zoroastrian or Manichaean doctrines, but also to all sorts of antinomian heretics. The poet brands with the name zindíq religious impostors whose tenets he considers false and irrational*. Some of this class— possibly Carmathians— are addressed in the following lines.

Ye cast the creeds behind,
Tho’ nowhere do ye find
In Wisdom they should be rejected and dismissed.
Obedience ye refuse
The Moslem judge, the Jews’
Rabbi, the Christian bishop, and the Magian priest.
Let your law be in turn
Offered to them ye spurn,
All will cry, “Nay; we don’t desire it in the least*.”

His own religion is founded on the authority of reason and fulfilled by the practice of virtue. Not a sanctified law, but an enlightened mind, distinguishes good from evil. “Serve God alone, without reference to His servants (crea­tures); for the law (of religion) makes us slaves, while (the use of) logical judgment makes us free*.” True religion con­sists in righteousness together with justice and charity to all men*.

The one religion is that thou be just
To all— and what religion owneth he
That scorns due right?*
Thy understanding’s mirror shows thee evil*,
If there thou seest aught thy conscience owns not.
The splendidest of all thy deeds is that one
By doing which thou mean’st to take a right course;
And best of all thy words, “To God the glory.”*

Like Socrates and the Greeks generally, he takes morality to be “rather a concern of the head than of the heart.” The wickedness of human nature is repeatedly described as “ignorance” and “folly.” There are two kinds of ignorance, he says, which bring men to perdition: one of these is con­stitutional, the other they learn from their preceptors*. Virtue is the fruit of knowledge; the understanding, not the will, controls and corrects the impulses of the flesh*. In accordance with the view that evil needs only to be known in order to be shunned, the poet teaches moral truth by exposing the universal falsehood of mankind for the sake of the few who will listen to reason and let themselves be guided by it*. As we have seen, his ideal of virtue demands world-flight*, but on the other hand his ethical doctrine inculcates “as the highest and holiest duty a conscientious fulfilment of one’s obligations ... towards all living beings*.”

(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Virtue is neither a fast consuming those who it keep,
Nor any office of prayer nor rough fleece wrapped on the limbs.
’Tis nothing but to renounce and throw all evil away
And sweep the breast clear and clean of malice, envy, and spite.
Whate’er the lion profess, no true abstainer is he,
So long as wild beasts and tame fear lest their necks may be broke*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
What! seest thou not that vice in man’s nature is inborn,
But virtue a new unheired possession which minds acquire?
My heart hath been wrung to watch some morning a savage boor
Belabouring his ass with blows— he takes on his head a sin.
The tired beast beyond its strength he burdens, and if it flag,
He sets on it with his lash, whilst stubbornly it endures—
Until it grows like unto a whoremonger, one unwed,
On whom falls the penalty of scourging, and not by halves*.
Weals rise on its back and flanks, the visible marks of woe;
Oh, pardon a helpless brute too feeble to plod along!
A Maker have we: the mind, undoubting, confesses Him
Eternal— then what avails this birth of a latter day?*
And grant that you rub and rub the fire-stick of Right in vain,
Still less from those sticks of Wrong can ever you coax a spark.
It gladdens me not, that I inflict on a fellow-man
Injustice, and live in ease and opulence all the while*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Virtue is like unto twigs of ‘arfaj sodden with rain:
The shepherd sets them alight— they crackle, blaze, and expire;
Vice like a fire of tough ghaḍá wood kindled at night:
A long while passes, and still its coals keep smouldering on.
*     *     *     *     *
I charge thee, draw not a sword for bloodshed: deem it enow
That here the slaughterous blade of Time is ever unsheathed.
A rumour ran in the world— I know it not as a fact—
That certain men have reviled the One Upholder of all.
What! laud a man, tho’ his mind was turned not once in his days
To noble haviour, and leave the Lord of good without laud!*

If in some passages Ma‘arrí allows that good works may earn the thawáb (recompense from God)*, his rational and philosophical judgment rejects a quid pro quo morality and declares that, as virtue is commonly its own reward in this world, it ought to be practised “because ’tis best and fairest*,” without expectation of favours to come.

O sons of Eve, refrain from lying boasts!
Ye have no honour with the Lord of Hosts.
’Twas not your wickedness caused drought and bane,
Nor did your true repentance bring you rain*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
When, having bestowed a boon, thou meet’st with ingratitude,
Repine not, for He who keeps His word gives thee recompense*.
’Twere pity a gentleman should only do right in fear
Of public disgrace, if men report him a wrong-doer.
The good that thou dost, oh, far away from it put reward
Expected or certain gain, as though thou wert huckstering!*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Ay, oft-times a man hath been asleep to his doom, until
Death came of a sudden to him, and he drowsing, half-awake.
Whenever thou doest good, impute it with single mind
To Allah, and spurn the tongues desirous of praising thee.
Misfortune although it be to live in this world of ours,
Consolement thou find’st in acts of virtue and charity*.
Forbidden is thy baser self to quit
The body ere evil thou with good repay*.
For God’s, not men’s sake give thy benefit,
And from their eyes brush drowsiness away*.

Ma‘arrí especially enjoins forbearance, compassion, and kindness. A man should be lenient to others, but severe to himself*. “Charity is the best of thy beliefs: be not heedless thereof, and thou mayst pray facing the Ka‘ba (as Moslems do) or after the fashion of Zoroastrians*.” “How is it that the rich do not share their abundance with the poor?*” The ways of true generosity are unknown to those who grudge their fellow-creatures what they bestow on their near rela­tives*. Injustice to the weak and helpless excites his indig­nation: he pities old men neglected by their sons*, and pleads for humane treatment of slaves*; but he is most deeply touched— this is an Indian trait— by wrong done to animals, birds, and insects*.

How for her dead should Earth have care,
When in the moment of despair
Men cast away their not yet dead
Uncared for and uncomforted?
If God please, when the burst tombs quake,
He’ll punish them for what they did and spake*.

Not only does he abhor cruelty to animals in the modern sense of the phrase*, but he would protect them, if he could, from all injuries which human selfishness causes them to suffer.

(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Iniquity is innate: kinswomen taken in ward
Are wronged, and benefits hid, and scales to short measure run.
The thoroughbred horse is lashed, the camel eaten, the ass
A heavy burden must bear, tho’ scant the flesh on his bones*.
Equal are a kind mother who gave food to a child in his cradle and a dove that fed her chick.
Never, then, hasten knife in hand to destroy a young bird that hopped about in its dwelling-places*.
Give a drink of water as alms to the birds which go forth at morning, and deem that they have a better right than men (to thy charity),
For their race brings not harm upon thee in any wise, when thou fearest it from thine own race*.
To let go from my hand a flea that I have caught is a kinder act than to bestow a dirhem on a man in need.
There is no difference between the black earless creature which I release and the Black Prince of Kinda who bound the tiara (on his head)*.
Both of them take precaution (against death); and life is dear to it (the flea), and it passionately desires the means of living*.

The poet speculates concerning the likelihood of a future existence in which innocent animals will enjoy the happiness denied them in this world*. Two of the Luzúmiyyát are addressed to birds— the ring-dove and the cock*— and another to the wolf, who “if he were conscious of his bloodguiltiness, would rather have remained unborn*.”

As I have shown above, Ma‘arrí put no trust in blood and iron as a cure for the woes of humanity*. War to his mind is immoral, irrational and futile*— for are not the living even as the dead?— and he wishes that it were physically impossible*.

(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Reflection perceives that light was brought in the universe
To being: the eternal stuff of Time is its pitchy dark*.
The empire for which your swords ye brandish, I say to you,
“Desire it no more”: of men the miserablest are kings.
And lo, every eventide the sun’s horizontal beams
Announce to discerning folk his setting is near at hand*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The houses are plastered spick and span, while the tombs decay,
Albeit nor gate nor guard can fend off the stroke unseen.
They say that Islam shall be erased, even as of old
The faith Unitarian went forward and Persia fell;
But hap whatsoever may, yet Allah deceaseth not,
And men cull in days to come the fruitage of that they plant.
Methinks, in the last of life is wormwood that made thee then
Forget what thou once wast fed withal by the humming bees.
Aloof from the yellow sun lodge him that the daybeams scorch,
And bid nigh the ruddy flame when icily breathes the night.
O king, sure in Hell’s hot fire shall burn he that calls a folk
To prayer the while their blood dyes crimson his scimitar.
In Ramla, the dust-defiled, are striplings and grey-haired men
Sore-stricken with miseries because of the crime thou wrought’st*.

His views on education are conservative and almost patriarchal.

“Beat thy son and lead him into a right way of action, and do not say, ‘He is a child not yet grown up.’ A crack on the head is often beneficial: consider how good it is for the reed-pen to have its head split*.”

Teach your girls to ply the loom and spindle,
Reading and writing— leave it to their brothers!
A maid’s prayer giving unto God the glory
Will serve instead of Yúnus and Bará’a*.
Well may she blush to sit before the curtain,
Whene’er the singing-women sing behind it*.
Do not think thy fair ones worthy of praise if they are found with hands that can form lines of writing,
For it better becomes them to carry spindles than reeds made into pens.
Girls are arrows: if they get acquainted with a book of grammar, they return envenomed with mischief.
They leave the virtuous man infatuated, though they came (to him) as pupils, that he might guide them.
And if they go to consult the astrologer, they do not draw back from error.
Let them learn to read (the Koran) from an old crone— one of those who open toothless mouths,
Glorifying the Lord every night and praying in the morning, ever abstaining from sin.
When young women speak well enough to explain what they mean, they are not to be blamed for mispronunciation*.

Such maxims, though widely current, must have been deemed reactionary by many who read the Luzúm before the death of its author or soon afterwards*. They are based, no doubt, on the general Moslem view that the female sex is “deficient in intelligence and religion.” Ma‘arrí’s ideal of womanhood is the modest, hard-working, home-keeping wife, who honours and obeys her husband*: she is “thy first Paradise*.”

(Metre: Munsariḥ. Scheme: )
A lady wife, praying God to help her to guard
Her husband, ’tis she from shame hath guarded him well.
Up and about early, she betaketh herself
To spin with cotton or sew with needle and thread.
All evil she puts away, afar from her thoughts,
And meets with good in her putting evil afar*.

The practical moral excellence at which he aims is the result of right knowledge; and right knowledge cannot be gained by means of a liberal education. On the contrary, “people everywhere are called to embrace false doctrines by a party of udabá*,” i.e. men of letters and culture. Reason is the guide to virtue, and asceticism is the road. He scorns the argument from antiquity.

Allege not, when thou work’st a deed of shame,
The scoundrel’s plea, “My forbears did the same.”*

Ma‘arrí has been dubbed “a precursor of Omar Khayyám*,” an unfortunate and misleading phrase which can only be defended by the plea that FitzGerald does not give a true picture of the Persian astronomer*. Omar, certainly, was a pessimist and sceptic, but (according to FitzGerald) he had also a marked vein of hedonism and mysticism, of which no vestige is to be found in the Luzúmiyyát. M. Salmon speaks of “les éloges qu’Al-Ma‘arrí, habitué à des fréquentations de buveurs, prodigue à la liqueur vermeille*”; these, how­ever, are quite imaginary, for he always refers to wine-drinking with reprobation*. Granted that Omar may have been more like Ma‘arrí than we should suppose from the English representation of him, trustworthy evidence con­cerning his character is too slight to allow the two poets to be compared. All we can say is that their philosophies of life have some features in common, and that several passages in the Luzúm at once call to mind well-known “Omarian” stanzas, for example:

God moulded me of water (seed), and lo, like water I run by measure according as I was set to run.
I was created for the divine purpose without knowing the realities thereof, and would that I were absolved from the reckoning with God!
I see the apparition of a curtain which Destiny pre-ordained, whence I came forth for a little and then was hidden in dark­ness*.

Ma‘arrí, too, strikes from the calendar

“Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday,”

but not in the sense of carpe diem; for when he says,

“Lay your hands now to that in which we are engaged, and leave alone To-morrow, for it is not yet come, and Yesterday, for it is past*,”

he warns us that to live righteously is a present and urgent duty. His pessimism is no mood of melancholy retrospect, it is the cry of a man in pain who feels himself driven along ruthlessly, “like victims with halters on their necks*.”

We were created for some end unclear: we live a little while, then destruction o’ertakes us.
We are like foodless horses, ever champing their bits in wrath, for their side-teeth are bloody with champing*.

Although, as an ascetic, he must confess and preach the vanity of fame*, he alludes to his literary reputation and anticipates that it will outlast him.

Well-pleased awhile I gathered lore, till Time
Filled me with rage and memory I did lack.
Whatever I indite in prose or rhyme,
The plagiarists are on my phrases’ track*.
Man’s harmony, composed of discords four,
To Seven of diverse influence is made o’er*.
Read thou my poesy, when earth shall bind me;
For lo, I leave it as an heir behind me*.

In another passage he tells how he was dreamed of— and in the dreamer’s vision he was a great king, his head crowned with a tiara of gold. “I said, interpreting it, ‘Gold (dhahab) is a sign of my decease (dhahábí), and the tiara signifies my renown when I shall be dust.’*

BThe Bombay edition of the Luzúm (A.H. 1303). It is based on a manu­ script dated A.H. 639, which was transcribed for the Ḥafṣite prince, Abú Zakariyyá ibn Abí Ḥafṣ.
CThe Cairo edition (A.D. 1891), derived from a manuscript dated A.H. 633.
LA copy, made for Von Kremer, of the Cairo MS. which is the source of the Bombay edition. It is now in the British Museum (Or. 3160, No. 1050 in Rieu’s supplementary Catalogue). Von Kremer refers to it as Cod. K (Zeitschrift d. Deutschen Morg. Gesellschaft, 38,501, note 1).
OA manuscript in the Bodleian Library (No. 1293 in Uri’s Catalogue). Though it is carelessly written, its original (dated A.H. 517) is more than a century older than the codices used by the Oriental editors.
SThe extracts from the Luzúm which were published by Von Kremer in the Sitzungsberichte d. Kais. Akad. zu Wien, vol. 117 (1889).
ZThe texts with German translation published by Von Kremer in the Zeitschrift d. Deutschen Morg. Gesellschaft, vols. 29, 30, 31 and 38.

The following text is that of C, collated throughout with BSZ and also, for the greater part, with LO. I have recorded nearly all the variants: it will be seen that these are few and as a rule unimportant. References showing where each extract occurs in C will be found under the English trans­lations.