In the casket of the Hours
Events deep-hid
Wait on their guardian Powers
To raise the lid.
And the Maker infinite,
Whose poem is Time,
He need not weave in it
A forced stale rhyme.
The Nights pass so,
Voices dumb,
Without sense quick or slow
Of what shall come*.
*     *     *     *     *
By Allah’s will preserving
From misflight,
The barbs of Time unswerving
On us alight.
A loan is all he gives
And takes again;
With his gift happy lives
The folly of men*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl, with variations.)
Would that a lad had died in the very hour of birth
And never sucked, as she lay in childbed, his mother’s breast!
Her babe, it says to her or ever its tongue can speak,
“Nothing thou gett’st of me but sorrow and bitter pain.”*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
This world, O my friend, is like a carcase unsepulchred,
And we are the dogs that yelp around it on every side.
A loser is he, whoso advances to eat thereof;
A gainer is he, whoso returns from it hungry still.
If any be not waylaid by calamities in the night,
Some ill hap of Time is sure to meet him at morningtide*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The soul feels a shock of pain, when Time’s thunderbolt o’erwhelms
With ruin; a thrill of joy, when softly he sings to her*;
And whence are the paths for us prepared that our feet may fall,
She knows not, or where the beds ordained that we lay our sides.
These Hours, they seem as snakes of black and of white colure*,
So deadly, the fingers lack all boldness in touching them.
Mankind are the breaths, I ween, of Earth: one is upward borne
To us, whilst in ebbing wave another returns to dust.
I drank it, my forty years’ existence, and gulped it down,
But ah, what a bitter draught! and nowise it did me good.
We live ignorant and die in errancy as we lived:
Besotted with wickedness, a man turns not back again*.
Ye stand still beneath Heaven
Whose wheels by Force are driven;
And choose in freedom while
The Fates look on and smile*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
They mustered for setting out, ’twas a morn of promise:
“Now surely,” they said, “a rain on the land is fallen.”
Mayhap those weather-wise who observe the lightning
Shall perish before they win of it any bounty.
The folk ofttimes are saved in a land of famine,
The fruitful and rich champaign may destroy its people*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl, with variations.)
’Tis God’s will a man should live in torment and tribulation,
Until those that know him cry, “He hath paid now the lifelong debt.”
Give joy to his next of kin on the day of his departure,
For they gain a heritage of riches, and he of peace*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The greatest of all the gifts of Time is to give up all:
Whate’er he bestows on thee, his hand is outstretched to seize.
More excellence hath a life of want than a life of wealth,
And better than monarch’s fine apparel the hermit’s garb.
I doubt not but Time one day will raise an event of power
To scatter from Night’s swart brow her clustering Pleiades.
Ere Noah and Adam, he the twins of the Lesser Bear
Unveiled: they are called not yet amongst bears grown grey and old.
Let others run deep in talk, preferring this creed or that,
But mine is a creed of use: to hold me aloof from men.
Methinks, on the Hours we ride to foray as cavaliers:
They speed us along like mares of tall make and big of bone.
What most wears Life’s vesture out is grief which a soul endures,
Unable to bring once back a happiness past and gone*.
O Death! be thou my guest: I am tired of living,
And I have tried both sorts in joy and sorrow.
My morrow shall be my yesterday, none doubts it;
My yesterday nevermore shall be my morrow*.
Perish this world! I should not joy to be
Its Caliph or Maḥmúd*.
My fate I know not, save that I in turn
Am treading the same path to the same bourne
As old ‘Ád and Thamúd*.
The mountains (’tis averred) shall melt, the seas
Surely shall freeze;
And the great dome of Heaven, whose poles
Have ever awed men’s souls,
Some argue for its ruin, some maintain
Its immortality— in vain?*
The scattered boulders of the lava waste,
Shall e’er they mingle into one massed ore?*
If sheer catastrophe shall fling in haste
The Pleiad luminaries asunder,
Well may be quenched the fiery brand of Mars;
And if decay smites Indian scimitars,
Survival of their sheaths would be a wonder!*
(Metre: Wáfir.)
O child of a tender mother— and surely Allah
Is able to bring to pass whatsoe’er He pleaseth—
Thou after thy death, destroyed by the hap most hateful,
Yet speakest and warnest us with a voice of wisdom.
“Unwilling” (thou sayst) “in this world I alighted
And lived; and how oft was medicined, how oft was potioned!
A year, month after month, I made by climbing—
And would I had never climbed on the new moons’ ladder!
And when I was called away and my hour of weaning*
Drew nigh, Death sought me out and I found no warder.
Life’s house I abandoned, empty, to other tenants,
And wretched I must have been had I still remained there.
I went forth pure, unsoiled: had my lease of living
Been long, I had soilure ta’en and had lost my pureness.
Oh, why dost thou weep? It may be that I am chosen
To dwell with the blessed souls in the state hereafter.
’Gainst evil the women charmed me, but when my day dawned,
It left me as though I ne’er had been charmed by charmers.
Suppose I had lived as long as the vulture, only
To meet Death at the last: I had either suffered
The poor man’s wrong, oppressed without fear of Allah,
Or else I had been a ruler of men who feared me.
’Tis one of the boons my Lord hath bestowed upon me,
That hastily I departed and did not tarry.”*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The sage looketh in the glass of Reason, but he that makes
His brethren his looking-glass will see truth, mayhap, or lies*.
And I, shall I fear the pain of Allah, when He is just,
And though I have lived the life of one wronged and racked with pain?
Yes: each hath his portioned lot; but men in their ignorance
Would mend here the things they loathe that never can mended be*.
Nor birth I chose nor old age nor to live:
What the Past grudged me shall the Present give?
Here must I stay, by Doom’s both hands constrained,
Nor go until my going is ordained.
You who would guide me out of dark illusion,
You lie— your story does but make confusion.
For can you alter that you brand with shame,
Or is it not unalterably the same?*
Leisurely through life’s long gloom
I have journeyed to my tomb;
Now that I am come so near,
Needs my soul must quake with fear.
What are we? what all that stirs
In this teeming universe
To a Power which, unspent,
Swallows the whole firmament?
Thunder roared: methought it was
A fell lion from whose jaws
Full in front of him there hung
Lolling many a lightning-tongue*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
’Tis want of wit to disdain good counsel frankly bestowed
And still desire that the Days make right the wrong that they do.
Let Time alone and its folk to mind their business themselves;
Live thou in doubt of the world, mistrusting all of its kind.
Youth rode away: not a word of news about him have we,
Nor us revisits of him a wraith to gladden our eyes.
Ah, had we won to a land where Youth is, how should we grudge
Our camels’ due— saddles wrought of fragrant Indian wood?
A man grows older and leaves his prime in pawn to Decay,
Then gets a new gaberdine of hoariness to put on;
And live he never so long, repentance tarries behind
Until the Dooms on him fall ere any vow he hath ta’en.
Fate’s equinoctial line sprang from a marvellous point,
That into nothingness shot lines, pens, and writers and all!*
This folk, I know not what befools them,
And worse their fathers sinned, maybe;
Their senseless prayers for him who rules them
The pulpit almost weeps to see*.
Loth came we and reluctant go
And forced endure the time between.
Allah, to whom our praises flow,
Beside His might grand words are mean.
Life seems the vision of one sleeping
Which contraries interpret after:
’Tis joy whenever thou art weeping,
Thy smiles are tears, and sobs thy laughter;
And Man, exulting in his breath,
A prisoner kept in chains for death*.
From Doom, determined that no state shall stand,
Nor gift nor guard can save the tyrant king,
Not though the planet Mars were in his hand
A shaft, and Jupiter a target-ring*.
Plague on this body, full of dole,
Thy fated thoroughfare, O soul!
And may this soul accursed be,
O body, whilst it fares through thee!
Ye twain were wedded and made one,
And by your wedlock was begun
The birth of portents which unbind
Havoc and ruin to mankind*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Shall ever the dead man’s soul return after he is gone,
To render his kin the meed of thanks for their flowing tears?
The hearse-bearers’ necks and hands conveyed him— a change of state
From when to and fro he fared in palanquins all of gold;
And liefer had he alive been trodden below their feet
Than high they had lifted up his corpse on their shoulders borne.
O levelling Death! to thee a rich man is like a poor,
Thou car’st not that one hath hit the right way, another missed.
The knight’s coat of mail thou deem’st in softness a maiden’s shift,
And frail as the spider’s house the domed halls of Chosroes.
To earth came he down unhorsed when Death in the saddle sate,
Tho’ aye ’mongst his clan was he the noblest of them that ride.
A bier is but like a ship: it casteth its wrecked away
To drown in a sea of death where wave ever mounts on wave*.
Ah, let us go, whom nature gave firm minds and courage fast,
To meet the Fates pursuing us, that we may die at last.
The draught of Life, to me it seems the bitterest thing to drain,
And lo, in bitter sooth we all must spew it out again*.
World-wide seems to spread a fragrance
From the sweetness of the flowers.
All praise Him, the All-sustainer,
Clouds and plants and rocks and water.
We— we burden Earth so sorely
That she well-nigh sinks beneath us*.
I charged my soul and fondly counselled her,
But she would not comply.
My sins in number as the sands— no care
To count them up have I.
My daily lot comes, be my hand remiss,
Or near to it, or far
As Pleiades and Spica Virginis
And Sirius’ twofold star*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Life ends, and no jar for us who thirst was bled of its wine,
Nor cupped thro’ long years of drought our camel aged and worn*.
And so we part, nothing won whereby we plainly should know
What purpose touching the earth’s inhabitants was designed.
This knowledge neither do tales tradition-borne to us give
Nor any star that is watched by patient eyes on the earth.
Time fades away with us, bleaching all the green of our leaf;
No sooner each crop anew springs up than lo, it is mown*.
In these thy days the learned are extinct,
O’er them night darkens, and our human swarms
Roam guideless since the black mare lost her blaze*.
All masculines are servants of the Lord,
All feminines His handmaids. The moon, now thin
Riding on high, now full, the Lesser Bear.
Water and clay, the Pleiads and the sun,
Earth, sky, and morning— are not all these His?
No sage will chide thee for confessing that.
O brother, let me pray God to forgive me,
For but a gasp of breath in me remains.
“The noble”? Ay, we talk of them. Our age
Hath only persons, names, tales long ago
For gain invented and by fools re-told.
Yonder bright stars to my true fancy seem
Nets which the hunter Time flings o’er his prey.
How wondrously is mortal fate fulfilled!
And seeing Death at work— the husband’s kin
And wife’s consumed together and none spared—
Wise men towards submission shape their will.
Ever since falsehood was, it ruled the world,
And sages died in anger. O Asmá,
Look for a certain day to find thee out,
Wert thou a chamois on a peak unclimbed.
If the four enemy humours in man’s body
Concordant mix, he thrives; else tirelessly
They sow disease and swooning. I have found
The world a ruffian brute, exempt from law—
“Wounds by a brute inflicted go scot-free”—*
A thing of nights and days; in the which aspect
Life’s black and white bespeckled snake creeps on*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Were I sent out to explore this world of thine by a band
Migrating hither, from me no liar’s tale would they hear,
But words like these: “’Tis a land whose herbs are sickness and plague,
Its sweetest water distils a bane for generous souls.
Oh, ’tis the torment of Hell! Make haste, up, saddle and ride
To any region but that! Avoid it, camp ye not there!
Abominations it hath; no day or part of a day
Is pure and clean. Travel on, spur fast and faster the steeds!
I tell you that which is known for sure, not tangled in doubt;
None drawn with cords of untruth inveigle I to his harm.”*
(Metre: Wáfir.)
Commandments there be which some minds reckon lightly,
Yet no man knoweth whom shall befall perdition.
The Book of Mohammed, ay, and the Book of Moses,
The Gospel of Mary’s son and the Psalms of David,
Their bans no nation heeded, their wisdom perished
In vain— and like to perish are all the people.
Two homes hath a man to dwell in, and Life resembles
A bridge that is travelled over in ceaseless passage*.
Behold an abode deserted, a tomb frequented!
Nor houses nor tombs at last shall remain in being*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Whenever a babe first cries, its parents and kinsfolk say
(Tho’ mutely), “The darts of Change will fall thick and fast: endure!
The world made us miserable, albeit we loved it long:
Now try it and pass, thou too, thy lifetime in misery.
And show not as if to thee ’twere nothing, for each of us
Bears witness that in his heart it wakens a fierce desire.”*
Age after age entirely dark hath run
Nor any dawn led up a rising sun.
Things change and pass, the world unshaken stands
With all its western, all its eastern lands.
The Pen flowed and the fiat was fulfilled,
The ink dried on the parchment as Fate willed.
Chosroes could his satraps round him save,
Or Caesar his patricians— from the grave?*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Athirsting art thou for Youth’s fresh water, and all the while
Since ever so long ago ’tis sinking and ebbing.
Thou seest it on the lips of others and canst not take:
When that that is loved departs, then thou wilt be loathèd*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
It may be the stars of Night are setting their thought to work
To make known a mystery, and all eyes shall then behold.
I came into this abode reluctantly and depart
Elsewhither against my will: God witnesseth it is so.
And now in the space ’tween past and future am I compelled
To action? or have I power and freedom to do my best?
O World, may I get well rid of thee! for thy folk’s one voice
Is folly, and Moslems match in wickedness those they rule;
And one puts himself to shame, disclosing his inmost mind,
And one hides his carnal thoughts— a zealot and bigot he!
The greybeard is but a child in purpose; the aged crone
Desires to enjoy her life like any full-bosomed maid.
Alas, strange it is how run we after a liar’s tales
And leave what we plainly see of foolishness in ourselves.
These mortals are lost to truth: ascetic there never was
Amongst them, and ne’er shall be, until from the dead they rise*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
’Tis sorrow enough for man that after he roamed at will,
The Days beckon him and say, “Begone, enter now a grave!”
How many a time our feet have trodden beneath the dust
A brow of the arrogant, a skull of the debonair!*
The world’s best moment is a calm hour passed
In listening to a friend who can talk well.
How wonderful is Life from first to last!
Old Time keeps ever young of tooth. There fell
His ruin upon the nations: in each clime
Their graves were dug— no grave was digged for Time*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
To live is the common hope; yet never thou putt’st to proof
The terrors of Time but when thou verily livest.
If scattered in disarray the limbs of my body lie,
In summer let woe betide or winter, I care not.
Do thou feather, if thou canst, the nest of a needy wight,
And brag not abroad that thou hast feathered it finely;
And though unto men thy wealth and opulence overflow,
Be sure thou shalt sink, O sea, howe’er high thou surgest!*
(Metre: Kámil.)
I welcome Death in his onset and the return thereof,
That he may cover me with his garment’s redundancy.
This world is such an abode that if those present here
Have their wits entire, they will never weep for the absent ones.
Calamities exceeding count hath it brought to light;
Beneath its arm and embosomed close how many more!
It cleaves us all with its swords asunder and smites us down
With its spears and finds us out, right home, with its sure-winged shafts.
Its prize-winners, who won the power and the wealth of it,
Are but little distant in plight from those who lost its prize.
*     *     *     *     *
And a strange thing ’tis, how lovingly doth every man
Desire the Mother of stench the while he rails at her*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Softly, my fellow-men! for look, if I blame your ways,
I needs must, no help for it, begin with my mortal selt.
Oh, when shall Time cease— the power of Allah is over all—
And we be at rest in earth, hushed everlastingly?
This body and soul have housed together a period,
And ever my soul thereby was anguished, her brightness dimmed*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Sick men, if guided aright, themselves will physic their pain.
The wise could heal, were they found, or else thou seekest in vain.
We flee from Death’s bitter cup: he follows, loving and fain*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
For him whose hour is come low in the tomb to be laid
A house of wood they have redd, a house nor lofty nor wide.
O ye that mourn, let him be, with Earth alone for his friend:
No strangeness knows he with her: of comrades trustiest she.
Earthen the body, and rain the best of gifts to the earth—
Pray ye the bountiful clouds to keep well-watered his limbs!
Be youth’s cheek never so bright, a strip of dust shall he make,
And fear surpriseth him when his face grows haggard and wan.
Whomso the morrow of death from heavy straitness hath freed
No better fares than a skin dragged to and fro in carouse*.
Beware of laughter and shun to live familiar with it:
Seest not the cloud, when ’twas moved to laugh, how hoarsely it wailed?*
(Metre: Kámil.)
O shapes of men dark-looming under the battle-dust,
Dyeing red the sword and spurring horses lithe and lean,
And plunging into the deeps of pitchiest dead of night,
And ever cleaving through the measureless waste of sand—
Their hope a little water, that they may lick it up—
What bitterness do they drain, and all for a boon so cheap!
*     *     *     *     *
When spirit journeys away from body, its dwelling-place,
Then hath body naught to do but sink and be seen no more*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
’Tis hateful that wail be heard of a weeping mourner
When cometh mine hour to die and fulfil my doomsday.
Not willingly went I down to the fated waters:
The two strong youths*
by force haled me between them.
If choice of my lot were granted, I ne’er had moved house
To dwell in a place of narrowness after wideness.
I found all creatures riddled and strung together
By deathbolts rushing hard on the heels of deathbolts.
“Think lightly of this our life” is the charge I give you,
For soon shall I tread the footmarks of my comrades*.
Death, an thou wilt come anear me,
Not unwelcome is thy nearing—
Safest, mightiest of strongholds,
Once I pass the grave’s portcullis.
Whoso meets thee shall not spy on
Peril or forebode affliction.
I am like a camel-owner
Handling all day long the scabbed ones,
Or a wild-bull seeking thistles
Far and wide in wildernesses.
If I fall back to my first source,
’Tis an ill tomb I must lie in.
Every moment as it fleeteth
One more knot of Life unravels.
Who but dreads a doom approaching?
Ay, and who shall fail to drink it?
Well they guard against the sword-edge
Lest their skins should feel its sharpness;
But the agony of deathbed,
Sorer ’tis than thousand stabbings.
Reason wars in us with nature,
Nature makes a hard resistance.
O grave-dweller, thou instruct me
Touching Death and his devices;
Be not niggard, for ’tis certain
I therein am all unpractised.
Wheeling, down on men he swoopeth
As a hawk that hunts a covey,
Or as grim wolf striding swiftly
For a night-raid on the sheepfold.
Ruin spares not any creature
In the fold or on the field-track,
Nor ’tis my belief the Dooms pass
Idly o’er a star-sown region:
They shall seize on Lyra, Virgo,
On Arcturus and his consort.
Every soul do they search after
In the wide world east and westward,
Visit ruthlessly of human
Kind the alien and the Arab.
Not a lightning-gleam but somewhere
Wakes a thrill of joy or sorrow.
Fancy hath enslaved the freeman
From her toils to flee unwilling.
Those that seek me shall not find me,
Far away my camping-places.
On our crowns erewhile the locks lay
Jet as ’twere the raven’s plumage;
Then the mirk cleared and we marvelled
How the pitch-black changed to milk-white.
When my belly a little dwindles*,
I shall count upon God’s favour,
Though provided for the night-march
Only with a skin of water*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
If no elder shall be left behind me to feel himself
Undone by my loss, nor child, for what am I living?
And Life is a malady whose one medicine is Death,
So quietly let me go the way to my purpose*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Better for Adam and all who issued forth from his loins
That he and they, yet unborn, created never had been!
For whilst his body was dust and rotten bones in the earth,
Ah, did he feel what his children saw and suffered of woe?
What wouldest thou with a house that ne’er is thine to possess,
Whence, after dwelling a little space, thou goest again?
Thou leav’st it sullenly, not with sound of praise in thine ears,
And in thy heart the desire thereof— a passionate love.
The spirit’s vesture art thou, which afterwards it puts off—
And vesture moulders away, ay, even armour and mail.
The Nights, renewing themselves, outwear it: still do they show
In ever wearing it out the same old treacherous grain.
But men are different sorts, and he that speaks to them truth
Is paid with hatred, and he that lies and flatters, with gold.
Who dirhems hath but a few to falsehood hasteneth soon,
The tales he feigns and invents make heaps of money for him.
And oftentimes will a man upbraid himself for his true
And honest speech, when he sees the luck of fellows that lie*.
The World, oh, fie upon her!
Umm Dafr her name of honour—
Mother of stink, not scent*.
The dove amongst the sprays there,
Warbling so well his lays there,
Hath voice more eloquent
(Sages opine) than any
That preach in pulpit, when he
Vows that Time’s gifts are many
And all with poison blent*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Of each day I take adieu, aware that the like of it,
Once gone from the like of me, will never return more.
Ill-starred are the easy ways of life where the careless stroll,
Howbeit they deem their lot auspicious and happy.
For me, ’tis as though I ride an old jaded beast, what time
Outstretched on a bough the lizard basks in the noon-blaze.
Death journeys amid the night when all friends and foemen sleep,
And ever afoot is he whilst we are reclining*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
O purblind men, is none clear-eyed amongst you?
Alas, have ye none to guide you towards the summit?
We people the world in youthtide and in greyness
Of eld, and in woe we sleep and in woe we waken;
And all lands we inhabit at every season,
And find earth’s hills the same as we found its valleys.
A bed is made smooth and soft for the rich man’s slumber—
Oh, gladder for him a grave than a couch to lie on!
Whenever a soul is joined to a living body,
Between them is war of Moslem and unbeliever*.
In pleasures is no stay: their sweets beguile
At first, but ah the bitter after-while!
Time vowed we all to dust should surely come,
And sent, to search us out, the messengers of doom.
Man, once enriched by Death, wants nothing more;
A child receives Life’s breath, and he is poor*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Had men followed me— confound them!— well had I guided them
To Truth or to some plain track by which they might soon arrive.
For here have I lived until of Time I am tired, and it
Of me; and my heart hath known the cream of experience.
*     *     *     *     *
What choice hath a man except seclusion and loneliness,
When Destiny grants him not the gaining of that he craves?
Make peace, if thou wilt, or war: the Days with indifferent hand
Their measure mete out alike to warrior and friend of peace*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The wants of my soul keep house, close-curtained, like modest wives,
While other men’s wants run loose, like women sent back divorced.
A steed when the bit chafes sore can nowise for all his wrath
Prevail over it except he champ on the iron curb;
And never doth man attain to swim on a full-borne tide
Of glory but after he was sunken in miseries.
It hindereth not my mind from sure expectation of
A mortal event, that I am mortal and mortal’s son.
I swerve and they miss their mark, the arrows Life aims at me,
But sped they from bows of Death, not thus would they see me swerve.
The strange camels jealously are driven from the waterside,
But no hand may reach so far to drive from the pond of Death.
I vow, ne’er my watcher watched the storm where should burst its flood,
Nor searched after meadows dim with rain-clouds my pioneer*.
And how should I hope of Time advantage and increment,
Since even as the branches he destroyed he hath rased the root?*
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Sore, sore the barren one’s grief: no child conceived she and bare;
Yet that is better for her, with right thought were she but blest.
Death taketh naught from a lonely soul excepting itself,
Whenas he musters his might and of a sudden waylays.
Alas, the crier of good— no ear inclineth to him:
Good, since the world was, hath been a lost thing ever unsought*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Each time had its turn of me— a morning, an eve, a night—
And over me passed To-day, To-morrow, and Yesterday.
In splendour upsprings a day, then blindingly creeps a mirk,
A moon rises full and sets, then followeth it a sun.
I go from the world, farewell unspoken, without a word
Of peace on my lips, for oh, its happenings are hunger-pangs.
Abstainer in two respects am I, never having touched
A woman of swelling breast or kissed pilgrim-wise the Stone.
*     *     *     *     *
And now I have lived to cross the border of fifty years,
Albeit enough for me in hardship were ten or five.
And if as a shadow they are gone, yet they also seem
Like heaped spoils, whereof no fifth for Allah was set apart.
The bale must on camel’s back be corded, the world be loathed,
The body be laid in earth, the trace and the track be lost.
Make haste, O my heart, make haste, repenting, to do the deeds
Of righteousness— know’st thou not the grave is my journey’s end?
And sometimes I speak out loud and sometimes I whisper low:
In sight of the One ’tis all the same, whether low or loud.
And still with adventurous soul I dive in the sea of Change,
But only to drown, alas, or ever I clutch its pearl*.
’Tis pain to live and pain to die,
Oh, would that far-off fate were nigh!
An empty hand, a palate dry,
A craving soul, a staring eye.
Who kindles fires in the night
For glory’s sake he shows a light;
But man, to live, needs little wealth—
A shirt, a bellyful, and health.
Clasped in the tomb, he careth not
For anything he gave or got;
Silken touch and iron thrust
Are one to him that now is dust.
*     *     *     *     *
We smile on happy friends awhile,
Though nothing here is worth a smile.
Give joy to those, more blest than I,
Who gained their dearest wish— to die*!
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
So soon as they put me out of sight, I shall reck no more
When over me sweeps in gusts a northwind or southwind.
Time’s ruinous strokes will fall: I cannot preserve my bones
By getting myself a chest of cypress or pinewood.
I wonder, will frightful hordes of Ethiops and Nubians
Because of the wrongs I did be seen at my rest-place?
Will colour of sin endow the white-gleaming dust above
With that noble wannish hue of piety’s champions?
“How many a pillowing skull of mortals and cradling side,”
Says Earth, “turned to rottenness and crumbled beneath me!”
And lo, though I wrought no good to speak of, I surely hope
My drouth will be quenched at last in amplest of buckets*.
If Time aids thee to victory, he will aid
Thy foe anon to take a full revenge.
The Days’ meridian heats bear off as spoil
That which was shed from the moist dawns gone by*.
Earth’s lap me rids in any case
Of all the ills upon her face,
And equally ’twixt lord and slave
Divides the portion of the grave.
A long, long time have I lived through,
And never by experience knew
That we can hear the step so light
Of angel or demonic sprite.
To God the kingdom over all;
For they, the greater as the small—
The living as the dead— remain,
And nothing perishes in vain.
Lo, if a body dies, in store
This earth will keep it evermore;
And at a sign of parting given
The soul already is in heaven*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Upon the hazard of Life doth man come into the world
Against his will, and departs a loser chafed and chagrined.
He seweth, stitch after stitch, his sins to clothe him withal,
As though the crown of his head were ne’er with hoariness sown*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
A bird darted on my left, but augury I practise not,
Howbeit its flight may send me somewhat of evil chance.
I see that from every race continually mounteth up
A babble of delirium, both the long and the short of it;
That piecemeal and limb by limb the body returns to earth,
But as for the spirit, none well knows whither that is gone.
And surely one day shall we, of utter necessity,
Set out on a hateful road at morning or eventide.
If base souls were reconciled with noble, their common wounds
Forgiveness had healed, not law that punishes like with like*.
Consider every moment past
A thread from Life’s frayed mantle cast.
Bear with the world that shakes thy breast
And live serene as though at rest.
How often did a coal of fire
Blaze up awhile, sink low, expire!
O captain, with calm mind lead on,
Where rolls the dust of war: ’tis none
Of thine, the cause that’s lost or won*.
Time, who gave thee so scant a dole,
He takes of human lives large toll.
Spare us more wounds: enough we owe
A fate enamoured of our woe.
Aid him that weeps and pining sighs,
And ask the laugher why he joys,
When our most perfect sage seems yet
A schoolboy at his alphabet*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
Aweary am I of living in town and village—
And oh, to be camped alone in a desert region,
Revived by the scent of lavender when I hunger
And scooping into my palm, if I thirst, well-water!
Meseemeth, the Days are dromedaries lean and jaded
That bear on their backs humanity travelling onward;
They shrink not in dread from any portentous nightmare,
Nor quail at the noise of shouting and rush of panic,
But journey along for ever with those they carry,
Until at the last they kneel by the dug-out houses.
No need, when in earth the maid rests covered over,
No need for her locks of hair to be loosed and plaited;
The young man parts from her, and his tears are flowing—
Even thus do the favours flow of disgustful Fortune*.
The nature mingled with the souls of men
Against their reason fights, and breaks it so
That now its lustre seems of no avail,
A sun palled o’er with clouds and shadows dark,
Until, when death approaches, they perceive
That all they wrought is foolishness and vain.
*     *     *     *     *
A knave may go abroad and seal his fate,
As when the viper sallies from its hole;
Or stay at home to die by slow degrees,
Like meagre wolf that in the covert hides.
The soul is Life’s familiar: at the thought
Of parting burst, in torrent gush, her tears.
*     *     *     *     *
And well I know, ungrieving for aught past,
My time’s least portion is this present last.
The righteous seek what Law forbears to ban,
But I have found no law permitting— Man*.
A mighty God, men evil-handed,
The dogmas of free-will and fate;
Day and Night with falsehood branded,
Woes that ne’er had or have a date*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
To live we desire because of exceeding folly,
Albeit to lose our life were a lot desirèd.
Tho’ lion and hare complain of their evil fortune,
Nor hoarse growls mercy win nor feeble squeakings.
The while I was there, I nothing could see that liked me,
And wished to be gone— oh, when shall I go for ever?*
The Imám, he knows— ’tis no ill thought of mine—
The missionaries work for place and power*.
In the air a myriad floating atoms shine,
But sink to rest in the passing of an hour.
There lives no man distinct from his fellows: all
One general kind, their bodies to earth akin;
And sure the hidden savour of honey is gall—
Confound thee! how thy fool tongue licks it in!
Thronged cities shall turn to desolate sands again
And the vast wilderness be choked with men*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Nay, tremble not, O my limbs, because of your mouldering
When earth shall be cast upon the grave that is dug for you.
For reason it thus: if now this body is surely vile
Before dissolution, worse and viler the coward’s act.
I ride on the shoulders of mine hours, and fain would I
Have tarried, but never Time’s departure is tarrying.
May God punish Day and Night! They hold me in dire suspense:
By two threads I seem to hang— the threads of a thing of naught.
My life, when it comes to birth and hastens towards decay,
Methinks, ’tis but as a lad who frolics and plays with dust*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
Thou campest, O son of Adam, the while thou marchest,
And sleep’st in thy fold, and thou on a night-long journey.
Whoso in this world abides hath hope of profit,
Howbeit a living man is for aye a loser.
The blind folk everywhere, eastward and westward,
Have numbered amongst their riches the staves they lean on*.
Oh, many a soul had won a pleasant life
Had she not stood in danger from her fates.
Things here are but a line writ by the pen
Of Doom; and love of them begins the line*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
The youth goes on wearing out his garment of Yemen stuff
A certain season until he wears the garment of eld.
And that indeed is a robe, when any one puts it on,
Excludes delight evermore, casts joy like spittle away.
Inhabitants of the earth! full many a rider have I
Asked how ye fare, for I know no news of you, not a word.
Change now hath ceased, hardships now are unremembered: ’tis thus
The aged camel forgets, when quit of service, his gall.
*     *     *     *     *
The city’s leading divine went forth to bury his friend,
And seest not thou that he brought no lesson back from the grave?
The present hour, it is thine; the past a babble of dream;
And nothing sweet hath in store for thee the rest that remains*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Tho’ doubtlessly long ago the genie of Youth is dead,
The devils that haunt the heart scorn aught but rebellion.
She teemeth, the noisome world, with sour milk; or be it sweet,
How many a one she spurns who came for refreshment!
A cool draught I drank that left no fire of thirst behind,
And flung from my shoulders off the fairest of mantles*.
Men are as fire: a spark it throws,
Which, being kindled, spreads and grows.
Both swallow-wort and palm to-day
Earth breeds, and neither lasts for aye.
Had men wit, happy would they call
The kinsfolk at the funeral;
Nor messengers would run with joy
To greet the birthday of a boy*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
O company of the dead, request ye the last-comers
To give you the news, for they are nighest the knowledge.
They’ll tell you the lands are still unchanged from the state ye knew
Aforetime— all keeps the same in highland and lowland.
The world hath not ceased to make a dupe of its bosom-friend
And leave him awake instead of closing his eyelids,
And guilefully show the dark in semblance of light to him,
And feed him with gall the while he thinks it is honey;
And lo, on a bier hath laid him out— him that many a night
Rode forth on a hard camel or mounted a courser.
It left no device untried to fool him, no effort he
To love it with all his heart in utter devotion*.
The holy fights by Moslem heroes fought,
The saintly works by Christian hermits wrought
And those of Jewry or of Sabian creed—
Their valour reaches not the Indian’s deed
Whom zeal and awe religiously inspire
To cast his body on the flaming pyre.
Yet is man’s death a long, long sleep of lead*
And all his life a waking. O’er our dead
The prayers are chanted, hopeless farewells ta’en;
And there we lie, never to stir again.
Shall I so fear in mother earth to rest?
How soft a cradle is thy mother’s breast!
When once the viewless spirit from me is gone,
By rains unfreshened let my bones rot on!*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The righteous are in a sea, albeit on land they dwell:
Wherever they find the good, the evil is not to seek.
This world am I owing aught of kindness, when that which grieves
The soul here is many times the double of that which glads?
The comrade of Life stands face to face still with that he loathes,
Ay, were it no more than heats of midday and frosts of night*.
Winter is come upon us, to its sway
Subduing naked poor and mantled prince;
And Fortune on her favourite bestows
A people’s food, whilst one more needy starves.
Had this world been a bride, thou wouldst have found
The husband-murderess unmated yet.
Bend thy right hand to drink in purity,
Loathly for drinking is the ivory cup.
Mankind are on a journey: let us make
Provision for the farthest that may fall.
Admire none safe from trouble— safe, forsooth!
Plunged in the swoll’n tide of a wave-tossed sea;
A pioneer exploring for his tribe,
Who midst the dark descries a lightning-gleam,
And did not God avert, would meet such woe
As monarchs crowned have met and noteless men*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Our souls with each other vie in snatching the spoils of Life
Unguarded awhile: thou too surprise, if thou canst, the foe.
My stay in the world heaps loss upon me— and seem not I
Already departed hence, albeit I here remain?
No sooner a man is born than straightway his death becomes,
What fortune soe’er he gain, the grandest of gifts to him.
The world’s age hath mounted up: so old ’tis, that yonder stars
Methinks are the hair of Night with hoariness glistening.
*     *     *     *     *
The union of all mankind in error, from East to West,
Amongst them was made complete by difference of rite and creed.
O short-stepping slow-paced Hours! and natheless I know full well
They swiftlier pass than steeds that move with a raking stride*.
Now sleeps the sufferer, but never sleeps
Thy sentry-star, O Night, in mirkest hours.
If yonder heaven unfading verdure keeps*,
Perchance the shining stars may be its flowers.
Men are as plants upspringing after rain,
Which, springing up, even then begin to die—
Poppies and cowslips: one herd doth profane
Their bloom, another feeds on low and high.
The bastard and the child of wedlock show
Outwardly like: no eye discerns the stain.
Ignorance rules, and only this we know,
That we shall pass and One Lord shall remain*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
He gave to himself the name of Joy— fool and liar he!*
May earth stop his mouth! In Time is anything joyful?
Yes: one part of good is there in many a thousand parts,
And when we have found it, those that follow are evil.
Our riches and poverty, precaution and heedlessness
And glory and shame— ’tis all a cheat and illusion.
Encompassed are we by Space, which cannot remove from us,
And Time, which doth ever pass away with his people.
So charge, as thou wilt, the foe, or skulk on the battle-field:
The Nights charge at thee and wheel again to the onset*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
It angers thee— does it not?— that base thou art called and vile,
And yet thou art base enough, for Time is thy father.
The fool took his world to wife: he recked not, and surely she
Hath plagued and defied him after seizing the dowry*.
By quitting her ways of guile and torment go, purge thyself!
This harlot makes good her plea of purity never.
My lifetime I spent in breaths, dividing therewith the days
At first, then the months which follow each after other;
And little by little thus crept on, as a wayfarer
Whose sides spasms heave— for him his comrades must tarry;
Like ants ever climbing up the ridge of a sandy dune,
Not staying their march until the ridge is behind them*.
Your fortunes are as lamps that guide by night,
Make haste ere they be spent. Even as a fire’s
Own flames consume it and do quench its light,
So by repeated breaths our life expires.
How many a speaker, many a hearer slept
’Neath earth as though they ne’er could speak or hear!
Dark clouds unsmiling o’er them long had wept—
Their hands no bounty shed, their eyes no tear*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
Our bodies of dust, they quake with a doubt uneasy
When, ceasing from all unrest, long-wandering mortals
Are ware of return to Earth, who of kin is nearest—
Best healer of pain, tho’ sound as a crow’s their health be.
For lo, to the clouds they soar in a vain ambition,
And tumble with souls athrill to the chase of honour,
And spears in the clash are shivered and swords are dunted.
For dross they would die; yet he that complains of hunger,
He wants but a little food; or of thirst, but water.
Nobility’s nature base blood hath corrupted:
Cross-breeding will mar the stock of a noble stallion.
And kings in their wealth deep wallow, but comes a suitor
Their bounty to taste, they prove a mirage deluding;
And sometimes ravin goads from his lair the lion
To prowl all night in sheepcote and camel-shelter.
If Fate’s stern hand on high ne’er trembles, surely
Thy trembling in hope or fear will avail thee nothing*.
(Metre: Mutaqárib. Scheme: .)
By night, while the foe slept, we journeyed in flight,
And praised in the morning our journey by night.
The sons of old Adam seek wealth to enjoy
Below in the earth and above in the sky.
A man guides the plough and a man wields the sword,
And both on the morrow have got their reward.
The soldier with glory returns home again,
The labourer comes loaden with trouble and pain*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I linger behind, alas, and know not the things unseen;
Perchance he that passes on is nearer to God than I.
The soul, fearing death, loves life, but long life is poison sure,
And all come to die, alike householder and wanderer.
The earth seeketh, even as we, its livelihood day by day
Apportioned: it eats and drinks of this human flesh and blood.
They slandered the sun himself, pretending he will not rise
When called at his hour except he suffer despite and blows*.
Meseemeth, a crescent moon that shines in the firmament
Is Death’s curvèd spear, its point well-sharpened to thrust at them;
And splendour of breaking day a sabre unsheathed by Dawn
Against them, whose edge is steeped in venom of mortal dooms*.
Nor glory nor dishonour sundereth
Moses and Pharaoh in the hour of death—
Death, like a shivering crone who feeds a flame
With lote and laurel, for ’tis all the same;
A lioness that drags into her cave
Her slaughtered prey, the freeman and the slave,
Launching them piecemeal both with tongue and paw
Into wide-opened all-devouring maw*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Man wishes that Life were incorruptible and that ne’er
Would perish and come to naught the woe of existence.
Even so is the ostrich of the desert in fear of death,
For all that its two sole foods are flint-stones and gourd-seeds*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Untruth ran from sire to son amongst them: the sage alone
According to knowledge speaks, not after the ancients.
The world’s children I have known and yet have I sued to them,
As though were unquenched my hope by knowing them inly.
Original wickedness is struggled against in vain,
What Nature hath moulded ill can never be mended.
The Book do ye read for truth and righteousness’ sake? Not so:
Your piety only serves your pride and ambition.
*     *     *     *     *
And Life is a she-camel that bears far across the sands
An emigrant weeping sore for that which he suffers;
With travel I milked her strength remaining, until at last
I left her exhausted, no more milk in her udder;
And now, after being mauled, her old savageness is dead
And buried, except that still the tomb is her háma*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I see but a single part of sweet in the many sour,
And Wisdom that cries, “Beget no children, if thou art wise*”;
Religion diseased: whoso is healthy and hopes to cure
Its sickness, he labours long and meanwhile himself falls sick;
A dawn and a dark that seem— what signify else their hues
Alternate?— as stripes of white and black on a venomed snake;
And Time’s universal voice commanding that they sit down
Who stood on their feet, and those who sate, that they now upstand.
Methinks, happiness and joy of heart is a fault in man:
Whenever it shows itself, ’tis punished with hate and wrath*.
My God, oh, when shall I go hence? I have stayed too long and tarry still.
I know not what my star may be, but ever it hath brought me ill.
From me no friend hath hope of boon, no enemy hath fear of bane.
Life is a painful malady, and Death— he comes to cure its pain.
The tomb receiveth me and them, and none was seen to rise again*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
What! shall a house be drest in glittering gold, and then
Its owner abandon it and presently go his way?
I see in the body a brand of fire: Death puts it out,
And lo, all the while thou liv’st it burns with a ceaseless flame*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
A man drew nigh a wife for a fated purpose,
To bring by his act a third life into being.
Without rest she the sore load bears, and only
’Tis laid down when the tale of her months is reckoned;
And she to her source returns— ay, all things living
Trace back to the ancient Four their common lineage*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I travelled and got no good of body or soul thereby,
And naught was my turning home but folly and weakness.
Who feareth his Lord alone, him never His gifts will fail,
Albeit at praying-time he faces the sunrise.
I see how the living things of earth dread their doom: to them
Despair with the thunder comes and hope with the lightning.
Feel safe and secure, O bird! and thou fear not, O gazelle,
I’ll harm thee: in fortune we are one, undivided*.
The star-chart thou unrollest, to unravel
Life’s knots; and flying Time bids thee make haste.
The world is never lavish of its honey
Till bitter mingles with the sweet we taste*.
Pay ye no honour to my limbs when death
Descends on me: the body merits none.
’Tis like a mantle by the wearer prized,
Which he holds cheap when its new gloss is gone*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The first-born of Time enjoyed his young lusty strength, but we
Came weak, after he was old and fallen into dotage.
And would that a man were like the full-moon which lives anew
And rises a crescent moon when each month is vanished!*
When I would string the pearls of my desire,
Alas, Life’s too short thread denies them room.
Vast folios cannot yet contain entire
Man’s hope; his life is a compendium*.
My body a herb of earth, my head grown hoary—
The glistening flower is the herb’s last glory.
When ships on high adventure sail with thee,
What rivers bear not rides upon the sea*.
Though falcon-like Man peers at things,
A dark cloud to his mind’s eye clings.
I say not foul is mixed with fair;
No, ’tis all foulness, I declare*.
There’s no good in thy treating maladies
And agues after fifty years are past.
A man may live so long, they say on his decease
Not “He is dead,” but “Now he lives at last.”*
O’er many a race the sun’s bright net was spread
And loosed their pearls nor left them even a thread.
This dire World delights us, though all sup,
All whom she mothers, from one mortal cup.
A choice of ills: which rather of the twain
Wilt thou?— to perish or to live in pain?*
I will do good the while I can— to-day;
O’er me, when I am dead, ye need not pray.
Though all your saints should bless me, will it win
A clear way out from that which shuts me in?*
The stars we ought to glorify,
Which God hath honoured and set high
For all the world. And Life, how be
It ne’er so fondly loved by thee,
Is like a chain of pearls ill-strung,
That chafed the neck on which it hung*.
(Metre: Mutaqárib. Scheme: .)
I trespass, do evil— and He,
My Lord, knoweth well what I be.
O help me! for waking I seem
To live all the while in a dream*.
’Tis plain what way I follow and what rule,
For am not I like all the rest a fool?
I too a creature of the world was made
And like the others lived and worked and played.
I came by fate divine and shall depart
(Hear my confession!) with God-fearing heart.
Not vain am I of any good I wrought;
Nay, by a sore dread are my wits distraught*.

I conclude this section with a few short pieces which might be called elegiac epigrams if their purpose were not rather to warn and exhort than to mourn or commemorate.

Earth covered many a fresh young maid, alas,
Who Pleiad-like in glorious beauty shone;
Yet so self-pleased would look into her glass,
I sent no word of greeting but rode on*.
Death came to visit him: he knit his brows
And frowned on Death— and never frowned again.
They gave him store of balm to join his folk,
But earth is balm enow for buried men.
Propped on his side, whilst in the toṃb he lay,
To us he seemed a preacher risen to pray*.
He boasts no diadem, having in the tomb
A prouder fate— the friend whom thou dost mourn.
A king wants thousands to defend him; Death
Stands not in need of any creature born*.
As on her month’s first night the crescent moon,
So came the youth and so departed soon.
Peace he hath won, from life untimely ta’en,
Who, had he lived, had suffered lifelong pain*.
They robed the Christian’s daughter,
From high embowered room
In dusky robe they brought her
Down, down into a tomb—
And oh, her dress had often been
Gay as a peacock’s plume*.