Ma‘arrí’s “confinement to his house*” was his revenge upon a world which rejected him. It was not a spontaneous act of virtue: Fortune held up to his lips no enticing cup that he might thrust it away. When he said, “I’ll play no more,” he knew that he had already lost the game.

What choice hath a man except seclusion and loneliness,
When Destiny grants him not the gaining of that he craves?*

He is honest enough to disclaim the merit of renunciation.

Men of acute mind call me an ascetic, but they are wrong in their diagnosis. Although I disciplined my desires, I only aban­doned worldly pleasures because the best of these withdrew them­selves from me*.

This, however, is not the whole truth. Other motives springing from his character and his experience of life con­tributed to the decision. The blind scholar and pensioner had little cause to love society* and much time to meditate on its rottenness: long before visiting Baghdád he must have formed an opinion of his fellow-men which (we may presume) accorded pretty well with what he afterwards wrote. In the hour of disillusion this moral current was undammed and gave irresistible force to the feeling that he would now close accounts with them for good and all.

I was made an abstainer from mankind by my acquaintance with them and my knowledge that created beings are dust*.

His asceticism, though leavened by a religious element, is really the negative and individualistic side of his ethics. By abandoning an evil world he sought virtue and inward peace —solitudinem fecit, pacem appellauit*. That is the note struck in the opening verse of the Luzúm:

The virtuous are strangers in their native land, they are left alone and forsaken by their kin*.

Society demoralises. No one can live by the law of reason amongst those whom he loves or hates; no one can fear God while pursuing objects of earthly ambition*. So far as the poet’s ideal of asceticism includes active virtue, it will be examined in the final section. We are here concerned with his world-flight, i.e., such topics as the vanity of pleasure, the need for seclusion and the happiness procured by it, the excellence of poverty, contentment, humility, and patience. Some peculiar theories and practices are inculcated. Of these the most remarkable is his belief— a thoroughly rational one from the standpoint of pessimism— that procreation is a sin against the child.

If humankind are distinguished by moral dispositions with which they live, yet in badness of nature all are alike.
’Twere well if every son of Eve resembled me, for what a wicked brood did Eve bring into the world!*
My separation from men is a convalescence from their malady, inasmuch as association with them is a disease which infects conscience and religion.
So a verse, when it is single, cannot suffer from any fault of rhyme*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
To neighbour with men meseems a sickness perpetual;
I wished, when it wore me thin, for fever that comes and goes.
By effort and self-constraint they compassed a little good;
Whatever they wrought of ill, ’twas nature that prompted it.
Oh, where are the gushing streams and oceans of bounty now?
Are those of the lion’s brood that Time spared hyenas all?
Their wood in the burning yields a perfume of frankincense,
But tried on the teeth of sore necessity, proves flint-hard*.
An open road to Truth lies here,
As neither slave nor lord saith nay:
Flee far from men; for com’st thou near,
’Tis like a dragged full skin which they
Use to refresh themselves withal,
Then empty ’mongst their feet let fall*.
Some Power troubled our affairs— and we
Had fondly wished them from his troubling free.
Blessed are birds that pick up scattered grain,
Or wild-kine seeking green sands after rain;
Strangers to man: nor they the high-born know
Nor mounts to them the infection of the low.
War’s fire raise not thou to burst ablaze,
For soon in ashes sink the hands that raise*.
The blind male viper hath the house he dwells in,
No more, and during life makes earth his victual.
Were a lion eyeless, ne’er he sheep at pasture
Had scared, forth-springing, or a herd of wild-kine;
Bereaved of light, never had ‘Amr and ‘Ámir*
Lifted a lance or stood on field of battle.
They ask me, “Why attend you not on Fridays
The prayers whence hope we Allah’s grace and pardon?”
And get I any good when I rub shoulders
With folk whose best are but as mangy camels?
Arabs and aliens have I met full many:
Nor Arab found I worth my praise nor alien.
Death’s cup how loathes the soul to drink! yet nothing
Can hinder but that some day we shall drink it.
Fortunate here are those brave lads that perish
In war amidst the thrusting and the smiting,
For ’tis a shame if the clan’s chosen chieftain
Lie on his bed bewailing the sore burden.
I choke with Doom: no journey will relieve me,
Whether I take an eastern road or western.
He hunted Persia’s emperors in their palace;
Reached, over broad sea and strait pass, the Caesar*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
And oh, would that I had ne’er been born in a race of men
Or, being of them, had lived a savage in some bare waste!
The spring flowers he may smell for pastime and need not fear
Society’s wickedness whilst all round is parching sand*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
So soon as my day shall come, oh, let me be laid to rest
In some corner of the earth where none ever dug a grave!
Mankind— well, if God reward them duly for what they aimed
To do, He will ne’er bestow His mercy on dull or wise.
Whoso reads their inmost thoughts, perdition he deemeth it
To neighbour with any man alive or with any dead.
Ah, never may I attend amongst them the grand assize
When all shall be raised together, dusty, their heads unkempt!
When full broad and long unto the eye seems my resting-place,
Vouchsafe me of room— so guide thee Allah!— another span*.
And touching my creed if men shall ask, ’tis but fear devout
Of Allah: nor freedom I uphold nor necessity*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Howbeit we all are pent in cities, I seem to roam
In deserts of dusty hue, bare waterless levels.
Whene’er I a poem make and sin not therein, I turn
As turns one towards his God, repentant, Labíd-like*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
Oh, shake thyself clear and clean of love and knowledge of me!
My person— ’tis but as motes that dance in beams of the morn.
Some dry stuff here have I thrown on embers just dying out,
And if in them be a spark, my hand will rouse them to flame.
From me the truth thou hast heard full oft, a measureless tale:
Let not thine ear cast away my counsel into the sands!*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
With darkness of sight there comes a darkness of faith and truth:
My far-overspreading night hath three nights within it.
And ne’er did I gnaw my hand for pleasures that stab as thorns,
Or shorten with draughts of wine my long gloomful hours.
Whenever we meet, it wakes the sad thought, “Alas, how vain
A friendship that prophesies, ‘Ye meet to be parted!’”
*     *     *     *     *
Tho’ Change took so much away, it lightens my load of griefs
That lonely I suffer them, unwedded and childless.
So leave me to grapple close with fears, hard-besetting fears:
Beware, keep aloof from me— oh, halt not beside me!*
(Metre: Kámil.)
I swear, not rich in sooth is he whom the World made rich,
Tho’ he wax in pride; nor blest is he whom Fortune blessed.
Misguided fool! is he glad at heart— a mortal man—
When he hears the dove that laments for him, and the lute that mourns?*
His brimming cups and the mandolines of his singing-girls
Are lightning-flashes and thunderbolts of calamity*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
The richest mortal is one devout that dwells on a peak,
Content with little, a scorner of tiara and silk;
The poorest man in the world a monarch who for his need
Requires a great host in arms to march with thunderous tramp*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
When those whom thou sitt’st beside hear nothing but truth from thee,
They hate thee, for every friend is bent on deceiving.
The whitest of men in soul, we see them run after pelf,
As though they were crows jet-black down-dropping on seed-corn.
Let them seek: be thou content, and so win to wealth indeed;
Let them speak: be mute, and so come off with the marrow.
If absence for ever from thy kinsfolk thou canst not bear,
’Tis part of self-discipline to visit them seldom.
A man, when his hour is come, will call the physician in:
No hurry! the thing is grave— too grave to be physicked*.
You kept the fasting months?— then why did you
Not silence keep? Without it there’s no fast.
Man takes the wrong way in his first ado
With Life, and stays in it until his last*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Whenever a man from speech refraineth, his foes are few,
Although he be stricken down by fortune and fallen low.
In silence the flea doth sip its beverage of human blood,
And that silence maketh less the heinousness of its sin.
It went not therein the way the thirsty mosquito goes,
Which trumpets with high-trilled note, and thou smarting all the while.
If insolent fellow draw against thee a sword of speech,
Thy patience oppose to him, that so thou mayst break its edge*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
Thy tongue is a very scorpion, and when it stingeth
Another, ’tis thou art stung by it first and foremost.
On thee is the guilt thereof, and thine a full share
Of any complaint against it by whomsoever.
It mixes a double dose for the twain of evil—
How hard are the days of him and of thee, how bitter!*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
My clothes are my winding-sheet, my dwelling my grave, my life
My doom; and to me is death itself resurrection.
Bedizen thee with splendidest adornment and get thee wealth!
Outshone, lady, are the likes of thee by a dust-stained
Unkempt little pilgrim-band who walk in the ways that lead
To Allah, be smooth the track they travel or rugged.
Nor bracelet nor anklet gleams amongst them on wrist or foot,
No head bears a diadem and no ear an earring*.

In some of these poems we find references not only to “fear of God” but also to a future life. I will now cite a few more passages in which Ma‘arrí uses here and there the language of Moslem religious asceticism. What significance we should attach to them must, of course, depend on our view of his real attitude towards Islam and dogmatic religion— a question too complex to be settled offhand.

(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Thine is the kingdom: if Thou pardon me, ’tis Thy grace
Toward me; and if so be Thou punish, ’tis my desert.
At Thy call a man shall rise immediately from the grave
With all that he wrought of sin inscribed on his finger-joints.
Oh, there shall the hermit’s staff avail more than ‘Ámir’s spear*
To succour, and shall outshine in glory the bow of Dawn*.
With Life I walked in woe and strife,
Oh, what a luckless friend is Life!
In past days I have restive been,
But tame is he whom Time breaks in.
If fast and vigil mar thy face,
Wan cheeks shall win a robe of grace.
The old man creeps in listless wise,
Unlike the child that creeps to rise.
None gave me bounty and reward
Except the Lord of every lord.
Labour for Him, whilst thou hast breath,
And when thine hour comes, welcome Death!*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Perforce after forty years thou lead’st an ascetic life,
When all’s over but the wail of women that chant thy dirge.
And how canst thou hope to earn the recompense*? Him we praise
Who scorneth the world’s delights, a man in his lusty prime*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
I found myself foiled in every hope, until I renounced—
Nor then was left free to live the life ascetic alone.
To God the glory! My wormwood sourly cleaves to me still,
And I am not speaking truth if honey I shall it call.
And none, I fancy, shall win in Paradise to abide,
Excepting folk who in godly fear fought hard with themselves.
The day goes by, busy cares unceasing keep me from rest;
And when the dark covers all, I cannot watch thro’ the night.
’Tis bed for me: on my side reclined I lay me to sleep,
Though true religion is where sides meet not beds any more*.

Certain precepts in the following poem— e.g. the injunc­tion against holding office under the Government— are characteristic of the strict pietism which developed in the Umayyad epoch and prevailed amongst the early Ṣúfís. It will be observed, however, that while the reader is exhorted to worship God and seek refuge with Him, nothing is said to indicate that what he has sown here he may hope to reap hereafter. The translation retains the monorhyme, but not the metre, of the original.

Kneel in the day-time to thy Lord and bow,
And when thou canst bear vigil, vigil bear.
Is fine wheat dear, ’tis nobleness in thee
To give thy generous horse an equal share;
And set before thyself a relish of
Bright oil and raisins, scanty but sweet fare*.
A clay jug for thy drink assign: thou’lt wish
Nor silver cup nor golden vessel there*.
In summer what will hide thy nakedness
Content thee; coarse homespun thy winter wear.
I ban the judge’s office, or that thou
Be seen to preach in mosque or lead the prayer;
And shun viceroyalty and to bear a whip,
As ’twere the sword a paladin doth bare.
Those things in nearest kin and truest friends
I loathe, spend as thou wilt thy soul or spare.
Shame have I found in some men’s patronage:
Commit thyself to His eternal care;
And let thy wife be decked with fear of Him
Outshining pearls and emeralds ordered fair—
All praiseth Him: list how the raven’s croak
And cricket’s chirp His holiness declare—
And lodge thine honour where most glory is:
Not in the vale dwells he that seeks the highland air*.

More important, as throwing light on the character of his asceticism, is a poem that has been partially translated by Von Kremer* and published by I. Krachkovsky with two Russian translations, one in prose and the other in verse, from the hand of Baron V. Rosen*. The challenge conveyed in the opening verse was taken up by Hibatu’llah Ibn Abí ‘Imrán, the chief missionary (dá‘i ’l-du‘át) of the Ismá‘ílís in Cairo, who begged for information as to the grounds on which the poet adopted vegetarianism. The letters that passed between them have been published and translated by Professor Margoliouth in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society*.

Thou art diseased in understanding and religion. Come to me, that thou mayst hear the tidings of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat what the water has given up*, and do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white (milk) of mothers who intended its pure draught for their young, not for noble ladies*.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking their eggs; for injustice is the worst of crimes.
And spare the honey which the bees get betimes by their industry from the flowers of fragrant plants;
For they did not store it that it might belong to others, nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts*.
I washed my hands of all this; and would that I had perceived my way ere my temples grew hoar!
O people of my time, do ye know secrets which I knew but divulged not?
Ye journeyed in the darkness of falsehood. Why were ye not guided by the promptings of your enlightened (intellectual) faculties?
The voice of error called you— and wherefore did ye recklessly respond to every voice?
When the realities of your religion are exposed, ye stand revealed as doers of deeds of disgrace and shame.
If ye take the right course, ye will not dye the sword in blood or oblige the surgeon’s probe to try the depth of wounds.
I admire the practice of ascetics, except that they eat the labour of souls that covet wealth.
Purer in their lives, as regards food, are they that toil from morn to night for lawful earnings.
The Messiah (Jesus) did not seclude himself in devotion to God, but walked on the earth as a wanderer.
I shall be interred by one that loathes the task, unless I shall be devoured by one whose stench is loathly*.
And who can save himself from being the neighbour of bones like the bones of the corpses that lie there unburied?*
One of the worst human dispositions and acts is the wailing of those who bring news of death and the beating of the breast by mourning women.
I forgive the sins of friend and foe, because I dwell in the house of
Truth amidst the tombstones*.
And I reject praise, even when it is sincere: how, then, should I accept false praises?
The soul, obstinate in evil, ceased not to be a beast of burden until it became feeble and jaded.
It profits not a man that clouds pour rain over him whilst he lies beneath a flag of stone*;
And if there were any hope in nearness to water, some people would have been eager to provide themselves with graves in the marshland*.

Here, as in many passages of the Luzúm, Ma‘arrí preaches abstinence from meat, fish, milk, eggs, and honey on the plain ground that to partake of such food is an act of injustice to the animals concerned, since it inflicts unnecessary pain upon them*. In his reply to Ibn Abí ‘Imrán he adds that on reaching the age of thirty* he restricted himself to a vegetarian diet for the benefit of his health; besides, he could not afford to buy meat. The latter motives are clearly sub­ordinate to the first, and are not inconsistent with it. Pro­fessor Margoliouth thinks that Ma‘arrí cuts a poor figure in this correspondence. No doubt Ibn Abí ‘Imrán found his letters unsatisfying. Whether he was deceived by what I have called the poet’s oracular style or whether, being an Ismá‘ílí, he supposed that every religious precept must have an esoteric doctrine behind it, he had hoped that “the tidings of sound truth” would yield something piquant: in fact, he wished to draw from Ma‘arrí a confession as to the nature of his theological beliefs. “Why,” he asks, “should you abstain from animal food? If God empowers one animal to eat another, though He knows best what is wise and is most merciful to His creatures, you need not be more just and merciful to them than their Lord and Creator.” This line of argument was hardly one that a reputed heretic would care to pursue, while an earnest moralist might be excused for ignoring it. Must we solve the problem of evil before we can justify abstention from what reason and conscience forbid? Ma‘arrí thought not. Having no solution, or none that he was willing to communicate, he took his stand with the Buddhists and Jainas on a principle which inspires all his ethics and constitutes his practical religion— the principle of non-injury. That was the “truth” which he promised to his readers, and they could not fairly reproach him if he declined to state how it was to be reconciled with divine providence, whatever his views on that subject may have been.

On the same ground he prohibits the use of animal skins for clothing, recommends wooden shoes*, and blames fine ladies who wear furs*. Probably he derived these doctrines from Indian asceticism, which he had opportunities of study­ing in Baghdád. Von Kremer identified them with Jainism, remarking that the prohibition of honey is peculiar to the Jainas*; which proves nothing, since any one who desired to live in accordance with the above-mentioned principle might naturally make this rule for himself. The Jainas, again, are forbidden to dye their clothes*, and Ma‘arrí tells us that his dress was “of cotton, neither green nor yellow nor dark-grey*.” When we come to his ethical discipline, we shall find that in the main it tallies with the ethics of Jainism as described in the following sentences:

The first stage of a Jaina layman’s life is that of intelligent and well-reasoned faith in Jainism; and the second is when he takes a vow not to destroy any kind of life, not to lie, not to use another’s property without his consent, to be chaste, to limit his necessaries, to worship daily, and to give charity in the way of knowledge, medicine, comfort, and food. And these virtues are summed up in one word: ahiṃsā (not-hurting). “Hurt no one” is not merely a negative precept. It embraces active service also; for, if you can help another and do not— your neighbour and brother— surely you hurt him*.

Little is said in the Luzúm about Indian ascetics. Ma‘arrí refers to their habit of letting their nails grow long, and observes that he, like Moslems in general, considers it a mark of asceticism to pare the nails*. He speaks with admiration of their religious suicide*. The Indian practice of cremation meets with his approval: fire saves the corpse from disinter­ment (and hyenas) and is a more effective deodoriser than camphor*. In another poem he says ironically that the cremated Indian is happy in being exempt from the torture which buried Mohammedans undergo.

Think about things! Thought clears away some part of ignorance. Were skilled
The nesting bird to see the end, it ne’er would have begun to build.
The Indians, who cremate their dead and never visit them again,
Win peace from straitness of the grave and ordeal by the angels twain*.
To male and female in the world the path of right is preached in vain*.

He praises cremation without urging his readers to prac­tise it. Let the dead be laid in mother earth, uncoffined: coffins are second graves*. How foreign to the spirit of Islam his asceticism is, and how fully it harmonises with Indian and Manichaean ideas, I can best show by quoting some passages of a different kind.

Whenever I reflect, my reflecting upon what I suffer only rouses me to blame him that begot me.
And I gave peace to my children, for they are in the bliss of non-existence which surpasses all the pleasures of this world.
Had they come to life, they would have endured a misery casting them to destruction in trackless wildernesses*.
Allah disposes. Be a hermit, then,
And mix not with the divers sorts of men.
I know but this, that him I hold in error
Who helps to propagate Time’s woe and terror*.
Humanity, in whom the best
Of this world’s features are expressed—
The chiefs set over them to reign
Are but as moons that wax and wane.
If ye unto your sons would prove
By act how dearly them ye love,
Then every voice of wisdom joins
To bid you leave them in your loins*.

The rich man desires a son to inherit his wealth, but were the fathers intelligent no children would be born*. Pro­creation is a sin, though it is not called one*: a father wronged by his sons pays the just penalty for the crime which he com­mitted against them*. To beget is to increase the sum of evil*, and the lizard’s ancestors are the cause of its being hunted*. It is better for a people, instead of multiplying, to perish off the face of the earth*. The first condition of happiness is that no woman should have been created*.

(Metre: Basíṭ.)
The son is wretched; by him his parents wretched are made,
And blest is that man whose mind was ne’er distraught by a son.
A lad who clings to his sire puts cowardice in the brave;
The generous miserly show or yield not even a spark*.
Amends are richly due from sire to son:
What if thy children rule o’er cities great?
Their nobleness estranges them the more
From thee and causes them to wax in hate*,
Beholding one that cast them into Life’s
Dark labyrinth whence no wit can extricate*.

“Refrain from procreation, for its consequence is death*.” Ma‘arrí followed his own advice. He was the last of his line and takes credit for having escaped the universal plague: that is what he means when he says—

The cord of generation stretched unbroken between Adam and me, but no b was attached to my l*.
When Khálid yawned, ‘Amr yawned because of infection, but I was not infected by their yawning*.

Before he died, he is said to have expressed a wish that his epitaph should be the verse:

My sire brought this on me, but I on none*.

What a contrast with the Greek poet’s calm declaration!— <Greek>. Here we face pessimism as a practical creed remorselessly pointing to the extinction of mankind. If Ma‘arrí believed in a future existence, it would seem that he held the same opinion as Hafiz of its value in relation to the present:

A Paradise of pleasure
Bought with a world of pain—
Fie on the luckless treasure
That I must bleed to gain!

Recognising that his panacea is too heroic to be popular, he sometimes offers it in a diluted form. “If you must wed,” says he, “take care to have no children*”; and he censures the foolish Jew who divorced his wife because she was barren*. He is more humane than logical in counselling men to seek husbands for their daughters but deter their sons from matrimony*.