The Luzumiyat of Abu'l-Ala/The Luzumiyat of Abu'l-Ala


THE sable wings of Night pursuing day
Across the opalescent hills, display
The wondrous star-gems which the fiery suns
Are scattering upon their fiery way.


O my Companion, Night is passing fair,
Fairer than aught the dawn and sundown wear;
And fairer, too, than all the gilded days
Of blond Illusion and its golden snare.


Hark, in the minarets muazzens call
The evening hour that in the interval
Of darkness Ahmad might remembered be,—
Remembered of the Darkness be they all.


And hear the others who with cymbals try
To stay the feet of every passer-by:
The market-men along the darkling lane
Are crying up their wares.—Oh! let them cry,


Mohammed or Messiah! Hear thou me,
The truth entire nor here nor there can be;
How should our God who made the sun and moon
Give all his light to One, I cannot see.


Come, let us with the naked Night now rest
And read in Allah's Book the sonnet best:
The Pleiads—ah, the Moon from them departs,—
She draws her veil and hastens toward the west.


The Pleiads follow; and our Ethiop Queen,
Emerging from behind her starry screen,
Will steep her tresses in the saffron dye
Of dawn, and vanish in the morning sheen.


The secret of the day and night is in
The constellations, which forever spin
Around each other in the comet-dust;—
The comet-dust and humankind are kin.


But whether of dust or fire or foam, the glaive
Of Allah cleaves the planet and the wave
Of this mysterious Heaven-Sea of life,
And lo! we have the Cradle of the Grave.


The Grave and Cradle, the untiring twain.
Who in the markets of this narrow lane
Bordered of darkness, ever give and take
In equal measure—what's the loss or gain?


Ay, like the circles which the sun doth spin
Of gossamer, we end as we begin;
Our feet are on the heads of those that pass,
But ever their Graves around our Cradles grin.


And what avails it then that Man be born
To joy or sorrow?—why rejoice or mourn?
The doling doves are calling to the rose;
The dying rose is bleeding o'er the thorn.


And he the Messenger, who takes away
The faded garments, purple, white, and gray
Of all our dreams unto the Dyer, will
Bring back new robes to-morrow—so they say.


But now the funeral is passing by.
And in its trail, beneath this moaning sky.
The howdaj comes,—both vanish into night;
To me are one, the sob, the joyous cry.


With tombs and ruined temples groans the land
In which our forbears in the drifting sand
Arise as dunes upon the track of Time
To mark the cycles of the moving hand


Of Fate. Alas! and we shall follow soon
Into the night eternal or the noon;
The wayward daughters of the spheres return
Unto the bosom of their sun or moon.


And from the last days of Thamud and 'Ad
Up to the first of Hashem's fearless lad,
Who smashed the idols of his mighty tribe,
What idols and what heroes Death has had!


Tread lightly, for the mighty that have been
Might now be breathing in the dust unseen;
Lightly, the violets beneath thy feet
Spring from the mole of some Arabian queen.


Many a grave embraces friend and foe
Behind the curtain of this sorry show
Of love and hate inscrutable; alas!
The Fates will always reap the while they sow.


The silken fibre of the fell Zakkum,
As warp and woof, is woven on the loom
Of life into a tapestry of dreams
To decorate the chariot-seat of Doom.


And still we weave, and still we are content
In slaving for the sovereigns who have spent
The savings of the toiling of the mind
Upon the glory of Dismemberment.


Nor king nor slave the hungry Days will spare;
Between their fangéd Hours alike we fare:
Anon they bound upon us while we play
Unheeding at the threshold of their Lair.


Then Jannat or Juhannam? From the height
Of reason I can see nor fire nor light
That feeds not on the darknesses; we pass
From world to world, like shadows through the night.


Or sleep—and shall it be eternal sleep
Somewhither in the bosom of the deep
Infinities of cosmic dust, or here
Where gracile cypresses the vigil keep!


Upon the threshing-floor of life I burn
Beside the Winnower a word to learn;
And only this: Man's of the soil and sun,
And to the soil and sun he shall return.


And like a spider's house or sparrow's nest,
The Sultan's palace, though upon the crest
Of glory's mountain, soon or late must go
Ay, all abodes to ruin are addrest.


So, too, the creeds of Man: the one prevails
Until the other comes; and this one fails
When that one triumphs; ay, the lonesome world
Will always want the latest fairy-tales.


Seek not the Tavern of Belief, my friend,
Until the Sakis there their morals mend;
A lie imbibed a thousand lies will breed.
And thou'lt become a Saki in the end.


By fearing whom I trust I find my way
To truth; by trusting wholly I betray
The trust of wisdom; better far is doubt
Which brings the false into the light of day.


Or wilt thou commerce have with those who make
Rugs of the rainbow, rainbows of the snake,
Snakes of a staff, and other wondrous things?—
The burning thirst a mirage can not slake.


Religion is a maiden veiled in prayer,
Whose bridal gifts and dowry those who care
Can buy in Mutakallem's shop of words
But I for such, a dirham can not spare.


Why linger here, why turn another page?
Oh! seal with doubt the whole book of the age;
Doubt every one, even him, the seeming slave
Of righteousness, and doubt the canting sage.


Some day the weeping daughters of Hadil
Will say unto the bulbuls: "Let's appeal
To Allah in behalf of Brother Man
Who's at the mercy now of Ababil."


Of Ababil! I would the tale were true,—
Would all the birds were such winged furies too;
The scourging and the purging were a boon
For me, O my dear Brothers, and for you.


Methinks Allah divides me to complete
His problem, which with Xs is replete;
For I am free and I am too in chains
Groping along the labyrinthine street.


And round the Well how oft my Soul doth grope
Athirst; but lo! my Bucket hath no Rope:
I cry for water, and the deep, dark Well
Echoes my wailing cry, but not my hope.


Ah, many have I seen of those who fell
While drawing, with a swagger, from the Well;
They came with Rope and Bucket, and they went
Empty of hand another tale to tell.


The I in me standing upon the brink
Would leap into the Well to get a drink;
But how to rise once in the depth, I cry,
And cowardly behind my logic slink.


And she: "How long must I the burden bear?
How long this tattered garment must I wear?"
And I: "Why wear it? Leave it here, and go
Away without it—little do I care."


But once when we were quarreling, the door
Was opened by a Visitor who bore
Both Rope and Pail; he offered them and said:
"Drink, if you will, but once, and nevermore."


One draught, more bitter than the Zakkum tree,
Brought us unto the land of mystery
Where rising Sand and Dust and Flame conceal
The door of every Caravanseri.


We reach a door and there the legend find.
"To all the Pilgrims of the Human Mind:
Knock and pass on!" We knock and knock and
But no one answers save the moaning wind


How like a door the knowledge we attain,
Which door is on the bourne of the Inane;
It opens and our nothingness is closed,—
It closes and in darkness we remain.


Hither we come unknowing, hence we go;
Unknowing we are messaged to and fro;
And yet we think we know all things of earth
And sky—the suns and stars we think we know.


Apply thy wit, O Brother, here and there
Upon this and upon that; but beware
Lest in the end—ah, better at the start
Go to the Tinker for a slight repair.


And why so much ado, and wherefore lay
The burden of the years upon the day
Of thy vain dreams? Who polishes his sword
Morning and eve will polish it away.


I heard it whispered in the cryptic streets
Where every sage the same dumb shadow meets:
"We are but words fallen from the lipe of Time
Which God, that we might understand, repeats."


Another said: "The creeping worm hath shown,
In her discourse on human flesh and bone,
That Man was once the bed on which she slept—
The walking dust was once a thing of stone."


And still another: "We are coins which fade
In circulation, coins which Allah made
To cheat Iblis: the good and bad alike
Are spent by Fate upon a passing shade."


And in the pottery the potter cried,
As on his work shone all the master's pride—
"How is it, Rabbi, I, thy slave, can make
Such vessels as nobody dare deride?"


The Earth then spake: "My children silent be;
Same are to God the camel and the flea:
He makes a mess of me to nourish you,
Then makes a mess of you to nourish me."


Now, I believe the Potter will essay
Once more the Wheel, and from a better clay
Will make a better Vessel, and perchance
A masterpiece which will endure for aye.


With better skill he even will remould
The scattered potsherds of the New and Old;
Then you and I will not disdain to buy,
Though in the mart of Iblis they be sold.


Sooth I have told the masters of the mart
Of rusty creeds and Babylonian art
Of magic. Now the truth about myself—
Here is the secret of my wincing heart.


I muse, but in my musings I recall
The days of my iniquity; we're all—
An arrow shot across the wilderness,
Somewhither, in the wilderness must fall.


I laugh, but in my laughter-cup I pour
The tears of scorn and melancholy sore;
I who am shattered by the hand of Doubt,
Like glass to be remoulded nevermore.


I wheedle, too, even like my slave Zeidun,
Who robs at dawn his brother, and at noon
Prostrates himself in prayer—ah, let us pray
That Night might blot us and our sins, and soon.


But in the fatal coils, without intent.
We sin; wherefore a future punishment?
They say the metal dead a deadly steel
Becomes with Allah's knowledge and consent.


And even the repentant sinner's tear
Falling into Juhannam's very ear,
Goes to its heart, extinguishes its fire
For ever and forever,—so I hear.


Between the white and purple Words of Time
In motley garb with Destiny I rhyme:
The colored glasses to the water give
The colors of a symbolry sublime.


How oft, when young, my brothers I would shun
If their religious feelings were not spun
Of my own cobweb, which I find was but
A spider's revelation of the sun.


Now, mosques and churches—even a Kaaba Stone,
Korans and Bibles—even a martyr's bone,—
All these and more my heart can tolerate,
For my religion's love, and love alone.


To humankind, O Brother, consecrate
Thy heart, and shun the hundred Sects that prate
About the things they little know about—
Let all receive thy pity, none thy hate.


The tavern and the temple also shun,
For sheikh and libertine in sooth are one;
And when the pious knave begins to pule,
The knave in purple breaks his vow anon.


"The wine's forbidden," say these honest folk,
But for themselves the law they will revoke;
The snivelling sheikh says he's without a garb,
When in the tap-house he had pawned his cloak,


Or in the house of lust. The priestly name
And priestly turban once were those of Shame—
And Shame is preaching in the pulpit now—
If pulpits tumble down, I'm not to blame.


For after she declaims upon the vows
Of Faith, she pusillanimously bows
Before the Sultan's wine-empurpled throne,
While he and all his courtezans carouse.


Carouse, ye sovereign lords! The wheel will roll
Forever to confound and to console:
Who sips to-day the golden cup will drink
Mayhap to-morrow in a wooden bowl—


And silent drink. The tumult of our mirth
Is worse than our mad welcoming of birth:—
The thunder hath a grandeur, but the rains,
Without the thunder, quench the thirst of Earth.


The Prophets, too, among us come to teach.
Are one with those who from the pulpit preach;
They pray, and slay, and pass away, and yet
Our ills are as the pebbles on the beach.


And though around the temple they should run
For seventy times and seven, and in the sun
Of mad devotion drool, their prayers are still
Like their desires of feasting-fancies spun.


Oh! let them in the marshes grope, or ride
Their jaded Myths along the mountain-side;
Come up with me, O Brother, to the heights
Where Reason is the prophet and the guide.


"What is thy faith and creed," they ask of me,
"And who art thou? Unseal thy pedigree."—
I am the child of Time, my tribe, mankind,
And now this world's my caravanseri.


Swathe thee in wool, my Sufi friend, and go
Thy way; in cotton I the wiser grow;
But we ourselves are shreds of earth, and soon
The Tailor of the Universe will sew.


Ay! suddenly the mystic Hand will seal
The saint's devotion and the sinner's weal;
They worship Saturn, but I worship One
Before whom Saturn and the Heavens kneel.


Among the crumbling ruins of the creeds
The Scout upon his camel played his reeds
And called out to his people,—"Let us hence!
The pasture here is full of noxious weeds."


Among us falsehood is proclaimed aloud,
But truth is whispered to the phantom bowed
Of conscience; ay! and Wrong is ever crowned,
While Right and Reason are denied a shroud.


And why in this dark Kingdom tribute pay?
With clamant multitudes why stop to pray?
Oh! hear the inner Voice:—"If thou'lt be right,
Do what they deem is wrong, and go thy way."


Thy way unto the Sun the spaces through
Where king Orion's black-eyed huris slew
The Mother of Night to guide the Wings that bear
The flame divine hid in a drop of dew.


Hear ye who in the dust of ages creep.
And in the halls of wicked masters sleep:—
Arise! and out of this wan weariness
Where Allah's laughter makes the Devil weep.


Arise! for lo! the Laughter and the Weeping
Reveal the Weapon which the Master 's keeping
Above your heads; Oh! take it up and strike!
The lion of tyranny is only sleeping.


Evil and Virtue? Shadows on the street
Of Fate and Vanity,—but shadows meet
When in the gloaming they are hastening forth
To drink with Night annihilation sweet.


And thus the Sun will write and will efface
The mystic symbols which the sages trace
In vain, for all the worlds of God are stored
In his enduring vessels Time and Space.


For all my learning 's but a veil, I guess,
Veiling the phantom of my nothingness;
Howbeit, there are those who think me wise,
And those who think me—even these I bless.


And all my years, as vapid as my lay,
Are bitter morsels of a mystic day,—
The day of Fate, who carries in his lap
December snows and snow-white flowers of May.


Allah, my sleep is woven through, it seems,
With burning threads of night and golden beams;
But when my dreams are evil they come true;
When they are not, they are, alas! but dreams.


The subtle ways of Destiny I know;
In me she plays her game of "Give and Go."
Misfortune I receive in cash, but joy,
In drafts on Heaven or on the winds that blow.


I give and go, grim Destiny,—I play
Upon this checker-board of Night and Day
The dark game with thee, but the day will come
When one will turn the Board the other way.


If my house-swallow, laboring with zest,
Felt like myself the burden of unrest,
Unlightened by inscrutable designs,
She would not build her young that cozy nest.


Thy life with guiltless life-blood do not stain—
Hunt not the children of the woods; in vain
Thou'lt try one day to wash thy bloody hand
Nor hunter here nor hunted long remain


Oh! cast my dust away from thee, and doff
Thy cloak of sycophancy and like stuff:
I'm but a shadow on the sandy waste,—
Enough of thy duplicity, enough!


Behold! the Veil that hid thy soul is torn
And all thy secrets on the winds are borne:
The hand of Sin has written on thy face
"Awake, for these untimely furrows warn!"


A prince of souls, 'tis sung in ancient lay,
One morning sought a vesture of the clay;
He came into the Pottery, the fool—
The lucky fool was warned to stay away.


But I was not. Oh! that the Fates decree
That I now cast aside this clay of me;
My soul and body wedded for a while
Are sick and would that separation be.


"Thou shalt not kill!"—Thy words, O God, we heed,
Though thy two Soul-devouring Angels feed
Thy Promise of another life on this,—
To have spared us both, it were a boon indeed.


Oh I that some one would but return to tell
If old Nubakht is burning now in hell,
Or if the workers for the Prophet's prize
Are laughing at his Paradisal sell.


Once I have tried to string a few Pearl-seeds
Upon my Rosary of wooden beads;
But I have searched, and I have searched in vain
For pearls in all the caverns of the creeds


And in the palaces of wealth I found
Some beads of wisdom scattered on the ground,
Around the throne of Power, beneath the feet
Of fair-faced slaves with flowers of folly crowned.


Thy wealth can shed no tears around thy bier,
Nor can it wash thy hands of shame and fear;
Ere thou departest with it freely part—
Let others plead for thee and God will hear.


For me thy silks and feathers have no charm
The pillow I like best is my right arm;
The comforts of this passing show I spurn,
For Poverty can do the soul no harm.


The guiding hand of Allah I can see
Upon my staff: of what use then is he
Who'd be the blind man's guide? Thou silent oak,
No son of Eve shall walk with me and thee.


My life's the road on which I blindly speed:
My goal's the grave on which I plant a reed
To shape my Hope, but soon the Hand unseen
Will strike, and lo! I'm but a sapless weed.


O Rabbi, curse us not if we have been
Nursed in the shadow of the Gate of Sin
Built by thy hand—yea, ev'n thine angels blink
When we are coming out and going in.


And like the dead of Ind I do not fear
To go to thee in flames; the most austere
Angel of fire a softer tooth and tongue
Hath he than dreadful Munker and Nakir.


Now, at this end of Adam's line I stand
Holding my father's life-curse in my hand,
Doing no one the wrong that he did me:—
Ah, would that he were barren as the sand!


Ay, thus thy children, though they sovereigns be,
When truth upon them dawns, will turn on thee,
Who cast them into life's dark labyrinth
Where even old Izrail can not see.


And in the labyrinth both son and sire
Awhile will fan and fuel hatred's fire;
Sparks of the log of evil are all men
Allwhere—extinguished be the race entire!


If miracles were wrought in ancient years,
Why not to-day, O Heaven-cradled seers?
The highway's strewn with dead, the lepers weep,
If ye but knew,—if ye but saw their tears!


Fan thou a lisping fire and it will leap
In flames, but dost thou fan an ashy heap?
They would respond, indeed, whom thou dost call,
Were they not dead, alas! or dead asleep.


The way of vice is open as the sky.
The way of virtue's like the needle's eye;
But whether here or there, the eager Soul
Has only two Companions—Whence and Why.


Whence come, O firmament, thy myriad lights?
Whence comes thy sap, O vineyard of the heights?
Whence comes the perfume of the rose, and whence
The spirit-larva which the body blights?


Whence does the nettle get its bitter sting?
Whence do the honey bees their honey bring?
Whence our Companions, too—our Whence and
O Soul, I do not know a single thing!


How many like us in the ages past
Have blindly soared, though like a pebble cast,
Seeking the veil of mystery to tear,
But fell accurst beneath the burning blast?


Why try to con the book of earth and sky,
Why seek the truth which neither you nor I
Can grasp? But Death methinks the secret keeps,
And will impart it to us by and by.


The Sultan, too, relinquishing his throne
Must wayfare through the darkening dust alone
Where neither crown nor kingdom be, and he,
Part of the Secret, here and there is blown.


To clay the mighty Sultan must return
And, chancing, help a praying slave to burn
His midnight oil before the face of Him,
Who of the Sultan makes an incense urn.


Turned to a cup, who once the sword of state
Held o'er the head of slave and potentate,
Is now held in the tippler's trembling hand,
Or smashed upon the tavern-floor of Fate.


For this I say, Be watchful of the Cage
Of chance; it opes alike to fool and sage;
Spy on the moment, for to-morrow'll be,
Like yesterday, an obliterated page.


Yea, kiss the rosy cheeks of new-born Day,
And hail eternity in every ray
Forming a halo round its infant head.
Illumining thy labyrinthine way.


But I, the thrice-imprisoned, try to troll
Strains of the song of night, which fill with dole
My blindness, my confinement, and my flesh—
The sordid habitation of my soul.


Howbeit, my inner vision heir shall be
To the increasing flames of mystery
Which may illumine yet my prisons all,
And crown the ever living hope of me.