Bird Parliament
Category: Islam
1:11 h 41.1 mb
Bird Parliament is a celebrated Sufi poem, also known as Conference of the Birds, by the 12th century Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar, is a tale of a journey of a group of thirty birds to the summit of the world mountain, Qaf. An allegory of the Sufi journey to realization of the nature of God, each bird has a particular signficance, a special fault, and a tale to tell.

Bird Parliament

by Farid ud-Din Attar

translated by Edward Fitzgerald

Once on a time from all the Circles seven
Between the stedfast Earth and rolling Heaven
THE BIRDS, of all Note, Plumage, and Degree,
That float in Air, and roost upon the Tree;
And they that from the Waters snatch their Meat,
And they that scour the Desert with long Feet;
Birds of all Natures, known or not to Man,
Flock’d from all Quarters into full Divan,
On no less solemn business than to find
Or choose, a Sultan Khalif of their kind,
For whom, if never theirs, or lost, they pined.
The Snake had his, ’twas said; and so the Beast
His Lion-lord: and Man had his, at least:
And that the Birds, who nearest were the Skies,
And went apparell’d in its Angel Dyes.
Should be without — under no better Law
Than that which lost all other in the Maw —
Disperst without a Bond of Union — nay,
Or meeting to make each the other’s Prey —
This was the Grievance — this the solemn Thing
On which the scatter’d Commonwealth of Wing,
From all the four Winds, flying like to Cloud
That met and blacken’d Heav’n, and Thunder-loud
With Sound of whirring Wings and Beaks that clash’d
Down like a Torrent on the Desert dash’d:
Till by Degrees, the Hubbub and Pell-mell
Into some Order and Precedence fell,
And, Proclamation made of Silence, each
In special Accent, but in general Speech
That all should understand, as seem’d him best,
The Congregation of all Wings addrest.

And first, with Heart so full as from his Eyes
Ran weeping, up rose Tajidar the Wise;
The mystic Mark upon whose Bosom show’d
That He alone of all the Birds THE ROAD
Had travell’d: and the Crown upon his Head
Had reach’d the Goal; and He stood forth and said:

‘O Birds, by what Authority divine
I speak you know by His authentic Sign,
And Name, emblazon’d on my Breast and Bill:
Whose Counsel I assist at, and fulfil:
At His Behest I measured as he plann’d
The Spaces of the Air and Sea and Land;
I gauged the secret sources of the Springs
From Cloud to Fish: the Shadow of my Wings
Dream’d over sleeping Deluge: piloted
The Blast that bore Sulayman’s Throne: and led
The Cloud of Birds that canopied his Head;
Whose Word I brought to Balkis: and I shared
The Counsel that with Asaf he prepared.
And now you want a Khalif: and I know
Him, and his whereabout, and How to go:
And go alone I could, and plead your cause
Alone for all: but, by the eternal laws,
Yourselves by Toil and Travel of your own
Must for your old Delinquency atone.
Were you indeed not blinded by the Curse
Of Self-exile, that still grows worse and worse,
Yourselves would know that, though you see him not,
He is with you this Moment, on this Spot,
Your Lord through all Forgetfulness and Crime,
Here, There, and Everywhere, and through all Time.
But as a Father, whom some wayward Child
By sinful Self-will has unreconciled,
Waits till the sullen Reprobate at cost
Of long Repentance should regain the Lost;
Therefore, yourselves to see as you are seen,
Yourselves must bridge the Gulf you made between
By such a Search and Travel to be gone
Up to the mighty mountain Kaf, whereon
Hinges the World, and round about whose Knees
Into one Ocean mingle the Sev’n Seas;
In whose impenetrable Forest-folds
Of Light and Dark “Symurgh” his Presence holds;
Not to be reach’d, if to be reach’d at all
But by a Road the stoutest might apal;
Of Travel not of Days or Months, but Years —
Life-long perhaps: of Dangers, Doubts, and Fears
As yet unheard of: Sweat of Blood and Brain
Interminable — often all in vain —
And, if successful, no Return again:
A Road whose very Preparation scared
The Traveller who yet must be prepared.
Who then this Travel to Result would bring
Needs both a Lion’s Heart beneath the Wing,
And even more, a Spirit purified
Of Worldly Passion, Malice, Lust, and Pride:
Yea, ev’n of Worldly Wisdom, which grows dim
And dark, the nearer it approaches Him,
Who to the Spirit’s Eye alone reveal’d,
By sacrifice of Wisdom’s self unseal’d;
Without which none who reach the Place could bear
To look upon the Glory dwelling there.’

One Night from out the swarming City Gate
Stept holy Bajazyd, to meditate
Alone amid the breathing Fields that lay
In solitary Silence leagues away,
Beneath a Moon and Stars as bright as Day.
And the Saint wondering such a Temple were,
And so lit up, and scarce one worshipper,
A voice from Heav’n amid the stillness said:
‘The Royal Road is not for all to tread,
Nor is the Royal Palace for the Rout,
Who, even if they reach it, are shut out.
The Blaze that from my Harim window breaks
With fright the Rabble of the Roadside takes;
And ev’n of those that at my Portal din,
Thousands may knock for one that enters in.’

Thus spoke the Tajidar: and the wing’d Crowd,
That underneath his Word in Silence bow’d,
Clapp’d Acclamation: and their Hearts and Eyes
Were kindled by the Firebrand of the Wise.
They felt their Degradation: they believed
The word that told them how to be retrieved,
And in that glorious Consummation won
Forgot the Cost at which it must be done.
‘They only long’d to follow: they would go
Whither he led, through Flood, or Fire, or Snow’ —
So cried the Multitude. But some there were
Who listen’d with a cold disdainful air,
Content with what they were, or grudging Cost
Of Time or Travel that might all be lost;
These, one by one, came forward, and preferr’d
Unwise Objection: which the wiser Word
Shot with direct Reproof, or subtly round
With Argument and Allegory wound.

The Pheasant first would know by what pretence
The Tajidar to that pre-eminence
Was raised — a Bird, but for his lofty Crest
(And such the Pheasant had) like all the Rest —
Who answer’d — ‘By no Virtue of my own
Sulayman chose me, but by His alone:
Not by the Gold and Silver of my Sighs
Made mine, but the free Largess of his Eyes.
Behold the Grace of Allah comes and goes
As to Itself is good: and no one knows
Which way it turns: in that mysterious Court
Not he most finds who furthest travels for’t.
For one may crawl upon his knees Life-long,
And yet may never reach, or all go wrong:
Another just arriving at the Place
He toil’d for, and — the Door shut in his Face:
Whereas Another, scarcely gone a Stride,
And suddenly — Behold he is Inside! —
But though the Runner win not, he that stands,
No Thorn will turn to Roses in his Hands:
Each one must do his best and all endure,
And all endeavour, hoping but not sure.
Heav’n its own Umpire is; its Bidding do,
And Thou perchance shalt be Sulayman’s too.’

One day Shah Mahmud, riding with the Wind
A-hunting, left his Retinue behind,
And coming to a River, whose swift Course
Doubled back Game and Dog, and Man and Horse,
Beheld upon the Shore a little Lad
A-fishing, very poor, and Tatter-clad
He was, and weeping as his Heart would break.
So the Great Sultan, for good humour’s sake
Pull’d in his Horse a moment, and drew nigh,
And after making his Salam, ask’d why
He wept — weeping, the Sultan said, so sore
As he had never seen one weep before.
The Boy look’d up, and ‘O Amir,’ he said,
‘Sev’n of us are at home, and Father dead,
And Mother left with scarce a Bit of Bread:
And now since Sunrise have I fish’d — and see!
Caught nothing for our Supper — Woe is Me!’
The Sultan lighted from his horse. ‘Behold,’
Said he, ‘Good Fortune will not be controll’d:
And, since Today yours seems to turn from you,
Suppose we try for once what mine will do,
And we will share alike in all I win.’
So the Shah took, and flung his Fortune in,
The Net; which, cast by the Great Mahmud’s Hand,
A hundred glittering Fishes brought to Land.
The Lad look’d up in Wonder — Mahmud smiled
And vaulted into Saddle. But the Child
Ran after — ‘Nay, Amir, but half the Haul
Is yours by Bargain’ — ‘Nay, Today take all,’
The Sultan cried, and shook his Bridle free —
‘But mind — Tomorrow All belongs to Me — ’
And so rode off. Next morning at Divan
The Sultan’s Mind upon his Bargain ran,
And being somewhat in a mind for sport
Sent for the Lad: who, carried up to Court,
And marching into Royalty’s full Blaze
With such a Catch of Fish as yesterday’s,
The Sultan call’d and set him by his side,
And asking him, ‘What Luck?’ The Boy replied,
This is the Luck that follows every Cast,
Since o’er my Net the Sultan’s Shadow pass’d.’

Then came The Nightingale, from such a Draught
Of Ecstasy that from the Rose he quaff’d
Reeling as drunk, and ever did distil
In exquisite divisions from his Bill
To inflame the Hearts of Men — and thus sang He —
‘To me alone, alone, is giv’n the Key
Of Love; of whose whole Mystery possesst,
When I reveal a little to the Rest,
Forthwith Creation listening forsakes
The Reins of Reason, and my Frenzy takes:
Yea, whosoever once has quaint this wine
He leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine.
In vain do Men for my Divisions strive,
And die themselves making dead Lutes alive:
I hang the Stars with Meshes for Men’s Souls:
The Garden underneath my Music rolls.
The long, long Morns that mourn the Rose away
I sit in silence, and on Anguish prey:
But the first Air which the New Year shall breathe
Up to my Boughs of Message from beneath
That in her green Harim my Bride unveils,
My Throat bursts silence and her Advent hails,
Who in her crimson Volume registers
The Notes of Him whose Life is lost in hers.
The Rose I love and worship now is here;
If dying, yet reviving, Year by Year;
But that you tell of, all my Life why waste
In vainly searching; or, if found, not taste?’

So with Division infinite and Trill
On would the Nightingale have warbled still,
And all the World have listen’d; but a Note
Of sterner Import check’d the lovesick Throat.

‘O watering with thy melodious Tears
Love’s Garden, and who dost indeed the Ears
Of men with thy melodious Fingers mould
As David’s Finger Iron did of old:
Why not, like David, dedicate thy Dower
Of Song to something better than a Flower?
Empress indeed of Beauty, so they say,
But one whose Empire hardly lasts a Day,
By Insurrection of the Morning’s Breath
That made her hurried to Decay and Death:
And while she lasts contented to be seen,
And worshipt, for the Garden’s only Queen,
Leaving thee singing on thy Bough forlorn,
Or if she smile on Thee, perhaps in Scorn.’

Like that fond Dervish waiting in the throng
When some World-famous Beauty went along,
Who smiling on the Antic as she pass’d —
Forthwith Staff, Bead and Scrip away he cast,
And grovelling in the Kennel, took to whine
Before her Door among the Dogs and Swine.
Which when she often went unheeding by,
But one day quite as heedless ask’d him — ‘Why?’ —
He told of that one Smile, which, all the Rest
Passing, had kindled Hope within his Breast —
Again she smiled and said, ‘O self-beguiled
Poor Wretch, at whom and not on whom I smiled.’

Then came the subtle Parrot in a coat
Greener than Greensward, and about his Throat
A Collar ran of sub-sulphureous Gold;
And in his Beak a Sugar-plum he troll’d,
That all his Words with luscious Lisping ran,
And to this Tune — ‘O cruel Cage, and Man
More iron still who did confine me there,
Who else with him whose Livery I wear
Ere this to his Eternal Fount had been,
And drunk what should have kept me ever-green.
But now I know the Place, and I am free
To go, and all the Wise will follow Me.
Some’ — and upon the Nightingale one Eye
He leer’d — ‘for nothing but the Blossom sigh:
But I am for the luscious Pulp that grows
Where, and for which the Blossom only blows:
And which so long as the Green Tree provides
What better grows along Kaf’s dreary Sides?
And what more needful Prophet there than He
Who gives me Life to nip it from the Tree?’

To whom the Tajidar — ‘O thou whose Best
In the green leaf of Paradise is drest,
But whose Neck kindles with a lower Fire —
O slip the collar off of base Desire,
And stand apparell’d in Heav’n’s Woof entire!
This Life that hangs so sweet about your Lips
But, spite of all your Khizar, slips and slips,
What is it but itself the coarser Rind
Of the True Life withinside and behind,
Which he shall never never reach unto
Till the gross Shell of Carcase he break through?’

For what said He, that dying Hermit, whom
Your Prophet came to, trailing through the Gloom
His Emerald Vest, and tempted — ‘Come with Me,
And Live.’ The Hermit answered — ‘Not with Thee.
Two Worlds there are, and This was thy Design,
And thou hast got it; but The Next is mine;
Whose Fount is this life’s Death, and to whose Side
Ev’n now I find my Way without a Guide.’

Then like a Sultan glittering in all Rays
Of Jewelry, and deckt with his own Blaze,
The glorious Peacock swept into the Ring:
And, turning slowly that the glorious Thing
Might fill all Eyes with wonder, thus said He.
‘Behold, the Secret Artist, making me,
With no one Colour of the skies bedeckt,
But from its Angel’s Feathers did select
To make up mine withal, the Gabriel
Of all the Birds: though from my Place I fell
In Eden, when Acquaintance I did make
In those blest days with that Sev’n-headed Snake,
And thence with him, my perfect Beauty marr’d
With these ill Feet, was thrust out and debarr’d.
Little I care for Worldly Fruit or Flower,
Would you restore me to lost Eden’s Bower,
But first my Beauty making all complete
With reparation of these ugly Feet.’

‘Were it,’ ’twas answer’d, ‘only to return
To that lost Eden, better far to burn
In Self-abasement up thy pluméd Pride,
And ev’n with lamer feet to creep inside —
But all mistaken you and all like you
That long for that lost Eden as the true;
Fair as it was, still nothing but the shade
And Out-court of the Majesty that made.
That which I point you tow’rd, and which the King
I tell you of broods over with his Wing,
With no deciduous leaf, but with the Rose
Of Spiritual Beauty, smells and glows:
No plot of Earthly Pleasance, but the whole
True Garden of the Universal Soul.’

For so Creation’s Master-Jewel fell
From that same Eden: loving which too well,
The Work before the Artist did prefer,
And in the Garden lost the Gardener.
Wherefore one Day about the Garden went
A voice that found him in his false Content,
And like a bitter Sarsar of the North
Shrivell’d the Garden up, and drove him forth
Into the Wilderness: and so the Eye
Of Eden closed on him till by and by.

Then from a Ruin where conceal’d he lay
Watching his buried Gold, and hating Day,
Hooted The Owl. — ‘I tell you, my Delight
Is in the Ruin and the Dead of Night
Where I was born, and where I love to wone
All my Life long, sitting on some cold stone
Away from all your roystering Companies,
In some dark Corner where a Treasure lies;
That, buried by some Miser in the Dark,
Speaks up to me at Midnight like a Spark;
And o’er it like a Talisman I brood,
Companion of the Serpent and the Toad.
What need of other Sovereign, having found,
And keeping as in Prison underground,
One before whom all other Kings bow down,
And with his glittering Heel their Foreheads crown?’

‘He that a Miser lives and Miser dies,
At the Last Day what Figure shall he rise?’

A Fellow all his life lived hoarding Gold,
And, dying, hoarded left it. And behold,
One Night his Son saw peering through the House
A Man, with yet the semblance of a Mouse,
Watching a crevice in the Wall — and cried
‘My Father?’ — ‘Yes,’ the Musulman replied,
‘Thy Father!’ — ‘But why watching thus?’ — ‘For fear
Lest any smell my Treasure buried here.’
‘But wherefore, Sir, so metamousified?’
‘Because, my Son, such is the true outside
Of the inner Soul by which I lived and died.’

‘Aye,’ said The Partridge, with his Foot and Bill
Crimson with raking Rubies from the Hill,
And clattering his Spurs — ‘Wherewith the Ground
I stab,’ said he, ‘for Rubies, that, when found
I swallow; which, as soon as swallow’d, turn
To Sparks which though my beak and eyes do burn.
Gold, as you say, is but dull Metal dead,
And hanging on the Hoarder’s Soul like Lead:
But Rubies that have Blood within, and grown
And nourisht in the Mountain Heart of Stone,
Burn with an inward Light, which they inspire,
And make their Owners Lords of their Desire.’

To whom the Tajidar — ‘As idly sold
To the quick Pebble as the drowsy Gold,
As dead when sleeping in their mountain mine
As dangerous to Him who makes them shine:
Slavish indeed to do their Lord’s Commands,
And slave-like aptest to escape his Hands,
And serve a second Master like the first,
And working all their wonders for the worst.’

Never was Jewel after or before
Like that Sulayman for a Signet wore:
Whereby one Ruby, weighing scarce a grain
Did Sea and Land and all therein constrain,
Yea, ev’n the Winds of Heav’n — made the fierce East
Bear his League-wide Pavilion like a Beast,
Whither he would: yea, the Good Angel held
His subject, and the lower Fiend compell’d.
Till, looking round about him in his pride,
He overtax’d the Fountain that supplied,
Praying that after him no Son of Clay
Should ever touch his Glory. And one Day
Almighty God his Jewel stole away,
And gave it to the Div, who with the Ring
Wore also the Resemblance of the King,
And so for forty days play’d such a Game
As blots Sulayman’s forty years with Shame.

Then The Shah-Falcon, tossing up his Head
Blink-hooded as it was — ‘Behold,’ he said,
‘I am the chosen Comrade of the King,
And perch upon the Fist that wears the Ring;
Born, bred, and nourisht, in the Royal Court,
I take the Royal Name and make the Sport.
And if strict Discipline I undergo
And half my Life am blinded — be it so;
Because the Shah’s Companion ill may brook
On aught save Royal Company to look.
And why am I to leave my King, and fare
With all these Rabble Wings I know not where?’ —

‘O blind indeed’ — the Answer was, ‘and dark
To any but a vulgar Mortal Mark,
And drunk with Pride of Vassalage to those
Whose Humour like their Kingdom comes and goes;
All Mutability: who one Day please
To give: and next Day what they gave not seize:
Like to the Fire: a dangerous Friend at best,
Which who keeps farthest from does wiseliest.

A certain Shah there was in Days foregone
Who had a lovely Slave he doted on,
And cherish’d as the Apple of his Eye,
Clad gloriously, fed sumptuously, set high,
And never was at Ease were He not by,
Who yet, for all this Sunshine, Day by Day
Was seen to wither like a Flower away.
Which, when observing, one without the Veil
Of Favour ask’d the Favourite — ‘Why so pale
And sad?’ thus sadly answer’d the poor Thing —
‘No Sun that rises sets until the King,
Whose Archery is famous among Men,
Aims at an Apple on my Head and when
The stricken Apple splits and those who stand
Around cry “Lo! the Shah’s unerring Hand!”
Then He too laughing asks me “Why so pale
And sorrow-some? as could the Sultan fail,
Who such a master of the Bow confest,
And aiming by the Head that he loves best.”’

Then on a sudden swoop’d The Phoenix down
As though he wore as well as gave The Crown:
And cried — ‘I care not, I, to wait on Kings,
Whose crowns are but the Shadow of my Wings!’

‘Aye,’ was the Answer — ‘And, pray, how has sped,
On which it lighted, many a mortal Head?’

A certain Sultan dying, his Vizier
In Dream beheld him, and in mortal Fear
Began — ‘O mighty Shah of Shahs! Thrice-blest’ —
But loud the Vision shriek’d and struck its Breast,
And ‘Stab me not with empty Title!’ cried —
‘One only Shah there is, and none beside,
Who from his Throne above for certain Ends
Awhile some Spangle of his Glory lends
To Men on Earth; but calling in again
Exacts a strict account of every Grain.
Sultan I lived, and held the World in scorn:
O better had I glean’d the Field of Corn!
O better had I been a Beggar born,
And for my Throne and Crown, down in the Dust
My living Head had laid where Dead I must!
O wither’d, wither’d, wither’d, be the Wing
Whose overcasting Shadow made me King!’

Then from a Pond, where all day long he kept,
Waddled the dapper Duck demure, adept
At infinite Ablution, and precise
In keeping of his Raiment clean and nice.
And ‘Sure of all the Race of Birds,’ said He,
‘None for Religious Purity like Me,
Beyond what strictest Rituals prescribe —
Methinks I am the Saint of all our Tribe,
To whom, by Miracle, the Water, that
I wash in, also makes my Praying-Mat.’

To whom, more angrily than all, replied
The Leader, lashing that religious Pride,
That under ritual Obedience
To outer Law with inner might dispense:
For, fair as all the Feather to be seen,
Could one see through, the Maw was not so clean:
But He that made both Maw and Feather too
Would take account of, seeing through and through.

A Shah returning to his Capital,
His subjects drest it forth in Festival,
Thronging with Acclamation Square and Street,
And kneeling flung before his Horse’s feet
Jewel and Gold. All which with scarce an Eye
The Sultan superciliously rode by:
Till coming to the public Prison, They
Who dwelt within those grisly Walls, by way
Of Welcome, having neither Pearl nor Gold,
Over the wall chopt Head and Carcase roll’d,
Some almost parcht to Mummy with the Sun,
Some wet with Execution that day done.
At which grim Compliment at last the Shah
Drew Bridle: and amid a wild Hurrah
Of savage Recognition, smiling threw
Silver and Gold among the wretched Crew,
And so rode forward. Whereat of his Train
One wondering that, while others sued in vain
With costly gifts, which carelessly he pass’d,
But smiled at ghastly Welcome like the last;
The Shah made answer — ‘All that Pearl and Gold
Of ostentatious Welcome only told:
A little with great Clamour from the Store
Of hypocrites who kept at home much more.
But when those sever’d Heads and Trunks I saw —
Save by strict Execution of my Law
They had not parted company; not one
But told my Will not talk’d about, but done.’

Then from a Wood was heard unseen to coo
The Ring-dove — ‘Yúsuf! Yúsuf! Yúsuf! Yú-’
(For thus her sorrow broke her Note in twain,
And, just where broken, took it up again)
‘-suf! Yúsuf! Yúsuf! Yúsuf!’ — But one Note,
Which still repeating, she made hoarse her throat:

Till checkt — ‘O You, who with your idle Sighs
Block up the Road of better Enterprise;
Sham Sorrow all, or bad as sham if true,
When once the better thing is come to do;
Beware lest wailing thus you meet his Doom
Who all too long his Darling wept, from whom
You draw the very Name you hold so dear,
And which the World is somewhat tired to hear.’

When Yusuf from his Father’s Home was torn,
The Patriarch’s Heart was utterly forlorn,
And, like a Pipe with but one stop, his Tongue
With nothing but the name of ‘Yusuf’ rung.
Then down from Heaven’s Branches flew the Bird
Of Heav’n and said ‘God wearies of that word:
Hast thou not else to do and else to say?’
So Jacob’s lips were sealéd from that Day.
But one Night in a Vision, far away
His darling in some alien Field he saw
Binding the Sheaf; and what between the Awe
Of God’s Displeasure and the bitter Pass
Of passionate Affection, sigh’d ‘Alas — ’
And stopp’d — But with the morning Sword of Flame
That oped his Eyes the sterner Angel’s came
‘For the forbidden Word not utter’d by
Thy Lips was yet sequester’d in that Sigh.’
And the right Passion whose Excess was wrong
Blinded the aged Eyes that wept too long.

And after these came others — arguing,
Enquiring and excusing — some one Thing,
And some another — endless to repeat,
But, in the Main, Sloth, Folly, or Deceit.
Their Souls were to the vulgar Figure cast
Of earthly Victual not of Heavenly Fast.
At last one smaller Bird, of a rare kind,
Of modest Plume and unpresumptuous Mind,
Whisper’d ‘O Tajidar, we know indeed
How Thou both knowest, and would’st help our Need;
For thou art wise and holy, and hast been
Behind the Veil, and there The Presence seen.
But we are weak and vain, with little care
Beyond our yearly Nests and daily Fare —
How should we reach the Mountain? and if there
How get so great a Prince to hear our Prayer?
For there, you say, dwells The Symurgh alone
In Glory, like Sulayman on his Throne,
And we but Pismires at his feet: can He
Such puny Creatures stoop to hear, or see;
Or hearing, seeing, own us — unakin
As He to Folly, Woe, and Death, and Sin?’ —

To whom the Tajidar, whose Voice for those
Bewilder’d ones to full Compassion rose
‘O lost so long in exile, you disclaim
The very Fount of Being whence you came,
Cannot be parted from, and, will or no,
Whether for Good or Evil must re-flow!
For look — the Shadows into which the Light
Of his pure Essence down by infinite
Gradation dwindles, which at random play
Through Space in Shape indefinite — one Ray
Of his Creative Will into defined
Creation quickens: We that swim the Wind,
And they the Flood below, and Man and Beast
That walk between, from Lion to the least
Pismire that creeps along Sulayman’s Wall —
Yea, that in which they swim, fly, walk, and crawl —
However near the Fountain Light, or far
Removed, yet His authentic Shadows are;
Dead Matter’s Self but the dark Residue
Exterminating Glory dwindles to.
A Mystery too fearful in the Crowd
To utter — scarcely to Thyself aloud —
But when in solitary Watch and Prayer
Consider’d: and religiously beware
Lest Thou the Copy with the Type confound;
And Deity, with Deity indrown’d, —
For as pure Water into purer Wine
Incorporating shall itself reline
While the dull Drug lies half-resolved below,
With Him and with his Shadows is it so:
The baser Forms, to whatsoever Change
Subject, still vary through their lower Range:
To which the higher even shall decay,
That, letting ooze their better Part away
For Things of Sense and Matter, in the End
Shall merge into the Clay to which they tend.
Unlike to him, who straining through the Bond
Of outward Being for a Life beyond,
While the gross Worldling to his Centre clings,
That draws him deeper in, exulting springs
To merge him in the central Soul of Things.
And shall not he pass home with other Zest
Who, with full Knowledge, yearns for such a Rest,
Than he, who with his better self at strife,
Drags on the weary Exile call’d This Life? —
One, like a child with outstretcht Arms and Face
Upturn’d, anticipates his Sire’s Embrace;
The other crouching like a guilty Slave
Till flogg’d to Punishment across the Grave.
And, knowing that His glory ill can bear
The unpurged Eye; do thou Thy Breast prepare:
And the mysterious Mirror He set there,
To temper his reflected Image in,
Clear of Distortion, Doubleness, and Sin:
And in thy Conscience understanding this,
The Double only seems, but The One is,
Thyself to Self-annihilation give
That this false Two in that true One may live.
For this I say: if, looking in thy Heart,
Thou for Self-whole mistake thy Shadow-part,
That Shadow-part indeed into The Sun
Shall melt, but senseless of its Union:
But in that Mirror if with purged eyes
Thy Shadow Thou for Shadow recognise,
Then shalt Thou back into thy Centre fall
A conscious Ray of that eternal All.’

He ceased, and for awhile Amazement quell’d
The Host, and in the Chain of Silence held:
A Mystery so awful who would dare —
So glorious who would not wish — to share?
So Silence brooded on the feather’d Folk,
Till here and there a timid Murmur broke
From some too poor in honest Confidence,
And then from others of too much Pretence;
Whom both, as each unduly hoped or fear’d,
The Tajidar in answer check’d or cheer’d.

Some said their Hearts were good indeed to go
The Way he pointed out: but they were slow
Of Comprehension, and scarce understood
Their present Evil or the promised Good:
And so, tho’ willing to do all they could,
Must not they fall short, or go wholly wrong,
On such mysterious Errand, and so long?
Whom the wise Leader bid but Do their Best
In Hope and Faith, and leave to Him the rest,
For He who fix’d the Race, and knew its Length
And Danger, also knew the Runner’s Strength.

Shah Mahmud, absent on an Enterprise,
Ayas, the very Darling of his eyes,
At home under an Evil Eye fell sick,
Then cried the Sultan to a soldier ‘Quick!
To Horse! to Horse! without a Moment’s Stay, —
The shortest Road with all the Speed you may, —
Or, by the Lord, your Head shall pay for it!’ —
Off went the Soldier, plying Spur and Bit —
Over the sandy Desert, over green
Valley, and Mountain, and the Stream between,
Without a Moment’s Stop for rest or bait,
Up to the City — to the Palace Gate —
Up to the Presence-Chamber at a Stride—
And Lo! The Sultan at his Darling’s side! —
Then thought the Soldier — ‘I have done my Best,
And yet shall die for it.’ The Sultan guess’d
His Thought and smiled. ‘Indeed your Best you did,
The nearest Road you knew, and well you rid:
And if I knew a shorter, my Excess
Of Knowledge does but justify thy Less.’

And then, with drooping Crest and Feather, came
Others, bow’d down with Penitence and Shame.
They long’d indeed to go; ‘but how begin,
Mesh’d and entangled as they were in Sin
Which often-times Repentance of past Wrong
As often broken had but knit more strong?’
Whom the wise Leader bid be of good cheer,
And, conscious of the Fault, dismiss the Fear,
Nor at the very Entrance of the Fray
Their Weapon, ev’n if broken, fling away:
Since Mercy on the broken Branch anew
Would blossom were but each Repentance true.

For did not God his Prophet take to Task?
‘Sev’n-times of Thee did Karun Pardon ask;
Which, hadst thou been like Me his Maker — yea,
But present at the Kneading of his Clay
With those twain Elements of Hell and Heav’n, —
One prayer had won what Thou deny’st to Sev’n.’

For like a Child sent with a fluttering Light
To feel his way along a gusty Night
Man walks the World: again and yet again
The Lamp shall be by Fits of Passion slain:
But shall not He who sent him from the Door
Relight the Lamp once more, and yet once more?

When the rebellious Host from Death shall wake
Black with Despair of Judgment, God shall take
Ages of holy Merit from the Count
Of Angels to make up Man’s short Amount,
And bid the murmuring Angel gladly spare
Of that which, undiminishing his Share,
Of Bliss, shall rescue Thousands from the Cost
Of Bankruptcy within the Prison lost.

Another Story told how in the Scale
Good Will beyond mere Knowledge would prevail.

In Paradise the Angel Gabriel heard
The Lips of Allah trembling with the Word
Of perfect Acceptation: and he thought
‘Some perfect Faith such perfect Answer wrought,
But whose?’ — And therewith slipping from the Crypt
Of Sidra, through the Angel-ranks he slipt
Watching what Lip yet trembled with the Shot
That so had hit the Mark — but found it not.
Then, in a Glance to Earth, he threaded through
Mosque, Palace, Cell and Cottage of the True
Belief — in vain; so back to Heaven went
And — Allah’s Lips still trembling with assent!
Then the tenacious Angel once again
Threaded the Ranks of Heav’n and Earth — in vain —
Till, once again return’d to Paradise,
There, looking into God’s, the Angel’s Eyes
Beheld the Prayer that brought that Benison
Rising like Incense from the Lips of one
Who to an Idol bowed — as best he knew
Under that False God worshipping the True.

And then came others whom the summons found
Not wholly sick indeed, but far from sound:
Whose light inconstant Soul alternate flew
From Saint to Sinner, and to both untrue;
Who like a niggard Tailor, tried to match
Truth’s single Garment with a worldly Patch.
A dangerous Game; for, striving to adjust
The hesitating Scale of either Lust,
That which had least within it upward flew,
And still the weightier to the Earth down drew,
And, while suspended between Rise and Fall,
Apt with a shaking Hand to forfeit all.

There was a Queen of Egypt like the Bride
Of Night, Full-moon-faced and Canopus-eyed,
Whom one among the meanest of her Crowd
Loved — and she knew it (for he loved aloud),
And sent for him, and said ‘Thou lov’st thy Queen:
Now therefore Thou hast this to choose between:
Fly for thy Life: or for this one night Wed
Thy Queen, and with the Sunrise lose thy Head.’
He paused — he turn’d to fly — she struck him dead.
‘For had he truly loved his Queen,’ said She,
‘He would at once have giv’n his Life for me,
And Life and Wife had carried: but he lied;
And loving only Life, has justly died.’

And then came one who having clear’d his Throat
With sanctimonious Sweetness in his Note
Thus lisp’d — ‘Behold I languish from the first
With passionate and unrequited Thirst
Of Love for more than any mortal Bird.
Therefore have I withdrawn me from the Herd
To pine in Solitude. But Thou at last
Hast drawn a line across the dreary Past,
And sure I am by Foretaste that the Wine
I long’d for, and Thou tell’st of, shall be mine.’

But he was sternly checkt. ‘I tell thee this:
Such Boast is no Assurance of such Bliss:
Thou canst not even fill the sail of Prayer
Unless from Him breathe that authentic Air
That shall lift up the Curtain that divides
His Lover from the Harim where He hides —
And the Fulfilment of thy Vows must be,
Not from thy Love for Him, but His for Thee.’

The third night after Bajazyd had died,
One saw him, in a dream, at his Bedside,
And said, ‘Thou Bajazyd? Tell me O Pyr,
How fared it there with Munkar and Nakyr?’
And Bajazyd replied, ‘When from the Grave
They met me rising, and “If Allah’s slave”
Ask’d me, “or collar’d with the Chain of Hell?”
I said “Not I but God alone can tell:
My Passion for his service were but fond
Ambition had not He approved the Bond:
Had He not round my neck the Collar thrown
And told me in the Number of his own;
And that He only knew. What signifies
A hundred Years of Prayer if none replies?”’

‘But,’ said Another, ‘then shall none the Seal
Of Acceptation on his Forehead feel
Ere the Grave yield them on the other Side
Where all is settled?’

But the Chief replied —
‘Enough for us to know that who is meet
Shall enter, and with unreprovéd Feet,
(Ev’n as he might upon the Waters walk)
The Presence-room, and in the Presence talk
With such unbridled Licence as shall seem
To the Uninitiated to blaspheme.’

Just as another Holy Spirit fled,
The Skies above him burst into a Bed
Of Angels looking down and singing clear
‘Nightingale! Nightingale! thy Rose is here!’
And yet, the Door wide open to that Bliss,
As some hot Lover slights a scanty Kiss,
The Saint cried ‘All I sigh’d for come to this?
I who lifelong have struggled, Lord, to be
Not of thy Angels one, but one with Thee!’

Others were sure that all he said was true:
They were extremely wicked, that they knew:
And much they long’d to go at once — but some,
They said, so unexpectedly had come
Leaving their Nests half-built — in bad Repair —
With Children in — Themselves about to pair —
‘Might he not choose a better Season — nay,
Better perhaps a Year or Two’s Delay,
Till all was settled, and themselves more stout
And strong to carry their Repentance out —
And then’ —

‘And then, the same or like Excuse,
With harden’d Heart and Resolution loose
With dallying: and old Age itself engaged
Still to shirk that which shirking we have aged:
And so with Self-delusion, till, too late,
Death upon all Repentance shuts the Gate;
Or some fierce blow compels the Way to choose,
And forced Repentance half its Virtue lose.’

Ocean 2.0 Reader. Empty coverOcean 2.0 Reader. Book is closedOcean 2.0 Reader. FilterOcean 2.0 Reader. Compilation cover