Thursday, 6 October 2016
There is no heaven but here
The edition of the Rubaiyat that we have on our shelves here at Dolores Delargo Towers, with illustrations by Elihu Vedder
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
As National Poetry Day draws to its close, so I have just enough time to encapsulate two great loves of mine - one of the greatest of thinkers, the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens; and that most magnificent of poetic works [my absolute, utter favourite] The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from which he here reads...
The bird of life is singing on the bough
His two eternal notes of “I and Thou” -
O! hearken well, for soon the song sings through,
And, would we hear it, we must hear it now.
The bird of life is singing in the sun,
Short is his song, nor only just begun,
A call, a trill, a rapture, then - so soon!
A silence, and the song is done - is done.
Yea! What is man that deems himself divine?
Man is a flagon, and his soul the wine;
Man is a reed, his soul the sound therein;
Man is a lantern, and his soul the shine.
Would you be happy! hearken, then, the way:
Heed not To-morrow, heed not Yesterday;
The magic words of life are Here and Now -
O fools, that after some to-morrow stray!
Were I a Sultan, say what greater bliss
Were mine to summon to my side than this,
Dear gleaming face, far brighter than the moon!
O Love! and this immortalizing kiss.
To all of us the thought of heaven is dear -
Why not be sure of it and make it here?
No doubt there is a heaven yonder too,
But ’tis so far away - and you are near.
Men talk of heaven, - there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, - there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk, and future lives,
O love, there is no other life - but here.
Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.
But here are wine and beautiful young girls,
Be wise and hide your sorrows in their curls,
Dive as you will in life’s mysterious sea,
You shall not bring us any better pearls.
Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be, He keeps His secret well;
What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secret to a maggot tell?
So since with all my passion and my skill,
The world’s mysterious meaning mocks me still,
Shall I not piously believe that I
Am kept in darkness by the heavenly will?
The Koran! well, come put me to the test -
Lovely old book in hideous error drest -
Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.
And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
God gave the Secret, and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.
Old Khayyám, say you, is a debauchee;
If only you were half so good as he!
He sins no sins but gentle drunkenness,
Great-hearted mirth, and kind adultery.
But yours the cold heart, and the murderous tongue,
The wintry soul that hates to hear a song,
The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye,
And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.
So I be written in the Book of Love,
I have no care about that book above;
Erase my name, or write it, as you please -
So I be written in the Book of Love.
My tribute to Christopher Hitchens over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on Wikipedia.
National Poetry Day