Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SOUL'S RUBAIYAT: 1, by AMELIA WOODWARD TRUESDELL

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE SOUL'S RUBAIYAT: 1, by            
First Line: Of him who walked a thousand years ago
Last Line: Why dream I, mad? All dreams for man are vain.
Subject(s): Death; God; Omar Khayyam (1048-1122); Salvation; Soul; Truth; Dead, The


Of him who walked a thousand years ago
In Persian vales, and studied human woe
And the great Ruler's scheme to man, I read
And wondered if aught more to-day we know;

Aught more, life's puzzle-riddle solve than he;
The Whence, the Why, the Whither, and To-Be.
We still are groping for the Great Reply;
Through veils and forms, O God, we search for Thee.


He taught beneath the rose-trees of Irán,
This poet, seer, philosopher; this man
Who spared not all his learning's treasure trove.
But vain his wisdom of the star-writ plan!

Still would the multitude, like driven swine,
On superstition feed, and call it wine
Of life, though bitter with the creeds of men;
For sleek Tradition cried, "A draught divine!"


Tradition! Serpent-born at Eden's gate,
Still deifying fetish, faith, and fate;
On altars strange, his false lights burning yet,
Still blind men's eyes unto their high estate.

Tradition! Keeper of the deadly keys
Where souls are locked in darkness, fed on lees
Of legends steeped in dreams, dank cloister weeds:
O God, how could'st Thou look and suffer these?


From wading in the muck of daily care,
From 'midst the ashes of dead hopes' despair,
Our souls still wait, with long endurance dull,
And lifting helpless hands cry, "Master, where?"

"A score of centuries since Jesus died,
And Sin our daily comrade still?" we cried.
His life! And could it be in vain? Then weep,
Weep on, thou mother of the Crucified!


I loved the high Ideal I called the Lord;
I worshiped at that shrine with heart's accord.
Athwart the altar trailed a serpent Doubt,
And left envenomed there the name of God.

With the Almighty would you make a trade,
As with a huckster by the road-side paid?
So much salvation for so much shed blood,
And thus your own just penalty evade?

The soul revolts at such a sacrifice,
Such banal temporizing with a vice;
The sweetest life the world has ever known
Is lost to earth for me—unworth the price?

Who then shall weigh the thing we call a sin?
For ages God mayhap to man has been
More lenient than His sons. He knows so well
How weak He made him from without,—within.


All consecration knows the scourge: the scorn
Of words which cuts the heart as did the thorn
The Master's brow; and through a dolorous way
It mounts its calvary of crosses borne.

Vicarious ever is earth's pain; that pain,
The life-sweat of one body's loss or gain.
None stands alone. Each hapless child of sin
Is linked to me. See that 'tis not in vain.


From Ark of the old faith my soul went out.
Philosophy she skimmed, that sea of doubt,—
But eddying circles in a darkening whirl,
Maelstrom of words! It was a sorry bout.

Where ancient Nilus and the Indus taught;
Confucius with his measured wisdom wrought,—
No foot-stay there, no olive-branch I found;
But wreckage of a flood of surging thought.

Through mosque and Buddhist temple, silence-shod,
To fires of old Irán and budding rod
Of Aaron, back the devious way I trod;
And lo! I found me many a Sphinx-like god.

But all their lips in silence were and scorn,
At my poor search through shrines where ages gone
Had left their manual of a bootless quest:
For them, no star of some new faith unborn!

Altars and tombs showed man in tragic fray
Of creeds, but still the slave of yesterday;
His dread of change, slow death unto the faiths.
Better a red-robed charlatan at play!


And still the Potter's wheel is turned by Fate:
He tosses out our shards of love and hate
As whirls the clay about. We wonder why
We hold such scraps and shreds for our estate.

Sharp-edgéd tools within an infant's hand!
These passions which we did not understand
Surprised us by their mastery. Then who
Had right for us, such dangers to command?

Did Cain, that life was sacred comprehend?
Then why distraught when he, without a friend,
Went forth? Did Judas know his kiss of death
Would mark for him, of heaven and earth the end?


For Truth I searched a hundred seas and lands;
I heard his call and ran with outstretched hands;
But when I thought I had his footsteps traced,
He just had gone to walk on other strands.

All up and down the streets and country roads,
I asked for him. Men pointed to the loads
Upon their backs and dumbly plodded on.
These body needs—accurséd Eden goads!


Within the dark I heard a voice one night,
And all the air was vibrant with the light,—
Some thought that crashed its zigzag way; and then
An Error's mocking laugh. The ribald wight!

I thought one day I'd caught his beckoning glance;
Covered with light—Transfiguration's trance—
I stood with souls in white. I raised my eyes,
Then hope was naught but memory of a chance.


We read that Truth from one eternal place
To us shall ever turn a changeless face,
A phantom mirror in his hand, forsooth;
Of yesterday, to-day reflects no trace.

For Science changes every hour her schemes;
Empiric! What to-day as fact she deems,
Next year is refuse by the wayside flung;
For souls in mortal need, what good are dreams?


I questioned Nature for some comfort-screed;
For high analogies; God's word and deed
Must blend in one great scheme of law. Quoth she,
"The individual is a worthless weed."

The specie life with its unbroken train
Is Nature's god; and this for souls in pain?
As cold as death she reads her cruel creed:
"You're weak? Then pass; the strongest must remain."


It is the old estate of me and thee;
Dividual life lost in captivity
Unto the whole. "What means the world to me?"
Thus Omar cried. The end? Earth waits to see.

Since his red wine a thousand years of work;
Its bold results our logic may not shirk.
But of God's mind to man,—the Unit-Soul?
Says Nature's law, "Away with shrine and kirk."


O Truth! Bemasked with smirk of every race
Thy brow! How shall we know thine alien face
By strange device of old and new disguised?
Yet souls distraught still seek thy dwelling-place.

We would believe thy hidden brow is bright,
Immortal reflex of the Essence, Light.
Why change thy raiment with the beggar Doubt,
With all her shams and trumpery bedight?

Too faint thy image is in science' well,
Thy mark uncertain as the sagas tell.
O Truth, tear off thy masks, and pray make haste,
Or Doubt shall cast us into deepest hell.


O for Ithuriel's heaven-tempered spear!
Some spirit talisman that's crystal-clear!
Encased within this casket of dull clay,
What chance has man the truth to know or hear?

Silent, Thou God, as Thy unanswering sky,
Perhaps sometime, Thou'lt tell Thy creatures why
The true and false are dual-unity.
And now, have mercy if in sin we die.


Since Death turned down the Persian's empty glass,
The sun has seen the train of centuries pass;
Uncertain-lipped, we question still the law,
And still to us the heavens are as brass.

And when the past has swallowed up to-day,
The future from us stolen nigh away,
We feel the shiver of the river-brink,
Ah, then forsooth we'll grovel, whining, pray!

Aye, pray to one we never have addressed;
Reach for the cup our lips have passed unpressed;
See heaven shrivel and shrink above our heads;
Ye Moths!—my kin! Where shall we then, unblessed?


My soul go hence! This strife is idle hum;
This life the beating of an empty drum;
A Holy Grail evanished is this Truth.
Back to thy nothingness! Thou slave, be dumb.

And when again th' Eternal Sákis use
This earthen bowl I found, but did not choose,
Still other bubbles in to pour, its clay
The flavor of mortality may lose.


Will its new lips be only formed to sigh?
Our questions, will it face with dreary eye?
Nay, nay, I've wept its tears, this beaten clay;
For man will then have come the Great Reply?

Beneath this star-splashed, zodiac-painted bowl
Down-pressed, we crawl with smothering of soul;
Is it uplifted for the Súfi seer
Whose tragic songs to us through centuries roll?


Omar! Ah, do you yet the mystery know?
Is Death a Fakir with no wonder-show?
Or have the Pleiads now no room for souls,
The I, the You, diffused in ether-flow?

Through space as winds Death's caravan its train,
Have you aught sweeter found than earth-love's pain?
Flesh-robe of sorrow must you wear again?
Why dream I, mad? All dreams for man are vain.

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