Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
From His Paraphrase of the Rubáiyát of Omár Khayyám
 
Edward FitzGerald (1809–83)
 
 
OVERTURE

WAKE! For the Sun who scatter’d into flight
The stars before him from the field of night,
  Drives night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultán’s turret with a shaft of light.
 
Before the phantom of false morning died,        5
Methought a Voice within the tavern cried,
  “When all the temple is prepar’d within,
Why nods the drowsy worshipper outside?”
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The tavern shouted—“Open then the door!        10
  You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”
 
PARADISE ENOW

With me along the strip of herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
  Where name of slave and sultán is forgot—        15
And peace to Máhmúd on his golden throne!
 
A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread—and Thou
  Beside me singing in the wilderness—
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow!        20
 
Some for the glories of this world; and some
Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;
  Ah, take the cash, and let the credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum!
 
Look to the blowing Rose about us—“Lo,        25
Laughing,” she says, “into the world I blow,
  At once the silken tassel of my purse
Tear, and its treasure on the garden throw.”
 
And those who husbanded the golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like rain,        30
  Alike to no such aureate earth are turn’d
As, buried once, men want dug up again.
 
The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
Turns ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
  Like snow upon the desert’s dusty face,        35
Lighting a little hour or two—was gone.
 
Think, in this batter’d caravanserai
Whose portals are alternate Night and Day,
  How Sultán after Sultán with his pomp
Abode his destin’d hour, and went his way.        40
 
They say the lion and the lizard keep
The courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
  And Bahrám, that great hunter—the wild ass
Stamps o’er his head, but cannot break his sleep.
 
I sometimes think that never blows so red        45
The rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
  That every hyacinth the garden wears
Dropp’d in her lap from some once lovely head.
 
And this reviving herb whose tender green
Fledges the river lip on which we lean—        50
  Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely lip it springs unseen!
 
Ah, my Beloved, fill the cup that clears
To-day of past regrets and future fears:
  To-morrow!—Why to-morrow I may be        55
Myself with Yesterday’s sev’n thousand years.
 
For some we lov’d, the loveliest and the best
That from his vintage rolling Time has prest,
  Have drunk their cup a round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.        60
 
And we, that now make merry in the room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
  Ourselves must we beneath the couch of earth
Descend—ourselves to make a couch—for whom?
 
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,        65
Before we too into the dust descend;
  Dust into dust, and under dust, to lie,
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and—sans end!
 
THE MASTER-KNOT

Up from Earth’s centre through the
Seventh Gate        70
I rose, and on the throne of Saturn sate,
  And many a knot unravell’d by the road;
But not the master knot of human fate.
 
There was the door to which I found no key;
There was the veil through which I could not see;        75
  Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was—and then no more of Thee and Me.
 
Earth could not answer; nor the seas that mourn
In flowing purple, of their Lord forlorn;
  Nor rolling Heaven, with all his signs reveal’d        80
And hidden by the sleeve of night and morn.
 
Then of the Thee in Me who works behind
The veil, I lifted up my hands to find
  A lamp amid the darkness; and I heard,
As from Without—“The Me within Thee blind!”        85
 
Then to the lip of this poor earthen urn
I lean’d, the secret of my life to learn:
  And lip to lip it murmur’d—“While you live,
Drink!—for, once dead, you never shall return.”
 
I think the Vessel, that with fugitive        90
Articulation answer’d, once did live,
  And drink; and ah! the passive lip I kiss’d,
How many kisses might it take—and give!
 
For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:        95
  And with its all-obliterated tongue
It murmur’d—“Gently, brother, gently, pray!”
 
Listen—a moment listen!—Of the same
Poor earth from which that human whisper came
  The luckless mould in which mankind was cast        100
They did compose, and call’d him by the name.
 
And not a drop that from our cups we throw
For earth to drink of, but may steal below
  To quench the fire of anguish in some eye
There hidden—far beneath, and long ago.        105
 
THE PHANTOM CARAVAN

And if the wine you drink, the lip you press,
End in what all begins and ends in—Yes;
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
You were—To-morrow you shall not be less
 
So when the Angel of the darker drink        110
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
  And, offering his cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your lips to quaff—you shall not shrink.
 
Why, if the Soul can fling the dust aside,
And naked on the air of Heaven ride,        115
  Wer ’t not a shame—wer’t not a shame for him
In this clay carcase crippled to abide?
 
’T is but a tent where takes his oneday’s rest
A Sultán to the realm of Death addrest;
  The Sultán rises, and the dark Ferrásh        120
Strikes, and prepares it for another guest.
 
And fear not lest existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
  The Eternal Sáki from that bowl has pour’d
Millions of bubbles like us, and will pour.        125
 
When you and I behind the veil are past,
Oh but the long long while the world shall last,
  Which of our coming and departure heeds
As the Sev’n Seas should heed a pebble-cast.
 
A moment’s halt—a momentary taste        130
Of Being from the well amid the waste—
  And lo!—the phantom caravan has reach’d
The Nothing it set out from—Oh, make haste!
 
THE MOVING FINGER WRITES

I sent my Soul through the invisible,
Some letter of that after-life to spell:        135
  And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d “I myself am Heav’n and Hell.”
 
Heav’n but the vision of fulfill’d desire,
And Hell the shadow of a soul on fire,
  Cast on the darkness into which ourselves,        140
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.
 
We are no other than a moving row
Of magic shadow-shapes that come and go
  Round with this sun-illumin’d lantern held
In midnight by the Master of the Show;        145
 
Impotent pieces of the game He plays
Upon this checker-board of nights and days;
  Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.
 
The ball no question makes of ayes and noes        150
But right or left as strikes the Player goes;
  And He that toss’d you down into the field,
He knows about it all—HE knows—HE knows!
 
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit        155
  Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
 
And that inverted bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
  Lift not your hands to It for help—for It        160
As impotently rolls as you or I.
 
AND YET—AND YET!

YET ah, that Spring should vanish with the rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
  The nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!        165
 
Would but the desert of the fountain yield
One glimpse—if dimly, yet indeed, reveal’d,
  To which the fainting traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field!
 
Would but some winged Angel ere too late        170
Arrest the yet unfolded roll of fate,
  And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!
 
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,        175
  Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Remould it nearer to the heart’s desire!
 
Yon rising moon that looks for us again—
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
  How oft hereafter rising look for us        180
Through this same garden—and for one in vain!
 
And when like her, oh Sáki, you shall pass
Among the guests star-scatter’d on the grass,
  And in your blissful errand reach the spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty glass!        185
 

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