A work by an amazing man, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri – his poem, the Luzumiyat. It consists of just over 100 quatrains. This is the 1920 translation by Ameen Rihani, whose book is posted in full, below. Al Ma’arri was a true skeptic, with a world-view that seems distinctly modern. I’ve pasted the text of the Luzumiyat at the top, then follow with the entire book, which is my corrected version of the doc on google’s site, which was riddled with computer generated typos. I’ve corrected them as best I can. I’ve also moved the quatrains from the middle of the book to the top – a better choice for a blog page.
It should be noted that most of the works of this famed agnostic were destroyed by the Crusaders when they flattened his hometown during one of their weekend excursions. More recently,
US/EU backed rebels in Syria decapitated his statue, in their noble quest for freedom.
Carouse, ye Sovereign Lords, the wheel will roll...
THE LUZUMIYAT OF ABU’L-ALA
THE sable wings of Night pursuing
Across the opalescent hills, display
The wondrous star-gems which the
Are scattering upon their fiery way.
O my Companion,
Night is passing fair,
Fairer than aught the dawn and sundown wear;
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
Of darkness Ahmad might remembered be,-
Remembered of the
Darkness be they all.
And hear the others who with cymbals try
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,-
her veil and hastens toward the west.
The Pleiads follow; and our
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
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;
are on the heads of those that pass,
But ever their Graves around our Cradles
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;
dying rose is bleeding o’er the thorn.
And he the Messenger, who
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
The howdaj comes, — both vanish into night;
To me are one, the sob,
the joyous cry.
With tombs and ruined temples groans the land
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
Into the night eternal or the noon;
The wayward daughters of
the spheres return
Unto the bosom of their sun or moon.
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
Tread lightly, for the mighty that have been
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
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
glory of Dismemberment.
Nor king nor slave the hungry Days will
Between their fanged Hours alike we fare:
Anon they bound upon us
while we play
Unheeding at the threshold of their Lair.
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.
like a spider’s house or sparrow’s nest,
The Sultan’s palace, though upon the
Of glory’s mountain, soon or late must go:
Ay, all abodes to ruin
So, too, the creeds of Man: the one prevails
the other comes; and this one fails
When that one triumphs; ay, the lonesome
Will always want the latest fairy-tales.
Seek not the
Tavern of Belief, my friend,
Until the Sakis there their morals mend;
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
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
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
Can buy in Mutakallem’s shop of words
But I for such, a dirham can
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.”
Ababil! I would the tale were true, —
Would all the birds were such winged
The scourging and the purging were a boon
For me, O my dear
Brothers, and for you.
Methinks Allah divides me to complete
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
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
But once when we were quarreling, the door
Was opened by
a Visitor who bore
Both Rope and Pail; he offered them and said:
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,
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;
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
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
Where every sage the same dumb shadow meets:
“We are but
words fallen from the lips of Time
Which God, that we might understand,
Another said: “The creeping worm hath shown,
discourse on human flesh and bone,
That Man was once the bed on which she
The walking dust was once a thing of stone.”
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
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
Will make a better Vessel, and perchance
A masterpiece which will
endure for aye.
With better skill he even will remould
scattered potsherds of the New and Old;
Then you and I will not disdain to
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 my self-
Here is the secret of my wincing heart.
I muse, but in my musings I recall
The days of my iniquity; we’re all —
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
I who am shattered by the hand of Doubt,
Like glass to be
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.
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
And even the repentant sinner’s tear
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.
mosques and churches — even a Kaaba Stone,
Korans and Bibles — even a
martyr’s bone, —
All these and more my heart can tolerate.
religion’s love, and love alone.
To humankind, O Brother,
Thy heart, and shun the hundred Sects that prate
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
But for themselves the law they will revoke;
sheikh says he’s without a garb,
When in the tap-house he had pawned his
Or in the house of lust. The priestly name
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
While he and all his courtezans carouse.
Carouse, ye sovereign lords! The wheel will roll
Forever to confound and to
Who sips to-day the golden cup will drink
Mayhap to-morrow in a
wooden bowl —
And silent drink. The tumult of our mirth
than our mad welcoming of birth: —
The thunder hath a grandeur, but the
Without the thunder, quench the thirst of Earth.
Prophets, too, among us come to teach.
Are one with those who from the pulpit
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
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
“And who art thou? Unseal thy pedigree.” —
I am the child of Time,
my tribe, mankind,
And now this world’s my caravanseri.
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
Ay! suddenly the mystic Hand will seal
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,
Right and Reason are denied a shroud.
And why in this dark Kingdom
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
flame divine hid in a drop of dew.
Hear ye who in the dust of ages
And in the halls of wicked masters sleep: —
Arise! and out of this
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
To drink with Night annihilation sweet.
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
For all my learning’s but a veil, I guess,
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;
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.”
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
Felt like myself the burden of unrest,
Unlightened by inscrutable
She would not build her young that cozy nest.
with guiltless life-blood do not stain —
Hunt not the children of the woods;
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
He came into the Pottery, the fool —
The lucky fool was warned
to stay away.
But I was not. Ohl that the Fates decree
now cast aside this clay of me;
My soul and body wedded for a while
sick and would that separation be.
“Thou shalt not kill!” — Thy
words, O God, we heed,
Though thy two Soul-devouring Angels feed
Promise of another life on this, —
To have spared us both, it were a boon
Oh I that some one would but return to tell
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
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
Around the throne of Power, beneath the feet
Of fair-faced slaves
with flowers of folly crowned.
Thy wealth can shed no tears around
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
The comforts of this passing show I spurn.
For Poverty can do
the soul no harm.
The guiding hand of Allah I can see
staff: of what use then is he
Who’d be the blind man’s guide? Thou silent
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
O Rabbi, curse us not if we have been
the shadow of the Gate of Sin
Built by thy hand — yea, ev’n thine angels
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
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
When truth upon them dawns, will turn on thee.
Who cast them into
life’s dark labyrinth
Where even old Izrail can not see.
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
If miracles were wrought in ancient years,
to-day, O Heaven-cradled seers?
The highway’s strewn with dead, the lepers
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
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
Whence comes the perfume of the rose, and whence
which the body blights?
Whence does the nettle get its bitter
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
Seeking the veil of mystery to tear,
But fell accurst beneath the
Why try to con the book of earth and sky,
seek the truth which neither you nor I
Can grasp? But Death methinks the
And will impart it to us by and by.
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
chancing, help a praying slave to burn
His midnight oil before the face of
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,
now held in the tippler’s trembling hand,
Or smashed upon the tavern-floor of
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,
yesterday, an obliterated page.
Yea, kiss the rosy cheeks of
And hail eternity in every ray
Forming a halo round its
Illumining thy labyrinthine way.
But I, the
thrice-imprisoned, try to troll
Strains of the song of night, which fill with
My blindness, my confinement, and my flesh —
The sordid habitation of
Howbeit, my inner vision heir shall be
increasing flames of mystery
Which may illumine yet my prisons all,
crown the ever living hope of me.