THE LION'S DAUGHTER
THE GREATER SELF
WAR AND THE SMALL NATIONS
THE KING OF ARADUS
OUT OF MY DEEPER HEART
KNOWLEDGE AND HALF-KNOWLEDGE
"SAID A SHEET OF SNOW-WHITE PAPER..."
THE SCHOLAR AND THE POET
THE DYING MAN AND THE VULTURE
BEYOND MY SOLITUDE
THE LAST WATCH
You are your own forerunner, and the towers you have builded are but the foundation of your giant-self. And that self too shall be a foundation.
And I too am my own forerunner, for the long shadow stretching before me at sunrise shall gather under my feet at the noon hour. Yet another sunrise shall lay another shadow before me, and that also shall be gathered at another noon.
Always have we been our own forerunners, and always shall we be. And all that we have gathered and shall gather shall be but seeds for fields yet unploughed. We are the fields and the ploughmen, the gatherers and the gathered.
When you were a wandering desire in the mist, I too was there a wandering desire. Then we sought one another, and out of our eagerness dreams were born. And dreams were time limitless, and dreams were space without measure.
And when you were a silent word upon life’s quivering lips, I too was there, another silent word. Then life uttered us and we came down the years throbbing with memories of yesterday and with longing for tomorrow, for yesterday was death conquered and tomorrow was birth pursued.
And now we are in God’s hands. You are a sun in His right hand and I an earth in His left hand. Yet you are not more, shining, than I, shone upon.
And we, sun and earth, are but the beginning of a greater sun and a greater earth. And always shall we be the beginning.
You are your own forerunner, you the stranger passing by the gate of my garden.
And I too am my own forerunner, though I sit in the shadows of my trees and seem motionless.
Once there came from the desert to the great city of Sharia a man who was a dreamer, and he had naught but his garment and staff.
And as he walked through the streets he gazed with awe and wonder at the temples and towers and palaces, for the city of Sharia was of surpassing beauty. And he spoke often to the passers-by, questioning them about their city – but they understood not his language, nor he their language.
At the noon hour he stopped before a vast inn. It was built of yellow marble, and people were going in and coming out unhindered.
“This must be a shrine,’ he said to himself, and he too went in. But what was his surprise to find himself in a hall of great splendour and a large company of men and women seated about many tables. They were eating and drinking and listening to the musicians.
‘Nay,’ said the dreamer. ‘This is no worshipping. It must be a feast given by the prince to the people, in celebration of a great event.’
At that moment a man, whom he took to be the slave of the prince, approached him, and bade him be seated. And he was served with meat and wine and most excellent sweets.
When he was satisfied, the dreamer rose to depart. At the door he was stopped by a large man magnificently arrayed.
‘Surely this is the prince himself,’ said the dreamer in his heart, and he bowed to him and thanked him.
Then the large man said in the language of the city:
‘Sir, you have not paid for your dinner.’ And the dreamer did not understand, and again thanked him heartily. Then the large man bethought him, and he looked more closely upon the dreamer. And he saw that he was a stranger, clad in but a poor garment, and that indeed he had not wherewith to pay for his meal. Then the large man clapped his hands and called – and there came four watchmen of the city. And they listened to the large man. Then they took the dreamer between them, and they were two on each side of him. And the dreamer noted the ceremoniousness of their dress and of their manner and he looked upon them with delight. ‘These,’ said he, ‘are men of distinction.’
And they walked all together until they came to the House of Judgement and they entered.
The dreamer saw before him, seated upon a throne, a venerable man with flowing beard, robed majestically. And he thought he was the king. And he rejoiced to be brought before him.
Now the watchmen related to the judge, who was the venerable man, the charge against the dreamer, and the judge appointed two advocates, one to present the charge and the other to defend the stranger. And the advocates rose, the one after the other, and delivered each his argument. And the dreamer thought himself to be listening to addresses of welcome, and his heart filled with gratitude to the king and the prince for all that was done for him.
Then sentence was passed upon the dreamer, that upon a tablet about his neck his crime should be written, and that he should ride through the city on a naked horse, with a trumpeter and a drummer before him. And the sentence was carried out forthwith.
Now as the dreamer rode through the city upon the naked horse, with the trumpeter and the drummer before him, the inhabitants of the city came running forth at the sound of the noise, and when they saw him they laughed one and all, and the children ran after him in companies from street to street. And the dreamer’s heart was filled with ecstasy, and his eyes shone upon them. For to him the tablet was a sign of the king’s blessing and the procession was in his honour.
Now as he rode, he saw among the crowd a man who was from the desert like himself and his heart swelled with joy, and he cried out to him with a shout:
‘Friend! Friend! Where are we? What city of the heart’s desire is this? What race of lavish hosts, who feast the chance guest in their palaces, whose princes companion him, whose kings hangs a token upon his breast and opens to him the hospitality of a city descended from heaven?’
And he who was also of the desert replied not. He only smiled and slightly shook his head. And the procession passed on.
And the dreamer’s face was uplifted and his eyes were overflowing with light.
They say the jackal and the mole
Drink from the selfsame stream
Where the lion comes to drink.
And they say the eagle and the vulture
Dig their beaks into the same carcass,
And are at peace, one with the other,
In the presence of the dead thing.
O love, whose lordly hand
Has bridled my desires,
And raised my hunger and my thirst
To dignity and pride,
Let not the strong in me and the constant
Eat the bread or drink the wine
That tempt my weaker self.
Let me rather starve,
And let my heart parch with thirst,
And let me die and perish,
Ere I stretch my hand
To a cup you did not fill,
Or a bowl you did not bless.
They told me that in a forest among the mountains lives a young man in solitude who once was a king of a vast country beyond the Two Rivers. And they also said that he, of his own will, had left his throne and the land of his glory and come to dwell in the wilderness.
And I said, “I would seek that man, and learn the secret of his heart; for he who renounces a kingdom must needs be greater than a kingdom.”
On that very day I went to the forest where he dwells. And I found him sitting under a white cypress, and in his hand a reed as if it were a sceptre. And I greeted him even as I would greet a king. And he turned to me and said gently, “What would you in this forest of serenity? Seek you a lost self in the green shadows, or is it a home-coming in your twilight?”
And I answered, “I sought but you – for I fain would know that which made you leave a kingdom for a forest.”
And he said, “Brief is my story, for sudden was the bursting of the bubble. It happened thus: one day as I sat at a window in my palace, my chamberlain and an envoy from a foreign land were walking in my garden. And as they approached my window, the lord chamberlain was speaking of himself and saying, ‘I am like the king; I have a thirst for strong wine and a hunger for all games of chance. And like my lord the king I have storms of temper.’ And the lord chamberlain and the envoy disappeared among the trees. But in a few minutes they returned, and this time the lord chamberlain was speaking of me, and he was saying, ‘My lord the king is like myself – a good marksman; and like me he loves music and bathes thrice a day.’ ”
After a moment he added, “On the eve of that day I left my palace with but my garment, for I would no longer be ruler over those who assume my vices and attribute to me their virtues.”
And I said, “This is indeed a wonder, and passing strange.”
And he said, “Nay, my friend, you knocked at the gate of my silences and received but a trifle. For who would not leave a kingdom for a forest where the seasons sing and dance ceaselessly? Many are those who have given their kingdom for less than solitude and the sweet fellowship of aloneness. Countless are the eagles who descend from the upper air to live with moles that they may know the secrets of the earth. There are those who renounce the kingdom of dreams that they may not seem distant from the dreamless. And those who renounce the kingdom of nakedness and cover their souls that others may not be ashamed in beholding truth uncovered and beauty unveiled. And greater yet than all of these is he who renounces the kingdom of sorrow that he may not seem proud and vainglorious.”
Then rising he leaned upon his reed and said, “Go now to the great city and sit at its gate and watch all those who enter into it and those who go out. And see that you find him who, though born a king, is without kingdom; and him who though ruled in flesh rules in spirit – though neither he nor his subjects know this; and him also who but seems to rule yet is in truth slave of his own slaves.”
After he had said these things he smiled on me, and there were a thousand dawns upon his lips. Then he turned and walked away into the heart of the forest.
And I returned to the city, and I sat at its gate to watch the passers-by even as he had told me. And from that day to this numberless are the kings whose shadows have passed over me and few are the subjects over whom my shadow passed.
THE LION’S DAUGHTER
Four slaves stood fanning an old queen who was asleep upon her throne. And she was snoring. And upon the queen’s lap a cat lay purring and gazing lazily at the slaves.
The first slave spoke, and said, “How ugly this old woman is in her sleep. See her mouth droop; and she breathes as if the devil were choking her.”
Then the cat said, purring, “Not half so ugly in her sleep as you in your waking slavery.”
And the second slave said, “You would think sleep would smooth her wrinkles instead of deepening them. She must be dreaming of something evil.”
And the cat purred, “Would that you might sleep also and dream of your freedom.”
And the third slave said, “Perhaps she is seeing the procession of all those that she has slain.”
And the cat purred, “Aye, she sees the procession of your forefathers and your descendants.”
And the fourth slave said, “It is all very well to talk about her, but it does not make me less weary of standing and fanning.”
And the cat purred, “You shall be fanning to all eternity; for as it is on earth, so it is in heaven.”
At this moment the old queen nodded in her sleep, and her crown fell to the floor.
And one of the slaves said, “That is a bad omen.”
And the cat purred, “The bad omen of one is the good omen of another.”
And the second slave said, “What if she should wake, and find her crown fallen! She would surely slay us.”
And the cat purred, “Daily from your birth she has slain you and you know it not.”
And the third slave said, “Yes, she would slay us and she would call it making a sacrifice to the gods.”
And the cat purred, “Only the weak are sacrificed to the gods.”
And the fourth slave silenced the others, and softly he picked up the crown and replaced it, without waking her, on the old queen’s head.
And the cat purred, “Only a slave restores a crown that has fallen.”
And after a while the old queen woke, and she looked about her and yawned. Then she said, “Methought I dreamed, and I saw four caterpillars chased by a scorpion around the trunk of an ancient oak tree. I like not my dream.”
Then she closed her eyes and went to sleep again. And she snored. And the four slaves went on fanning her.
And the cat purred, “Fan on, fan on, stupids. You fan but the fire that consumes you.”
Thus sings the she-dragon that guards the seven caves by the sea:
“My mate shall come riding on the waves. His thundering roar shall fill the earth with fear, and the flames of his nostrils shall set the sky afire. At the eclipse of the moon we shall be wedded, and at the eclipse of the sun I shall give birth to a Saint George, who shall slay me.”
Thus sings the she-dragon that guards the seven caves by the sea.
In my youth I once visited a saint in his silent grove beyond the hills; and as we were conversing upon the nature of virtue a brigand came limping wearily up the ridge. When he reached the grove he knelt down before the saint and said, “O saint, I would be comforted! My sins are heavy upon me.”
And the saint replied, “My sins, too, are heavy upon me.”
And the brigand said, “But I am a thief and a plunderer.”
And the saint replied, “I too am a thief and a plunderer.”
And the brigand said, “But I am a murderer, and the blood of many men cries in my ears.”
And the saint replied, “ I am a murderer, and in my ears cries the blood of many men.”
And the brigand said, “I have committed countless crimes.”
And the saint replied, “I too have committed crimes without number.”
Then the brigand stood up and gazed at the saint, and there was a strange look in his eyes. And when he left us he went skipping down the hill.
And I turned to the saint and said, “Wherefore did you accuse yourself of uncommitted crimes? See you not this man went away no longer believing in you?”
And the saint answered, “It is true he no longer believes in me. But he went away much comforted.”
At that moment we heard the brigand singing in the distance, and the echo of his song filled the valley with gladness.
In my wanderings I once saw upon an island a man-headed, iron-hoofed monster who ate of the earth and drank of the sea incessantly. And for a long while I watched him. Then I approached him and said, “Have you never enough; is your hunger never satisfied and your thirst never quenched?”
And he answered saying, “Yes, I am satisfied, nay, I am weary of eating and drinking; but I am afraid that tomorrow there will be no more earth to eat and no more sea to drink.”
THE GREATER SELF
This came to pass. After the coronation of Nufsibaal King of Byblus, he retired to his bed-chamber – the very room which the three hermit-magicians of the mountains had built for him. He took off his crown and his royal raiment, and stood in the centre of the room thinking of himself, now the all-powerful ruler of Byblus.
Suddenly he turned; and he saw stepping out of the silver mirror which his mother had given him, a naked man.
The king was startled, and he cried out to the man, “What would you?”
And the naked man answered, “Naught but this: Why have they crowned you king?”
And the king answered, “Because I am the noblest man in the land.”
Then the naked man said, “If you were still more noble, you would not be king.”
And the king said, “Because I am the mightiest man in the land they crowned me.”
And the naked man said, “If you were mightier yet, you would not be king.”
Then the king said, “Because I am the wisest man they crowned me king.”
And the naked man said, “If you were still wiser you would not choose to be king.”
Then the king fell to the floor and wept bitterly.
The naked man looked down upon him. Then he took up the crown and with tenderness replaced it upon the king’s bent head.
And the naked man, gazing lovingly upon the king, entered into the mirror.
And the king roused, and straightway he looked into the mirror. And he saw there but himself crowned.
WAR AND THE SMALL NATIONS
Once, high above a pasture, where a sheep and a lamb were grazing, an eagle was circling and gazing hungrily down upon the lamb. And as he was about to descend and seize his prey, another eagle appeared and hovered above the sheep and her young with the same hungry intent. Then the two rivals began to fight, filling the sky with their fierce cries.
The sheep looked up and was much astonished. She turned to the lamb and said:
“How strange, my child, that these two noble birds should attack one another. Is not the vast sky large enough for both of them? Pray, my little one, pray in your heart that God may make peace between your winged brothers.”
And the lamb prayed in his heart.
One nightfall a man travelling on horseback towards the sea reached an inn by the roadside. He dismounted and, confident in man and night like all riders towards the sea, he tied his horse to a tree beside the door and entered into the inn.
At midnight, when all were asleep, a thief came and stole the traveller’s horse.
In the morning the man awoke, and discovered that his horse was stolen. And he grieved for his horse, and that a man had found it in his heart to steal.
Then his fellow lodgers came and stood around him and began to talk.
And the first man said, “How foolish of you to tie your horse outside the stable.”
And the second said, “ Still more foolish, without even hobbling the horse!”
And the third man said, “It is stupid at best to travel to the sea on horseback.”
And the fourth said, “Only the indolent and the slow of foot own horses.”
Then the traveller was much astonished. At last he cried, “My friends, because my horse was stolen, you have hastened one and all to tell me my faults and my shortcomings. But strange, not one word of reproach have you uttered about the man who stole my horse.”
Four poets were sitting around a bowl of punch that stood on a table.
Said the first poet, “Methinks I see with my third eye the fragrance of this wine hovering in space like a cloud of birds in an enchanted forest.”
The second poet raised his head and said, “With my inner ear I can hear those mist-birds singing. And the melody holds my heart as the white rose imprisons the bee within her petals.”
The third poet closed his eyes and stretched his arm upwards, and said, “I touch them with my hand. I feel their wings, like the breath of a sleeping fairy, brushing against my fingers.”
Then the fourth poet rose and lifted up the bowl, and he said, “Alas, friends! I am too dull of sight and of hearing and of touch. I cannot see the fragrance of this wine, nor hear its song, nor feel the beating of its wings. I perceive but the wine itself. Now therefore must I drink it, that it may sharpen my senses and raise me to your blissful heights.”
And putting the bowl to his lips, he drank the punch to the very last drop.
The three poets, with their mouths open, looked at him aghast, and there was a thirsty yet unlyrical hatred in their eyes.
Said the weather-cock to the wind, “How tedious and monotonous you are! Can you not blow any other way but in my face? You disturb my God-given stability.”
And the wind did not answer. It only laughed in space.
THE KING OF ARADUS
Once the elders of the city of Aradus presented themselves before the king, and besought of him a decree to forbid to men all wine and all intoxicants within their city.
And the king turned his back upon them and went out from them laughing.
Then the elders departed in dismay.
At the door of the palace they met the lord chamberlain. And the lord chamberlain observed that they were troubled, and he understood their case.
Then he said, “Pity, my friends! Had you found the king drunk, surely he would have granted you your petition.”
OUT OF MY DEEPER HEART
Out of my deeper heart a bird rose and flew skywards.
Higher and higher did it rise, yet larger and larger did it grow.
At first it was but like a swallow, then a lark, then an eagle, then as vast as a spring cloud, and then it filled the starry heavens.
Out of my heart a bird flew skywards. And it waxed larger as it flew. Yet it left not my heart.
O my faith, my untamed knowledge, how shall I fly to your height and see with you man’s larger self pencilled upon the sky?
How shall I turn this sea within me into mist, and move with you in space immeasurable?
How can a prisoner within the temple behold its golden domes?
How shall the heart of a fruit be stretched to envelop the fruit also?
O my faith, I am in chains behind these bars of silver and ebony, and I cannot fly with you.
Yet out of my heart you rise skyward, and it is my heart that holds you, and I shall be content.
The queen of Ishana was in travail of childbirth; and the king and the mighty men of his court were waiting in breathless anxiety in the great hall of the Winged Bulls.
At eventide there came suddenly a messenger in haste and prostrated himself before the king, and said, “I bring glad tidings unto my lord the king, and unto the kingdom and the slaves of the king. Mihrab the Cruel, thy life-long enemy, the king of Bethroun, is dead.”
When the king and the mighty men heard this, they all rose and shouted for joy; for the powerful Mihrab, had he lived longer, had assuredly overcome Ishana and carried the inhabitants captive.
At this moment the court physician also entered the hall of Winged Bulls, and behind him came the royal midwives. And the physician prostrated himself before the king, and said, “My lord the king shall live for ever, and through countless generations shall he rule over the people of Ishana. For unto thee, O King, is born this very hour a son, who shall be thy heir.”
Then indeed was the soul of the king intoxicated with joy, that in the same moment his foe was dead and the royal line was established.
Now in the city of Ishana lived a true prophet. And the prophet was young, and bold of spirit. And the king that very night ordered that the prophet should be brought before him. And when he was brought, the king said unto him, “Prophesy now, and foretell what shall be the future of my son who is this day born unto the kingdom.”
And the prophet hesitated not, but said, “Hearken, O King, and I will indeed prophesy of the future of thy son that is this day born. The soul of thy enemy, even of thy enemy King Mihrab, who died yester-eve, lingered but a day upon the wind. Then it sought for itself a body to enter into. And that which it entered into was the body of thy son that is born unto thee this hour.”
Then the king was enraged, and with his sword he slew the prophet.
And from that day to this, the wise men of Ishana say one to another secretly, “Is it not known, and has it not been said from of old, that Ishana is ruled by an enemy?”
KNOWLEDGE AND HALF-KNOWLEDGE
Four frogs sat upon a log that lay floating on the edge of a river. Suddenly the log was caught by the current and swept slowly down the stream. The frogs were delighted and absorbed, for never before had they sailed.
At length the first frog spoke, and said, “This is indeed a most marvellous log. It moves as if alive. No such log was ever known before.”
Then the second frog spoke, and said, “Nay, my friend, the log is like other logs, and does not move. It is the river that is walking to the sea, and carries us and the log with it.”
And the third frog spoke, and said, “It is neither the log nor the river that moves. The moving is in our thinking. For without thought nothing moves.”
And the three frogs began to wrangle about what was really moving. The quarrel grew hotter and louder, but they could not agree.
Then they turned to the fourth frog, who up to this time had been listening attentively but holding his peace, and they asked his opinion.
And the fourth frog said, “Each of you is right, and none of you is wrong. The moving is in the log and the water and our thinking also.”
And the three frogs became very angry, for none of them was willing to admit that his was not the whole truth, and that the other two were not wholly wrong.
Then a strange thing happened. The three frogs got together and pushed the fourth frog off the log into the river.
”SAID A SHEET OF SNOW-WHITE PAPER . . .”
Said a sheet of snow-white paper, “Pure was I created, and pure will I remain for ever. I would rather be burnt and turn to white ashes than suffer darkness to touch me or the unclean to come near me.”
The ink-bottle heard what the paper was saying, and it laughed in its dark heart; but it never dared to approach her. And the multicoloured pencils heard her also, and they too never came near her.
And the snow-white sheet of paper did remain pure and chaste for ever, pure and chaste – and empty.
THE SCHOLAR AND THE POET
Said the serpent to the lark, “Thou flyest, yet thou canst not visit the recesses of the earth where the sap of life moveth in perfect silence.”
And the lark answered, “Aye, thou knowest over much, nay thou art wiser then all things wise – pity thou canst not fly.”
And as if he did not hear, the serpent said, “Thou canst not see the secrets of the deep, nor move among the treasures of the hidden empire. It was but yesterday I lay in a cave of rubies. It is like the heart of a ripe pomegranate, and the faintest ray of light turns into a flame-rose. Who but me can behold such marvels?”
And the lark said, “None, none but thee can lie among the crystal memories of the cycles – pity thou canst not sing.”
And the serpent said, “I know a plant whose root descends to the bowels of the earth, and he who eats of that root becomes fairer than Ashtarte.”
And the lark said, “No one, no one but thee could inveil the magic thought of the earth – pity thou canst not fly.”
And the serpent said, “There is a purple stream that runneth under a mountain, and he who drinketh of it shall become immortal even as the gods. Surely no bird or beast can discover that purple stream.”
And the lark answered, “If thou willest thou canst become deathless even as the gods – pity thou canst not sing.”
And the serpent said, “I know a buried temple, which I visit once a moon. It was built by a forgotten race of giants, and upon its walls are graven the secrets of time and space, and he who reads them shall understand that which passeth all understanding.”
And the lark said, “Verily, if thou so desirest thou canst encircle with thy pliant body all knowledge of time and space – pity thou canst not fly.”
Then the serpent was disgusted, and as he turned and entered into his hole he muttered, “Empty-headed songster!”
And the lark flew away singing, “Pity thou canst not sing. Pity, pity, my wise one, thou canst not fly.”
Once a man unearthed in his field a marble statue of great beauty. And he took it to a collector who loved all beautiful things and offered it to him for sale, and the collector bought it for a large price. And they parted.
And as the man walked home with his money he thought, and he said to himself, “How much life this money means! How can anyone give all this for a dead carved stone buried and undreamed of in the earth for a thousand years?”
And now the collector was looking at his statue, and he was thinking, and he said to himself, “What beauty! What life! The dream of what a soul! – and fresh with the sweet sleep of a thousand years. How can anyone give all this for money, dead and dreamless?”
A fish said to another fish, “Above this sea of ours there is another sea, with creatures swimming in it – and they live there even as we live here.”
The fish replied, “Pure fancy! Pure fancy! When you know that everything that leaves our sea by even an inch, and stays out of it, dies. What proof have you of other lives in other seas?”
On a moonless night a man entered into his neighbour’s garden and stole the largest melon he could find and brought it home.
He opened it and found it still unripe.
Then behold a marvel!
The man’s conscience woke and smote him with remorse; and he repented having stolen the melon.
THE DYING MAN AND THE VULTURE
Wait, wait yet awhile, my eager friend.
I shall yield but too soon this wasted thing,
Whose agony overwrought and useless
Exhausts your patience.
I would not have your honest hunger
Wait upon these moments:
But this chain, though made of breath,
Is hard to break.
And the will to die,
Stronger than all things strong,
Is stayed by a will to live
Feebler than all things feeble.
Forgive me, comrade; I tarry too long.
It is memory that holds my spirit;
A procession of distant days,
A vision of youth spent in a dream,
A face that bids my eyelids not to sleep,
A voice that lingers in my ears,
A hand that touches my hand.
Forgive me that you have waited too long.
It is over now, and all is faded:
The face, the voice, the hand and the mist that brought them hither.
The knot is untied.
The cord is cleaved.
And that which is neither food nor drink is withdrawn.
Approach, my hungry comrade;
The board is made ready.
And the fare, frugal and spare,
Is given with love.
Come, and dig your beak here, into the left side,
And tear out of its cage this smaller bird,
Whose wings can beat no more:
I would have it soar with you into the sky.
Come now, my friend, I am your host tonight,
And you my welcome guest.
BEYOND MY SOLITUDE
Beyond my solitude is another solitude, and to him who dwells therein my aloneness is a crowded market-place and my silence a confusion of sounds.
Too young am I and too restless to seek that above-solitude. The voices of yonder valley still hold my ears and its shadows bar my way and I cannot go.
Beyond these hills is a grove of enchantment and to him who dwells therein my peace is but a whirlwind and my enchantment an illusion.
Too young am I and too riotous to seek that sacred grove. The taste of blood is clinging in my mouth, and the bow and the arrows of my fathers yet linger in my hand and I cannot go.
Beyond this burdened self lives my freer self; and to him my dreams are a battle fought in twilight and my desires the rattling of bones.
Too young am I and too outraged to be my freer self.
And how shall I become my freer self unless I slay my burdened selves, or unless all men become free?
How shall the eagle in me soar against the sun until my fledglings leave the nest which I with my own beak have built for them?
THE LAST WATCH
At high tide of night, when the first breath of dawn came upon the wind, the forerunner, he who calls himself echo to a voice yet unheard, left his bed-chamber and ascended to the roof of his house. Long he stood and looked down upon the slumbering city. Then he raised his head, and even as if the sleepless spirits of all those asleep had gathered around him, he opened his lips and spoke, and he said:
“My friends and neighbours and you who daily pass my gate, I would speak to you in your sleep, and in the valley of your dreams I would walk naked and unrestrained; for heedless are your waking hours and deaf are your sound-burdened ears.
“Long did I love you and overmuch.
“I love the one among you as though he were all, and all as if you were one. And in the spring of my heart I sang in your gardens, and in the summer of my heart I watched at your threshing-floors.
“Yea, I loved you all, the giant and the pygmy, the leper and the anointed, and him who gropes in the dark even as him who dances his days upon the mountains.
“You, the strong, have I loved, though the marks of your iron hoofs are yet upon my flesh; and you the weak, though you have drained my faith and wasted my patience.
“You the rich have I loved, while bitter was your honey to my mouth; and you the poor, though you knew my empty-handed shame.
“You the poet with the bowed lute and blind fingers, you have I loved in self-indulgence; and you the scholar ever gathering rotted shrouds in potters’ fields.
“You the priest I have loved, who sit in the silences of yesterday questioning the fate of my tomorrow; and you the worshippers of gods the images of your own desires.
“You the thirsting woman whose cup is ever full, I have loved in understanding; and you the woman of restless nights, you too I have loved in pity.
“You the talkative have I loved, saying, ‘Life hath much to say’; and you the dumb have I loved, whispering to myself, ‘Says he not in silence that which I fain would hear in words?”
“And you the judge and the critic, I have loved also; yet when you have seen me crucified, you said, ‘He bleeds rhythmically, and the pattern his blood makes upon his white skin is beautiful to behold.’
“Yea, I have loved you all, the young and the old, the trembling reed and the oak.
“But, alas, it was the over-abundance of my heart that turned you from me. You would drink love from a cup, but not from a surging river. You would hear love’s faint murmur, but when love shouts you would muffle your ears.
“And because I have loved you all you have said, ‘Too soft and yielding is his heart, and too undiscerning is his path. It is the love of a needy one, who picks crumbs even as he sits at kingly feasts. And it is the love of a weakling, for the strong loves only the strong.”
“And because I have loved you overmuch you have said, ‘It is but the love of a blind man who knows not the beauty of one nor the ugliness of another. And it is the love of the tasteless who drinks vinegar even as wine. And it is the love of the impertinent and the overweening, for what stranger could be our mother and father and sister and brother?’
“This you have said, and more. For often in the market-place you pointed your fingers at me and said mockingly, ‘There goes the ageless one, the man without seasons, who at the noon hour plays games with our children and at eventide sits with our elders and assumes wisdom and understanding.’
“And I said, ‘I will love them more. Aye, even more. I will hide my love with seeming to hate, and disguise my tenderness as bitterness. I will wear an iron mask, and only when armed and mailed shall I seek them.’
“Then I laid a heavy hand upon your bruises, and like a tempest in the night I thundered in your ears.
“From the housetop I proclaimed you hypocrites, Pharisees, tricksters, false and empty earth-bubbles.
“The short-sighted among you I cursed for blind bats, and those too near the earth I likened to soulless moles.
“The eloquent I pronounced fork-tongued, the silent, stone-lipped, and the simple and artless I called the dead never weary of death.
“The seekers after world knowledge I condemned as offenders of the holy spirit and those who would naught but the spirit I branded as hunters of shadows who cast their nets in flat waters and catch but their own images.
“Thus with my lips have I denounced you, while my heart, bleeding within me, called you tender names.
“It was love lashed by its own self that spoke. It was pride half slain that fluttered in the dust. It was my hunger for your love that raged from the housetop, while my own love, kneeling in silence, prayed your forgiveness.
“But behold a miracle!
“It was my disguise that opened your eyes, and my seeming to hate that woke your hearts.
“And now you love me.
“You love the swords that stroke you and the arrows that crave your breast. For it comforts you to be wounded and only when you drink of your own blood can you be intoxicated.
“Like moths that seek destruction in the flame you gather daily in my garden; and with faces uplifted and eyes enchanted you watch me tear the fabric of your days. And in whispers you say the one to the other, ‘He sees with the light of God. He speaks like the prophets of old. He unveils our souls and unlocks our hearts, and like the eagle that knows the way of foxes he knows our ways.’
“Aye, in truth, I know your ways, but only as an eagle knows the ways of his fledglings. And I fain would disclose my secret. Yet in my need for your nearness I feign remoteness, and in fear of the ebb tide of your love I guard the floodgates of my love.”
After saying these things the forerunner covered his face with his hands and wept bitterly. For he knew in his heart that love humiliated in its nakedness is greater than love that seeks triumph in disguise; and he was ashamed.
But suddenly he raised his head, and like one waking from sleep he outstretched his arms and said, “Night is over, and we children of night must die when dawn comes leaping upon the hills; and out of our ashes a mightier love shall rise. And it shall laugh in the sun, and it shall be deathless.”