A SWAN and cygnets, nothing more.
Background of silver, reedy shore,
Dim shapes of rounded trees, the high
Effulgence of a summer sky.
Only a snap-shot. Just a flash,
And it was fixed, — the mimic wash,
The parent bird on-oaring slow,
Her fussy little fleet in tow,
The all-pervading sultry haze,
The white lights on the waterways, —
A scene that never was before,
A scene that will be — Nevermore!
Alas! for us. We look and wait,
And labour but to imitate;
Vainly for new effects we seek . . .
Earth’s shortest second is unique!
WITH A VOLUME OF VERSE
ABOUT the ending of the Ramadán,
When leanest grows the famished Mussulman,
A haggard ne’er-do-well, Mahmoud by name,
At the tenth hour to Caliph OMAR came.
‘Lord of the Faithful (quoth he), at the last
The long moon waneth, and men cease to fast;
Hard then, O hard! the lot of him must be,
Who spares to eat . . . but not for piety!’
‘Hast thou no calling, Friend?’ — the Caliph said.
‘Sir, I make verses for my daily bread.’
‘Verse!’ — answered OMAR. ‘ ‘Tisa dish, indeed,
Whereof but scantily a man may feed.
Go. Learn the Tenter’s or the Potter’s Art, —
Verse is a drug not sold in any mart.’
I know not if that hungry Mahmoud died;
But this I know — he must have versified,
For, with his race, from better still to worse,
The plague of writing follows like a curse;
And men will scribble though they fail to dine,
Which is the Moral of more Books than mine.
VERSES READ AT THE DINNER OF THE
OMAR KHAYYÁM CLUB
MARCH 25, 1897
‘– Medio de fonte leporum surgit OMARI allquid.’ — LUCRETIUS (adapted).
While we the Feast by Fruit and Wine prolong, A Bard bobs up, and bores us with a Song. — THE APICIAD.
‘TWAS Swift who said that people ‘view
In HOMER more than HOMER knew.’
I can’t pretend to claim the gift
Of playing BENTLEY upon SWIFT;
But I suspect the reading true
IS ‘OMAR more than OMAR knew,’ —
Or why this large assembly met
Lest we this OMAR should forget?
(In a parenthesis I note
Our RUSTUM here, without red coat;
Where SOHRAB sits I’m not aware,
But that’s FIRDAUSI in the Chair!) —
I say then that we now are met
Lest we this OMAR should forget,
Who, ages back, remote, obscure,
Wrote verses once at Naishápúr, —
Verses which, as I understand,
Were merely copied out by hand,
And now, without etched plates, or aid
Of India paper, or hand-made,
Bid fair Parnassus’ top to climb,
And knock the Classics out of time.
Persicos odi — Horace said,
And therefore is no longer read.
Time, who could simply not endure
Slight to the Bard of Naishápúr,
(Time, by the way, was rather late
For one so often up-to-date!)
Went swiftly to the Roll of Fame
And blotted Q. H. F. his name,
Since when, for every Youth or Miss
That knows Quis multa gracilis,
There are a hundred who can tell
What OMAR thought of Heav’n and Hell;
Who BAHRÁM was; and where (at need)
Lies hid the Beaker of JAMSHYD; —
In short, without a break can quote
Most of what OMAR ever wrote.
Well, OMAR KHAYYÁM wrote of Wine,
And all of us, sometimes, must dine;
And OMAR KHAYYÁM wrote of Roses,
And all of us, no doubt, have noses;
And OMAR KHAYYÁM wrote of Love,
Which some of us are not above.
Also, he charms to this extent,
We don’t know, always, what he meant.
Lastly, the man’s so plainly dead
We can heap honours on his head.
Then, too, he scores in other wise
By his ‘deplorable demise.’
There is so much that we could say
Were he a Bard of yesterday!
We should discuss his draughts and pills,
His baker’s and his vintner’s bills;
Rake up — perhaps ’tis well we can’t —
Gossip about his maiden aunt;
And all that marketable matter
Which FREEMAN nicknamed ‘Harriet-chatter!’
But here not even Persian candles
Can light us to the smallest scandals; —
Thus far your OMAR gains at least
By having been so long deceased.
Failing of this, we needs must fall
Back on his opus after all: —
Those quatrains so compact, complete,
So suited to FITZGERALD’S feet,
(And, let us add, so subtly planned
To tempt the imitative band!) —
Those censers of Omari ware
That breathe into the perfumed air
His doubt, his unrest, his despair; —
Those jewels-four-lines-long that show,
Eight hundred years and more ago,
An old thing underneath the sun
In Babylonish Babylon: —
A Body and a Soul at strife
To solve the Mystery of Life!
So then all hail to OMAR K.!
(To take our more familiar way)
Though much of what he wrote and did
In darkest mystery is hid;
And though (unlike our bards) his task
Was less to answer than to ask;
For all his endless Why and Whether,
He brings us here to-night together;
And therefore (as I said before),
Hail! OMAR KHAYYÁM, hail! once more!