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Letters to Dead Poets: To Omar Khayyam

by Andrew Lang

Wise Omar, do the Southern Breezes fling
Above your Grave, at ending of the Spring,
   The Snowdrift of the Petals of the Rose,
The wild white Roses you were wont to sing?

Far in the South I know a Land divine, 
And there is many a Saint and many a Shrine,
   And over all the Shrines the Blossom blows
Of Roses that were dear to you as Wine.

You were a Saint of unbelieving Days,
Liking your Life and happy in Men’s Praise;
   Enough for you the Shade beneath the Bough,
Enough to watch the wild World go its Ways.

Dreadless and hopeless thou of Heaven or Hell,
Careless of Words thou hadst not Skill to spell,
   Content to know not all thou knowest now,
What’s Death?  Doth any Pitcher dread the Well?

The Pitchers we, whose Maker makes them ill,
Shall He torment them if they chance to spill?
   Nay, like the broken Potsherds are we cast
Forth and forgotten,—and what will be will!

So still were we, before the Months began
That rounded us and shaped us into Man.
   So still we shall be, surely, at the last,
Dreamless, untouched of Blessing or of Ban!

Ah, strange it seems that this thy common Thought—
How all Things have been, ay, and shall be nought—
   Was ancient Wisdom in thine ancient East,
In those old Days when Senlac Fight was fought,

Which gave our England for a captive Land
To pious Chiefs of a believing Band,
   A gift to the Believer from the Priest,
Tossed from the holy to the blood-red Hand! [218]

Yea, thou wert singing when that Arrow clave
Through Helm and Brain of him who could not save
   His England, even of Harold Godwin’s son;
The high Tide murmurs by the Hero’s Grave! [219]

And thou wert wreathing Roses—who can tell?—
Or chanting for some Girl that pleased thee well,
   Or satst at Wine in Nashâpûr, when dun
The twilight veiled the Field where Harold fell!

The salt Sea-waves above him rage and roam!
Along the white Walls of his guarded Home
   No Zephyr stirs the Rose, but o’er the Wave
The wild Wind beats the Breakers into Foam!

And dear to him, as Roses were to thee,
Rings the long Roar of Onset of the Sea;
   The Swan’s Path of his Fathers is his Grave:
His Sleep, methinks, is sound as thine can be.

His was the Age of Faith, when all the West
Looked to the Priest for Torment or for Rest;
   And thou wert living then, and didst not heed
The Saint who banned thee or the Saint who blessed!

Ages of Progress!  These eight hundred Years
Hath Europe shuddered with her Hopes or Fears,
   And now!—she listens in the Wilderness
To thee, and half believeth what she hears!

Hadst thou the Secret?  Ah, and who may tell?
“An Hour we have,” thou saidst; “Ah, waste it well!”
   An Hour we have, and yet Eternity
Looms o’er us, and the Thought of Heaven or Hell!

Nay, we can never be as wise as thou,
O idle Singer ’neath the blossomed Bough.
   Nay, and we cannot be content to die.
We cannot shirk the Questions “Where?” and “How?”

Ah, not from learned Peace and gay Content
Shall we of England go the way he went—
   The Singer of the Red Wine and the Rose—
Nay, otherwise than his our Day is spent!

Serene he dwelt in fragrant Nashâpûr,
But we must wander while the Stars endure.
   He knew the Secret: we have none that knows,
No Man so sure as Omar once was sure!