The Sphere of Mercury

Visitation to the Spirits of Jamal al-Din Afghani and Sa‘ id Halim Pasha 

A handful of dust so carried forward its task
to the contemplation of its own manifestations:
either I fell into the net of being and existence
or existence became a prisoner in my net!
Have I made a chink in yon azure curtains?
Am I of the skies, or are the skies of me?
Either heaven has taken my heart into its breast
or it is my heart that has seized heaven.
Is this external then internal? What is it?
What manner of thing is it the eye sees? What is it?
I beat my wings towards another heaven,
I see another world rising before me,
a world of mountains and plains, seas and dry land,
a world far more ancient than our earth,
a world grown out of a little cloud
that has never known the conquest of man—
images as yet unlimned on the tablet of existence
where no critic of nature has yet been born.
I said to Rumi, ‘This wasteland is very fair,
very fair the tumult of the waters in the mountains.
I find no sign here of any living thing,
so whence comes the sound of the call to prayer?’
Rumi said, ‘This is the station of the saints,
this heap of earth is familiar with our dust.
When the father of mankind departed out of Eden
he dwelt in this world for one or two days;
these expanses have felt the burning of his sighs,
heard his lamentations in the hour of dawn.
The visitors to this honourable station
are themselves pious men of lofty stations,
pious men such as Fudail and Bu Sa‘id,
true gnostics like Junaid and Ba Yazid.
Rise up now, and let us pray together,
devote a moment or two to burning and melting.’
I went on, and saw two men engaged in prayer,
the acolyte a Turk, the leader an Afghan.
The Sage of Rum, in rapture continually,
his face radiant with an ecstasy of joy,
said, ‘The East never gave birth to two better sons—
the plucking of their nails unravelled our knots:
Maulana Jamal, Sayyid of all Sayyids,
whose eloquence gave life to stone and sherd,
and passionate Halim, commander of the Turks
whose thoughts matched the loftiness of his station.
To offer prayer with such men is true devotion,
a labour else whose hoped-for wage is Paradise.
The recitation of that vigorous elder,
the Chapter of the Star in that silent plain—
a recital that to move Abraham to ecstasy,
to enrapture the pure spirit of Gabriel;
the heedful heart becomes restless in the breast,
the cry ‘No god but God’ rises from the tombs;
it imparts to smoke the quivering of the flame,
bestows on David ardour and intoxication;
at his recital every mystery was revealed,
the Heavenly Archetype appeared unveiled.
After prayer I rose up from my place
and kissed his hand in all humility.
Rumi said, ‘A mote that travels the skies,
in its heart a whole world of fire and passion!
Only upon himself he has opened his eyes,
yielded his heart to no man, is utterly free;
swiftly he paces through the expanse of Being—
jestingly, I call him Zinda-Rud.’


Zinda-Rud, tell us of our terrestrial world,
speak to us of our earth and sky.
A thing of dust, you are clear-eyed as the Holy Ones—
give us some tidings of the Mussulmans!


In the heart of a people that once shattered the world
I have seen a conflict between religion and country.
The spirit is dead in the body through weakness of faith,
despairs of the strength of the manifest religion;
Turk, Persian, Arab intoxicated with Europe
and in the throat of each the fish-hook of Europe;
and East wasted by the West’s imperialism,
Communism taken the lustre from religion and community.


The Lord of the West, cunning from head to toe,
taught the people of religion the concept of Country.
He thinks of the centre, while you are at discord—
give up this talk of Syria, Palestine, Iraq!
If you can discriminate between good and evil
you will not bind your hearts to clods, stones, bricks.
What is religion? To rise up from the face of the dust
so that the pure soul may become aware of itself!
He who has said ‘God is He’ is not contained
within the confines of this dimensioned order.
A grass-blade is of the earth, and yet rises from the earth;
alas, if the pure soul should die in the dust!
Although man sprang out of water and clay,
from water and clay rose-like drew colour and sap,
alas, if he wanders forever in water and clay,
alas, if he soars not higher than this station!
The body says, ‘Go into the dust of the roadway’;
the soul says, ‘Look upon the expanse of the world!’
Man of reason, the soul is not contained in dimensions;
the free man is a stranger to every fetter and chain,
the free man rails against the dark earth
for it beseems not the falcon to act like a mouse.
This handful of earth to which you give the name ‘country’,
this so-called Egypt, and Iran, and Yemen—
there is a relationship between a country and its people
in that it is out of its soil that a nation rises;
but if you look carefully at this relationship
you will descry a subtlety finer than a hair.
Though it is out of the East that the sun rises
showing itself bold and bright, without a veil,
only then it burns and blazes with inward fire
when it escapes from the shackles of East and West;
drunk with splendour it springs up out of its East
that it may subject all horizons to its mastery;
its nature is innocent of both East and West,
though relationship-wise, true, it is an Easterner.


The author of Das Kapital came of the stock of Abraham,
that is to say, that prophet who knew not Gabriel;
since truth was implicit even within his error
his heart believed, though his brain was an infidel.
The Westerners have lost the vision of heaven,
they go hunting for the pure spirit in the belly.
The pure soul takes not colour and scent from the body,
and Communism has nothing to do save with the body.
The religion of that prophet who knew not truth
is founded upon equality of the belly;
the abode of fraternity being in the heart,
its roots are in the heart, not in water and clay.
Capitalism too is a fattening of the body,
its unenlightened bosom houses no heart;
like the bee that pastures upon the flower
it overpasses the petal, and carries off the honey,
yet stalk and leaf, colour and scent all make up the rose
for whose selfsame beauty the nightingale laments.
Surpass the talisman, the scent and colour,
bid farewell to the form, gaze only upon the meaning.
Though it is difficult to descry the inward death,
call not that a rose which in truth is clay.
The soul of both is impatient and intolerant,
both of them know not God, and deceive mankind.
One lives by production, the other by taxation
and man is a glass caught between these two stones.
The one puts to rout science, religion, art,
the other robs body of soul, the hand of bread.
I have perceived both drowned in water and clay,
both bodily burnished, but utterly dark of heart.
Life means a passionate burning, an urge to make,
to cast in the dead clay of the seed of a heart!

“Sa‘id Halim Pasha”

For Westerners intelligence is the stuff of life,
for Easterners love is the mystery of all being.
Only through love intelligence gets to know God,
love’s labours find firm grounding in intelligence;
when love is companioned by intelligence
it has the power to design another world.
Then rise and draw the design of a new world,
mingle together love with intelligence.
The flame of the Europeans is damped down,
their eyes are perceptive, but their hearts are dead;
they have been sore smitten by their own swords,
hunted down and slaughtered, themselves the hunters.
Look not for fire and intoxication in their vine;
not into their heavens shall rise a new age.
It is from your fire that the glow of life comes,
and it is your task to create the new world. 
Mustafa Kemal, who sang of a great renewal,
said the old image must be cleansed and polished;
yet the vitality of the Kaaba cannot be made new
if a new Lat and Manat from Europe enter its shrine.
No, the Turks have no new melody in their lute,
what they call new is only the old tune of Europe;
no fresh breath has entered into their breast,
no design of a new world is in their mind.
Turkey perforce goes along with the existing world,
melted like wax in the flame of the world we know.
Originality is at the roots of all creation,
never by imitation shall life be reformed;
The living heart, creator of ages and epochs,
that soul is little enamoured of imitation:
if you possess the spirit of a true Mussulman
examine your own conscience, and the Koran—
a hundred new worlds he within its verses,
whole centuries are involved in its moments;
one world of it suffices for the present age—
seize it, if the heart in your breast grasps truth..
A believing servant himself is a sign of God,
every world to his breast is as a garment;
and when one world grows old upon his bosom,
The Koran gives him another world!


The barque of us terrestrials has no helmsman,
no one knows where the Koran’s world lies.


It is a world lost now in our breast,
a world awaiting yet the command ‘Arise!’
A world without distinction of race and colour,
its evening is brighter than Europe’s dawn;
a world cleansed of monarchs and of slaves,
a world unbounded, like the believer’s heart,
a world so fair, that the effluence of one glance
planted the seed of it in Omar’s soul.
Eternal it is, the impact of it ever new,
ever new the leaf and fruit of its sure foundations;
inwardly it is anxious not of change,
outwardly, every moment is revolution.
Behold, that world lies within your own heart;
now I will tell you of its firm foundations.

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