'The lure of the Orient' - by Vigilant , Westralian Worker, 20 July 1917, page 6
Fitzgerald was particularly struck by that observation:
| Take me somewhere
East of Suez
Where the best is like the worst,
And there ain’t no Ten Commandments
And a man can raise a thirst.
So saith Kipling’s soldier-man, thinking of his “Burma girl a-waitin’.” Kipling is one of a number of ambassadors between East and West. But Kipling’s East is the East of the tourist and commercialist – for the most part he has glimpses of a more real East – an Eastern East, and these we catch in “The Jungle Book.”
“The Jungle Book” is a wonderful story book that every boy and girl should have as a birthright. It tells of a little baby boy lost in the jungle. He is adopted into a family of wolves, and is sent by his wolf-father to learn his lessons from a bear and a boa-constrictor. His wonderful adventures in the jungle, his feud with the tiger, and his return to his own kind form a series of the most beautiful stories ever written.
Superficial though, in some respects, Kipling’s interpretation of the East must be admitted to be, he somehow seems to convey a spirit wonderfully in accord with that to which we are introduced by such mighty ambassadors as Edwin Arnold, Annie Besant, Edward Fitzgerald, and Richard Burton. Probably the secret is that all succeed in conveying something of the atmosphere of a race-culture that had reached an advanced stage at a time when Europe was but a hunting ground of neolithic savages.
For we must remember that Rome was still an infant city, and the Glory of Greece but just emerging from the mists of tradition when Indian culture reached something in the nature of a culmination in the adoption of the philosophy of Buddha.
The great gift of Sir Edwin Arnold to the Western World is undoubtedly his “Light of Asia”. In a philosophic poem it is difficult to select quotations. But one, which gives the gist of the Buddhist moral code, is taken from the closing pages of the work, -
“Kill not – for Pity’s sake –
and lest ye stay
Give freely and receive, but take from none
Bear not false witness, slander not, nor lie;
Shun drugs and drinks which work the wit abuse;
Touch not thy neighbor’s wife, neither commit
These are the “Five Rules.” They have a familiar ring. Explain it as you will, Buddha’s explanations is as follows:
Manifold tracks lead to yon sister peaks
This is a familiar thought to the Eastern philosopher. He holds all religions to be equally true, all being dialects of the Word of God. Had only the Western World realised as much, what rivers of blood had remained unshed.
Mrs Besant, in her translation of the Bhagavad Gita, has performed a similar service for he who would understand Brahmanism, as Arnold did for the student of Buddhism. Her work as an ambassador between the sundered thought world of East and West, has, however, been more of an organising than of a literary character.
But Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat has probably stimulated interest in Oriental thought more than any other influence. It is safe to say that the Rubaiyat is by far the most popular English poem today. For, as Khayyam’s more exact translators tell us, we must regard Fitzgerald’s version more as an English poem than as a faithful rendering of the original. Khayyam, they say was by no means as thorough-paced an old sinner as Fitzgerald would have us believe. But, after – all, we must pause before we throw Fitzgerald overboard, if we are to agree with a publisher’s explanation for the remarkable success of the Quatrains.
In his introductory note to a pocket edition of Omar (printed in Australia) Mr T.C. Lothian says: “Because it has a telling directness that makes it easy to read, and because it unfolds a philosophy that can be embraced with more ease than dignity, are the reasons for the phenomenal popularity of the work in England and America – two obviously decadent nations.”
Perhaps he is right, for the Western world has certainly not embraced “The Light of Asia” with the same enthusiasm as it has shown the bibulous bard of Nuishapur, and Richard Burton, whose finer-toned, tho less voluptuous philosophic poem, “The Kasidah,” which first appeared at about the same time as the Rubaiyat, remains today practically unnoticed.
The opening lines vaguely suggest the first stanzas of Omar:-
“The hour is nigh; the waning Queen walks
forth to rule the later night;
The Wolf-tail sweeps the paling East leave a deeper
The philosophy of the Kasidah, is on the whole, a negative one. It purports to express the views of one Hajf Abdu-el-Yeydi, but is really Burton’s own work.
On the other hand there is no doubt a magic n the Omaresqpe stanza – something akin to the haunting ring of “Red Wing,” and one or two other melodics. “Show me a miracle, and I will believe,” was the ancient’s demand. But we moderns will believe the damnedest of heresy provided only some word-magician can fit it within the bounds of an Omaresque quatrain. People who, under ordinary circumstances, would have Blatchword’s “Not Guilty,” or Blatchford himself, if they could, burned by the public hangman will recite with gusto:
Oh Thou, who man with baser, clay didst make,
Curiously enough a very similar philosophy to Khayyam’s has formed part of English literature since the translations of the Bible – namely, the Book of Ecclesiastes. A few verses roughly flung into Quatrains, after Omar, and you’d hardly know it wasn’t the old Persian himself. This, after all, is only giving Koheleth (as the author of the book called himself) a fair chance, for what sort of translation of Khayyam would a committee of Theologians give us?
Is there a thing whereof men say “‘Tis
All things are full of weariness. All, all,
Wisdom I sought above all men that were
Well, so much for the East, with its philosophies, its mysticism, and its magic. The sweat and steam, and iron clang of Commercialism is fast driving its colour and luxury into the forgotten past. Let us rescue what we may of it. But what of its squalor and misery? Truly, these are problems that are answered neither by the ancient wisdom of the East nor by the Commercialism of the West.
Hints on Books.
Everyone, I suppose, has read Khayyam, and the “Kasidah” can only be obtained from the publishers (Thos. B. Mosher, Portland, Maine, USA)
Cheap editions of the “Bhagavad Gita” and the “Light of Asia” are obtainable but the “Jungle Book” should, to fill its purpose truly be obtained in an illustrated edition. This would run to several shillings.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Poems are worthy
of attention to interpret the mind of a primitive race (the Polynesians).
His “Tamatea” is a genuinely heroic lay, although dealing
with barbarous people and events.