Alfarabi; The World-Maker: A Rhapsodical Fragment

‘Twas in those days
That never were, nor ever shall be, reader,
But on this paper; golden, glorious days,
Such as the sun, (poor fellow! by the way,
Where is he? I’ve not seen him all this winter,)—
Never could spin: days, as I said before,
Which shall be made as fine as ink can make them;
So, clouds, avaunt! and Boreas, hence! to blow
Old Ætna’s porridge. We will make the sun
Rise, like a gentleman, at noon; clasped round
With the bright armour of his May-day beams;
The summer-garland on his beaming curls,
With buds of palest brightness; and one cloud—
Yes, (I’m an Englishman,) one snow-winged cloud,
To wander slowly down the trembling blue;
A wind that stops and pants along the grass,
Trembles and flies again, like thing pursued;
And indescribable, delightful sounds,
Which dart along the sky, we know not whence;
Bees we must have to hum, shrill-noted swallows
With their small, lightning wings, to fly about,
And tilt against the waters:—that will do.
And now, dear climate, only think what days
I’d make if you’d employ me: you should have
A necklace, every year, of such as this;
Each bead of the three hundred sixty five—
(Excuse me, puss, (&) I could’nt get you in,)
Made up of sunshine, moonshine, and blue skies:
Starlight I’d give you in:—but where are we?
I see: ’twas in those days that Alfarabi lived;
A man renowned in the newspapers:
He wrote in two reviews; raw pork at night
He ate, and opium; kept a bear at college:
A most extraordinary man was he.
But he was one not satisfied with man,
As man has made himself: he thought this life
Was something deeper than a jest, and sought
Into its roots: himself was his best science.
He touched the springs, the unheeded hieroglyphics
Deciphered; like an antiquary sage
Within an house of office, which he takes
For druid temple old, here he picked up
A tattered thought, and turned it o’er and o’er
‘Till it was spelled; the names of all the tenants,
Pencilled upon the wall, he would unite;
Until he found the secret and the spell
Of life. ‘Twas not by Logic, reader;
Her and her crabbed sister, Metaphysics,
Left he to wash Thought’s shirt, the shirt bemired
On that proverbial morning. By his own mind,
The lamp that never fails us, dared we trust it,
He read the mystery; and it was one
To the dull sense of common man unknown,
Incomprehensible; a miracle
Of magic, yet as true and obvious,
For thoughtful ones to hit on, as the sun.
He knew the soul would free itself in sleep
From her dull sister, bear itself away,
Freer than air: to guide it with his will,
To bear his mortal sight and memory,
On these excursions, was the power he found.
He found it, and he used it. For, one night,
By the internal vision he saw Sleep,
Just after dinner, tapping at the door
Of his next neighbour, the old alderman.
Sleep rode a donkey with a pair of wings,
And, having fastened its ethereal bridle
Unto the rails, walked in. Now, Alfarabi!
Leap, Alfarabi! There! the saddle’s won:
He kicks, he thwacks, he spurs,—the donkey flies.
On soared they, like the bright thought of an eye,
‘Mid the infinity of elements.
First through the azure meads of night and day,
Among the rushing of the million flames,
They passed the bearded dragon-star, unchained
From Hell, (of old its sun,) flashing its way
Upon those wings, compact of mighty clouds
Bloodshot and black, or flaring devilish light,
Whose echo racks the shrieking universe,
Whose glimpse is tempest. O’er each silent star
Slept like a tomb that dark, marmoreal bird,
That spell-bound ocean, Night,—her breast o’erwrit
With golden secresies. All these he passed,
One after one: as he, who stalks by night,
With the ghost’s step, the shaggy murderer
Leaves passed the dreamy city’s sickly lamps.
Then through the horrid twilight did they plunge,
The universe’s suburbs; dwelling dim
Of all that sin and suffer; midnight shrieks
Upon the water, when no help is nigh;
The blood-choaked curse of him who dies in bed
By torch-light, with a dagger in his heart;
The parricidal and incestuous laugh;
And the last cries of those whom devils hale
Quick into hell; deepened the darkness.
And there were sounds of wings, broken and swift;
Blows of wrenched poniards, muffled in thick flesh;
Struggles and tramplings wild, splashes and falls,
And inarticulate yells from human breasts.
Nought was beheld: but Alfarabi’s heart
Turned in his bosom, like a scorched leaf,
And his soul faded. When again he saw,
His steed had paused. It was within a space
Upon the very boundary and brim
Of the whole universe, the outer edge
Which seemed almost to end the infinite zone;
A chasm in the almighty thoughts, forgotten
By the omnipotent; a place apart,
Like some great, ruinous dream of broken worlds
Tumbling through heaven, or Tartarus’ panting jaws
Open above the sun. Sky was there none,
Nor earth, nor water: but confusion strange;
Mountainous ribs and adamantine limbs
Of bursten worlds, and brazen pinions vast
Of planets ship-wrecked; many a wrinkled sun
Ate to the core by worms, with lightnings crushed;
And drossy bolts, melting like noonday snow.
Old towers of heaven were there, and fragments bright
Of the cerulean battlements, o’erthrown
When the gods struggled for the throne of light;
And ‘mid them all a living mystery,
A shapeless image, or a vision wrapt
In clouds, and guessed at by its fearful shade;
Most like a ghost of the eternal flame,
An indistinct and unembodied horror
Which prophecies have told of; not wan Death,
Nor War the bacchanal of blood, nor Plague
The purple beast, but their great serpent-sire,
Destruction’s patriarch, (dread name to speak!)
The End of all, the Universe’s Death.
At that dread, ghostly thing, the atmosphere
And light of this, the world’s, black charnel house,
Low bowed the Archimage, and thrice his life
Upraised its wing for passage; but the spell
Prevailed, and to his purposed task he rose.
He called unto the dead, and the swart powers,
That wander unconfined beyond the sight
Or thought of mortals; and, from the abyss
Of cavernous deep night, came forth the hands,
That dealt the mallet when this world of ours
Lay quivering on the anvil in its ore,—
Hands of eternal stone, which would unmesh
And fray this starry company of orbs,
As a young infant, on a dewy morn,
Rends into nought the tear-hung gossamer.
—To work they went, magician, hands, and Co,
With tongs and trowels, needles, scissors, paste,
Solder and glue, to make another world:
And, as a tinker, ‘neath a highway hedge,
Turns, taps, and batters, rattles, bangs, and scrapes
A stew-pan ruinous,—or as, again,
The sibylline dame Gurton, ere she lost
Th’ immortal bodkin, staunched the gaping wound
In Hodge’s small-clothes famed,—so those great hands
Whisked round their monstrous loom, here stitching in
An island of green vallies, fitting there
A mountain extra with a hook and eye,
Caulking the sea, hemming the continents,
And lacing all behind to keep it tight.
‘Tis done,—’tis finished; and between the thumb
Depends, and the forefinger,—like a toy,
Button with pin impaled, in winter games
That dances on the board,—and now it flies
Into the abyssal blueness, spinning and bright,
Just at old Saturn’s tail. The necromancer
Puffed from his pipe a British climate round,
And stars and moon, and angels beamed upon it.
Just as it joined the midnight choir of worlds,
It chanced a bearded sage espied it’s sweep,
And named it GEORGIUM SIDUS.

[Kelsall, 1851]