The Fugitive

         I saw Thee following me,
         I heard Thee calling me,
         I even felt Thine arrows in my tears ;
         I know Thou art shadowing me,
         And wilt yet, forestalling me,
         Whip out the vanities of all my years.

I ran and still I run away from Thee
Through maze and mirage of mortality ;—
Over the hot sands and the frozen lakes,
Across the sable wilderness that breaks
In fragrant moors, I ran to hills of dreams,
Up to the secret borderland that gleams
Eternally, casting its shafts of light,
From every incommunicable height,
Upon the spinning feet of humankind. 
O, how I leaped from peak to peak to find
The path to the azure dance-hall of the world,
Whose dome is gemmed, whose portals are empearled
With hearts that melt and crystallize and shine,—
With frozen music, frozen beads of wine,—
And whose laughter echoes through spinning
Where we were taught to dance in former years. 
Yea, I, who lit Thine altar, as a boy, 
And nursed in incense fumes my vision of joy, 
And like a roebuck leaped across the rills,
And danced like sparks of sunlight o’er the hills,
To be, at early morn and eventide,
The first of acolytes that served with pride
Thy venerable priests, alas! one day,
Casting my shame and piety aside,
I snuffed the candles out and walked away
Into the dazzling night of dance and song,
Into the temple of the merry throng. 
And ever since, a fugitive from Thee,
Shod with Thy lightning, chuckling oft with glee,
Unburdened and unfettered and undaunted,
With naught, not e’en my shamelessness to hide,  
And only by beguiling Beauty haunted,
I trod the path of demiurgic pride.
Yea, I was proud, when in the dawn’s desire
I could command the fruit of every tree,
The bloom of every garden, and the fire
Of every passion, every ecstacy
Upon my way. O pride of brawn and dare!
I’d shake the lustre from the stars and steal
The sap from the vines of June, and I would share
My booty with the comrade that would seal
His thieving faith with paeons to the deed
That knows nor law, nor moral code, nor creed. 


I ran and still I run away from Thee,
Past pyramids and labyrinths of reason,
Through gleaming forests, where the upas tree
Feeds both saint and sinner for a season.
And I danced in its lethal shades ; I climbed
Up to the highest fruit-concealing bough
That bends beneath a mocking wing ; I rhymed
My joy and pride ; and o’er the very brow
Of Death I leaped into the howling void,
Where the acrobats of Mind, with balance-pole
Of Logic in their hands, are ever employed
In scanning the dark canyons of the Soul.
And I was proud when on the tight rope I
Essayed my feet and fixed my giddy brain
Upon the universe ; whereat the sky
Was but a mute infinity of vain
Belief ; and every mystery divine.
A sea-washed, iridescent hollow shell
Upon the sands of faith : yea, every sign
Upon the road led to an empty well. 
And I was proud—O pride of intellect!—
That the nothingness of things I could detect. 

I ran and still I run away from Thee, 
Mistaking Thy compassion for Thine ire ;—
A rebel I, fantastically free,
A green-eyed flame of crepitating fire
Whipped by the winds of Circumstance, and yet
By Thee pursued and by Thy love beset. 
And why?— I oft pretend to know not why 
This fond solicitude. For what am I 
But a bubble of vanity, a human thing
Puffed with the vision of a loneliness
In which a pimpled Ego tries to sing
Of Self, alas! and spread its ebon wing.
But I remember still Thy first caress,
Which, in my infant vision I could feel
Even as the flowers, which Thy love reveal,
Even as the ocean in the Moon’s embrace,
Even as the sunrise that reflects Thy face. 
And this remembering, I hailed the soul,
Flaunting the sacred symbol of the goal
That shrines Thine image ; yea, and I was proud
That, rising over Self Thyself to find,
With Thine own godliness I was endowed, 
And yet I am but partially resigned . . . . .
O, spiritual pride! which would disguise 
The hollow heart of Holier-than-thou
In accent borrowed from the meek and wise,
I, too, have prated with a placid brow,
Though I, still casting shadows in the mire,
Was but a scarecrow in the vineyard of desire.


         I saw Thee following me,
         I heard Thee calling me,
         I even felt Thine arrows in my tears ;
         I know Thou art shadowing me,
         And wilt yet, forestalling me,
         Whip out the vanities of all my years.

From A Chant of Mystics (James T. White & Co., 1921) by Ameen Rihani. This poem is in the public domain.