Akbar’s Dream

A poem by Alfred Tennyson


O God in every temple I see people that see thee,
and in every language I hear spoken, people praise thee.
Polytheism and Islám feel after thee.
Each religion says, ‘Thou art one, without equal.’
If it be a mosque people murmur the holy prayer,
and if it be a Christian Church, people ring the bell from love to Thee.
Sometimes I frequent the Christian cloister,
and sometimes the mosque.
But it is thou whom I search from temple to temple.
Thy elect have no dealings with either heresy or orthodoxy;
for neither of them stands behind the screen of thy truth.
Heresy to the heretic, and religion to the orthodox,
But the dust of the rose-petal belongs to the heart of the perfume seller.

AKBAR and ABUL FAZL before the palace
at Futehpur-Sikri at night.

‘Light of the nations’ ask’d his Chronicler
Of Akbar ‘what has darken’d thee to-night?’
Then, after one quick glance upon the stars,
And turning slowly toward him, Akbar said
‘The shadow of a dream—an idle one
It may be. Still I raised my heart to heaven,
I pray’d against the dream. To pray, to do—
To pray, to do according to the prayer,
Are, both, to worship AlIa, but the prayers,
That have no successor in deed, are faint
And pale in AlIa’s eyes, fair mothers they
Dying in childbirth of dead sons. I vow’d
Whate’er my dreams, I still would do the right
Thro’ all the vast dominion which a sword,
That only conquers men to conquer peace,
Has won me. AlIa be my guide!
But come,
My noble friend, my faithful counselIor,
Sit by my side. While thou art one with me,
I seem no longer like a lonely man
In the king’s garden, gathering here and there
From each fair plant the blossom choicest-grown
To wreathe a crown not only for the king
But in due time for every Mussulmân,
Brahmin, and Buddhist, Christian, and Parsee,
Thro’ all the warring world of Hindustan.
WeIl spake thy brother in his hymn to heaven
“Thy glory baffles wisdom. AIl the tracks
Of science making toward Thy Perfectness
Are blinding desert sand; we scarce can spell
The Alif of Thine Alphabet of Love.”
He knows Himself, men nor themselves nor Him,
For every splinter’d fraction of a sect
Will clamour “I am on the Perfect Way,
All else is to perdition.”
Shall the rose
Cry to the lotus “No flower thou”? the palm
Call to the cypress “I alone am fair”?
The mango spurn the melon at his foot?
“Mine is the one fruit Alla made for man.”
Look how the living pulse of Alla beats
Thro’ all His world. If every single star
Should shriek its claim “I only am in heaven”
Why that were such sphere-music as the Greek
Had hardly dream’d of. There is light in all,
And light, with more or less of shade, in all
Man-modes of worship; but our Ulama,
Who “sitting on green sofas contemplate
The torment of the damn’d” already, these
Are like wild brutes new-caged—the narrower
The cage, the more their fury. Me they front
With sullen brows. What wonder! I decreed
That even the dog was clean, that men may taste
Swine-flesh, drink wine; they know too that whene’er
In our free Hall, where each philosophy
And mood of faith may hold its own, they blurt
Their furious formalisms, I but hear
The clash of tides that meet in narrow seas,—
Not the Great Voice not the true Deep.
To drive
A people from their ancient fold of Faith,
And wall them up perforce in mine—unwise,
Unkinglike;—and the morning of my reign
Was redden’d by that cloud of shame when I . . .
I hate the rancour of their castes and creeds,
I let men worship as they will, I reap
No revenue from the field of unbelief.
I cull from every faith and race the best
And bravest soul for counsellor and friend.
I loathe the very name of infidel.
I stagger at the Korân and the sword.
I shudder at the Christian and the stake;
Yet “Alla,” says their sacred book, “is Love,”
And when the Goan Padre quoting Him,
Issa Ben Mariam, his own prophet, cried
“Love one another little ones” and “bless”
Whom? even “your persecutors”! there methought
The cloud was rifted by a purer gleam
Than glances from the sun of our Islâm.
And thou rememberest what a fury shook
Those pillars of a moulder’d faith, when he,
That other, prophet of their fall, proclaimed
His Master as “the Sun of Righteousness,”
Yea, Alla here on earth, who caught and held
His people by the bridle-rein of Truth.
What art thou saying? “And was not Alla call’d
In old Irân the Sun of Love? and Love
The net of truth?”
A voice from old Irân!
Nay, but I know it—his, the hoary Sheik,
On whom the women shrieking “Atheist” flung
Filth from the roof, the mystic melodist
Who all but lost himself in Alla, him
Abû Saîd—
—a sun but dimly seen
Here, till the mortal morning mists of earth
Fade in the noon of heaven, when creed and race
Shall bear false witness, each of each, no more,
But find their limits by that larger light,
And overstep them, moving easily
Thro’ after-ages in the love of Truth,
The truth of Love.
The sun, the sun! they rail
At me the Zoroastrian. Let the Sun,
Who heats our earth to yield us grain and fruit,
And laughs upon thy field as well as mine,
And warms the blood of Shiah and Sunnee,
Symbol the Eternal! Yea and may not kings
Express Him also by their warmth of love
For all they rule—by equal law for all?
By deeds a light to men?
But no such light
Glanced from our Presence on the face of one,
Who breaking in upon us yestermorn,
With all the Hells a-glare in either eye,
Yell’d “hast thou brought us down a new Korân
From heaven? art thou the Prophet? canst thou work
Miracles?” and the wild horse, anger, plunged
To fling me, and fail’d. Miracles! no, not I
Nor he, nor any. I can but lift the torch
Of Reason in the dusky cave of Life,
And gaze on this great miracle, the World,
Adoring That who made, and makes, and is,
And is not, what I gaze on—all else Form,
Ritual, varying with the tribes of men.
Ay but, my friend, thou knowest I hold that forms
Are needful: only let the hand that rules,
With politic care, with utter gentleness,
Mould them for all his people.
And what are forms?
Fair garments, plain or rich, and fitting close
Or flying looselier, warm’d but by the heart
Within them, moved but by the living limb,
And cast aside, when old, for newer,—Forms!
The Spiritual in Nature’s market-place—
The silent Alphabet-of-heaven-in-man
Made vocal—banners blazoning a Power
That is not seen and rules from far away—
A silken cord let down from Paradise,
When fine Philosophies would fail, to draw
The crowd from wallowing in the mire of earth,
And all the more, when these behold their Lord,
Who shaped the forms, obey them, and himself
Here on this bank in some way live the life
Beyond the bridge, and serve that Infinite
Within us, as without, that All-in-all,
And over all, the never-changing One
And ever-changing Many, in praise of Whom
The Christian bell, the cry from off the mosque,
And vaguer voices of Polytheism
Make but one music, harmonising, “Pray.”
There westward—under yon slow-falling star,
The Christians own a Spiritual Head;
And following thy true counsel, by thine aid,
Myself am such in our Islam, for no
Mirage of glory, but for power to fuse
My myriads into union under one;
To hunt the tiger of oppression out
From office; and to spread the Divine Faith
Like calming oil on all their stormy creeds,
And fill the hollows between wave and wave;
To nurse my children on the milk of Truth,
And alchemise old hates into the gold
Of Love, and make it current; and beat back
The menacing poison of intolerant priests,
Those cobras ever setting up their hoods—
One Alla! one Kalifa!
Still—at times
A doubt, a fear,—and yester afternoon
I dream’d,—thou knowest how deep a well of love
My heart is for my son, Saleem, mine heir,—
And yet so wild and wayward that my dream—
He glares askance at thee as one of those
Who mix the wines of heresy in the cup
Of counsel—so—I pray thee—
Well, I dream’d
That stone by stone I rear’d a sacred fane,
A temple, neither Pagod, Mosque, nor Church,
But loftier, simpler, always open-door’d
To every breath from heaven, and Truth and Peace
And Love and Justice came and dwelt therein;
But while we stood rejoicing, I and thou,
I heard a mocking laugh “the new Korân!”
And on the sudden, and with a cry “Saleem”
Thou, thou—I saw thee fall before me, and then
Me too the black-wing’d Azrael overcame,
But Death had ears and eyes; I watch’d my son,
And those that follow’d, loosen, stone from stone,
All my fair work; and from the ruin arose
The shriek and curse of trampled millions, even
As in the time before; but while I groan’d,
From out the sunset pour’d an alien race,
Who fitted stone to stone again, and Truth,
Peace, Love and Justice came and dwelt therein,
Nor in the field without were seen or heard
Fires of Súttee, nor wail of baby-wife,
Or Indian widow; and in sleep I said
“All praise to Alla by whatever hands
My mission be accomplish’d!” but we hear
Music: our palace is awake,and morn
Has lifted the dark eyelash of the Night
From off the rosy cheek of waking Day.
Our hymn to the sun. They sing it. Let us go.’



Once again thou flamest heavenward, once again we see thee rise.
Every morning is thy birthday gladdening human hearts and eyes.
Every morning here we greet it, bowing lowly down before thee,
Thee the God1ike, thee the changeless in thine ever-changing skies.


Shadow-maker, shadow-slayer, arrowing light from clime to clime,
Hear thy myriad laureates hail thee monarch in their woodland rhyme.
Warble bird, and open flower, and, men below the dome of azure
Kneel adoring Him the Timeless in the flame that measures Time!

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