The Letter of Halim the Potter






The Letter of Halim the Potter to
Yusuf His Father and Master Craftsman
in the walled city of Lahore; written on the
fifth day of the month of the Scales.


Halim the Potter from the rainy Hills,—
Under the diamond coronetted pines,
The dun, rain sodden clouds that jewel them,
The snake plants hooded tongued and venemous
The briers and the orchids—sends his word.
His Greeting to the Father whence he gained
First, Life and then such Knowledge of The Craft
As is his portion.
For a double gift
A double greeting. Though alas! the Reed
But bears the message coldly, and no gift
From Halim's hand to yours accompanies.
Yet he, being set about with many thoughts
Because the Day is lucky (So they hold
Who say Man's Day of Trouble is a thing
Not to be disregarded lightly, kept
Year after year, when as the Day returns,
With such observance as the Life demands—
To the great Life great Joy, the Little less.
The work alone is worthy—not the Day
Or Birth or Death or—Softly. Who am I
Halim, to hold a fancy thus?) He searched
For gifts but after saw the thought was vain
Knowing fit weapons of The Craft were thine,
And the Sage Councillor that burns and dies
Within the chillam Phoenix fashion, born
Anew in greater labours fresher power
Than the unholpen brain could hope for—this
Was also thine; and so he held his hand
Knowing there were no other gifts. He writes
Instead his letter to the man who made
Him and his knowledge—so the gift returns
In some poor fashion to the giver.
First
Behind the Purdah (since I write to thee
Thee only, and the Munshi's at my side,
My thumb and two first fingers cannot blab)
The Mother and the Child—which last e'en now
Toils at her fancies in the lower room,
Weaving a mighty empire out of ghosts
As I red armies from the coarser clay—
Are fain of Thee because they know and feel
How daily upwards runs the silver thread
Up from the silver pellet—which the men
Beyond the seas have impiously set
As record of Gehenna's torments writes;— 'Take heed
Because ye are the Chosen, yet all skill
Concentres not in Islam, Swine and dogs
Have knowledge of the weather more than ye—
Learn from them, praising Allah.' So they learn
Your torment, written in the accursed tongue
That babbles daily and is past my power
To riddle—for my work is otherwise—
Than Munshis babes and Babus. So they learn
Your daily torment and would have you here,
Save that the old distemper of the Hills
When clouds are lowest, holds The Mother fast
A little space. I doubt not that the drugs
Of them who know not Islam (—Read again
The Prophet's sentence, though thou knewest it
Before I knew the platter from the cup—)
Will heal her shortly—all three sides are well
Of our small square but that they lack the fourth.
I mostly O my Father! for what e'er
The Women wish, my loss is most of all
Seeing that it is double and I lose
My Master Craftsman with my Father. Look!
Thou knowest (no man better) how the clay
Bends inward on the wheel, bends breaks and falls
If my hand run the pitcher lip too high.
Yea, one nail's breadth beyond the guide—Thou knowest
How the raw clay—removed the potter 's hand—
Falls inward also—whether formed or not
(I can but choose the similes I know)
(And know thou seest the meaning ere I write.)
As with the clay so with the potter—Close
Too close the likeness—thus my young mind thinks—
Two months ago, I held my skill was mine
Admitting hastily a certain hint
A council here and there. Perhaps one touch
On spout or belly ere we fired the kiln
Thy hint, thy council and thy Touch. No more
Than just so much as made (Why blink the truth?)
The bad thing good; the drunken pitcher straight
A thing desirable in the front of the stall.
My workmanship thou saidst—and I believed
It was so small a touch, so slight a word.
I threw the wet clay—marred it. Now I see!
The hand went and the clay thereafter fell
Uncouthly. These two months have shown the Truth.
It may be that thou knewest it before.
I learnt it lately, toiling at a vase
To do me credit. For myself alone.
(Was this the cause of failure ...It may be)
Because I loved the labour and no gold
Should draw it from me. 'Twas a noble vase.
(I recollect you gave the first design
A clean and noble fashioning thereto)
The thing has failed—not wholly failed. I learnt
Much that I should have learnt before alas!
The fair lip sprouted into useless length
(Who said I needed mud-banks for chirags?)
And all the belly blistered 'neath my hands
With shapes of Afrits, Shaitans, Djinns and ghouls
'I could not help it' so I told myself
And knew I lied—Thou knowest more than I.
But the distorted vessel still remains
Against your coming. Does not Yusuf say
'Even the marred and unclean clay keep thou
As record of past error. Hand and brain
May both take warning?' I have kept my work
For judgment. I can only see the faults
The Remedy is hidden. It may be
My pitcher lip exceeds the nail's breadth. This
At least is certain that the raw clay bends
Into ignoble shapes without thy hand
The vase has taught me. O! make haste and come,
I can but mar the good, grey, clay till then
And Know I mar it, and would mar it more
But for past councils.
Halim Yusuf's Son.