SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Listen to this, and hear the mystery inside:
A snake-catcher went into the mountains to find a snake.
He wanted a friendly pet, and one that would amaze
audiances, but he was looking for a reptile, something
that has no knowledge of friendship.
It was winter.
In the deep snow he saw a frighteningly huge dead snake.
He was afraid to touch it but he did.
In fact, he dragged the thing into Baghdad,
hoping people would pay to see it
This is how foolish
we’ve become! A human being is a mountain range!
Snakes are facinated by us! Yet we sell ourselves
to look at a dead snake.
We are like beautiful satin
used to patch burlap. “Come see the dragon I killed,
and hear the adventures!” That’s what he announced,
and a large crowd came,
but the dragon was not dead,
just dormant! He set up his show at a crossroads.
The ring of gawking rubes got thicker, everybody
on tiptoe, men and women, noble and peasant, all
packed together unconscious of their differences.
It was like the Resurrection!
He began to unwind the thick ropes and remove
the cloth covering he’d wrapped it so well in.
Some little movement.
The hot Iraqi sun had woken
the terrible life. The people nearest started screaming.
Panic! The dragon tore easily and hungrily
loose, killing many instantly.
The snake-catcher stood there,
frozen. “What have I brought out of the mountains?” The
braced against a post and crushed the man and consumed
The snake is your animal-soul. When you bring it
into the hot air of your wanting-energy, warmed
by that and by the prospect of power and wealth,
it does massive damage.
Leave it in the snow mountains.
Don’t expect to oppose it with quietness
and sweetness and wishing.
The nafs don’t respond to those,
and they can’t be killed. It takes a Moses to deal
with such a beast, to lead it back, and make it lie down
in the snow. But there was no Moses then.
Hundreds of thousands died.
–Mawl?n? Jal?l-ad-D?n Muhammad R?m? (Rumi) (?????? ???? ????? ???? ????), Masnavi-ye Manavi (????? ?????), bk iii (ca. 1265)(Coleman Barks transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”