What is Law?  

imagesWhat is Law? Can you please tell me something about law? How do you define Law? – are some of the common questions that many people trouble me. They ask me because I was a law student, because I am a law graduate, and because I am a lawyer. They expect me to explain in succinct and precise because law is important in a day to day life. But what can I answer them? Although I remember five schools of thought and jurist of different schools defining law differently, but I cannot answer them in precise because law itself was never defined precisely. I remember my Prof. of Legal Theory who said “law is an elephant” where elephant is define as per its functions and nothing more. I also remember him asking the students to define a “pen”. A student would define “pen is an instrument that writes…” and the Prof. would say “that’s the function of a pen and not definition…” Another student would say “pen is made of glass, rubber…” and the Prof. would say “that’s the element of pen and not definition…” Similarly, law is difficult to define without stating its purpose and function in society.

In this writing, I am not attempting to define the law myself nor am I trying to reiterate what other legal scholars has defined. However, I am sure people will like to read the following poem by WH Auden.

“Law, Like Love

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun, 
Law is the one 
All gardeners obey 
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day. 

Law is the wisdom of the old, 
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold; 
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue, 
Law is the senses of the young. 

Law, says the priest with a priestly look, 
Expounding to an unpriestly people, 
Law is the words in my priestly book, 
Law is my pulpit and my steeple. 

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose, 
Speaking clearly and most severely, 
Law is as I’ve told you before, 
Law is as you know I suppose, 
Law is but let me explain it once more, 
Law is The Law. 

Yet law-abiding scholars write: 
Law is neither wrong nor right, 
Law is only crimes 
Punished by places and by times, 
Law is the clothes men wear 
Anytime, anywhere, 
Law is Good morning and Good night. 

Others say, Law is our Fate; 
Others say, Law is our State; 
Others say, others say 
Law is no more, 
Law has gone away. 

And always the loud angry crowd, 
Very angry and very loud, 
Law is We, 
And always the soft idiot softly Me. 

If we, dear, know we know no more 
Than they about the Law, 
If I no more than you 
Know what we should and should not do 
Except that all agree 
Gladly or miserably 
That the Law is 
And that all know this 
If therefore thinking it absurd 
To identify Law with some other word, 
Unlike so many men 
I cannot say Law is again, 

No more than they can we suppress 
The universal wish to guess 
Or slip out of our own position 
Into an unconcerned condition. 
Although I can at least confine 
Your vanity and mine 
To stating timidly 
A timid similarity, 
We shall boast anyway: 
Like love I say. 

Like love we don’t know where or why, 
Like love we can’t compel or fly, 
Like love we often weep, 
Like love we seldom keep.”


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