Poem by Tahirih, ‘Tis in Thy Love’s Demesne

Introduction

Tahirih’s fame as a poet is such that she is hardly spoken of without mention of her poems, the reason for which is evident upon reading them in the original Persian. For besides how seemingly at ease she is with the difficulty of the ghazal form in Persian, necessitating the same rhyme repeated at least seven times, there is in her poems an exquisite expression of yearning and ardor for God. Her poetry is even more poignant when one considers the tragic end of her life and her sacrifice for her love, the Bab and His faith. 

For the following poem, I rendered each bayt (the basic unit of Persian prosody, correlating roughly to the English couplet) into a quatrain with the rhyme scheme of abab, and used familiar iambic pentameter for the meter. My intention was to replicate in English the formal features of Tahirih’s poem, especially the internal rhyming and stringency of meter. 

View interlinear file with the original Persian


‘Tis in Thy Love’s Demesne that I Remain

Translation by Joshua Hall

 

‘Tis in Thy love’s demesne that I remain,

Though seeing grace from none I must withstand.

To gaze on exiled me I pray Thou deign,

For in this land, with Thee is all command.

 

O Idol, what thing have I done to blame

That Thou, though I love Thee throughout all time,

Condemn me unto exile for the same,

Ordain my death and judge me for the crime?

 

All patience gone, alone canst Thou console.

How long shall I bear separation’s weight?

I am a reed whose every piercèd hole

A tale of yearning for Thee doth relate. {1}

 

To grasp His being the greatest minds must fail,

And die if Him they try to comprehend.

To Thy perfection what height can one scale?

Save unto Thee there is no path or end.

 

If Zephyrus should blow and pass Thee by,

He would convey to Thee their grievous woe,

The sallow faces, torrents of the eye:

Why not bestow some grace, some kindness show?

 

If Thou came by my bed and wert so nigh,

Just of sudden from some grace one morn,

In skies of union with Thee I would fly,

And with two wings and one would I be borne.

 

When from this place Thou dost deliver me

And lift me to the Placeless realm withal,

Then free of self and world will I then be,

For Thou art life and spirit unto all.

 


Note(s)

{1} This is a well-known metaphor in Persian poetry, and I am thankful to my teacher for explaining its significance. To make a flute, a reed is pierced with holes, from which issue music. Likewise, the songs of sorrow and love issue from the poet’s heart, which has been riddled with holes, that is, wounds. This motif is found in the beginning of Mawlavi’s (Rumi’s) Mathnavi, and although Tahirih literally says “segment” instead of “hole” (for Persian flutes also have segments) I have chosen to render it this way both to strengthen the allusion to Mawlavi as well as to make the metaphor less opaque in translation. 

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