With Pure Virtue’s Hand

Aisha Taymur
1840 – 1902


With pure virtue’s hand I guard the might of my hijāb
and with faultless self-shielding, among my peers I rise
With my thoughts taking fire and my gift for sharp critique
I have brought my poet’s skills to new and perfect highs
I composed poetry expressing an assemblage:
before me, women sheltered, most noble, esteemed, wise
I uttered my verses just as light and playful speech
yet the eloquence of books and logic I much prize
Mahdī’s daughter, Laylā—these are my choice models
as with innate acuity my best thoughts I poetize
How superb these ladies are! A noble weave indeed
in women and in maidens the men do recognize
Given precious pearls of mind, a poet like Khansa’
wanders rocky paths and for a brother, frantic, cries
From the brow of my notebooks I fashioned my mirror
and of ink’s jet-black traces I created my dyes
How often my fingertip adorns my paper’s cheeks
with script’s downy touch or the skin of my youth’s sighs
The candles of my intellect sent their brilliance far,
as the scent of my words perfumed dear ones’ garden skies
Women of great splendor wrapped in shawls of logic fine:
and their envy my presence or my absence defies
In sentiment’s assembly my tresses I undid:
those of goodly lineage their symbols will surmise
The arts of my eloquence, my mind I protected:
talisman dear, hijab’s amulet: danger denies
My literature and my learning did me no harm
save in making me the finest flower of minds wise
Solitary bower, scarf’s knot, are no affliction
nor my gown’s cut nor proud and strong guarded paradise
My bashfulness, no blockade to keep me from the heights
nor could the veil’s lowering o’er my ringlets disguise
the wager’s arena though the horsemen’s ambitions
from the hardships of the race suffered demise
No! my might is my repose, my knightly prowess lies
in the beauty of my striving: finest goals I prize
Not to mention a secret whose essence is sheltered
though word spread far to strangers of its rarity and size
Like musk it is sealed in the drawers of treasuries:
but the fragrance of its sweetness spreads in saffron sighs
Or like the seas as they embraced hidden gemlike pearls:
when the hands of seekers touch, the touch will paralyze
Desiring to obtain and to have those lovely pearls,
what troubling trials these divers brave, deeds that sense defies!
World-renowned amber agreed to give pearls protection:
its nature is recited in every book one buys
So I touch my fire to the wick in the lamp of skills
granted me by holy God, gifts of the Giver Wise

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