Look Up!

Tahirih
Persian
1814 – 1852

 

Look up! Our dawning day draws its first breath!
The world grows light! Our souls begin to glow!

No ranting shaykh rules from his pulpit throne.
No mosque hawks holiness it does not know.

No sham, no pious fraud, no priest commands!
The turban’s knot cut to its root below!

No more conjurations! No spell! No ghosts!
Good riddance! We are done with folly’s show!

The search of truth shall drive out ignorance.
Equality shall strike the despots low.

Let warring ways be banished from the world.
Let justice everywhere its carpet throw.

May friendship ancient hatred reconcile.
May love grow from the seed of love we sow!

Translation by Amin Banani with Jascha Kessler

Necessity

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 50th birthday.

Sheema Kalbasa
Persian
b. 1972

 

I wear your perfume on my skin
Don’t be unkind
Like wild flowers shy under the sun
Don’t seek the truth,
I tell you none exists
Everything has an expiration date
Love, life, identity, even abnormality.
We are travelers,
Some of us just leave the suitcase at home
So that our hands won’t suffer the weight of our guilt.

The Street Before You Leave Tehran

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 45th birthday.

Rosa Jamali
Persian
b. 1977

 

Facing the airport, all that’s now left in my grasp
is a crumpled land
that fits in the palm of my hand.

Facing wavering sunbeams—
a sun that is angry and mute.
All the way from the salt sands of Dasht-e Lut,
it came, the dream
that forced my fingers’ shift,
that set my teeth on edge.
A muted breeze,
whirlwind spun from sand dunes
all the way, even through the back alley.

Are you pasting together the cut-up fragments of my face to make me laugh?

No longer than the palm of the hand, a short leap,
exactly the length you had predicted.

A huge grave in which to lay the longest night of the year to sleep.

Sleep has quit our eyelids for other pastures,
has dropped its anchor at the shores of garden ponds,
has lost the chapped flaking of its lips,
poor thing.
Are you pasting together the cut-up fragments of my face to make me laugh?

With scissors – snip, snip – they are severing something.
The alphabet shavings strewn on the ground,
are they the letters that spell our family name?

With every zig-zag,
you cage my mother’s breath,
her footprints fading
in the shifting sands.

Are you pasting together the cut-up fragments of my face to make me laugh?
No.
A strange land-shape forms.
I will not return.
I left behind a shoe, one of a pair,
for you to put on and follow after me.

Translation by Franklin Lewis

The Value of a Man

We present this work in honor of the 530th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Jami
Persian
1414 – 1492

 

The price of a man consists not in silver and gold;
The value of a man is his power and virtue.
Many a slave has by acquiring virtue
Attained much greater power than a gentleman
And many a gentleman has for want of virtue,
Become inferior to his own slave.

The Believer’s Heart

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 815th birthday.

Rumi
Persian
1207 – 1273

 

The Prophet said that God has declared,
“I am not contained in aught above or below,
I am not contained in earth or sky, or even
In highest heaven. Know this for a surety, O beloved!
Yet am I contained in the believer’s heart!
If ye seek Me, search in such hearts!”

Gracefully She Approached

Simin Behbahani
Persian
1927 – 2014

 

Gracefully she approached,
in a dress of bright blue silk;
With an olive branch in her hand,
and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.
Running to her, I greeted her,
and took her hand in mine:
Pulses could still be felt in her veins;
warm was still her body with life.

“But you are dead, mother”, I said;
“Oh, many years ago you died!”
Neither of embalmment she smelled,
Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.

I gave a glance at the olive branch;
she held it out to me,
And said with a smile,
“It is the sign of peace; take it.”

I took it from her and said,
“Yes, it is the sign of…”, when
My voice and peace were broken
by the violent arrival of a horseman.
He carried a dagger under his tunic
with which he shaped the olive branch
Into a rod and looking at it
he said to himself:
“Not too bad a cane
for punishing the sinners!”
A real image of a hellish pain!
Then, to hide the rod,
He opened his saddlebag.
in there, O God!
I saw a dead dove, with a string tied
round its broken neck.

My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;
my eyes followed her;
Like the mourners she wore
a dress of black silk.

Translation by Mahmud Kianush

from The Mystic Rose Garden

We present this work in honor of Eid-al-Fitr.

05-03 Shabestari
Mahmoud Shabestari
Persian
1288 – 1340

 

In the name of Him who taught the soul to think,
And kindled the heart’s lamp with the light of soul;
By Whose light the two worlds were illumined,
By Whose grace the dust of Adam bloomed with roses;
That Almighty one who in the twinkling of an eye,
From Kaf and Nun brought forth the two worlds!
What time the Kaf of His power breathed on the pen,
It cast thousands of pictures on the page of Not being.
From that breath were produced the two worlds,
From that breath proceeded the soul of Adam.
In Adam were manifested reason and discernment,
Whereby he perceived the principle of all things.
When he beheld himself a specific person,
He thought within himself “What am I?”
From part to whole he made a transit,
And thence returned back to the world.
He saw that the world is an imaginary thing,
Like as one diffused through many numbers.
The worlds of command and of creatures proceed from one breath,
And the moment they come forth they go away again.
Albeit here there is no real coming and going,
Going, when you consider it, is naught but coming.
Things revert to their proper original,
All are one, both the visible and the invisible.
God most high is the eternal one who with a breath
Originates and terminates both worlds.
The world of command and that of creatures are here one,
One becomes many and many few.
All these varied forms arise only from your fancy,
They are but one point revolving quickly in a circle.
It is but one circular line from first to last
Whereon the creatures of this world are journeying;
On this road the prophets are as princes,
Guides, leaders and counsellors.
And of them our lord Muhammad is the chief,
At once the first and the last in this matter.
That One (Ahad) was made manifest in the mim of Ahmad.
In this circuit the first emanation became the last.
A single mim divides Ahad from Ahmad;
The world is immersed in that one mim.
In him is completed the end of this road,
In him is the station of the text ‘I call to God,’
His entrancing state is the union of union,
His heart ravishing beauty the light of light.
He went before and all souls follow after
Grasping the skirts of his garment.
As for the saints on this road before and behind
They each give news of their own stages.
When they have reached their limits
They discourse of the ‘knower’ and the ‘known,’
One in the ocean of unity says ‘I am the Truth,’
Another speaks of near, and far, and the moving boat,
One, having acquired the external knowledge,
Gives news of the dry land of the shore.
One takes out the pearl and it becomes a stumbling-block,
Another leaves the pearl and it remains in its shell.
One tells openly this tale of part and of whole,
Another takes his text from eternal and temporal:
One tells of curl, of mole, and of eyebrow,
And displays to view wine, lamp and beauty.
One speaks of his own being and its illusion,
Another is devoted to idols and the Magian girdle.
Since the language of each is according to his degree of progress,
They are hard to be understood of the people.
He who is perplexed as to these mysteries
Is bound to learn their meaning.

 

Translation by E.H. Whinfield