Not all poetry in L.A. today is poetry of today.
Poets continue to read and translate poets of the past, and to
consider their work anew in the context of our own times. —
Tahirih ( pronounced, taa-heh-reh; Arabic for Pure) was a
nineteenth-century Iranian woman, scholar, and mystic-poet.
Though celebrated in Iran, India, and Pakistan, her work has
seldom been translated into English. Also known as
Qurratu'l-'Ayn (Solace of my Eyes), she was the first woman of
Iran in modern times to achieve a public presence through her
poetry. Writing in traditional rhyming forms, often ghazals, she
wrote mystic, love poems with deep religious significance.
Becoming a prominent follower of the Babi (later, Baha'i)
movement in 1844, she advocated the equality of men and women,
and the complete reformulation of Muslim law to meets the needs
of a New Age. She is best known for deliberately entering a
gathering of religious Muslim men (1848) without a veil as a
symbolic act of defiance. She was imprisoned and eventually
executed as a heretic in 1852. — Anthony A. Lee and
The following poem, translated by Anthony A. Lee and
Banani, is from the book Tahirih: A Portrait in Poetry:
Selected Poems of Qurratu'l-'Ayn (Los Angeles: Kalimat
Angels! Saints! All you holy ones above!
My true lover just walked in. Start shouting!
Night turned to day, dark into light. He's here
without a veil to hide his face. Start singing!
The Sun is up, it's rising in the West.
You armies of God's ecstasy! Start moving!
Iran set aflame, and Tehran burning,
pure spirit rises from his place. Start dancing!
At daybreak nightingales don't sing. The cock
struts out and birds of Glory start praising.
When my lover asks, Am I not your Lord?
even the gods reply in awe, Thou art.
His mighty river overflows, and floods
a thousand desert Karbalas1 to start.
The arches of his eyes will make the feuds
of warring faiths and creeds to disappear.
Moses and Jesus in heaven are stunned,
and all the holy ones are lost down here.
Two thousand Muhammads hear thunderbolts,
they wrap themselves in cloaks, tremble in fear.
The sea storms, it casts up its shining pearls.
To give way to the sun, the dawn makes haste.
Men melt, mountains quake before his beauty.
His majesty lays whole kingdoms to waste.
And me, destroyed by two strands of his hair.
The moon of his face drives me to despair.
Beloved, when will I see you up there,
see the light of your face, the shine of your hair?
The moon has set me mad, in agony,
in restless love, far from your company.
1 The place of the martyrdom of
the Imam Husayn, and so a holy place for Shiite Muslims.
Christians might substitute the word "Calvary" to have an idea
of the significance of the location.
Anthony A. Lee teaches African American history at
West Los Angeles College. He was awarded the 2003 Nat Turner
Poetry Prize from Cross Keys Press. His first book of poems This
Poem Means won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry prize for 2005, and
was published by Lotus Press.
Amin Banani, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Persian
and Middle Eastern History at the University of California, Los
Angeles. He is co-translator (with Jascha Kessler) of Bride of
Acacias, a volume of poems by the modern Iranian poet Forugh