March 17, 2010

Possibly the first fruit of Baha’u’llah’s Divine Pen and the only preserved Tablet revealed in Iran: -- The Poem of Rashh-i-'Ama [The Mist of Unknown]

To our knowledge Bahá'u'lláh's first Tablet was a poem in Persian, Rashh-i-'Ama [The Mist of Unknown] revealed in the Siyah-Chal of Tihran soon after the descent of the Most Great Spirit upon His radiant soul. It is a song of victory and joy. Although its language is allusive, His divine experience is clearly proclaimed. In every line He extols the glory of God of which He had become the embodiment, and in every phrase He unveils the spiritual worlds which were then manifested within His soul.

Although consisting of only twenty lines, this poem in itself constitutes a mighty book. Within it are contained the potentialities, the character, the power and the glory of forty years of Divine Revelation to come. It announces the glad-tidings of the release of spiritual energies which are described by Bahá'u'lláh in such terms as the wafting of the divine musk-laden Breeze, the appearance of the Ocean of the Cause of God, the sounding of the Trumpet Blast, the flow of the Living Waters, the warbling of the Nightingale of Paradise and the appearance of the Maid of Heaven. In language supremely beautiful and soul-stirring, He attributes these energies to Himself. His choice of words, and the beauty, power, depth and mystery of this poem and, indeed, of others which were revealed later, are such that they may well prove impossible to translate.
It is in this ode that Bahá'u'lláh disclosed for the first time one of the unique features of His Revelation, namely, the advent of the 'Day of God' which, at this early stage in His ministry, He clearly associated with Himself. In this poem He also identified His Revelation with the Day foretold in Islam when the well-known saying 'I am He' would be fulfilled. 'I' signifies the person of the Manifestation of God, that is, Bahá'u'lláh, and 'He' is the designation of God Himself. This is an indication of the greatness of His Revelation. Speaking with the voice of God, Bahá'u'lláh indeed proclaimed in many of His Tablets, 'I am God'. This identity with God, however, is in the realm of God's attributes and not of His essence which is, according to Bahá'u'lláh:

"...immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 46)

One of the traditions of Shí'ah Islam states that when the Promised One appears He will utter one word which will cause people to flee Him. Bahá'u'lláh has explained in a Tablet that this word is the changing of 'He' into 'I'; instead of saying 'He is God', the Manifestation of God in this day will say 'I am God', and people bereft of understanding and insight will turn away from Him.

The revelation of this joyful and wondrous poem in the Siyah-Chal, at a time when He was still weighed down by so much suffering, is yet another proof of the vitality and vigour of Bahá'u'lláh's indomitable spirit. It is also noteworthy that only this one Tablet, as far as we can gather, was revealed in the land of His birth -- a land to which He was devoted and which was the cradle of His Revelation. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha'u'llah v 1, p. 44)

Below is a provisional translation of this Tablet along with an Introduction and Notes:

Translation of Baha'u'llah's Rashh-i Ama (The Mist of Unknown)
                                                         (Translated(1) by Ramin Neshati)
                         (Source: Online Baha’i resources at http://bahai-library.com/provisionals)

Introduction

It is generally believed that Baha'u'llah's earliest extant revelation and the only preserved tablet revealed in Iran is the poem known as Rashh-i Ama. It was revealed during Baha'u'llah's imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal (Black Pit) dungeon in Tehran, sometime between the months of August and November 1852. Presently, not much more is known about the circumstances of its revelation. The Rashh-i Ama is a Persian poem of 20 couplets, taking its name from the opening words of the first verse. Baha'u'llah's style of composition and use of Perso-Arabic idiom in this poem is majestic in tone and yet cryptic and abstruse. To one not familiar with Sufi terminology, deciphering this poem will be difficult. The significance of the Rashh-i Ama derives from it being the "First Emanation of the Supreme Pen" and that it records, in awe-inspiring language, Baha'u'llah's earliest intimation of His prophet hood.

Translating poetry is a daunting task! Translating Baha'u'llah's poetry entails additional challenges. In the immortal words of Hafiz: "hizar nukti-yi bariktar zi must inja" (there are, inherent here, a thousand epigrams finer than a single strand of hair). Many of Baha'u'llah's writings, the Rashh-i Ama included, are infused with multiple meanings and can be understood in many different ways. To approximate the beauty of Baha'u'llah's style, the translator is left with a difficult choice: to stay literal and lose the poetic splendor of the original or to compromise the literal in favor of a more stylistic rendering. Those who are familiar with the poem in its original language may well notice instances where this choice has yielded renderings--some noted below--that are, owing to a dearth of expressive words in English, less than literal and yet hardly satisfactory in style. This and other deficiencies should be chalked up to the translator's feeble attempts at taking 'poetic license' or faulty rendering and not to an interpretive intent. In the foreword to his translation of the Kitab-i Iqan (Book of Certitude), Shoghi Effendi reminds us of "what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal: a befitting rendering of Baha'u'llah's matchless utterance." It is my ardent hope that this translation will bring the Western reader closer to Baha'u'llah's lofty and sublime utterance.

Aside from alluding to Himself, Baha'u'llah employs two refrains throughout this poem: the first having to do with divine inspiration pouring, flowing or emanating from Him; and the other exhorting the reader to see, listen, absorb and acknowledge these outpourings of providential grace.

Finally, Arabic and Persian words have not been transliterated owing to electronic document formatting and transportability considerations.

Provisional Translation -- by  Ramin Neshati

Our charm bids waft the Mist of Unknown
Mystery of fidelity thus flows from Our tone


The east wind, musk-laden, from Cathay(2) whirls
Its scent so sweet streams forth from Our curls


The ornamented sun from the True One hath risen
Mystery of reality from Our(3) visage doth blazon


The sea of purity roars from waves of rapture(4)
This gift bestowed from His essence(5) We capture


Love's treasures lie hid in the bosom of Fars(6)
Out this treasure-trove Pearls of Fidelity pours


Delight of wine evinced when All(7) was manifested
To songs of providence8 this Sublime Token attested


A blast on the trumpet, the attraction divine
These two in one blow flow from the Exalted Clime


Confessed Our face to the cycle of: "I am He"
Baha(9) is brimming with the epoch of: "He is He"(10)


The river of life shimmers in the closet(11) of the heart
This sweet wine the ruby lips of Baha doth part


The day of God by the Lord's effulgence is complete
The warbling in Tehran(12) from these novel words is replete


Glory overflowing, behold! Misty unknowing, behold!
All this from one melody thy Lord doth sing, behold!


Lo! The immortal Perfect Mystic(13), the Pristine Dawn
The Pure Breast from the Highest Throne out drawn


Lo! The Tree of Paradise, heard the Nightingale's song
This Glorious warbling from the Light of Purity hath sprung


Hearken the Persian(14) melody, the Arabian tambourine
Hearken the 'No' rhythm(15) from the Hand of Divine


See dawning of the Godhead, the Maid of Paradise
How mystery of Unknown from earthly appearance doth arise


Lo! Remnant's Countenance, Cupbearer's Face
Lo! The translucent glass pouring out from Our Chalice


Behold the Burning Bush, see the Hand so white
Behold Mount Sinai radiating from the Palm so bright

Hear his intoxicated moans, see the mystic ecstatic(16)
In the precincts of rapture(3) all living beings are charismatic

From His peek, observe the amorous glance of Baha
From His reed, hearken the Farsi melody of Baha(17)


Emergence of Revelation 'tis, Effusion of Purity 'tis
Warbling of Nightingales 'tis, that pours out of Nothingness!

Notes

1. This translation is a personal project and is not commissioned, authorized or approved by any Baha'i administrative institution. The translation is based on the text released by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice as distributed at Irfan Colloquia. This text differs from the published version of the poem that appears in Ishraq Khavari's Maida-yi Asmani, volume 4. The Maida text is deficient by one couplet; also, other minor variations exist between the two texts as noted below.
2. The Persian spelling for khata given here (with 'ta') means sin or error. When spelled with 't' it means China (Cathay). The latter is more likely the intent as the symbolism pertains to the musk-laden wind blowing from the Far East.
3. There is a discrepancy between the published version in the Maida…where the word given is ma (our)…and the text used in this translation where 'tha' appears, a reference to the Imam Ali whose name is shared by both the Bab and Baha'u'llah. I am indebted to Mr. Moeen Afnani for his clarifications and insightful comments in this regard and elsewhere throughout this translation.
4. By liqa is meant (literally) The Countenance (i.e. of God). I have rendered it here as rapture. One of the meanings of rapture is 'the transportation of a person to heaven' which presumably may yield a face-to-face encounter with God.
5. The abbreviation 'ha' refers to huwiyat (essence).
6. The abbreviation 'fa' is a reference to the province of Fars, home of the Bab.
7. The Maida text is gol (rose, flower) whereas the text used in this translation is kull (all).
8. The abbreviation 'ra' refers to rububiyat (providential, divine).
9. The text in the Maida is ma (us, our) whereas the text used in this translation gives the word as ba…an apparent self-reference by Baha'u'llah.
10. Shi'ih tradition holds that the Mahdi will utter a word that will prompt the believers to repel Him. In later writings, Baha'u'llah explains that this word is the changing of "He" into "I" in the Quranic phrase "He is He," yielding the phrase "I am He" (i.e. equating the prophet with the Godhead). While these phrases appear in the poem it is in later writings, where Baha'u'llah treats metaphysical themes in more depth, that a more profound explanation for the claim to divinity can be understood. For Taherzadeh's explanation, see The Revelation of Baha'u'llah, volume 1, Taherzadeh, George Ronald, Oxford, 1980.
11. By huqqi is meant a treasure box. The Maida text gives the word as kasi, a major discrepancy. I have taken poetic license in rendering it here as closet (of the heart). A more literal rendering for the text used in this translation would be box or container, either of which would detract from the poetics of the original. Clearly, a resolution of the discrepancy and a better rendering is needed.
12. The abbreviation 'ta' is a reference to the city of Tehran, birthplace of Baha'u'llah.
13. The word mahi (fish) in Sufi parlance is symbolic of arif-i kamil (perfect mystic).
14. The word iraqi in this context refers to one of many styles of classical Persian poetry. Rumi, Attar, Hafiz and other classical Persian poets of this genre employed this style. See Shahd-i Shi'r-i Imruz, Meshki, ed., Iqbal, Los Angeles, 1992.
15. The Arabic 'la' in this context is short for the Quranic phrase 'No God is there but God'.
16. The word bustan (garden) in Sufi parlance is symbolic of bagh-i ilahi (divine garden) wherein the mystic reaches the state of ecstasy.
17. There are two discrepancies in this verse between the Maida and the text used in this translation: a- turih (tress) in the Maida appears as tarzi (garden) and, b- nai (of windpipe) in the Maida appears as fai (of Fars) in the text used here. These discrepancies have not been resolved although the text in the Maida does appear to be more in keeping with the imagery in this verse.