Tahirih
The Pure One
Companion Site to
The Calling: Tahirih of Persia and Her American Contemporaries
A New Book by
Hussein Ahdieh & Hillary Chapman



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Poet of a New Age

From the poetry of Tahirih,

Lovers! Creation veils his face no more!
Lovers, look! He himself is visible!

See! The face of God glows with glory;
Look, lovers! Bright, pure, blinding, beautiful!

Who made the cosmos turns earth green once more.
Rise! Rise from that dark so miserable!

The day of truth is here! Lies have turned to dust!
Order, justice, law are now possible.

Smashed, the despot’s fist! God's hand opens.
Grace pours down—not sorrow, pain, and trouble.


"Clearly, what these verses proclaim—leaving no room for ambiguity—is the rolling up of an old and decaying order replete with ignorance and injustice, and the coming of a new age of social and spiritual vigor. They signal the end of the era of expectations, the advent of the Promised One, the arrival of the Beloved. This code of renewal and resurrection—to come out of stagnation, to become young and fruitful again, to get over the past and to believe in the future, to uproot tyranny and to lay the foundation of justice, to end conflict and to spread love is embedded in the myths of every human culture that has the stamina to survive and endure. It is a creative energy that manifests from time to time, causes great upheavals in society, shades and frightens the worn-out established order, and opens up new horizons.

To approach Tahirih as a crucial figure in the unfolding movement of the Bab is the authentic view from within the texture of Shi'i Persian society at mid-nineteenth-century. This is a movement that rapidly emerged from the matrix of convictions and expectations of the Shaykhi school of Shi'i Islam. Through the leadership of the Bab, the movement broke out of its Islamic cocoon with revolutionary energy, and under the guidance of Baha'u'llah it achieved its true radical potential and become a world religion." (Amin Banani; Jascha Kessler; Anthony A. Lee, A portrait in poetry, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, 2004) 12-13)



Of God and Prophets

"The poems of Tahirih are strongly based in the reader’s ability to understand both the concepts of the historical revelation of God through a succession of Prophets (progressive revelation) as well as several other key theological, cosmological and ontological concepts. For example, she often alludes to the the fact that on the one hand the Prophets are for human beings tantamount to God on earth, Consequently, to enter their presence (either literally or through their utterance) is the equivalent of being in the presence of God. At the same time, she also alludes to the fact that the Prophets are utterly submissive to and humbled before God and, further, that the Prophets of old are humbled before the new Prophet.

Likewise, she often alludes to the eternality of God and creation itself. For while she alludes to this earth as having a beginning and a spiritual evolution, she also often alludes to the eternality of God, the eternality of creation itself and the existence of other worlds and realities which likewise reflect divine attributes.

Certainly among the most critical philosophic/theological concepts she presents in her verse if the idea of the human soul as a divine emanation (a ‘dancing particle’ in the light emanating from God's face). But the soul of the Prophet comes as the source of all illumination—something Tahirih alludes to as the light beaming or flashing from the Prophet's face (the moon-faced one) or else by alluding to the Prophet as the Friend, the Beloved, the face of God Himself.” (Hatcher, Hemmat, The Poetry of Tahirih, (Oxford, UK: George Ronald, 2002) 25)


A Prayer by Tahirih

O Thou to Whose pure and unique quintessence praise is owed!

Only from the Word that issued from Thy holy and exalted Being does honor come...

This world could not exist by means of the splendor of anyone save Thee, and this lofty and exalted station belongs to no one but Thee. I bear witness by the visible eye fashioned from the light of utterance that thou art the maker of this world, and that aside from Thee all have been burned up by a drop from the spray of the radiance of that command; and that Thou ar the fashioner of this universe and aside from Thee all have been annihilated by a reflection of the flickering of the glearm of that decree...

God is Great!

Where is there a seeing eye, a hearing ear, a perceptive heart, a supportive breast? For what station is higher and greater than this, that the Creator of being hath created it anew? ...

Am I melted by Thy divine assistance, Lord of munificence, for that radiant and glorious aid is identical to the exalted and illumined light. I am melted, my God, by that mercy whereby Thou didst create me at a time when nothing existed save it. I was formed whirling, after a pattern that no one besides Thee had fashioned, so that Thou mightest set me in motion...

My God, I bear witness to that which Thou was wrought.

I accept that which Thou hast given, shall bring forth what Thou didst desire, and shall choose that station which thou didst bestow upon me. Thus might I gaze upon a beauty that is none other but Three... (tr. By Juan Cole, 253-4, Tahirih in History)




Tahirih's Handwriting

Beyond Poetry

"Tahirih's poetry had become important in her lifetime...

However, while Tahirih was alive, there were no systematic efforts made to collect her verse—nor for some fifty years after her death would there be any such efforts made. The suppressed and precarious conditions under which the Babis lived left no time for such attempted. The small number of poems, in any case, did not warrant the compilation of a customary divan. Certainly, Tahirih herself, with her clear and urgent preoccupations, did not give any indication that she meant to make her imprint o history solely as a poet." (Amin Banani; Jascha Kessler; Anthony A. Lee, A portrait in poetry, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, 2004) 9)

Spiritual Passion

"If self-assertion is a cardinal tenett of Tahirih’s life, self-denial and self-effacement are key elements of her poetry. The themes of love, union, and ecstasy relate to mystic and spiritual experience. The object of love depicted is an abstraction rather than a concrete and palpable portrayal. It is ultimately divine love or its manifestation on earth. The desire and passion portrayed are merely starting points for spiritual realization, vehicles of expression in a long-established tradition of mystical love poetry." (Farzaneh Milani, “Becoming a Presence”, Sabir Afaqi, Ed., Tahirih in History, Jan T. Jasion, “Tahirih on the Russian stage”, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, LA 2004) 175)

New Order

"The character of Tahirih, her mindset, her worldview, her motivations, and the depth of her passion cannot be examined detached from her deep faith in spiritual renewal, her eagerness to abrogate the Islamic law , and her willingness to sacrifice everything for the establishment of a new order." (Amin Banani; Jascha Kessler; Anthony A. Lee, A portrait in poetry, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, 2004) 14)




Women learning to write in Persia
thanks to influence of Babi & Bahhá'í Faiths

Women in Writing

"As an articulate theologian and poet, she challenged the silence and marginality that characterized the women of her era. Consciously or not, she dispensed with existing sex roles in order to create new ones." (Farzaneh Milani, “Becoming a Presence”, Sabir Afaqi, Ed., Tahirih in History, Jan T. Jasion, “Tahirih on the Russian stage”, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, LA 2004)

"Tahereh's contribution to the history of women's writing in Iran is invaluable: she proved that women could think, write, and reason like men—in public and for the public. Such actions set her apart from her contemporaries and confer upon her an inalienable precedence." (Farzaneh Milani, “Becoming a Presence”, Sabir Afaqi, Ed., Tahirih in History, Jan T. Jasion, “Tahirih on the Russian stage”, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, LA 2004) 172)


Controversy

"The study of Tahirih's poems has been bedeviled by recurring controversies over attribution and authenticity. Here there are a number of cultural, historical, and socio-psychological forces at play. Insensitivity to these issues can lead to hasty, inappropriate, and incorrect conclusions. The questions of literary tradition and poetic originality cannot be discussed outside of the legacy that Tahirih inherited and to which she made significant contributions. To arrive at a full appreciation of her poems, therefore, an overview of the long and rich history of Persian poetry is necessary...

Our contemporary romantic notions of uniqueness—by which artists claim to have given birth to a new and original work from no other source than personal inspiration—were utterly foreign to the Persian cultural of Tahirih’s time. Such ideas of uninfluenced originality were, in fact, unknown in Western art tradition until relatively recently. The great European artists before the eighteenth century—like the great Iranian artists—conceived the works of antiquity, daring to improve on the work of the old masters...

So, in classical Persian poetry it is commonplace to use a line from, or imitate the style or meter of, the poems of an earlier poet... The familiar lines may be used to surprise (even astonish!) the reader with the poet’s new purpose and intent—so that the poem becomes both old and new, conventional and revolutionary." (Amin Banani; Jascha Kessler; Anthony A. Lee, A portrait in poetry, (LA, CA: Kalimat Press, 2004) 5-8)