The Choice Wine

This poem is composed of simple words – no obscure Arabic, philosophical or Quranic terms. It has a soft flowing and melodious tone.[1]

The seven couplets, which we have translated as quatrains, are an appropriate ending to this volume because we feel they capture the spirit of this remarkable woman – her wit and courage especially. Of particular appropriateness to ending the volume is her confident closing image that in the long run – over the course of history – we will see who wins, as opposed to those who presently seem to hold the reins of power.

Of course, the conceit or analogy of love as a battlefield is a traditional one in various cultures but the application of this image to the history of the Bahá’í Faith takes on special significance in light of the slaughter of over 20,000 Bábís at the literal battles at the fort Shaykh ?abarsí, at Nayríz and at Zanján. Particularly powerful is the observation that this testing of those who profess love is not a game. It is thus very reminiscent of a statement made by Bahá’u’lláh which observes: `Think not the Cause of God to be a thing lightly taken, in which any one can gratify his whims.’[2]

Another point of interest is the point of view in this piece. Here the perspective is not that of ?áhirih speaking her own feelings and or describing her personal situation. This is a voice of rank, of intellect and authority articulating profound verities about the divine nature of human history.

What did youth bring?
The young lover
What did old age bring?
The vintage wine.

The one brief appearance
of the young lover
bereft the heart of desire
for sleeping or eating;

The one drop
of choice wine
which the one who died did not sip
and the one who quaffed did not die

is from the same vessel
that time’s cup?bearer[3] gives to you,
so choice, so refined –
but to me the dregs only.[4]

Yet among the thousands
held captive by the Beloved,
only one has cleansed from the heart
the dust of worldly desires.

You see, this is no game –
going onto the battlefield of love
where only one in a hundred thousand
has emerged victorious.[5]

So let the parrot recite prayers
and let the claimant hurl accusations[6]
at day’s end we will see
who wins the field.[7]

[1] It is these qualities, perhaps, that led Dhuká’í Baydá’í to believe that the poem is not by Táhirih. However, Martha Root includes this poem in her book and Hádí Hasan quotes the first couplet of this poem in his small selection of Táhirih’s verse. Nuqabá’í includes this poem in his collection but Afnán does not.

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 115.

[3] The cup?bearer, a very important figure in one of Táhirih’s longest poems, is clearly symbolic of one who conveys the revelation (the Prophet) or more generally, one who bestows fortune – a kind of subaltern of God who bestows calamities on the loved ones of God that they might be prepared spiritually by being tested and detached from earthly affections.

[4] Here Táhirih seems to note the irony that there seems to be no ostensible logic as to what one receives in this life. Yet she clearly implies that though she receives the `dregs’, it is preparing her for something more, as the remainder of the poem makes clear.

[5] Literally this reads `has remained steadfast’. This commonplace image of love as a battlefield is particularly inventive here. Usually the battlefield image is employed to represent the coy games between the lover and the beloved but here Táhirih portrays the battle as a stark testing of the believers to see if they will remain faithful in their conviction when the inevitable tests come.

[6] The word parrot is intriguing here, as is the couplet itself. The parrot has been used symbolically in Rumi’s Mathnaví and has been interpreted to mean `the receptive wayfarer, the pious one, etc’. (see Guwharín, Farhang, vol. 6, pp. 246–7). The problem here is to determine if this is a positive or negative description. Is she contrasting the piety of the wayfarer with the pretentiousness of the false Sheik, or is she using parrot to imply a similar sort of mindless worship in which one simply `parrots’ the words of others without thought or reflection?

The verse works either way: `let the pious one pray and the false Sheik hurl accusations’ or `let the shallow follower say his prayers and the false Sheik be pretentious’. In the end the true believer (the `one out of a hundred thousand’) will be the victor.

[7] The actual line states, `let us see who will catch the ball in the field’ but the sense is that we will see at the end of the contest who will emerge victorious. The literal translation of this metaphor would not work well in English.

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