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Tablet of the Mist of the Unknown

by Bahá'u'lláh

translated by Ramin Neshati.
2000
originally revealed as "Rashh-i-Amá".
first written or published 1852

1. Translator's Introduction

It is generally believed that Bahá'u'lláh's earliest extant revelation and the only preserved tablet revealed in Iran is the poem known as Rashh-i Ama. It was revealed during Bahá'u'lláh'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. Bahá'u'lláh'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, Bahá'u'lláh's earliest intimation of His prophet hood.

Translating poetry is a daunting task! Translating Bahá'u'lláh'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 Bahá'u'lláh'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 Bahá'u'lláh'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 Bahá'u'lláh's matchless utterance." It is my ardent hope that this translation will bring the Western reader closer to Bahá'u'lláh's lofty and sublime utterance.

Aside from alluding to Himself, Bahá'u'lláh 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.

2. Translation

  1. Our charm bids waft the Mist of Unknown
            Mystery of fidelity thus flows from Our tone
  2. The east wind, musk-laden, from Cathay2 whirls
            Its scent so sweet streams forth from Our curls
  3. The ornamented sun from the True One hath risen
            Mystery of reality from Our3 visage doth blazon
  4. The sea of purity roars from waves of rapture4
            This gift bestowed from His essence5 We capture
  5. Love's treasures lie hid in the bosom of Fars6
            Out this treasure-trove Pearls of Fidelity pours
  6. Delight of wine evinced when All7 was manifested
            To songs of providence8 this Sublime Token attested
  7. A blast on the trumpet, the attraction divine
            These two in one blow flow from the Exalted Clime
  8. Confessed Our face to the cycle of: "I am He"
            Baha9 is brimming with the epoch of: "He is He"10
  9. The river of life shimmers in the closet11 of the heart
            This sweet wine the ruby lips of Baha doth part
  10. The day of God by the Lord's effulgence is complete
            The warbling in Tehran12 from these novel words is replete
  11. Glory overflowing, behold! Misty unknowing, behold!
            All this from one melody thy Lord doth sing, behold!
  12. Lo! The immortal Perfect Mystic13, the Pristine Dawn
            The Pure Breast from the Highest Throne out drawn
  13. Lo! The Tree of Paradise, harken the Nightingale's song
            This Glorious warbling from the Light of Purity hath sprung
  14. Hearken the Persian14 melody, the Arabian tambourine
            Hearken the 'No' rhythm15 from the Hand of Divine
  15. See dawning of the Godhead, the Maid of Paradise
            How mystery of Unknown from earthly appearance doth arise
  16. Lo! Remnant's Countenance, Cupbearer's Face
            Lo! The translucent glass pouring out from Our Chalice
  17. Behold the Burning Bush, see the Hand so white
            Behold Mount Sinai radiating from the Palm so bright
  18. Hear his intoxicated moans, see the mystic ecstatic16
            In the precincts of rapture3 all living beings are charismatic
  19. From His peek, observe the amorous glance of Baha
            From His reed, hearken the Farsi melody of Baha17
  20. 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 Bahá'í 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 Bahá'u'lláh. 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 Bahá'u'lláh.
  10. Shi'i tradition holds that the Mahdi will utter a word that will prompt the believers to repel Him. In later writings, Bahá'u'lláh 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 Bahá'u'lláh 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 Bahá'u'lláh, 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 Bahá'u'lláh.
  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.
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