Tablet of Nightingale of Separation (Lawh-i-Bulbulu'l-Firáq)
translated by Juan Cole
1. Translator's introduction
by Juan Cole
Although A. Ishraq-Khavari (Ganj-i Shayegan 42-45) and A. Taherzadeh
(Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh 1:244-245) date this Tablet to the Baghdad
period, I think internal evidence clearly points to its having been written
*after* Bahá'u'lláh had left the city of Baghdad. In fact, the autumnal
imagery (gusts of wind denude branches of their leaves) suggests the
possibility that it is being written back to Baghdad or Iran from Istanbul
in fall, 1863.
For instance, Bahá'u'lláh says dar ín vaqt kih tayr-i baqa' az ard-i
`Iraq parváz namúd — "in this time, when the bird of eternity has flown
from the land of Iraq . . ." This sounds to me as though he has already
left. It is true that he also says of himself, 'that breeze shall not
again blow in this land (dar ín ard),' as though he is still there. But
in this case the 'land' referred to could be simply the sublunar realm, and
the point could simply be that Bahá'u'lláh would never again be accessible
to people in the way he had been in Baghdad, where he hung out in cafes and
where Babi pilgrims could easily come down from Kermanshah for a visit.
If I am correct, this tablet then belongs with the Tablet of the Bell,
which Denis MacEoin has translated, and the Mathnavi or rhymed
couplets, in the category of works written in the Ottoman capital in fall,
1863. Certainly, I would date it after May 3, 1863. It could have, like
the Lawh-i Hawdaj, been written on the way to Istanbul. But the autumnal
imagery does seem to me suggestive for dating purposes.
Bahá'u'lláh had already made his April-May 1863 Ridvan declaration that he
was the Return of the Bab, and he in this Tablet fairly openly claims that
his advent was predicted in past scriptures. He is the one from Persia (I
read "`Iráq" here as `Iraq-i `ajam and so translate it as Persia) who
speaks in the melodies of the Hijaz — i.e. an Iranian who writes in Arabic.
I am unaware that anyone has yet identified the precise prophecy to which
Bahá'u'lláh refers here, though this phrase is fairly common in his
writings of the Baghdad and early Edirne periods, and has been discussed at
length by Steven Lambden.
The tablet is full of emotion and the grief of parting, and good effect is
gained from the switch away from the formalistic Arabic prose poetry at the
beginning the more intimate, chaste Persian prose thereafter (which recalls
in some ways the Persian Hidden Words, though this work is more open about
Bahá'u'lláh's messianic aura).
The Nightingale of Separation
The nightingale of separation, perched upon the branch
of the horizon, calls out in grief, you who are filled with yearning;
The bird of loyalty sings upon the tree of eternity
with the strains of this parting, you who are filled with yearning;
As does the dove of the two seas upon the twigs of the lote-tree of separation —
that the departure is imminent, you who are filled with yearning.
Say: the time of union has been fulfilled, and by virtue of the decree
that of absence has begun through this parting, you who are filled with yearning;
Tears have flowed from the eyes of the immortals in the concourse
on high because of this farewell, you who are filled with yearning;
The breezes of joy that blew from the paradise of splendor
have been stilled by this departure, you who are filled with yearning.
By God, the faces of the celestial maidens in their chambers
have paled at the prospect of this absence, you who are filled with yearning;
The houris rouge their cheeks blood red, for they have heard
about this leave-taking, you who are filled with yearning;
And will never adorn their bodies with the silks of eternity
after learning of this departure, you who are filled with yearning:
No sorrow shall ever compare to this grief in the realm of the unknowable essence,
for the wind of separation is blowing, you who are filled with yearning!
In this time, when the bird of eternity has flown from the land of Iraq and the
people of longing and yearning burn with the fire of separation, this letter is being
sent by this ephemeral ant to the friends of God. Friends, weep for as long as you
have eyes, and cry out for as long as your souls exist, for the carpet of union,
joining, nearness and encounter has been rolled up. Instead, the sovereign of
destiny has, by virtue of a preordained decree, spread out the quilt of parting,
leave-taking, absence and departure. The gales of separation and regret have
gusted with such force that they have clothed the branches of being, whether
visible or invisible, with the cloak of nothingness, then repaired to the blustery
autumn of eternity.
Then, eyes should weep, ears listen to the wailing, tongues moan and lament, and
bodies tumble into the dust of their birth-places. Nevertheless, we praise God for
having singled us out for these repeated misfortunes and unceasing afflictions,
and give thanks to him at all times and in all circumstances. He is, in truth,
witness to his own words. In all the past scriptures it is mentioned that a time
will come, a season will arrive, that the bird of Persia shall sing an Arabian
melody. Therefore, hasten to him, lovers of the celestial beauty, you who are
distracted by the divine sanctum. Now, that time has arrived, that breeze has
wafted, and that bird has flown, but you have not seen it nor attained to it, and
have not accomplished the goal. Indeed, you have not advanced toward what was
written, nor have you listened. Now that moment has passed, and that day has
slipped out of your grasp. That breeze shall not blow again in this land, that rose
shall not again flower here, and that door shall never again open. Have you never
heard that the nightingale of the divine garden seeks repose and settles only in the
spiritual rose bower; that the hoopoe of the Sheba of love only makes its home in
the Sinai of the spirit; or that the hearts of lovers seek no visage save the beauty
of the beloved?
Lovers, you have become immersed in thoughts of your own selves, and never set
out for the lands of the beloved. What a marvelous heedlessness has overtaken
contingent being and encompassed existence! The sun is radiant, brilliant and
shining in the midst of the sky, but all are singing along with and have become
intimates of the birds of night. I shall close with what the nightingale of
separation sang in the land of Iraq, calling out to all who dwell beneath the
horizon: The bird of immortality has flown to the city of the unknowable divine
Cloud, and the dove of the spirit has taken flight from its branch and sought
another perch. Then weep, lovers and people of the concourse on high.
Thus do we cast upon you the verses of parting, so that perhaps you will rise from
the couches of heedlessness and join the ranks of the mindful. Say: Hypocrites,
this nightingale of constancy has taken wing from the rose of union, has set out
for the garden of separation, and has consumed all the lovers in the precincts of
Iraq. Friends, do not forget the union of souls while you are in the affliction of
separation. Lament this departure, but sow the seed of patience in the good earth
of the heart, watering it with your tears, so that it will give forth sweet fruit.
This is the counsel of the nightingale of the divine garden. Therefore, heed it.
3. Original text
from Athar-i Qalam-i A`la Vol. 4 (Tehran: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1968), pp. 363-367