The Ecstatic Exchange: Words on my Life and Poetry
Bismillah er-rahman er-rahim To begin to present my life-time’s body of poetic work …
You’ll sing a song from somewhere out of your depths
and light will hit it and it’ll be
a diamond brooch worn at the back of
Layla’s head in a sunny glade
it’ll be a drop of water hanging at the
tip of a leaf in a dark rainforest radiating diamond light
a deep chasm with a train trestle above it and an
old fashioned train chugging along
oblivious to all danger over a giant arc filled with blue smoke
when you open your heart to sing
the whole room becomes a single ear
or even no ear at all but more like a
sharp point say of a needle about to
enter a cloth to sew
a saintly sleeve to the main body of the divine garment
the exact tip of the needle the sound-receiver
for the entire universe made drunk in the
sudden echoing orbit of your song
(from Where Death Goes)
Poetry is the original language of humankind. Or, with a little imagination, it might even be said to be the original language of animals, those emotive creatures, who must choose resemblances and learn to decode the meanings of things in order to survive — or even bees, those most poetic of insects, scanning the flowery countryside for nectar and pollen the way a good student might scan the lines of a great poem, metrically buzzing in heart and head.
We could even go so far as to say poetry is the language of cells, who split and join, search and avoid, the way words fall into place to describe or evoke, emerging from silence. Or the DNA language, that scans, has recognizable meter, a certain grammar or prosody of associations and signs. In the transparency of our beings, and the transparency of the world into which we’re born and whose insubstantiality is made clear when we leave it at death and go on to the True, God’s banquet, there is only meanings set up in images. There are only tajallis (epiphanies) radiating forth, moment by moment, Allah’s subatomic word by word. Nouns, verbs, participles, particles…
In our times of heightened speech, in clear intuitions, in thunderclap remembrance of Allah, we’re soaked in the language of Paradise in all its reverberant echoes. It’s the heartbeat first heard in the womb, now in a down deep beating at the core of the world.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core. — W.B. Yeats, Lake Isle of Innisfree
Penetrating like a sewing needle that invisible spherical barrier between our present state and the state of total Unity — “to sew a saintly sleeve to the main body of the divine garment.” Our original Face, as the Zen Buddhists call it. Or to us, not our face at all — the Face of Allah. Regarding the original state of Paradise, German philosopher, Friedrich Hegel says:
“Nature, so the fiction runs, originally stood open and transparent before the clear eye of man, as a bright mirror of divine creation, and the divine truth was equally open to him… From this supposedly historical condition, then, all religions are said to have taken their origin.” — Hegel, Die Vernunftin der Geschichte (quoted in The Languages of Paradise, Maurice Olender)
“So the fiction runs” kicks my shins under the table of thought, since this has been the teaching within our hearts, what Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi (may Allah protect his secret) taught us from day one over forty years ago with our tea and toast. The early people, the Paradise people, giants of transparency and ilm aladuni, direct divine knowledge! Their state was easy transference of meanings, soul to soul, thing to perception, angel to angel, Allah to our hearts.
The whole universe cannot contain Me, (Allah says)
but the heart of the mumin can contain Me
— Hadith Qudsi (salallahu alayhi wa sallam)
David Paquiot, a young Haitian-American poet friend of mine, has this stanza:
Eden is here now sitting with us
but like the sun, we cut ourselves off
from the sight of its majesty in the distance,
having built this world on the foundation
of an imaginary separation
But what was the language spoken, the comprehensible buzz of consciousness, the words and their syntax of first enlightenment? Linguists think Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, some think Sanskrit, the ancient Pali no doubt, and the Chinese must go back in their colossal spiring mists to ancient Taoist mysteries. I recall seeing on TV when I was a teenager a Taoist diviner in an old temple interpreting ancient characters written in a flash across a horizontal frame or planchette of smooth white sand by another Taoist channeling a divinity in a trance. Jahaliyya-era, utterly Babylonian, and I thought then how ancient this practice must be. It’s called Fuji, spirit-writing. I was fascinated — one Taoist would scribble as on a Ouija board-like Etch-a-sketch, and the other would write the words and read out the meanings then erase the characters and smooth the sand for another. What inspiration! In the 1920s the French Surrealists made the practice of automatic writing, often from a dream state, a key part of their aesthetic.
From a book I read on a ferryboat to Belgium to renew my visa to remain in England in the 1970s, George Steiner’s After Babel, Aspects of Language and Translation, we read:
“The occult tradition holds that a single primal language, an Ur-Sprache lies behind our present discord, behind the abrupt tumult of warring tongues which followed on the collapse of Nimrod’s ziggurat. This Adamic vernacular not only enabled all men to understand one another, to communicate with perfect ease. It bodied forth, to a greater or lesser degree, the original Logos, the act of immediate calling into being whereby God had literally ‘spoken the world.’ The vulgate of Eden contained, though perhaps in a muted key, a divine syntax, — powers of statement and designation analogous to God’s own diction, in which the mere naming of a thing was the necessary and sufficient cause of its leap into reality. Each time man spoke he re-enacted, he mimed, the nominalist mechanism of creation. Hence the allegoric significance of Adam’s naming of all living forms: ‘and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.’ Hence also the ability of all men to understand God’s language and to give it intelligible answer.”
— George Steiner, After Babel (page 58)
So first Eden, and immediate intelligibility. Then Babel, and the confusion of tongues. Or their profusion of tongues, their ethnic transfusion into areas of time and space where we can even see today enrichment with new words, dropping of old slang for new slang. Yet each language still partakes of the “first fine careless rapture” of Edenic perfection, from a tribe of just a handful of Amazon natives well able to live for untold generations in their jungly domain, to ruinous plutocrats on cellphones in high rises practicing their usury — all speaking clearly and comprehensibly. The Amazonian may not have a word for war, but he or she can spy a monkey in the trees. The plutocrat may not have a word for the tiny red tuft at the tail of a tropical bird, but he can certainly help bring down a civilization. This spiraling and tendrilling Edenic proto-language which is also the multifarious languages in use today, is itself a poetics, associative, symbolic and evocative. And above all, metaphorical. In Arabic, for example, root-words often go back to a concrete object as image, a life-snapshot in motion of some actuality, that then exfoliates into more “abstract” numinous realities in both this world and the next. Lane’s Lexicon shows an abundance of abstract concepts that arise from root words referring to concrete details concerning colors of camels, shapes of swords, light, water, light on water, etc. These are poetic analogies, internalized, etherealized. Quivering in their realities, ready for use.
What is this “language of Paradise” then, and how does it shiver into our poetry and language now? It’s been said, classically, that all arts tend toward the state of music, great paintings, great works of literature. Elevate our hearts in ecstatic choirs. A Picasso like a xylophone solo. The tiled interiors of Moroccan mosques radiating harmonic star-voices. So like traditional shamans, or Arab poets, with their genius inspiration, maybe djinn inspired, later Qur’an dazzled, poets can speak from a place of deeply resonant language, deep image, dream, true vision. In whatever language we have wired in us, vestiges of that original roar of meaning.
But let’s confront the ayats about poets in the Qur’an, something I’ve pondered over the years, having a vested interest, and have been confronted by well-meaning Muslims even saying, standing in front of the onrushing freight train of centuries of scintillating Islamic poetry, that poetry is haram (prohibited).
We find at the end of the Sura, The Poets, (Ash-Shu‘ara’)
Bismillah er-Rahman er-Rahim
wa-sh-shu’araa’u yattabi’uhumu’l-ghawun alam tara annahum fi kulli wadin yahimun
wa annahum yaquluna ma la yaf’alun
…as for the poets,
it is the misled who follow them.
Do you not see how they ramble on in every style,
and say things which they do not do…
And M.A.S. Abdel Haleem has:
Do you not see how they rove aimlessly in every valley,
how they say what they do not do?
(Al-Shu‘ara’, The Poets, Ayat 225)
So what about poets, those drifters and gabblers, who often make extravagant claims for themselves from which it is in the Sufi’s best interest always to shy away, painting beautiful pictures while living “lives of desperation” perhaps, or sounding moral high grounds we don’t maintain ourselves. Of course this is also spotlit by Allah to distinguish divine revelation as it’s being revealed to the Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, from poetic inspiration that has volition in it and conscious creativity, studied and perfected.
But these ayats are not just about poets, not exclusively. Just as nothing in the Qur’an by Allah is just about what it is in direct reference. Here it’s also about hypocrisy, insincerity, really saying things but not doing them ourselves. And doing what we do not say. We’re all too easy and glib when it comes to this. Poeticizing. Wandering about mind-boggling this or that, snooping, happily telling people hadiths, sharply and eloquently judging people in our minds. Only dhikr keeps us on the Path here, and as the ayat continues, with crucial words the critics of poets and poetry often neglect to repeat:
…“ except those who have faith and do right actions
and remember Allah repeatedly and
defend themselves after they have been wronged.”
Those who come to the aid of the oppressed and the unjustly treated, themselves or their community. Because it’s never just “them” in the Qur’an. We contain (like Whitman said) “multitudes,” and “do I contradict myself — yes, I contradict myself.” We contain the good and bad Jews, Christians, deniers, idol-worshippers, fiery djinn, but we also contain the prophets, from Sayyedina Adam in his purity and fallibility, and their history, to the beloved of Allah, Muhammad, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, and we thank God contain some of their light in our tiny human portion of the prophetic consciousness, or else we would never be able to recognize the Prophet’s character or have even an inkling of his dimension with Allah.
For Allah gave Adam the wisdom of naming, bestowed language on our species:
He taught Adam the names of all things,
Then He arrayed them before the angels and said
“Tell me the names of these, if you are telling the truth.”
(Qur’an 2:30, Bewley translation)
Adamic consciousness expanded by Allah’s Kun fa yakun now had tongue and teeth and articulation that brought the world into focused being in a linguistic transparency for the benefit of all humankind: a virtual dictionary of wisdom language, a metaphorical veil over what we see and experience, think and abstractly conceive, stray thoughts, dream fragments, sensations that flee the one who senses them almost immediately they are sensed: OK, Poetry.
He said, “Adam, tell them their names.”
When he had told them their names,
He said, “Did I not tell you that I know
the Unseen of the heavens and the earth,
and I know what you make known
and what you hide.”
(Qu’ran 2:33, ibid)
This ayat is at the heart of our being human! Were the angels unnamed before Adam named them? Or, if it is another interpretation, did nothing in His creation have a “name” until Allah inspired Adam, peace be upon him, with linguistic ciphers, labels, codes, of the “things” of His creation? Do these and all names spring from a secret known only to Allah, the Eternal Originator of all the Divine Names? And the Creator and Curator of the consciousness born within our hardwiring to learn to speak, little by little, without rewards and punishments? (Children even learn Chinese! Or Ibo! )
Shaykh al-Akbar, Ibn Arabi, raheemahullah, says in The Divine Governance:
We know that the Lord taught man as His deputy the names of all and everything and then charged him to teach these to His angels. He could have only taught him the names of things before him. To think that he taught him what He taught him from a distance, unseen, is a false conception. We believe that the Lord knew the things He named, for all the secrets of the universe are from Him and in Him and the Lord knows Himself. And He gave the secrets of the macrocosm which He created to the microcosm which He created so that the latter know and profit from them. — Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom,
(trans. Shaykh Tosun Bayrak)
Now, on an intellectual rational plane, that woolly overlay from heart’s freshness, we encounter a controversy about whether Hebrew or Sanskrit in fact was the original language of Paradise, what was actually spoken there, a Jonathan Swiftian battle that may still be raging among the linguists, but which seems to have an overly phenomenological tinge to it. The original language for me is a kind of unified protoplasm that branches from an Edenic origin into every language spoken (could this Ur-Sprache be in fact the Forbidden Tree itself? Is this the sacred knowledge meant, a unified language? But as He’s created this as the realm of the opposites God prefers in His wisdom that we know one another across dialectical differences?). From a prostrated overwhelmed awareness before Allah’s Presence, to our least communication, our least “pass the butter please,” or, “Look out! The sky is falling!” But we must name, as babies we name before we can coherently speak, we see and hear and name in our own proto language from our own pure Paradise. “Blapblissbloopsplack.” As babies, we know what we mean at that moment, even if no one else does. Rilke, in the Ninth of his Duino Elegies, echoes the Adamic mystery of this naming:
Are we, perhaps, here just to utter: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, jug, fruit tree, window—
at most: column, tower… but to utter them, remember,
to speak in a way which the named never dreamed
they could be? Isn’t that the hidden purpose
of this cunning earth, in urging on lovers,
to realize, through their rapture, rapture for all?
(William Gass translation)
Rapture, ah, the word that really opens us up to our urge toward true and vivid utterance.
American poet Hart Crane has it in A Name for All:
Moonmoth and grasshopper that flee our page
And still wing on, untarnished of the name
We pinion to your bodies to assuage
Our envy of your freedom—we must maim
Because we are usurpers, and chagrined—
And take the wing and scar it in the hand.
Names we have, even, to clap on the wind;
But we must die, as you, to understand.
I dreamed that all men dropped their names, and sang
As only they can praise, who build their days
With fin and hoof, with wing and sweetened fang
Struck free and holy in one Name always.
Here is a post-Babel vision of the Paradisiacal language of first humans in the great mystery of the origins of our consciousness, speaking Adam’s (alayhi as-salaam) “poetics” of association and perception, resemblances and decodings, that flows both from outward to inward and from inward to outward. Now humans might communicate observations about light spraying through the trees, the weather, the greatness and awesomeness of the Woolly Mammoth, oh, whatever it might be… the death of a parent, a child, an animal. The flight of an iridescent bird. The roar of an invisible assailant. The soothing of a wound or an injustice. A falling rock. The sighting of a new star. Which sound in the night to fear, in which to find solace. Love-stirrings. Being simiply gobsmacked at God’s Terrible Beauty.
Andre Breton, the French Surrealist, said, “étonnez-moi / astonish me!” And as Muslims we should be more astonished than anyone, seeing Allah’s signs on the horizon and in our selves! Out of the void a lush world blooms with all its streamers rippling in the cosmic winds. What do we say before the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, the flight of a sparrow, sunlight? The vast reaches of cosmic space? “Blapblissbloopsplack?” We may stutter in astonishment and hardly be able to say, as we usually so glibly say, “Alhamdulillah!” For, as his beloved Messenger, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, said, and was in the best position to say, “I never measured You with Your true measure.” So we may indeed stutter in gobsmacked astonishment in saying it truly. And that stuttering may be the “language of Paradise.” And that may be the deep amoebic soupy origin of all poetry.
Words float on the surface of our heartbeating urges to speech, and as poetry can be simple, it also can engage complexities of response. Take Haiku, the exquisitely wrought Japanese form of a few lines in a strict metric quantity, as in Haiku Master, Issa’s (1763-1827):
Yu-dachi ya / hadaka-de norishi / hadaka uma a sudden shower naked I ride
bareback on a horse
Which reminds me of one of the most beautiful short poems in English, by D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), known less as a poet than as a visionary novelist:
The White Horse The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent they are in another world.
What I’m getting at here is a kind of divine poetry (though by the forgoing criteria in a way all poetry partakes of divine naming), most particularly the poetry of the Vedas say, the Psalms, The Song of Songs, Saint John of the Cross, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and of course Rumi, Hafez, Attar, ibn Farid — imaginal masters with the panoply of the great shuyukh. Wisdom poetry. Unabashed, unashamed, unatheistic, wisdom where we find it, the lost riding beast. Light everywhere. Where the poet disappears. Glistening facets into the void, where we meet God. I want to break out in goosebumps. My hair stand on end. Electric shivers. Love pangs and heartquake openings. The language of Paradise the language of love. And we are creatures of that Paradise. As British poet Sukina Pilgrim has written in a long poem, A Lover’s Tongue:
You see, the universe is the most eloquent narrator
If only we took the time
We could have the most wonderful
conversations with our Creator
As He sings through His signs —
What else is a crimson sunset but a poem in the sky?
The “mission statement” of my lifelong poetry project, The Ecstatic Exchange, written almost a decade ago, reads:
For me the province of poetry is a private ecstasy made public, and the social role of the poet is to display moments of shared universal epiphanies capable of healing our sense of mortal estrangement—from ourselves, from each other, from our source, from our destiny, from The Divine.
As I’ve put in a poem:
Could lightning bolts be electric
rents in the sky-fabric
inadvertently revealing the Next World’s dazzle?
Heralded by thuds of
Herds of sky cattle hooves
against arching bridge boards?
Light has to come through from there
and does so in flashes
Blinds us in this world to give us
insight into the next?
Hearts in our bodies
know these things already
Lay down roads for God’s
golden carts to cross
Our souls know so much more than
More than even the
Thunder roll and lightning flash
bring all the worlds nearer
And the Lord of all the worlds
reflecting Himself to us
all that much
2/22/13 (from The Soul’s Home)
This is a very passionate conviction that our most subterranean consciousness-soul is connected with the mysterious movements of the universe, and that the language of poetic utterance is what opens this connection up to us. If I say that the DNA is reciting poetry, or the amoebas are poetic fiends meandering around in a state of inspiration, well, it’s from this conviction. Although poetic inspiration does partake of the state of revelation, it in no way matches the prophetic revelation, which comes unbidden and untaught through prophets and the Prophet, peace be upon him, whose only “poetic” skill is utter and unflagging fidelity to his inspired outpouring. In her book, Muhammad, a biography of the Prophet, by Karen Armstrong, she says:
“To create (italics mine) a literary masterpiece, to found a major religion and a new world power are not ordinary achievements.”
(Muhammad, A Biography of the Prophet, American edition, p.52.)
We can’t say this. If the state of Qur’anic revelation may be thought of as a mode of poetic act, then Allah is the poet, not the Prophet. Still, wahy or divine inspiration, may be said to still exist, but in lesser degrees, for some blessed few of the great ones, in the Prophet’s sweet oceanic shadow from which they’ve been given a sip, one tiny sip. After all, we’re sentient pieces of lint floating in Allah’s universe, singing to ourselves. What are we singing? That’s what touches my heart, this knowledge that what we sing elevates us to our true dimensions, even beyond that of the angels. Prophecy and saintliness, however, doesn’t work at “poetry,” may not carry a notebook in a little shoulder bag for notating instant inspirations, may not type poems out to send to literary magazines to be published. I can’t imagine Rumi worrying about getting published!
The surrealists, French mostly, but also the Latin American and Spanish Surrealists, were my opening to Qur’anic understanding, as well as that of the Mathnawi of Rumi, that I first took as a kind of Surrealist epic. They strategized expression in a new way, turning their senses away from the “material” or “objective” in order to go deeper and through collisions of images find a strata unknown or unexpressed before. Then when Sufi poetry came along, I could recognize it for the dimension of spirit’s elusiveness that it is, and hear the heart’s music as if from Balinese gamelan gongs, surging up from the sea bottom, the “unconscious” or “subconscious,” where we find phosphorescent fish in the dark following the glow from their own headlamps.
Language itself is a poem floating on top of the “objective” or “concrete” world. If we look at a blade of grass for a long time, why do we call it “grass?” It’s this long, green blade — and already I’m using word-images, “long,” “green,” “blade,” to bring the thought to mind. But in itself, it’s simply what it is. I often amuse myself wondering what it might be that “grass” calls itself, if anything, or what “lions” call themselves, or “redwood trees.” We call other peoples by names we’ve given them, and are often surprised to find that they don’t call themselves by the same names at all. American “Indians,” for example, a name given to them by mistaken identity on the part of Columbus, who thought he’d reached India. The people themselves might call themselves by a tribal name distinguished from other tribes, and most peoples call themselves “the people,” though perhaps to distinguish themselves from people judged riffraff. So a blade of grass, “looking around,” might think itself different from, say, a cloud, and call itself… well, you make one up. But either it’s a lovely, sibilant musical sound with no rational meaning, or a metaphorical analogy word, such as “vertical verdant eyebrow with no eye that grows upward from the ground,” or as Whitman called it, “the handkerchief of the Lord,” or “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”
So the inspiration of poetry is being struck by luminosity. Having an attack of luminosity. To get down to a core, to see more deeply into a flame before flying in. To see the Names of Allah, that ever-fanning array, behind every manifestation, by virtue of verbal corrective lenses. Then to go through the tissue of manifest names to He Who manifests them. One in all His multiplicity. As our beloved shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib of Fez, may Allah protect his secret, says in his Diwan,
“Truly created beings are meanings
projected in images”
(The Diwan of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, Madinah Press, Withdrawal into the Perception of the Essence, p. 75)
I have to confess, that as for me, I write poems to get out of here. One glimpse of The Garden, original, shimmering and pristine, through the “chinks in our cavern” as Blake puts it, is enough to whet the thirst forever. They’re not just poem poems, you see, they’re catapults. Their intention and their goal is Allah’s precincts I sense in the Diwan of Shaykh ibn al-Habib and in the, you know, breath of the infinite in the finite and the spacious in the tight squeeze. It’s a love thing. When all these words about Paradise and poetry are done, it’s a love thing. Any skill is to make the sculpture of words wriggle on the page, leap off the page into the air, take to the skies. A friend poet once long ago said I start a poem, and suddenly I’ve shot off into the galaxies. He was complaining, but I took it as a compliment. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, inveterate nonagenarian anarchist, who first published me in 1964 with a book called Dawn Visions, and who in a book of his own poetry noted I was il miglior fabbro (the greater composer), as Eliot said of Pound, has also criticized my poems for being too unearthly, too unworldly. “Come down to earth, Abdal-Hayy,” he has said. But a year ago, in Ferlinghetti’s apartment in San Francisco, when he said this again, I finally said to him, lovingly, “Well, Lawrence, maybe you should come up to where I am rather than me come down to where you are.” It’s a love thing. These poems are breakthroughs, leaps and whirling dances. I’ve loaded them with images to evoke transparency, the alchemy of hard thing into golden word, where they smoke and shimmer in a film of light. I’m at the mercy. Totally at the mercy.
The drunk in Allah are
free from the roll of the dice
The drunk in Allah swim in the
mercy of His love
The drunk in Allah take both
roads at the fork
(and do so because they’re
drunk in Allah)
The drunk in Allah eat caviar when they
eat dry biscuits
drink the best vintage wine when they
sip a glass of water
They’re here hobnobbing with ants and
butterflies and converse at length with
the spider in her web
The drunk in Allah would never let on
they’re drunk in Allah unless they’re
drunk in Allah
They enter a hospital and come out
shaking like an invalid
enter an old people’s home and come out
the death of all of them
enter an orchestra and come out the
whistle on a garbage barge heading into
The drunk in Allah have
one thing in mind put there
Having given up themselves they’re
brought into sunlight like
washing set out to dry
They don’t do anything on their
they’ve given that up
If a bricklayer hired them the
wall would be done in a flash
or it might take a year
Drunk in Allah
(from In Constant Incandescence, Ecstatic Exchange, 2011)
For the purpose of poetry is illumination, a form of dhikr with transformative capabilities. It’s all remembrance of God, from grass blade outward. In poems it springs either from the humblest beginnings of simple human events or earthly objects and situations in which poetic imagination sees the galactic dimension, as it were, or from a self-contained inspiration that comes unbidden, enters the heart, lays waste to the kingdom of control, and takes over utterance into a new articulation. Illumination and ecstasy (I call my website: The Ecstatic Exchange, hoping that the reader on the other side is the gainful bargainer).
A poetry that seeks the Face of Allah. Nothing less. Or basks in His Merciful gaze, in ma’rifa. Rambles in the territory of those Paradisiacal recognitions, wanders in every valley of love of Allah and Allah’s Love returned, distracted not from Allah but from earthly life, distracted unto Allah, all vestiges of hypocrisy expunged, one-pointed now in God alone, the “poets” saying what they do not do because they no longer exist, they’re gone, gone beyond gone, gone to the other shore, gone, only Allah, First before firstness, Last beyond lastness, Single Doer of all, — annihilated. But still “saying”, still articulating… become vehicles for divine saying, from God’s ocean that never ceases. Saying what they do not do because they’re not there, saying what Allah does. Those poets, who: “have faith and do right actions and remember Allah repeatedly…” Do you not see how they ramble on in every style,
or as other translations have it:
…wander distracted in every valley
Or as our beloved Shaykh ibn al-Habib, raheemahu’llah, son of The Beloved, says in the Great Ode, concerning this uncanny wandering:
For if a person truly knew the worth of his heart,
he would give all he had without hesitation.
And if a person came to know the bliss within his soul, he would shed a tear of joy with every breath he took.
He would fly forth from the body that had turned into his cage on wings of meditation to the Lote-Tree of the Boundary.
And would range the expanses of the Footstool and Throne where the galaxies appear but a tiny ring.
He would see the planets’ orbits and the mystery of their houses, and the immensity of the speed at which they pass
And the veil of the Tablet would be lifted from the mystery it enfolds, and the knowledge it contains would pour forth uncovered
Such that were all the trees on earth pens to record it and the ocean their ink, they would run dry.
And he would visit angels from this world’s abode whose ranks are numberless, without limit.
And be granted entry into the Presence as a seeker, to cleanse the inmost soul of any obstacles that remained.
This station of the folk on the journey of their spirits is a place of silence and speechless wonder.
And beyond it is a teaching which may only be mentioned by one who —in a vision —is permitted to speak.
On earth there are signs for all who reflect and their marvels range to the loftiest teachings
That’s wandering in every valley, that’s rambling in style! A poetry that doesn’t just describe. A poetry that takes you there.
When I was composing this verbotic wandering, I came across something from American poet, Robert Duncan, who says in his Structure of Rime, XXVII, echoing where we began here:
“In the Hive of Continual Images the Bees, angelic swarm, build in the visible cells a language in which they dance.”
When the subject is love
a hundred transparent angels rush in all our
doors at once
each containing a billion transparent angels holding
blue lit candles
Wheels of sparks in space the size of mountains
teams of invisible horses as numerous as
stars come down from the hills
When the subject is love
all the cards in the gambling hall turn to Aces
Even the flames in a burning house
It’s madness and mayhem of the
loveliest kind in a
Sailors in a sinking ship
start swimming like eels to
dry land or a thriving Atlantis undersea
Spoons cutting into melons
come away with a cream more
delicious than nectar from
Each of our words comes equipped
with an orchestra of light
Every bridge we cross is flung over
The whirring of wings we hear
is not just hummingbirds
lighter than thoughts departing from
worry into perpetual sunrise
When the subject is love
saints are on hand with raised glasses
and starlight gleams from their wine
glistening the edges of a circular globe
Texts appear in the air at eye level
each sentence more spectacular than the
last with white stags and does leaping between all the
nouns and verbs with that
look in their eyes old romances describe become now utterly indescribable
As each wingéd doorway opens around us in space
we find ourselves flowing through
like water seeking its level
in a turquoise sea
and we witness horizons more
inside us than before us
the cosmos pouring through us with all its
sizzling crickets more than
noisily around us now with distance and
mystery unfurled into
honey on the tongue
night made spherical with
8/22/13 (from The Soul’s Home)
(All poems are mine except where noted. This paper was written for DeenPort, where it first appeared, and a revised version prepared and read for The Muslim Faculty of Advanced Studies, in Norwich, England, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013)
AFTER BABEL, Aspects of Language and Translation, George Steiner, Oxford University Press, 1981
DAVID PAQUIOT, with permission of the author
D.H. LAWRENCE, Selected Poems, The Viking Press, 1959
GROUND WORK, Before the War, Robert Duncan, New Directions, 1984
HART CRANE, Complete Poems & Selected Letters, The Library of America, 2006 IBN ARABI, Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, Interpreted by Shayhkh Topsuj Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, Fons Vitae, 1997 IN CONSTANT INCANDESCENCE, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, The Ecstatic Exchange, 2011 MUHAMMAD, A BIOGRAPHY OF THE PROPHET, Karen Armstrong, Harper San Francisco, 1992 SNOW FALLING FROM A BAMBOO LEAF: The Art of Haiku, Hiag Akmakjian, Capra Press, 1979 SUKINA PILGRIM, with permission of the author
THE COLLECTED POEMS OF W. B. YEATS, Collier Books, 1989
THE DIWAN OF SHAYKH IBN AL-HABIB, Madinah Press, 2001
THE DIWAN Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, translation based on Aisha Bewley, with revisions by Michael Abdurrahmen Fitzgerald, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore
THE DUINO ELEGIES, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by William Gass, in READING RILKE, William H. Gass, Knopf, 1999
THE LANGUAGES OF PARADISE, Aryans and Semites, A Match Made in Heaven, Maurice Olender, Other Press, New York, 2002 THE NOBLE QUR’AN, Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley, Bookwork, 1999 THE QUR’AN, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford University Press, 2010 THE SOUL’S HOME, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, manuscript in progress WHERE DEATH GOES, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, The Ecstatic Exchange, 2009