Keeping count

We marched along in serried lines,
my sister’s arm locked with mine,
mine locked with my brother’s.
We did not hesitate or consider the end,
did not question, did not stumble,
did not halt until the doing was done. Instead, we sung.
And while they broke so many of us
that only God could keep count
they could not break us apart,
although they did not want for the trying.
I do not now recall the edge of the knife,
the brunt of the blow or the sear of the hot glowing iron.
Now I recall only how proudly they stood,
how joyfully they fell, how beautiful they lay in repose.

Hear me: there is always a debt to be paid
for night to call night and weeping to beg hurry the dawn.
How many tears must in the end fall?
No one knows.
Of this too, only God can keep count.

This poem is based on a verse from the Qur’án, 61:4, Surat Aş-Şaf  (The Ranks):

Verily God loveth those who, as though they were a solid wall, do battle for His Cause in serried lines!

When asked about this verse,`Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith (`Abdu’l-Bahá was also the Head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1892 until His passing in 1921) said:

O ye beloved of the Lord! This day is the day of union, the day of the ingathering of all mankind. Note that He saith ‘in serried lines’—meaning crowded and pressed together, one locked to the next, each supporting his fellows. To do battle, as stated in the sacred verse, doth not, in this greatest of all dispensations, mean to go forth with sword and spear, with lance and piercing arrow—but rather weaponed with pure intent, with righteous motives, with counsels helpful and effective, with godly attributes, with deeds pleasing to the Almighty, with the qualities of heaven. It signifieth education for all mankind, guidance for all men, the spreading far and wide of the sweet savors of the spirit, the promulgation of God’s proofs, the setting forth of arguments conclusive and divine, the doing of charitable deeds.

Bolding by me. The poem refers to the Dawnbreakers, those early blessed souls who shed their blood, rather than recant their faith, at the first light of the dawn of a new Messenger from God.

I should note that although the Bahá’í Faith is an independent religion with its own Writings, many Bahá’ís, and especially those of the early years, were originally Muslim, and questions on the meaning of the Qur’án were often asked. Bahá’ís believe that the  Qur’án, like the Bible, is the revealed Word of God and expresses the eternal spiritual truths of God. However, the  Qur’án, like the Bible, can often be misconstrued by the ignorant and perverse to support the most terrible of acts. That is why I so love `Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanation of this verse. At first glance the verse seems to support war, yet, when He interprets it spiritually, its meaning is light upon light.

Thank you for reading Keeping count. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge,


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4 responses to “Keeping count

  1. Woow…. this is amazing, beautiful verses.


  2. This is absolutely fantastic.

    • Let me assure you that that compliment has gone to the top of my, “to be quoted at any and all occasions” list! Thank you, you are, as ever, generous with your praise.