Tag Archives: martyrs

The Letters of the Living

Burst

There, then, on that Purest Spot,
with the night pregnant with the day,
Shiva the Destroyer lifted up
and threw down on the knee of His love
the entire world and the heavens thereof,
breaking them then, all that lay therein
so that they fell, cast deep into darkness and doubt.

There were but Twenty still living:
the First, the eighteen and the Second,
Witness unto Himself. What Word
on that day did those eighteen say
so that the reunion could finally begin?
“Yea!” they cried, voices flung in abandon,
high unto the heavens.
“Yea!” they cried, necks bared to the blade,
arms lifted taut with joy.
“Yea!” they cried and thus they died
leaving only their echoes to recall them.
But here in my place, God help me,
I think I hear them still.

up

This is a poem that is steeped in the history of the Bahá’í Faith and the allusions will be unclear to non-Bahá’ís, so let me explain very briefly:

Much like John the Baptist came first to prepare the world for Jesus Christ, the Báb (“the First” in the poem) came to prepare the world for Bahá’u’lláh (“the Second” in the poem), the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. The first eighteen brave souls—martyrs all, as was the Báb Himself—who declared Their belief in Him are referred to as the Letters of the Living.

This concept of “living”  i.e. spiritual rejuvenation through belief in a new Manifestation of God, is developed also in the first stanza, where Shiva—a Hindu deity—fulfills one of the roles of God and “destroys” the world (everyone is metaphorically dead upon His arrival) and then transforms it, through giving “life”, i.e. spiritual rejuvenation through faith in Him.

Thank you for reading The Letters of the Living. 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.

The photograph is entitled Burst and was taken in Washington, DC on Memorial Day, several years ago. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Poetry

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, 1, 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 violence and 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.

john

© 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, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry