Where else but back to the sea
the place where you had swum so deep, so often before?
Where else but into its depths, its mysterious, wonderful depths
where the water is the black of ink and only the heart can see?
Where else but back, back to the light waiting for you there, waiting at the end?
There, yes there, into that ocean, that is where the swimmer, that leviathan,
that siren-upon-the-rocks of ‘Akká went.
Did you stand upon that rocky shore and count your forty waves?
Did you pause and bow to that tea-room, before this last ablution?
Did you manage to mend your heart as the waters drew you down?
As you sought the depths, what did you find?
Was it despair, or something sweeter?
This will be a long post, and for that I apologize. But to understand this poem, you need to understand its context, and if you are not a Bahá’í, it will take a bit of explanation.
The poem is about Nabil-i-Zarandi, a Persian who is described in God Passes By—a history of the first century of the Bahá’í Faith—as “Bahá’u’lláh’s ‘Poet-Laureate, His chronicler and His indefatigable disciple.’ ” (Bahá’u’lláh is the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith.) Alas, when Bahá’u’lláh passed away in 1892, Nabil, stricken with despair and inconsolable over the loss of his Beloved, drowned himself in the ocean near ‘Akká, the prison city in what was then the Ottoman Empire and which is now located in northern Israel.
The Bahá’í Faith holds that, “The source of all good is trust in God and contentment with His holy will and pleasure.” Suicide is forbidden as it is the irreversible act of rebellion and a rejection of God’s Will. And yet, who cannot empathize with the act of despair and longing represented in Nabil’s act?
Nabil was a very deepened Bahá’í who had, like few others, immersed himself in the Ocean of His Beloved’s Words and was one of Bahá’u’lláh’s most ardent, trustworthy and devoted followers. With Bahá’u’lláh’s passing, the Sun of Nabil’s life, the very center of his existence was gone.
We cannot judge the actions of anyone hen taken under the duress of total despair. We can only beg God, on their behalf, to have mercy on them and to forgive them for their deeds.
Some miscellaneous points:
• leviathan – in ancient times a giant creature of the sea; now generally taken to mean whale.
• siren – a mythical creature of the sea that calls out to sailors with a beautiful voice, summoning them.
• ‘Akká – the penal colony in what is now northern Israel where Bahá’u’lláh was exiled for the last 24 years of His life. It is across the bay from the city of Haifa, Israel, about 20 miles south of Jordan.
• count your forty waves – it is a tradition in Islam that anyone that stands on the shore of ‘Akká and counts forty waves will have all their sins, past, present and future forgiven. It is one of many ‘Akká related traditions quoted by Bahá’u’lláh to point out that ‘Akká, known throughout the Islamic world as a pestilential and filthy city to be avoided at all costs, was blessed in antiquity, in prophecy of His arrival there.
• ablution – the ritual act of cleansing before saying obligatory prayers..
Thank you for reading Were else? 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.
© 2012 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: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.