(Inspired by Sindhi and Urdu poems we read in week 4.)
When the stars fall from the sky like dead fireflies
And rot where they lie
Into burnt-out husks and shells
Still, you will shine, hidden behind a deeper night,
The last star, left wandering,
A mariner on black seas of infinity—you,
Pilgrim, pilot, perfected man.
A fixed star—
Polaris of the Prophets,
Axis Mundi—yet a wanderer,
Ceaselessly a wanderer through time,
Journeying from age to age,
Still, calm, and collected within yourself,
Yet elusive—sailing from one heaven to the next
Across oceans of space and stars and years.
When you arrive—as you perpetually arrive—
At the court of God
Ask Him to break my heart, my, mind, my ego in two
Just as you broke the moon into two washed-out shells.
Ask Him to resolve all to the eternal negation
That preceded Time.
Melt my heart in His burning crucible, O Prophet—
Already, it rests red and bloody in your hands!
Bring me back to the start, to the day of Alastu,
Or to the day before that,
When only you and He lived together in secrecy,
Like milk in a coconut.
Only then, Prophetic Soul, will I find my True Face
Reflected in the dark waters, hovering above,
Where the dove-like spirit broods.
The idea of the “Light of Muhammad” (1) lies at the center of the poem. Other stars—which one could see as being the flashing distractions of worldly existence—apocalyptically fall from the sky and rot like dead bugs, but the prophet remains a steady light, always providing guidance. The traditional notion that the Qutb—the central man, spiritual pole, of the age—is somewhat like the Northern Star, a stable axis that never changes and which can always guide the believer, is crucial here. (2) But I intentionally created a disjunction by juxtaposing the Polaris-like nature of the Prophet with an image of the Prophet as journeyer, pilgrim, or pilot. I intended to relate this to the Miraj, to the idea of the Prophet as a mariner completing the ultimate voyage—by himself, during the Night Journey, and by guiding the souls of the faithful along with him. The poem appropriates both stillness and movement as tropes for the Prophet’s state of being. The reference to the prophet as a pilot is, in fact, an Urdu image. (3)
The last two verses hail the Prophet as an intercessor, pleading for the soul at the court of God. (4) The speaker pleads with the prophet to destroy his false, lower self—the nafs (5)—through an act of creative destruction, just as the Prophet famously cut the moon in two. (I remembered reading that same story referenced in one of the Urdu poems, so I thought that I would use it here.) (6) The speaker wishes for this false self to be annihilated into the state the Sufis call fana or annihilation, (7) with the Prophet’s aid as an intercessor and spiritual preceptor. The final verse sees the speaker, through the agency of the Prophet, returning back to the primal unity that existed before the multifarious world of created things came into existence, even before the day of Alastu, when the souls of the yet to be born made their pledge to remember God. (8) Finding one’s true face in the waters is both a reference to the beginning of the Bible, when the Spirit of God broods over the face of the ocean of non-being, and an image of the culmination of the Sufi’s quest, or baqa—the rebirth of the aspiring soul as a new, purified self. (9) One remembers the True God hidden in the self, Who had been neglected in the course of the earthly sojourn.
1. Ali Asani, “In Praise of Muhammad: Sindhi and Urdu Poems,” Religions of India in Practice, ed. Donald S. Lopez Jr. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995) 175.
2. Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975) 200.
3. Asani, 174
4. Ibid, 175.
5. Schimmel, 112-114.
6. Asani, 184.
7. Schimmel, 44 and Asani, 185.
8. Schimmel, 24.
9. Ibid, 44