Two Women Poets from the Persian
Two Women Poets from the Persian
My heart, circle the heart, which is the hidden ka’abeh—
That ka’abeh was made by Abraham, this one by God.
I flee from knowing others so much that
Even before a mirror my eyes stay shut.
Love came, and gave my harvest’s wealth away for straw,
It gave my happiness away for half a sigh—
My crazy heart has bartered for a glance my soul,
My soul, which not a hundred worlds could hope to buy.
The governor of Lahore, ‘Aqel Khan, was said to be so smitten with Makhfi that he sent her this poem:
I’ll be your nightingale if I should see you in the garden
With others there I’ll be your fluttering moth, if I should see you;
Showing yourself to be the shining light of an assembly—
Well, that’s no good to me; it’s in your shift I want to see you.
Makhfi sent back this answer:
The nightingale forsakes the rose to see me in the garden,
The pious Brahmin will forsake his idols when he sees me—
I’m hidden in my words, like scent within a rose’s petal,
Whoever wants to see me, it’s in my words he’ll see me.
Another exchange between ‘Aqel Khan and Makhfi: (again, ‘Aqel Khan is pushing his luck by being a bit risqué, and again Makhfi is fending him off, this time with an implied insult).
What feeds on nothing and will rise,
And, standing, vomits, and then dies?
This something’s what you came from, sir . . .
Your mother’s sure to know—ask her.
O waterfall, why do you groan incessantly?
Who’s made your forehead frown like this in agony?
What dreadful pain is it that makes you constantly
Batter your head against a stone, and weep like me?
No shoot of joyful green grew from my being’s soil,
My thirst was never quenched by happiness’s wine—
The precious springtime of my life was spent in searching,
For all my efforts though, no wedding dress was mine.
A young girl married to a man who’s old
Will find—till she’s old—happiness denied her;
Better an arrow pierce her side, they say,
Than have a husband who is old beside her.
We sleep together, and you never satisfy me;
I talk to you at night—your silences defy me;
I’m thirsty, and you claim that you’re the Fount of Life—
For God’s sake where’s the water then that you deny me?
An answer to an old man who proposed himself as her lover
Good God, what do you think my flesh is? What?
It’s handsome men I fancy, young and hot!
If I liked weak old men why would I whine
About the one that I’ve already got?
I said, “I’m someone whom your eyes forget,”
He said, “But you like others whom you’ve met.”
I said, “I know you, you’ve no kindness in you,”
His answer was, “No, you don’t know me yet.”
He asked if he might kiss my lips, although
Not which lips—those above, or those below?
Don’t be deceived by sweet talk’s pretty gifts—
Caressing words are what a wet nurse gives
The baby when she has no milk to give.
No night is shorter than a night
that’s spent with you,
Since as you draw aside your veil
the sun shines through.
If I had known to draw my skirts back
from an old man’s grasp,
Sorrow would not have grabbed youth’s collar
and undone its clasp.
With welling tears my eyes are always dim—
It is my heart that fills them to the brim;
What can I do . . . my friend is leaving me,
And all that’s good or bad is following him.
Old men are cautious with themselves,
the young are more, “Who cares?”
It’s older buildings that require
Put up your tousled hair that hides
your features from my sight—
Give me my first glimpse of the dawn
in place of this dark night.
I’ve found a drop of wine will soon resolve
Hard problems wise old men have sought to solve
I wished to tell a candle my heart’s yearning
All that was in my heart was in its burning
At dawn I wept; the tulip red as blood
Told of a heart on fire, and roots in mud
The tales that nightingales and angels tell
Are but the magic of your glance’s spell
I said I’d ask the learnèd and the wise
Why wine’s so loved . . . and got absurd replies
A realm gazed wondering on your face, Mehri;
Alas, alas, for that realm’s brevity!
 Makhfi 1638–1701: her real name was Zib al-Nissa, daughter of the Moghul emperor Aurangzib. Her pen name, Makhfi, means “hidden,” and she quite often puns on this. Her pen name may have been chosen because her austerely pious father disapproved of poetry and music, and she was forced to write in secret. At one time she was engaged to the son of Prince Dara Shukoh, but the marriage never took place, probably because of the opposition of Aurangzib, who hated Dara Shukoh (his older brother, and the legitimate heir to the Moghul throne, whom Aurangzib had defeated in a civil war). For twenty years she was kept under house arrest, on the orders of her father, in the Salimgarh fort in Delhi. She never married, although stories circulated about various clandestine affairs, including with ‘Aqel Khan.
 Mehri (also known as Mehr-al-Nissa, and Mehri-e Heravi), was a member of the court of the Timurid empress Gowhar Shad (late fourteenth/early fifteenth centuries), who ruled in Herat. Mehri was married to a much older man, who was a court doctor, and many of her poems complain about how unsatisfactory this is. Some of her poems seem to hint at love affairs, but this may be no more than convention.