Is it the night of power

by Bibi Hayati

English version by Aliki Barnstone
Original Language Persian/Farsi

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In the songbook of beauty
Is it a deathless first line
Or only a fragment
copied from your inky eyebrow?

Is it boxwood of the orchard
Or cypress of the rose garden?
The tuba tree of paradise, abundant with dates,
Or your standing beautifully straight?

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

Is it scorching lightning
Or light from fire on Sana'i Mountain?
My hot sigh
Or your inner radiance?

Is it Mongolian musk
Or pure ambergris?
Is it your hyacinth curls
Or your braids?

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?
Your drunken narcissus eye
Or your spell?

Is it the Garden of Eden
Or heaven on earth?
A mosque of the masters of the heart
Or a back alley?

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati's soul
Turns to your face.

-- from The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Aliki Barnstone

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/ Image by Jane Rahman /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

There are several important themes and images in this poem, but for now let's bask in the poem's rich aromas. Take a slow, deep breath...

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?


In addition to a nectar-like sweetness, many mystics experience a scent that can be rapturously overwhelming or tantalizingly subtle. The aroma is the intoxicating scent of what I sometimes call the Celestial Drink, variously called wine, amrita, rasa, dew, honey. But this blissful scent can also be understood as the perfume worn by the Beloved that awakens sacred ardor upon the spiritual journey.

And, of course, perfume is scented oil, oil being the substance used to anoint and initiate.

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?


To suggest the almost erotic sense of divine union, sometimes the earthier scent of musk is described. Musk is the aphrodisiac oil of the musk deer. Deer, being creatures of profound silence and shyness, are themselves symbols of the elusive Beloved.

In Bibi Hayati's poem here, she carries the language of sacred aroma over to the scent of flowers, as well. Blossoms and flowers are natural symbols for enlightenment, the unfolding of awareness and the opening of the heart. Let us not forget, though, that flowers have a direct connection to the Celestial Drink, for their sweet perfume emanates from the sweet nectar they hold.

And, of course, the flower precedes the fruit, whose juice ultimately yields wine...

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?


Let's take a moment to contemplate this image more deeply. Let this form a visual image in your mind: a glass of wine held up to the rising sun at dawn. The rim of the glass catches the light of the early sun, lighting up in a ring of white, with the sun reflecting itself as a single starburst of light along the edge -- it is an evocation of the Muslim symbol of the star and crescent. The rim of a glass catching the light -- that is the crescent -- and within it is held the star or sun.

One way to understand this symbol is that the circle represents the world, or perhaps the individual soul. But, to be spiritually awakened, that circle must be broken open. That edge, which is the wall of separation, is broken open by the star -- the light of God, enlightenment. The crescent and the star of Islam for Muslim mystics is a succinct expression of the proper relationship between the human or the worldly with the divine reality.

The closing lines get to the heart of everything:

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati's soul
Turns to your face.


Every sacred ritual is always an outer enactment of what we must realize within. What good does it do when we face a mosque or altar or the rising sun, but our souls are turned away from the all-enchanting beauty of the Beloved?



Recommended Books: Bibi Hayati

The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry
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Amazon or AbeBooks
The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures
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Amazon or AbeBooks








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