September 05, 2008

Poetry Friday: Rejoicing In the Beauty of Your Pen

There are few writing forms as beautiful as pictographs. I have fiddled with Chinese brush writing and calligraphy, and loved studying cuneiform in World History sophomore year. (Had fun composing incomprehensible messages ...!)

Persian figural calligraphy loops and flutters like the most beautiful artwork, a sort of flowing dance in ink that reminds me of watching flickering flame. Each figure that makes up this horse is a word in the poem found below by the 14th century metaphysical poet Hafez of Shiraz. You can imagine the little spark of pleasure I felt when I saw this gorgeous shape poem in **my library the other day.

The horse was written into life by Iranian-born painter and print maker Jila Peacock. Jila made a pearlescent color silkscreen on Japanese paper of each of the poems in animal form, to create a book called Ten Poems from Hafez. She recreated this painstaking process and bound fifty volumes. The books are large and gorgeous, and the design won the British Book Design Award in 2006.

The rose opens crimson
And the nightingale is drunk with love
Happy news, you reveling Sufis,
For the rock of your resolve is
Shattered by the crystal chalice.

Bring only wine to the throne of Heaven,
For when the time of parting comes
From this tavern of two doors,
Sentry and sultan, wise man and fool,
Lofty or low and without worldly gain,
All must pass through.

Our time of joy comes tied to care,
As bliss was bound to loss at time's dawn.
Even Assef's pomp and splendor,
His horse of the winds,
And the language of birds
Are lost with the wind, a traceless void.

Each shining arrow soars a while
But must return to dust.
So do not waver from the path
Or wrestle with being and nothingness
Love life now,
for oblivion completes all things.

O Hafez, rejoicing in the beauty of your pen,
See how we pass your words from heart to heart!

-- Hafez of Shiraz

Sufism is the inner or mystical dimension of the Islamic faith, and the poet, Hafez of Shiraz, was a 14th century practitioner. I'm probably too much a literal thinker to be a good practitioner of mysticism. I have no idea who the historical Assef might be, nor do I know the significance of a crystal chalice to a Sufi. But there is still so much to take from this poem. The use of the animal shape conveys a poetic ideal of motion and life. Living in the now and rejoicing in the beauty of the present is a single facet of the work; another viewpoint is the transience of the natural world, the "here today, gone tomorrow" nature of every living thing. Somehow, the Sufis -- and the horse -- are happy anyway.

Please take a few minutes to look at all ten of Jila Peacock's animal shape poems, and learn a little more about the process and the artist.

Passing our words from heart to heart this week is Elaine Magliaro who graciously hosts Poetry Friday at Wild Rose Reader.

**Ah, yes, "my" library, with the coffee shop and the art gallery on the top floor and the little theater, and the glass domes and mandolin wielding statuary up top -- sigh! In spite of the fact that the librarians think I'm insane, the Mitchell rejoices in lovely architecture and good funding. Though some days I just scurry in and scurry out, it's a cool place.)


jama said...

I am swooning over this entire post! Years ago, I attended a Persian calligraphy exhibit at the Freer Gallery in D.C. with my sister-in-law, who is a calligrapher. This handmade book is too amazing! Thanks for the treat :).

Sara said...

My daughter ditched Spanish for Arabic this semester. I can't wait to show her this! The craft and care are astounding.

Kelly said...

Goodness, that horse is GORGEOUS!

And, speaking of other cultures and languages, my PF post this week is just for you :)

(Well, and me...)

Anonymous said...

That horse is, indeed, gorgeous. The writing itself is beautiful. :)

Sarah Stevenson said...

It's astonishing and gorgeous!!

I have this sad little attempt at something similar that I did when I was in high school--a roughly bird-shaped calligraphy rendition of Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Not nearly this beautiful, you can be assured!

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of beauty I feel no desire to dissect. I love that... The beautiful word-steed, and poem's effect of curling up to me like wisps of smoke, make for a lovely experience.

Charlotte said...

Lovely--thanks for sharing!

Mary Lee said...

Okay. I had to read this whole post several times because I was expecting the poem to be ABOUT a horse. WOW. To choose the image of a horse as the vessel to hold that poem...WOW.

My earlier narrow thinking was likely caused by the fact that I have a print of CATALOGUE by Rosalie Moore written in calligraphy in the shape of a cat!