The glory of God is expressed in the lover’s sigh,
For he is one who longs for death but cannot die.
Miracles are amusements he has left far behind,
Yet his every breath is a healing—for God is kind.
Our faces, even the fairest, are battle-begrimed;
His face, though in the dust, is nightingale-veined and rhymed.
You may abuse God if you wish, and not be admonished,
But if you insult his saint you will surely be punished.
False saints are dung with which God nourishes the true;
The charlatans are legion, the genuine are few.
The false fill your ears with many words and your hearts with vain hope.
The only way to strangle these devils is with a loose rope.
The true saint seeks no following, he longs only to die;
The nightingale of his soul sings its whole song in one sigh.
The sigh breathed out in total longing, longing to expire, is sighed by the saint who genuinely wants to die in the Beloved. But the Preserver renews him at each breath.
Poetry of extravagance like this has seldom been written in the Western tradition.
‘Nightingale-veined’ is a daring bit of synaesthesia, his face shot through with a beauty akin to the beauty of the nightingale’s lament. In the sigh of the genuine saint lies all the beauty and sadness of longing. ‘Rhymed’ here stands for beauty of form.
A poem having to battle with a modern audience for whom the very notion of saints is foreign.
‘Loose rope’ conveys the proverb “Give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself”.