“Songs of a Dead Laughter, Songs of Love Once Hot…”

June 2012
Denver, Colorado

Ever since I first heard of her, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell has been a source of fascination to me. She was a lot of things—writer, traveller, political officer, an influential woman in a man’s domain and yet someone who vehemently opposed women’s suffrage—but she is perhaps best known for her contribution to British policy-making with regard to the Middle East, where she worked alongside the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and King Faisal of Iraq.

On the bus ride home today, I found myself engrossed in the pages of “The Letters of Gertrude Bell”. Thirty minutes of striking prose were enough to breathe life into a deadening week of work, work, work.

I learned that in 1897, Gertrude Bell published a translation of the Diwan (collection of poems) of the magnificent Persian poet Hafez. Here are stanzas from a few of the translations:

To Hafiz of Shiraz
Thus said the Poet: “When Death comes to you,
All ye whose life-sand through the hour-glass slips,
He lays two fingers on your ears, and two
Upon your eyes he lays, one on your lips,
Whispering: Silence.” Although deaf thine ear,
Thine eye, my Hafiz, suffer Time’s eclipse,
The songs thou sangest still all men may hear.
Songs of a dead laughter, songs of love once hot,
Songs of a cup once flushed rose-red with wine,
Songs of a rose whose beauty is forgot,
A nightingale that piped hushed lays divine:
And still a graver music runs beneath
The tender love notes of those songs of thine,
Oh, Seeker of the keys of Life and Death!
Divan of Hafiz
(From poem on the death of his son)
Light of mine eyes and harvest of my heart,
And mine at least in changeless memory!
Ah ! when he found it easy to depart,

He left the harder pilgrimage to me!

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