“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
XIV
(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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