I sought her from myself (from The Poem of the Sufi Way)

by Umar Ibn al-Farid

English version by Th. Emil Homerin
Original Language Arabic

I sought her from myself,
     she was there all along;
          how strange that I
               had concealed her from me.

I kept going back and forth
     with her, within myself --
          my senses drunk,
               her beauties, my wine --

Setting out
     from certain knowledge
          to its source and truth,
               reality my quest,

Calling to myself from me
     to guide me by my voice
          to that part of me
               lost in my search.

Me begging me
     to raise the screen
          by lifting up the veil,
               for I was my only means to me.

I was gazing
     into the mirror of my beauty
          to see the perfection of my being
               in my contemplation of my face,

And mouthing my name, I listened
     and leaned toward me,
          looking to one who could make me hear
               mention of me in my voice,

Placing my hands
     upon my heart,
          hoping to hold me
               there in my embrace,

Rising toward my breaths
     pleading they would pass by me
          that I might find
               me there.

Until a flash appeared
     from me to my eye;
          the break of my dawn shone clear,
               my dark sky disappeared.

There, where reason recoils,
     I arrived,
          and my bond and union
               reached to me from myself.

Then I glowed in joy,
     as I attained to me
          with a certainty that spared me
               from my journey's hard ride.

I led myself to me
     after I called me back;
          my soul my means,
               my guide to me.

When I pulled away
     the curtains of sensuous disguise
          brought down
               by the mysteries of wisdom,

I raised the screen from my soul
     by lifting up the veil,
          and so it answered
               my question.

I had rubbed the rust of my attributes
     from the mirror of my being,
          and it was encircled
               with my beaming rays,

And I summoned me to witness me
     since no other existed
          in my witness
               to rival me.

My mentioning my name
     made me hear it in my recollection
          as my soul, negating sense,
               said my name and listened.

I hugged myself --
     but not by wrapping arms around my ribs --
          that I might embrace
               my identity.

I inhaled my spirit,
     while the air of my breath
          perfumed scattered ambergris
               with fragrance,

All of me free
     from the dual quality of sensation,
          my freedom within,
               I, one with my essence.

-- from Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life, Translated by Th. Emil Homerin

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I sought her from myself,
     she was there all along;
          how strange that I
               had concealed her from me.


These lines say so much. Spiritual seekers tend to look everywhere for the Divine -- by visiting holy places and teachers, through spiritual practices and austerities, through service -- but at a certain point we are surprised to discover that "she was there all along." The Divine, the living sacred source, is discovered to be present within us, within this very moment -- and most surprising of all, we recognize that It has always been there, that we have never been separate or apart from It. In truth, God is found to be the very Self of our self; we could never possibly be apart from That. Yet, how could we have missed this overwhelming truth of our own being? How could we have thought we were separate from God? "How strange that I / had concealed her from me."

There is so much depth and splendor in this selection from The Poem of the Sufi Way. The only other thing I'll point out is the general theme Ibn al-Farid here plays with: the psychic dilemma of how the dualistic state of the lover melts into the nondual unity of the Beloved. It is a dilemma because the normal consciousness can't conceive of it even when it is directly experienced. What can one say about "self" and "God" when the veil has been lifted and the two pour into each other as one?

To try to put this into the conceptualized world of words becomes farcical, and Ibn al-Farid plays masterfully with this:

Calling to myself from me
     to guide me by my voice
          to that part of me
               lost in my search.

Me begging me
     to raise the screen
          by lifting up the veil,
               for I was my only means to me.

I was gazing
     into the mirror of my beauty
          to see the perfection of my being
               in my contemplation of my face,

And mouthing my name, I listened
     and leaned toward me,
          looking to one who could make me hear
               mention of me in my voice,

Placing my hands
     upon my heart,
          hoping to hold me
               there in my embrace,

Rising toward my breaths
     pleading they would pass by me
          that I might find
               me there.


And what a perfect summation, the final line of this selection:

I, one with my essence.



Recommended Books: Umar Ibn al-Farid

Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint: Ibn Al-Farid, His Verse, and His Shrine The Wine of Love and Life: Ibn Al-Farid's Al-Khamriyah and Al-Qaysari's Quest for Meaning





I sought her from