These perfumes

by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson
Original Language Persian/Farsi

These perfumes:
     musk, clove...
all from the hyacinthine shadows
     of those tresses.
You think you hear
     a nightingale's song...
No. It is the voice
     of the Rose.

-- from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein

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/ Photo by kalandrakas /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This brief poem has that delightfully ambiguous Sufi tendency -- also used by European Troubadours -- of using erotic language when describing the heart's yearning for the Eternal.

Iraqi starts with several sensuous evocations of perfume: musk, clove, hyacinth. Can you smell them?

Many mystics experience a scent that can be rapturously overwhelming or tantalizingly subtle. This blissful scent can also be understood as the perfume worn by the Beloved ("of those tresses") that awakens sacred ardor upon the spiritual journey.

And, of course, perfume is scented oil, oil being the substance used to anoint and initiate.

To suggest the almost erotic sense of divine union, sometimes the earthier scent of musk is described. Musk is the aphrodisiac oil of the musk deer. Deer, being creatures of profound silence and shyness, are themselves symbols of the elusive Beloved.

The scent of flowers is often evoked, as well. Blossoms and flowers are natural symbols of enlightenment, the unfolding of awareness and the opening of the heart.

And, of course, the flower precedes the fruit, whose juice ultimately yields wine...

Iraqi then shifts from perfume to song. He speaks of the nightingale and the rose.

The nightingale is said to sing such an enchanting, mournful song because it is hopelessly in love with the rose. The rose is the Beloved, the Heart of hearts, and the nightingale is the lover, the seeker, the Sufi. So the nightingale's song is the crying out of creation for the Beloved.

But here Iraqi turns the imagery around and asserts that what is heard is not the nightingale, but the "voice of the Rose." He seems to be saying that the very act of calling to God is, in truth, God calling to you. Said in an even more all-encompassing way, all of creation is a part of God, and its every song, when heard with an open ear, is really the song of God to God. Every song is the voice of the Rose. Your own song is the Rose's song within you.



Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) Love's Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition





These perfumes