A poem for Ashura, Agha Shahid Ali

29 Sep

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Karbala: A History of the “House of Sorrow”

In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of Husayn will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.
—Edward Gibbon

Jesus and his disciples, passing through the plain of Karbala, saw “a herd of gazelles, crowding together and weeping.” Astonished, the disciples looked at their Lord. He spoke: “At this site the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) will one day be killed.” And Jesus wept. Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain … And Jesus wept. And as if the news has just reached them—fourteen hundred years after the Battle of Karbala (near ancient Babylon, not far from the Euphrates) in the year A.H. 61/A.D. 680—mourners weep for “the prince among martyrs,” Hussain, grandson of the Prophet and son of Ali (“Father of Clay”) and Fatima (the Prophet’s only surviving child). Memorializing Hussain on the tenth of Muharram (Ashura) is the rite of Shi’a Islam—so central that at funerals those events are woven into elegies, every death framed by that “Calvary.” For just “as Jesus went to Jerusalem to die on the cross,” Hussain “went to Karbala to accept the passion that had been meant for him from the beginning of time.”

 

Zainab’s Lament in Damascus

Over Hussain’s mansion what night has fallen?

Look at me, O people of Shaam, the Prophet’s only daughter’s daughter, his only child’s child.

Over my brother’s bleeding mansion dawn rose—at such forever cost?

So weep now, you who of passion never made a holocaust, for I saw his children slain in the desert, crying for water.

Hear me. Remember Hussain, what he gave in Karbala, he the severed heart, the very heart of Muhammad, left there bleeding, unburied.

Deaf Damascus, here in your Caliph’s dungeons where they mock the blood of your Prophet, I’m an orphan, Hussain’s sister, a tyrant’s prisoner.

Father of Clay, he cried, forgive me. Syria triumphs, orphans all your children. Farewell.

And then he wore his shroud of words and left us alone forever.

Paradise, hear me— On my brother’s body what night has fallen?

Let the rooms of Heaven be deafened, Angels, with my unheard cry in the Caliph’s palace:

Syria hear me

    Over Hussain’s mansion what night has fallen

    I alone am left to tell my brother’s story

    On my brother’s body what dawn has risen

      Weep for my brother World, weep for Hussain

 

WOMAN MOURNS ON COFFIN OF VICTIM KILLED DURING PROTEST IN CAIRO

(click)

Reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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