Roses for Rabia


Roses for Rabia
by Azadeh Azad

her last love poem she lettered
in her blood, her own pool of warm
blood dripping dipping in it
her fingers made of moonlight

as she lay dying on the tainted
tiles of a public bath
bent against the wall

bright Rabia Balkhi
Persian poet painter Princess

sister of Haares Ghozdari
ruthless ruling prince of Balkh
whose Turkish slave Baktaash

she loved like a goddess

so completely with all her heart
for his singing voice that told her stories
for his music that was sweet to her ears
for his beauty that moved her
beyond words

wrote on the walls of the public bath
her doomed life of secret ties
with her man

my love for him brought
about my bondage again
all essays in secrecy
proved to be in vain

earlier that day, blew a bluster through
the blue skin of sky as Baktaash was thrown
into a prison-well for daring to love
a princess

and the silent sound of noontime broke
as Rabia was lured to this fateful place
on the orders of heartless Haares
abreast of the tale
of her venture

deeming her heart’s desire much to blame
offended by havoc made
of his honour

whose honour was outside of himself
on Rabia’s shoulders, in her mien
and manners and under
her skirts

who had put his scheme in motion

as she was shoved in
by his henchmen
who called her names
who stabbed her six times
who slashed her both wrists
and left her dying
locking the doors
from outside

cries of angels
clouting on the clouds
the air breaking in quick echoes
the thunder to crack harder, louder
the skies to light up and the rain
to pour down for her destiny

for daughter of Amu Darya

who followed her fervent heart
trespassing customs that traverse
and deny women’s selfhood

stalwart with secretive life
labouring of passion
giving birth, one last time
to her mystic poem

taking the painful
cuts in her neck
on her wrists

I knew not when I rode
the high-spirited stallion
the harder I pulled its reins
the stiller it would remain

this came some thousand years past
in Mother of Cities, Bactra / Balkh
centre of Bactria / Bâkhtar
in today’s northern Afghanistan
fenced in walls of mountains

where River Amu Darya
rushed recklessly past it

where no one said no to men
with clouded eyes as owners
of their women’s lots and lives

when no one resisted coward men
without honour whose honour was
endowed with by their sisters
mothers daughters wives

when Prince Haares roughly
ripped apart Rabia’s daring
dream of loving Baktaash

when she wept into verse
how she loved her precious one

love is like an expansive sea
with no shore in sight
who knows, oh wise woman
how to swim in it outright

her grave now a shrine
for the pleas of young lovers
beset by adversity, feeling for
her tragic tale and that of broken

who escaped his prison and hearing news
of Rabia’s death, rushed to Haares’s office
slew him with a sword, then took his own
life on her fresh tomb

distraught by death of a princess
forced to endure dazzling dread
dashing to her heart
as she wrote

if you ever aspire
to go to the end of love
welcome with it all things
vile you could think of

the first woman poet
in the history / herstory of Persian poetry
was a clear victim of honour-murder

which she had no chance to challenge

on the tail of some thousand years
the evil tempest of honour-murders
is keeping up the tempo to this day

as the battle goes on in olden lands
in faraway villages and in towns
of Iran and surrounding lands

while in big cities, it comes in
the pattern of ordered suicides
staged accidental deaths of hundreds
of women who carry the honour
of their honourless men

men too coward to show
honour by their own deeds
by their own honesty
goodness and self-respect

men too blind to see the distinct soul
of their women kin, too crude to look at them
as persons of their own with no need for owners

like Rabia who settled into her sorrow
as she ended her poem and died like a glass
that turns into a mirror
in the shades

when witnessing things hideous
fancy them lovely and neat
when given deadly poison
imagine it tasting sweet

let’s get together with Rabia at Amu Darya
where her feet have trodden and her wings
of words stretched out over
its stormy waters

let’s get together with Rabia at Amu Darya
and sing for a day when this evil storm
fades away, when bewildered waters
of the river flow gently
in lovely lull.


more from Azadeh Azad

A good poem you wrote. Well

by AC (not verified) on

A good poem you wrote. Well done.
There was an article about Rabia Balkhi in a British newspaper a while ago. It was very interesting so I've been trying to find out about her. I was a bit disappointed with most English versions of her poetry (they seem to have lost something in translation) but I like your translations -much more poetic and better to read.

Azadeh Azad


by Azadeh Azad on

Rabia Balkhi probably lived in the 10the century of our era - dates of her birth and death are unknown. The verses in italic are from her poem titled "Love." I've translated them from Persian.