Easter 2020, Orthodox : መልካም ፋሲካ
W.S. Merwin, American, 1927-2019
(from The Shadow of Sirius: Copper Canyon Press)
From the beginning it belonged to distance
as the blue color of the mountain does
and though it existed on a map somewhere
and might be discovered by chance
and even be recognized perhaps
at an odd moment
it survived beyond
what could be known at the time
in its archaic
that brings the bees to the rosemary;
many years after it had been found
its true name remained
on the other side of knowledge
Second floor private, enclosed loggia for the wife of Ahmed Shah, Jummah Masjid, Ahmedabad, Gujerat
yet it was still there
like a season that changed
but appears in the light
in the unspoken morning.
These photos, taken in 2010, of the Jumma Masjid, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.
Around 3 sides is a covered, columned passageway with a roof punctuated by domes. The mosque’s masonry had a number of carved marble lattice screens destroyed in the 2001 earthquake.
The fourth side of the rectangle has an area the size of a football field which is covered and pillared and contains a completely enclosed second floor to allow Ahmed Shah’s wife to attend service without being seen.
The mosque was built in 1424 in yellow sandstone by the founder of the city, Ahmed Shah, 1411-1442. It is today in the west of the city.
The mosque is a vast rectangle floored in white marble.
A place of flashing sunlight and absolute quiet in a city as noisy and lively as any Indian city.
The poet is speaking of the Dionysian life force
where there are not bees and ipheon, sassafras and the great crested grebe in separate expression.
The experience of the indivisibility, and eternity of life, of the life force.
An eternity which it is the function of time to allow all living organisms to experience.
As to the Islamic images in this post,
the first I heard anyone speak of this was the Sufi master, Idries Shah (1924-1996) and his friend, the British poet, Robert Graves (1895-1985). Sufism – which Shah believed predated Islam – is the acknowledged heart of Islam.
The insight into our insertion in an unending life force is experienced – the experience is believed widespread despite the scant discussion in the ‘West’ –
as a momentary slip into a reality from which our ego-centered consciousness cuts us off.
A momentary experience whose half light lingers one’s whole life.
As a reminder that we are an expression in time of a life force not bounded by time.
William S. Merwin, who died in January 2019 at 92,
created a preserve for palms in Hawaii, some now extinct elsewhere. He lived there many years on the lip of a volcano on a plot of land exhausted by pineapple cultivation.
He was a man familiar with this heartland:
an ineffable truth to which even the tongue of so skilled a poet can not reach but only approach because it lies just over the border of our rational minds:
our participation in our everyday lives in an eternal life.
Header photo is of the Tree of Life jali (latticework) in the Sidi Sayedd Mosque, Ahmedabad.
Built in 1572-73, the last year of the Gujerat Sultanate by a man who was in the retinue of a general of the last sultan. This is one of 10 jalis in the mosque. The mosque is still in use.