Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The White Tiger

The following poem by Hafiz was generously transcribed at my request by Graeme Dunstan. On the morning of Chris Green’s farewell I phoned Graeme and told him I was hunting for a verse to read at Chris’s wake.

“What animal did he remind you of?” asked Graeme. “A white tiger?”

My reply: “Yes! How could you possibly have known that? You’ve never even met him.”

“Then I have a poem for you,” said Graeme, “but you will have to replace ‘wild deer’ with ‘white tiger’”. I rushed to meet Graeme five minutes later near my place, at Bellingen Cemetery where he had spent the night in his van – the Peace Bus – and I borrowed my friend’s book of Persian poems for the day.

I have taken the liberty of changing ‘wild deer’ with ‘white tiger’.

Khidr is the Persian green man – the Green Man. Simurgh is a Persian fabulous, benevolent, mythical flying creature.

White tiger, my friend
who has travelled with me for years,
how is it now with us
crossing this vast plain separately?

Where we are going has not changed,
but without each other's company
the journey grows more frightening.

I keep asking everywhere, "Who
can take the white tiger's place?
Khidr?" Is that Guide of guides
approaching! I hear footsteps.

But he separated us before, turning joy into grief.
maybe he will change it back! …

One day there was a rare spirit
sitting by the side of the road.

A traveller who was determined
to reach the great Simurgh bird
walked by.

"Have you been given some sign
that sends you this way? No-one has known,
till now, which way ahead.

The sun puts its bag of fire
in one of the scalepans,

What have you found to balance with that?"
The traveller had no answer.

Was it Khidr sitting beside the road asking?
Wait here till he comes again.
Sit by this spring and weep,
remembering those you've loved
that have died. Say your sadness
like summer rain. Merge into the river made of such tribute.

Hold tight to the stem of the rose you have been given.
Learn what such a friend is worth.
Write that in the margin and memorize it.

The strategy of this earth
is to pull companions apart.

But what I wrote here
does not flow from anything material.

This poetry mixes soul with mind.
It's a seed held in music
as in warm ground.

The fragrance you take in, listening
comes from a peaceful presence, not
the white tiger who left me here alone!

Hafiz of Shiraz (1320-89)
translation by Coleman Banks
The Hand of Poetry - Five Mystic Poets of Persia
Omega Publications 1993


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