A Poem by Zēb-un-Nisā

You with the dark curly hair and the breathtaking eyes,
your inquiring glance that leaves me undone.

Eyes that pierce and then withdraw like a blood-stained sword, eyes with dagger lashes!
Zealots, you are mistaken – this is heaven.

Never mind those making promises of the afterlife:
join us now, righteous friends, in this intoxication.

Never mind the path to the Kaabah: sanctity resides in the heart.
Squander your life, suffer! God is right here.

Oh excruciating face! Continual light!
This is where I am thrilled, here, right here.

There is no book anywhere on the matter.
Only as soon as I see you do I understand.

If you wish to offer your beauty to God, give Zebunissa
a taste. Awaiting the tiniest morsel, she is right here.


A 17th century Indian poem by Zēb-un-Nisā, translated by Sally Lee Stewart, Elena Bell and Maksuda Joraeva for The Atlantic Monthly.

Image by Olena Zaskochenko

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