March 11, 2011

Allegory of the Violet

Heaving the deep sigh of a distant lover, the violet said: "For those who end a happy life with a martyr's death I pour out my fragrance until I am reduced to ash by cruel fortune. Clad in the garment of emaciation, I am wasted away by the passing days, which admit no stay and dictate my corruption, leaving me no protective wrapper nor withstanding power. How brief a floruit was appointed me! And how long must I go on cut and dried! All the days of my existence I am battered up and down, cut from my roots and prevented from fruiting. The strong take advantage of my weakness, and my delicacy, grace and elegance are no protection against ill use. To enter my presence is to be blessed! and to see me is to marvel at me. But no more than a day or part of a day goes by until I am sold for a pittance, and a minute later I am found blameworthy. By nightfall you see me torn and tousled by the hands of happenstance, a husk hopeless of recovering its bloom.

"I am prized by pharmacists and those who attend to hidden wisdom, for by me are swelling cysts reduced, and violent pains made easier to bear, and recalcitrant bowels made pliant, and pernicious illnesses repulsed. Dried or fresh, I am a source of blessings to the people, who are ignorant of the magnitude of my oration, and the wisdom deposited in me by my Lord. To those who contemplate me attentively I am an exhortation, and an admonition to the mindful. Within me is an oracular indication for those who are attuned, and 'consummate wisdom - but warnings avail not.' " And I exclaimed:

        "I marveled at the violet, when it burst
                  into narration through its petals set on branching stems:
         an army bearing emerald spears, tipped with
                  ruby gems held aloft
         as if confronting an enemy host
                  tall as the tops of high palms."

From Revelation of the Secret Wisdom of the Birds and Flowers by 'Izz al-Din ibn Ghanim al-Maqdisi (d. 678/1279)