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Translation of Nizami s Poem
on Miryam and the Alchemists


Dariusch Steven Nouriani

Editor's Note: I asked Dariusch Nouriani if he could give me any information about the text in the beautiful illustration in a fifteenth century Persian manuscript of Nizami’s Khamsa (British Library Or. 12SS6, f 330v). He has graciously allowed his response to be printed here,
I have arrived at a translation to the rich poetry that accompanied the beautiful miniature or Miryam and the alchemists. It begins with a dialogue with Miryam, the alchemist, and then it evolves into a deeper dialogue with the anima and finally with Mercurius in the work itself. The poet Nizami had studied various fields such as philosophy, theology, law, mathematics, and alchemy in the twelfth century. He used rich imagery from alchemy in this poem.

Nizami frequently used the style of Massnavi, which embodies mys­ticism and allows the words to carry and evoke deeper symbolism and meaning. Therefore, in order to invite the deeper meaning of the poem into the translation, I had to interpret some of the words, as many of the words can carry different meanings in Persian. I found the poem deeply moving and alive. I am afraid, my translation does not do justice to the depth and the soul of the poem, however; I hope it transmits some of its rich  meaning.

The lady, wise and enlightened in the ways of the work
appeared, as she answered our deepest longing.

It was the most beautiful scene of water and colors
as she was seated in a majestic tower built
and decorated with miniscule stones.

She emerged as a beautiful bride
as though the full moon had just appeared on
a dark black night.
She blossomed like the Narcissus, mesmerizing,
        full of essence and fragrance
        her pure love emanated from the brilliant white light
of her jet black hair.

Her long black locks draped on each side,
        sacred as a cross,
        glinting as though the moon was caught by her hands.

To those who gaze at my hair
or even fix themselves on my eyebrows, she said,

I am most visible when I am hidden,
you can sense this wisdom in my devotion.

You cannot judge or determine my nature,
as your tongue will trick you the moment
you try to speak of me.

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miryam and the alchemists.jpg

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