Farid al-Din Attar Translation in Progress: “Do The Latter”

I find the politics of this poem fascinating. For Attar to show this much respect for a religious tradition he describes in such barbaric terms, suggests a willingness to grant a certain level of validity to other beliefs that I would not have expected. At the same time, though, the fact that he calls the tradition described in this poem Christian suggests that he had all kinds of hateful misconceptions about Christianity.

Do The Latter

When Abolqasem Hamadani
left Hamadan on a sudden journey,
he came upon a crowd of people
gathered outside an idol’s temple.
On a fire, an oil-filled cauldron
bubbled like a windswept ocean.
Some minutes passed and then a Christian
entered and bowed before the idol.
When he stood, they asked him this: “Humble
servant, what are you to God?”
“A slave,” he answered. They responded,
“Then quickly make your offering.”
He did and left, like smoke rising.
Another person did the same,
then another, and ten more came,
and each was similarly dismissed.
At last, a man who could’ve passed
for dead, shriveled and weak, pale,
emaciated, lean, feeble—
he was a walking shadow. They asked,
“And what are you? A man, a corpse,
or both?” He said, “I am a piece
of skin. I love my God.” At this
they told him, “Sit down.” He did, at ease
on the golden throne they showed him. Then,
they carried over the boiling cauldron
and poured the oil onto his head.
The man’s skin melted from the heat;
his skull landed at his feet.
When it had been removed, they set
the rest of him ablaze. “These ashes,”
they said, “cure every pain there is.”

The shaikh observed this from a distance,
and when they finished ran at once
to ponder what he’d seen. “You fool,”
he said to himself, “that Christian, full
with false love, gave his life to it.
If you’re truly an initiate,
for love of your God do the same.
Otherwise, go make your home
with catamites. If you are sure
of your love for God, then choose: abjure
your life or forsake your faith. The former
you have not done; so do the latter.”

Cross-posted on my blog.

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