With Pure Virtue’s Hand


‘A’isha Taymur

1840 - 1902

With pure virtue’s hand I guard the might of my hijāb

and with faultless self-shielding, among my peers I rise

With my thoughts taking fire and my gift for sharp critique

I have brought my poet’s skills to new and perfect highs

I composed poetry expressing an assemblage:

before me, women sheltered, most noble, esteemed, wise

I uttered my verses just as light and playful speech

yet the eloquence of books and logic I much prize

Mahdī’s daughter, Laylā—these are my choice models

as with innate acuity my best thoughts I poetize

How superb these ladies are! A noble weave indeed

in women and in maidens the men do recognize

Given precious pearls of mind, a poet like Khansa’

wanders rocky paths and for a brother, frantic, cries

From the brow of my notebooks I fashioned my mirror

and of ink’s jet-black traces I created my dyes

How often my fingertip adorns my paper’s cheeks

with script’s downy touch or the skin of my youth’s sighs

The candles of my intellect sent their brilliance far,

as the scent of my words perfumed dear ones’ garden skies

Women of great splendor wrapped in shawls of logic fine:

and their envy my presence or my absence defies

In sentiment’s assembly my tresses I undid:

those of goodly lineage their symbols will surmise

The arts of my eloquence, my mind I protected:

talisman dear, hijab’s amulet: danger denies

My literature and my learning did me no harm

save in making me the finest flower of minds wise

Solitary bower, scarf’s knot, are no affliction

nor my gown’s cut nor proud and strong guarded paradise

My bashfulness, no blockade to keep me from the heights

nor could the veil’s lowering o’er my ringlets disguise

the wager’s arena though the horsemen’s ambitions

from the hardships of the race suffered demise

No! my might is my repose, my knightly prowess lies

in the beauty of my striving: finest goals I prize

Not to mention a secret whose essence is sheltered

though word spread far to strangers of its rarity and size

Like musk it is sealed in the drawers of treasuries:

but the fragrance of its sweetness spreads in saffron sighs

Or like the seas as they embraced hidden gemlike pearls:

when the hands of seekers touch, the touch will paralyze

Desiring to obtain and to have those lovely pearls,

what troubling trials these divers brave, deeds that sense defies!

World-renowned amber agreed to give pearls protection:

its nature is recited in every book one buys

So I touch my fire to the wick in the lamp of skills

granted me by holy God, gifts of the Giver Wise




al-Dīwān al-muhyī rifāt al-adab al-bāligh min funūn al-balāghah ghāyat al-arab al-muh­tawā min husn al-barāah alā mā bihi imtāza al-musammā tibqan li-manāh bi-Hilyat al-tirāz (“Embroidered Ornament”, Cairo: al-Matba‛ah al-‛Āmirah al-Sharayyah, 1303 [1885/86]); 1327 [1909/10].  Also reproduced in Zaynab Fawwaz al-‘Amili, al-Durr al-manthūr fī tabaqāt rabbāt al-khudūr (“Scattered Pearls in the Classes of Cloistered Ladies”, Cairo/Būlāq: al-Matbaah al-kubrā al-amīriyyah, 1312 [1894-95]), pp. 309-10.