The Veil – Attar
by Farid al-Din ‘Attar (1142-1220)
We are the Magians of old,
Islam is not the faith we hold;
In irreligion is our fame,
And we have made our creed a shame.
Now to the tavern we repair
To gamble all our substance there,
Now in the monastery cell
We worship with the infidel.
When Satan chances us to see
He doffs his cap respectfully,
For we have lessons to impart
To Satan in the tempter’s art.
We were not in such nature made
Of any man to be afraid;
Head and foot in naked pride
Like sultans o’er the earth we ride.
But we, alas, aweary are
And the road is very far;
We know not by what way to come
Unto the place that is our home.
And therefore we are in despair
How to order our affair
Because, wherever we have sought,
Our minds were utterly distraught.
When shall it come to pass, ah when,
That suddenly, beyond our ken,
We shall succeed to rend this veil
That hath our whole affair conceal?
What veil so ever after this
Apparent to our vision is,
With the flame of knowledge true
We shall consume it through and through.
Where at the first in that far place
We come to the world of space,
Our soul by travail in the end
To that perfection shall ascend.
And so shall ‘Attar Shattered be
And, rapt in sudden ecstasy,
Soar to godly vision, even
Beyond the veils of earth and heaven.
Translated by A. J. Arberry