The Transformative Power of the Maid of Heaven:
An Exploration of Grammar, Gender and Poetics in Bahá'u'lláh's Ode of the Dove
Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #137
Bosch Baha'i School: Santa Cruz, CA
May 26–30, 2016
(see list of papers from #137)
pact of the Maid of Heaven on the soul of Bahá'u'lláh. She is so powerful that she transforms everyone and everything touched by her radiance. The Ode also foreshadows the trials and sufferings endured by Bahá'u'lláh in His love for her beauty.
Poetry has been used a vehicle for revelation in past Dispensations. It plays a pivotal role during the first period of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry, starting with the Rahsh-i-'Ama'. How does it work, that is to say, what are the features of poetry that lend itself to revelation and how do those features operate? The literary tradition of Arabic poetry places certain expectations and constraints on the text, which the poem transcends, thanks to the power and presence of the Maid of Heaven. Many verbs used by Bahá'u'lláh should be masculine in form according the rules of Arabic grammar. However, we find that Bahá'u'lláh frequently uses the feminine form because they are feminine in meaning or in relation to the Maiden. One could say that the force of her presence feminizes the whole poem, though it must be said that the necessities of the rhyme scheme are a factor too.
Bahá'u'lláh adds his own annotations to the text of the poem. What do they suggest by their very addition to the text? They indicate strongly that Bahá'u'lláh foresees the impact this poem will have and the objections that will be raised. They also help us to read the poem "correctly" or as intended by Bahá'u'lláh.
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