Mirabai (1498-1550):

"Mira Has Finished with Waiting"
"It's True I Went to the Market"
"Ankle Bells"
"In All My Lives"
"Mira the Bee"
"Awake to the Name"
"To My Brother-in-Law Rana"
"A Dream of Marriage"
"Why Mira Can't Come Back to Her Old House"
"Polish into Gold"
"The Necklace"
"Mira the Lotus"

Versions by Robert Bly & Jane Hirshfield
Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems (2004)

Preface: I first heard about Mirabai from Robert Bly at his Asilomar Workshop Weekend in 1988. He told us of Mirabai's ecstatic visions of God. Afterwards she couldn't return to her old ways. When the villagers asked her to come back, she replied "I've ridden on the backs of elephants and now you want me to ride a jackass!" This image was so vivid, and taught me a cardinal lesson in writing good poetry or prose— Show. Don't Tell. I searched for this poem in the Stanford stacks when I returned from Bly's Workshop and found it in Bly's Mirabai Versions (Red Ozier Press, NY, 1984). There were only six poems in this tiny booklet, but the cover had someone riding on the back of an elephant. Now Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield have translated 52 Mirabai poems in Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems (2004). I'm typing the six Mirabai poems, Robert Bly read to his Stanford Workshop (4-16-2008). Also included are the two poems whose first line Bly used for class writing exercise, and some of my favorites in this anthology. Mirabai is a bhakti yogi whose quest for enlightenment took her on the path of devotion. I prefer jnana yoga, the path of knowledge as exemplified by Shankara and Ramana Maharshi. However, both yogic paths will lead the spiritual aspirant to the goal of finding God. It is said that the jnana yogi enters samadhi (contemplation of Oneness) with knowledge, and comes out with tears. The bhakti yogi enters samadhi with tears and comes out with knowledge. Mirabai's bhakti path led her to sainthood, and we find much wisdom in her poems. (Peter Y. Chou, 4-19-2008)

Mira Has Finished with Waiting

O friends on this path,
My eyes are no longer my eyes.
A sweetness has entered through them,
Has pierced through to my heart.
How long did I stand in the house of this body
And stare at the road?
My Beloved is a steeped herb, he has cured me for life.
Mira belongs to Giridhara, the One Who Lifts All,
And everyone says she is mad.


It's True I Went to the Market

My friend, I went to the market and bought the Dark One.
You claim by night, I claim by day.
Actually, I was beating a drum all the time I was burying him.
You say I gave too much, I say too little.
Actually, I put him on a scale before I bought him.
What I paid was my social body, my town body,
      my family body, and all my inherited jewels.
Mirabai says: The Dark One is my husband now.
Be with me when I lie down; you promised me
      this in an earlier life.


Ankle Bells

Mira dances, how can her ankle bells not dance?
"Mir is insane," strangers say that. "The family's ruined."
Poison came to the door one day; she drank it and laughed.
I am at Hari's feet; I give him body and soul.
A glimpse of him is water: How thirsty I am for that!
Mira's Lord is the one who lifts mountains,
      he removes evil from human life.
Mira's Lord attacks the beings of greed;
      for safety I go to him.


In All My Lives

In all my lives you have been with me;
      whether day or night I remember.
When you fall out of my sight, I am restless
      day and night, burning.
I climb hilltops; I watch for signs of your return;
      my eyes are swollen with tears.
The ocean of life— that's not genuine the ties
      of family, the obligations to the world—
      they're not genuine.
It is your beauty that makes me drunk.
Mira's Lord is the Great Dark Snake. That love
      comes up from the ground of the heart.


Mira the Bee

O my friends
What can you tell me of Love,
Whose pathways are filled with strangeness?
When you offer the Great One your love,
At the first step you body is crushed.
Next be ready to offer your head as his seat.
Be ready to orbit his lamp like a moth
      giving in to the light,
To live in the deer as she runs toward
      the hunter's call,
In the partridge that swallows hot coals
      for love of the moon,
In the fish that, kept from the sea, happily dies.
Like a bee trapped for life in the closing
      of the sweet flower.
Mira has offered herself to her Lord.
She says, the single Lotus will swallow you whole.


Awake to the Name

To be born in a human body is rare,
Don't throw away the reward of your past good deeds.
Life passes in an instant— the leaf doesn't go
      back to the branch.
The ocean of rebirth sweeps up all beings hard,
Pulls them into its cold-running, fierce, implacable currents.
Giridhara, your name is the raft, the one safe-passage over.
Take me quickly.
All the awake ones travel with Mira, singing the name.
She says with them: Get up, stop sleeping—
      the days of a life are short.


To My Brother-in-Law Rana

I don't like your strange, strange world, Rana.
There are no holy men in it, and the people are trash.
I don't wear jewelry anymore; I don't bind my hair.
I've given up darkening my eyelids and doing
      my hair the married way.
Mira's Lord is the One Who Lifts Mountains;
      I don't need a bridegroom.


A Dream of Marriage

In my dreams the Great One married me.
Four thousand people came to the wedding.
My bridegroom was the Lord Brajanath,
      and in the dream all the doorways
      were made royal, and he held my hand.
In my dream he married me, and fortune came to me.
Mirabai has found the Great Snake Giridhar; she must
      have done something good in an earlier life.


Why Mira Can't Come Back to Her Old House

The colors of the Dark One have penetrated Mira's
      body; all the other colors washed out.
Making love with the Dark One and eating little,
      those are my pearls and my carnelians.
Meditation beads and the forehead streak,
      these are my scarves and my rings.
That's enough feminine wiles for me.
      My teacher taught me this.
Approve me or disapprove me: I praise
      the Mountain Energy night and day.
I take the path that ecstatic human beings
      have taken for centuries.
I don't steal money, I don't hit anyone.
      What will you charge me with?
I have felt the swaying of the elephant's shoulders;
      and now you want me to climb
      on a jackass? Try to be serious.


Polish into Gold

I give my heart without fear to the Beloved:
As the polish goes into the gold, I have gone into him.
Through many lives, I heard only the outer music.
Now the teacher has whispered into my ears,
And familiar ties have gone the way of weak thread.
Mira has met the Energy That Lifts Mountains—
That good luck now is her home.


The Necklace

O friend, I sit alone while the world sleeps.
In the palace that held love's pleasure
      the abandoned one sits.
She who once threaded a necklace of pearls
      is now stringing tears.
He has left me. The night passes while I count stars.
When will the Hour arrive?
This sorrow must end. Mira says:
      Lifter of Mountains, return.


Mira the Lotus

My Lord, the love that binds us cannot be broken.
It is hard as the diamond that shatters
      the hammer that strikes it.
As polish goes into the gold, my heart
      has gone into you.
As a lotus lives in its water, I am rooted in you.
Like the bird that gazes all night at the passing moon,
I have blinded myself in giving my eyes to your beauty.
She who offers herself completely asks only this:
That her Lord love Mira as fully as he is loved.

— Mirabai (1498-1550),
     Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems
     Versions by Robert Bly & Jane Hirshfield
     Beacon Press, Boston, 2004


Web Links to Mirabai

Wikipedia: Mirabai
    (Biography, Origins, Philosophies, Poetry, Religious, References)
Women's Voices: Mirabai
    (Online Sites, In print translations, Secondary sources)
Old Poetry: Mirabai
    (Brief Bio, 34 poems of Mirabai)
Poet Seers: Mirabai
    (35 poems of Mirabai in three volumes of translation)
For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai
    (Andrew Schelling's translations of 86 Mirabai poems)
Touched by the Divine
    Review of John Stratton Hawley's
    Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas, Kabir
    (By Sayantan Dasgupta, The Telegraph, Calcutta, Oct. 7, 2005)
VIRAHA in Bhakta Meera's Songs
    (Discourse by Vasanti Mataji, Feb. 1, 2002, Westchester, CA)
Mirabai: The Rebellious Rajput Rani
    (Essay by Bill Garlington, Arts Dialogue, March, June, Sept. 1997)
Bibliography on Mirabai
    (17 book & journal references compiled by Lance Nelson)
Painting of Mirabai
    (Mirabai playing music to a peacock)

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