I was delayed of making amends
When that which turns was turned on end.
Now rusted iron bars keep me from free terrain
Whilst I remain restrained by my own ball and chain.
It pains to count days since I’ve locked myself away.
The silence grows louder, echo is solemnly appraised.
Until the dead night, when footsteps sound,
The fear within me surmounts, abounds.
Out of the darkness, a figure walks towards me,
Treading lightly at first, but then swiftly, quickly.
Shrouded in black, its demeanor intact,
It examines my quarters and then takes a step back.
“Built to endure craze and rage, these walls of concrete,
Detain no prisoners that are not deceitfully discrete.
But you show no sign of illicit affair,
For what heinous crime are you imprisoned there?”
If there is harm to be done, I have nowhere to run,
So reluctantly, I am faced with what I’ve become.
I reply with words of agonizing grief:
“Surely a disease of the worst degree,
Much less to be seen, or so you perceive.
When I thought my deeds were noble of me,
That which turns was turned indeed.
I allowed it to reside in my spirit, deprived.
Between me and my Lord grew a greater divide.
It penetrated my soul and began to take its toll
A matter of time before it consumed me whole.”
I hear the chiming of keys and feel a sense of unease;
The barred door swings open, letting out a mild breeze.
“Forgive me, stranger, for I do not mean to instill terror,
But I dare not allow you to dwell in everlasting error.
You see, so long as you lament, corruption persists.
Within an instant I may vanish and cease to exist.”
Its image became clearer as it drew nearer, and nearer still.
Suddenly, I recognized the face of my displaced good will.
“Surely you are no stranger; we are well acquainted,
You were my companion before my core grew tainted.
I have since abandoned you, but steadfast you remain,
You are shrouded, hidden, but your devotion does not wane.”
Somehow, my words trigger the figure to glow,
As beams of light shine from underneath its cloak.
“Free yourself of this worldly prison, old friend,
Your destiny awaits; we shall be one again.”
Confinement made me weak, but I will not accept defeat.
The essence of sincerity carries me as I attempt to reach.
I hasten towards the passage, one step at a time,
Releasing myself into the love of The Divine.
Within moments, I emerge from the depths of pride,
Ridding myself of a chamber that held anguish inside.
“Old friend,” I laugh, “It’s over at last;
The traversing adversities have finally passed!”
I turn around, but the figure has disappeared,
Alone, I stand, at the edge of the frontier.
Within that which turns, a new turn has begun.
My good will and I, we are now one.
One of the beauties of the Arabic language is that a single word can have multiple meanings that are all somehow interrelated. ‘Qalb’, the Arabic word for ‘heart’, is also literally translated as ‘that which turns’. This is where the supplication “Ya Muqalib al-quloob, thabbit qalbi ‘ala deenak” (Oh Turner of Hearts, keep my heart firm upon Your Religion) comes from. Though some scholars differ on the exact interpretation of the root word, it can be noted that man’s heart is ever-changing, especially in terms of faith.
This piece was inspired by a personal struggle with the turning of a heart and changing of focus. It is pride which results from insincerity that corrupts former good intentions. The theme is generally symbolic, with a few literal interpretations to hint to readers towards the main purpose of the poem. The prison cell, described as ‘walls of concrete’, symbolizes a physical state of seeming uprightness. On the other hand, the imprisoned narrator represents the uncomfortable state of disposition, showing ‘no sign of illicit affair’. The figure, ‘shrouded in black’, indicates unfamiliar good will. When the narrator addresses the figure as an ‘old friend’, it depicts the initial good intentions which later ‘grew tainted’, thereby alienating the two characters.
The experience, although not leading to a complete triumph over insincerity as a whole, led to a greater awareness of a possible problem and a method of dealing with it. This is why, towards the end of the poem, the narrator is described as standing ‘at the edge of the frontier’ and not on ‘free terrain’ as mentioned in the second stanza.