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Persian Hidden Word 72

Posted by Sen on February 24, 2009

The Hidden Words is a collection of spiritual aphorisms written by Baha’u’llah, in Persian and Arabic, while he was in Baghdad. One of his most popular works, it has been published in many different editions and translations. Persian Hidden Word 72 is a call to act in the world. In a street movie, it might be translated “come on, show me what you’re made of.”


Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.

phw72dreyfusA metaphor asks us to form a picture of the image presented in our mind’s eye, and then find the similarities between that and the subject of the metaphor. But there’s something odd when you think about this image of the sword in its sheath, “its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge.” Surely the person who made the sword knows what it is worth?

The 1961 Dutch translation says the value of the sword “verborgen blijft voor de maker” – it remains hidden from the maker. Dreyfus’ 1928 French translation (In L’Œuvre de Baha-ou’llah) says ” l’artisan ne connaît pas la valeur” – the craftsman does not know its value. This looks as if it has been translated from the English, and is the same in the current French edition (search on [72]).

But we are not left struggling with the image of a sword-maker who does not know the value of his blade. What I’ve quoted above is Shoghi Effendi’s 1929 translation, which is a revision made “with the assistance of some English friends” from an earlier translation by Shoghi Effendi, done in 1923. This was published in Hidden Words, Words of Wisdom, Prayers, in London in 1923 and in New York in 1924. I don’t have the book, but this particular Hidden Word is published in the 1923 edition of Esslemont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era, 82 phw72bne

O my servant! Thou art like a sword of rarest temper and lustre, enclosed in a dark sheath, by reason of which its quality remains concealed from the craftsmen. Then come forth from the sheath of self and desire, that thy lustre may gleam forth resplendent and manifest to all the world.


Here the value of the sword is “concealed from the craftsmen.” Not from its maker, but from expert appraisers. The Persian text is here.

Those who can read the script can see that the word which Shoghi Effendi translates as “the craftsmen” or “the artificer” is جوهريان or Jauhariyaan. We can see this is a plural from the –aan ending. So why would Shoghi Effendi choose a singular form? Perhaps because the artificers’s knowledge is barely pronounceable, and artificers’ knowledge, when pronounced, is indistinguishable from artificer’s knowledge. Shoghi Effendi is making a translation for use in community worship, so the sound of the words matters.

jauhariyaansteingassAccording to Steingass’ dictionary, a jouharii is among other things a jeweller, a seller of gems; a lapidary; a tester, appraiser (of precious stones, etc.). There we have our answer: one of the social roles of the jouharii is to appraise the value of precious things. The sword in its sheath is not hidden from its maker, but from the eyes of the expert appraisers who are interested to know its value.

pearlhiltswordsmanThere are many occasions when the appraisal of an expert is helpful: when dividing an inheritance for example. But the image I like for this Hidden Word is that of the squire coming home from the wars, and taking his sword to the goldsmith’s shop – which is also the pawnbroker and bank – to cash it in. The goldsmith takes it out into the street where the light is better, turns the scabbard over and examines the hilt, and then draws the blade so that he, and the whole street, can see what it’s worth.

That’s where the metaphor breaks down. Every metaphor does break down at some point. “Achilles is a lion” does not mean he has long hair, prominent front teeth and bad breath, it means he is strong and brave. A metaphor is valid for only some aspects of the image, which correspond to aspects of the subject. So it tests our understanding of both the subject and the image. We have to actively interpret and use our imagination to see what the metaphor is saying. This is why religious language uses metaphor and parable: the purpose is that we should be active interpreters, not passive receivers of information.

When the medieval pawnbroker draws the sword and sees there’s a chunk out of the cutting edge that no amount of sharpening will remedy, he purses his lips and pulls his face together in the way that says, ‘I hope you weren’t expecting too much for this.’ But the squire stands a bit taller and draws a proud breath and says ‘that was at Agincourt.’ In the image-world of course he doesn’t get a penny extra from the pawnbroker for damage nobly done, but in my eyes he does. crispinsday Long live the nicks and scratches, the blemishes and blame, we get from acting in the world for good!

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
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