Poetry from the Silence of Tulips and Roses

“Create poetry from the silence of tulips and roses,” wrote poet Allameh Muhammad Iqbal (1877 – 1938), reminding us that out of contemplation arise thoughts and actions. Iqbal is also known as “the spiritual father of Pakistan” and his philosophical treatises are still being widely read and analyzed. But it was his mystical, introspective poetry that I grew to admire for its themes of compassion, love, yearning for knowledge, overcoming divisions and parochial concerns. Any poet whose idea of paradise includes Rumi and Goethe engaged in a conversation is someone I want to know.


From the sensory perspective, Iqbal’s poems are also fascinating. They are full of fragrant references, using aroma as the symbol for the divine, the perfect, and the mystical. But what happens when the source of such perfection is destroyed?

O withered rose! How can I still call you a rose?
How can I call you the longing of nightingale’s heart?

Once the zephyr’s movement was your rocking cradle
In the garden’s expanse joyous rose was your name

The morning breeze acknowledged your benevolence
The garden was like perfumer’s tray by your presence

My weeping eye sheds dew on you
My desolate heart is concealed in your sorrow

You are a tiny picture of my destruction
You are the interpretation of my life’s dream

Like a flute to my reed-brake I narrate my story
Listen O rose! I complain about separations!

Via amiqbalpoetry.com

If the poem quoted above peaked your curiosity, I highly recommend Tulip in the Desert: A Selection of Iqbal’s Poetry, a masterful translation by Mustansir Mir.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved



  • Nora Szekely: I always enjoy litterature related posts, I will check out this book. I love to write poems sometimes but do not read them often. I guess I should reach for poetry books more often. March 31, 2016 at 7:31am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you can find Tulip in the Dessert, or perhaps, a Hungarian translation. English language publishers translate so little, and poetry in particular is hard to render from its original language. March 31, 2016 at 10:05am Reply

    • Victoria: I always wanted to thank you for giving me another reason to find Magda Szabo’s The Door. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. March 31, 2016 at 10:08am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: So glad you liked it! It’s one of my favourites. April 1, 2016 at 10:18am Reply

        • Victoria: I will have to see if her other novels were translated in some other language I know, because from what I can tell, only The Door is available in English. Really, it was a marvel. April 1, 2016 at 2:02pm Reply

          • maja: I would like to say thanks as well. I took Szabo’s novel Iza’s Ballad yesterday in library and can’t wait to start it. (it has been translated in English, too, Victoria) April 2, 2016 at 11:40am Reply

            • Victoria: Thank you! I heard that it was in the works, but I didn’t realize that it has been published already. April 3, 2016 at 11:13am Reply

    • Annie: V’s post reminded me to read more poetry. I used to in college, looooong time ago. 🙂 April 1, 2016 at 2:17pm Reply

      • Victoria: I read more prose than poetry, but I try to make time for it. I can read a novel while standing in line or on the train, but for poetry I definitely need some time and contemplation. April 1, 2016 at 4:09pm Reply

  • Sandra: Nothing like ready poetry to start my morning, thank you V! March 31, 2016 at 7:58am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome! I love Iqbal’s poetry. March 31, 2016 at 10:03am Reply

  • Tiamaria: Thank you Victoria, was having a bit of a stressful day and this pulled me right out of it. Beautiful poem and beautiful picture. That’s the value of any form of art for me, it makes me stop and think or stop and not think but just appreciate. I’m not familiar with Iqbal but I will have to remedy that! March 31, 2016 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, same here. I have a friend who starts her day by reading a couple of favorite poems as she drinks her morning coffee. I’m rarely as disciplined as this in the morning, but it sounds like a great idea.

      There is another poem I love by Iqbal, and it has these lines:

      Far from the garden I am, far from the garden you are
      You are content but scattered like fragrance I am
      Wounded by the sword of love in search I am March 31, 2016 at 11:47am Reply

      • Tiamaria: Thank you for that Victoria. I just found the poem and it’s beautiful. It brought to mind my treasured Gertrude Jeckyll rose which is just starting to stir and delights me every summer with the most intoxicating smell, the rosiest rose I’ve come across. I like his reassurance to the rose that it needn’t worry as he is not a callous flower picker!
        I confess that I’m very lazy about reading poetry from different cultures and read mostly those written in English but I must make an effort to branch out. The magis of poetry for me is how a few words, well chosen and thoughtfully arranged can speak volumes.
        I find I read more poetry as I’m getting older and I might try to take a leaf out of your friends book and start the day by reading a poem which would be preferable to starting the day reading work emails!
        The poet I read most these days is W. B. Yeats, probably because I live in Co. Sligo in the west of Ireland, a county he spent a lot of time in and inspired a lot of his work and where he is buried.
        Thank you for introducing me to Iqbal. April 2, 2016 at 11:32am Reply

        • Victoria: For me too. The idea of condensing, capturing something in few words is fascinating. April 3, 2016 at 11:13am Reply

  • Alexandra Fraser: Thank you for the reference. I am always keen to extend my poetry library and will order the Mir translation March 31, 2016 at 2:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you enjoy it. There are many books on Iqbal too–he was quite a polymath and an interesting character. March 31, 2016 at 3:24pm Reply

      • Alexandra Fraser: Thank you Victoria. I am a poet myself – very minor – working on my third collection. I am already gathering ideas for my fourth. I find your writing inspirational and it has made me think about increasing scent and scent vocabulary in my work. I am in love with the word ‘petrichor’. But there is so much more too as you have made me realise March 31, 2016 at 5:49pm Reply

        • Victoria: Congratulations, Alexandra, and best of luck! I would love to read your poetry.

          Reading poetry from different traditions, or in general, discovering the way other people think about the world inspires me too. Poetry is interesting, because in a way it condenses thoughts and ideas and lets me learn something new, while bringing to it thoughts of my own. A bit like perfume. April 1, 2016 at 6:33am Reply

          • Alexandra Fraser: That is kind of you to express interest in reading my work Thank you – I don’t have much online but if you have time you might like to look at these two – The Kiwi girl one is quite New Zealand-ish and in the second to last verse she is drunk – not annoyed as the language might suggest to US readers


            http://helenlowe.info/blog/2013/02/19/tuesday-poem-a-good-kiwi-girl-by-alexandra-fraser/ April 2, 2016 at 7:30am Reply

            • Victoria: Thank you very much, Alexandra. I enjoyed both poems very much. The first has such a lyrical rhythm, almost mesmerizing, especially when I read it out loud, but the content is quite complex. Your use of imagery is very powerful.

              And on the second poem, I couldn’t agree more with a commenter who said that The Good Kiwi girl has something of the warrior princess and Audrey Hepburn in her.

              Thank you again for sharing. April 2, 2016 at 10:45am Reply

              • Alexandra Fraser: And thank you Victoria. I am delighted that you liked them. April 2, 2016 at 4:53pm Reply

                • Victoria: Looking forward to more! 🙂 April 3, 2016 at 11:15am Reply

            • katherine X: Another fascinating BdJ reader! Thanks for sharing Alexandra. I enjoyed your poems very much as well – though I’m not a poetry reader! One thing I liked very much was that they aren’t unreachably abstract (if that makes sense). April 2, 2016 at 6:42pm Reply

              • Alexandra Fraser: Hi Katherine. Thanks for reading and your nice comment Yes that does make sense. I like to feel my work is accessible without being bland or predictable. But there is some very obscure stuff out there in poetry land April 3, 2016 at 1:09am Reply

                • katherine X: You are welcome, and forgive my novicery here – but your poetry also impressed me as novel, picturesque and impactful. I thought but didn’t mention this in the first place because I’m such a novice and wasn’t sure they would properly communicate the poetry’s qualities and impression on me. April 3, 2016 at 12:58pm Reply

              • Victoria: A great observation. I also admired this in Alexandra’s poems. April 3, 2016 at 11:17am Reply

  • Mia: Reading this in foreign language translation from another foreign one is of course different from reading the original-but still it is very enjoyable. Thank you for sharing, again!

    What is especially lovely, is the humour in the many ways dead serious topic the poem addresses. Sometimes poetry turns comical in its tragedic themes but that does not happen in this one. March 31, 2016 at 2:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think that the Urdu and Persian poetry is particularly difficult to translate, since the rhythm of the language plays a big role in the experience. Still, good translations are beautiful. It’s such a rich tradition. March 31, 2016 at 3:27pm Reply

  • Karen A: How wonderful! Poetry has once again become a daily read for me. The Poetry Foundation emails out a poem of the day and these have led to some beautiful discoveries, including Naomi Shihab Nye whose book of poems “19 Varieties of Gazelle” is filled with amazing poems.

    Love these world-expanding posts! Shards of Love just arrived after seeing it mentioned in another post. Looking forward to reading it and also more of Iqbal’s writings. March 31, 2016 at 3:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also ordered Shards of Love, and I look forward to reading it. The recommendations in these threads are always inspiring me to read more.

      Another observation from Iqbal from my notes: “A mathematician cannot but a poet can enclose infinity in a line.” March 31, 2016 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Nick: This rose post has inspired me to wear a spritz of Portrait of A Lady and, for the first time in my life, to spend 2,50 francs on a piece of rose-flavoured macaron from Ladurée when I passed by the shop whilst purposely getting lost in the old town. It was strangely divine, but I don’t think I would never be able to consume more than three pieces of them.

    And, on a rose-inspired day, I sprayed Calvin Klein Eternity on a strip to try. What a monolithic slab it is Solid powdery rose at the core, dense, heavy, opaque, and with minimal decorative notes. Would you say that Eau Parfumée au Thé vert, Iris Silver Mist, Encre Noire, and Santal Majuscule are influenced by this monolithic structure as well? March 31, 2016 at 6:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds heavenly! I have rose lychee jelly waiting for me later. 🙂

      Those perfumes are definitely built like modern linear accords, so yes, you’re right. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own development, but from the top notes you can guess their general character. All of them are among my top favorites. April 1, 2016 at 6:36am Reply

      • Nick: Still not a macaron convert, but I will enjoy them from time to time. I should think that rose and lychee form a splendid accord with their shared floral facets.

        The way I see it is that they take the linear style, but build the other notes around the core character, so they have evaporative development and reveal their main characters easily — very good, considering that patience is not a virtue of our time.

        Having said that, which modern perfumes would you say actually follow the classical top-middle-base development like Ma Griffe, Miss Dior, Cabochard, or Aramis? Would 31 Rue Cambon qualify?

        Do you consider perfumes like the aldehydic Quleques Fleur and Chanel No.5, the oriental Shalimar, the fougère Jicky and Fougère Royale, or Pour Un Homme to take after this classical structure as well? April 1, 2016 at 4:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: Between a chocolate chip cookie and a rose macaron, I’ll always go for the cookie. 🙂 But once in a while I can’t resist the colors and interesting flavors.

          Etat Libre d’Orange Rien came to mind immediately. 31 Rue Cambon is still fairly monolithic, but there are lots accents and layers. April 1, 2016 at 5:30pm Reply

          • Nick: From the description, I should think of it as neo-Baroque. Like a rebellion, a counter-trend.

            It would be interesting to observe the development of styles in the future, but that could take a century! April 2, 2016 at 6:21pm Reply

            • Victoria: Sometimes a breakthrough comes unexpectedly, like Angel. Today, it’s so easy to replicate perfumes via GC/MS that I think that the developments are more incremental. And then, the brand directors don’t take many risks, because the costs of launching a perfume are very high. April 3, 2016 at 11:16am Reply

  • Annie: Beautiful!

    Is there a perfume that smells like tulips? April 1, 2016 at 2:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Many like Byredo Tulipe. It’s not my favorite, but with so few tulip-like perfumes it’s still worth mentioning. April 1, 2016 at 4:07pm Reply

  • maja: Thank you for these wonderful lines. I’m a big poetry lover and I feel the need to read poetry if I am in the middle of a particularly heavy book. 🙂 April 2, 2016 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that’s often a great strategy. Or if I’m in the middle of a stressful day. It takes my mind off the immediate worries. April 3, 2016 at 11:14am Reply

  • Wara: Victoria, as usual, out of the blue…….nothing to do with this thread…..but look what I found!!! I am sure you might have seen it, but thought you would love it if you have not?https://www.facebook.com/ukrainenationcosaque/photos/pb.995014350542683.-2207520000.1459742280./1112859398758177/?type=3&theater April 4, 2016 at 12:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Wow! That’s impressive. I’ve seen decorated Easter eggs, but none have been as large. Thank you for posting the link, Wara. April 4, 2016 at 1:45pm Reply

      • Wara: You are welcome! A little bit to thank you for all you give us!!! April 6, 2016 at 8:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: I always enjoy the links you find. 🙂 April 7, 2016 at 7:16am Reply

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