The Sayings of Rabia


A pious friend one day of Rabia asked,
How she had learnt the truth of Allah wholly?
By what instructions was her memory tasked—
How was her heart estranged from this world’s folly?

She answered—‘Thou, who knowest God in parts,
Thy spirit’s moods and processes can tell;
I only know that in my heart of hearts
I have despised myself and loved Him well.’


Some evil upon Rabia fell,
And one who loved and knew her well
Murmured that God with pain undue
Should strike a child so fond and true:
But she replied—‘Believe and trust
That all I suffer is most just;
I had in contemplation striven
To realize the joys of heaven;
I had extended fancy’s flights
Through all that region of delights,—
Had counted, till the numbers failed,
The pleasures on the blest entailed,—
Had sounded the ecstatic rest
I should enjoy on Allah’s breast;
And for those thoughts I now atone
That were of something of my own,
And were not thoughts of Him alone.’


When Rabia unto Mekkeh came,
She stood awhile apart—alone,
Nor joined the crowd with hearts on flame
Collected round the sacred stone.

She, like the rest, with toil had crossed
The waves of water, rock, and sand,
And now, as one long tempest-tossed,
Beheld the Kaabeh’s promised land.

Yet in her eyes no transport glistened;
She seemed with shame and sorrow bowed;
The shouts of prayer she hardly listened,
But beat her heart and cried aloud:—

‘O heart! weak follower of the weak,
That thou should’st traverse land and sea,
In this far place that God to seek
Who long ago had come to thee!’


Round holy Rabia’s suffering bed
The wise men gathered, gazing gravely—
‘Daughter of God!’ the youngest said,
‘Endure thy Father’s chastening bravely;
They who have steeped their souls in prayer
Can every anguish calmly bear.’

She answered not, and turned aside,
Though not reproachfully nor sadly;
‘Daughter of God!’ the eldest cried,
‘Sustain thy Father’s chastening gladly;
They who have learnt to pray aright,
From pain’s dark well draw up delight.’

Then she spoke out—‘Your words are fair;
But, oh! the truth lies deeper still;
I know not, when absorbed in prayer,
Pleasure or pain, or good or ill;
They who God’s face can understand
Feel not the motions of His hand.’