99 psalms by SAID Translated from German by Mark S. Burrows
A leading poet in Germany and a native of Iran, SAID has penned these new poems as a reflection of his struggle with the monotheistic traditions he grew up around and his own unique voice. What comes across as blunt and boisterous, fierce and solemn, are his depth of feelings for such things as the atrocities of the last century while calling out his desire for the lord to act now. Much different in tone and perspective than the Psalter, these psalms by SAID touch the entire gamut of emotions while remaining forcefully aware of the present situation of political and moral disarray. SAID sounds a noisy gong in the midst of busy commerce and trade, asking his readers to become aware of the decadence and beauty that is all around them.
One aspect of SAID’s psalms that struck a chord with me is his insistence that the lord not be active just from a faraway distance but be mightily present today. He writes, “free me of the belief that you’re only faithful from a distance and speak to me in the unharried speech of animals…” (47, poem 31). The punctuated desire that the lord speak loudly from the realm of creation and not be a distant wayfarer is evident here. SAID yearns for the day when lord will be become visibly close to all peoples, not just fervent believers, but the entire cosmos might hear his voice thundering at his arrival. In another poem, he writes, “lord come back to me and make a new language because I refuse to choose between you and my passions…” (63, poem 47). SAID is calling upon the lord to come back from a distant place and to speak clearly into his mind a language that can be understood by both his passions and his intellect. There is a universality to SAID’s language that is beyond any one religious tradition but that years for a vibrant experience of the divine.
There is a real unorthodox yearning for the lord in these poems that is both frightening and compelling. SAID is not content with the rote notions of religious ritual as in prayers, candles, or over stated reason and dogmatism. In one poem, he writes, “lord let us be lovers even if our knowing grows and reduces the truth…” (82, poem 66). SAID pictures faith as casting aside ready-made truths but developing an intimate spirituality that seeks after the lord. In another time, SAID writes, “I don’t pray only to you o lord but also to the wind and plain because I want to lessen the gap between you and nature” (90, poem 74). We see a closer connection between nature and God in some traditions like St. Francis, but praying to the wind and plain is not generally an accepted foundational belief of the monotheistic traditions. Yet, his passion to see the distance leveled between God and nature is compelling because it is a universal and particular desire of humanity. There is no reason why humans wouldn’t want the lord to be clearly and mightily present in his creation to bear the words of the creation. There are two books, the book of nature and one of revelation, but often we fail to see how the lord is speaking to us in the realm of nature. I can say as a Christian that these two sources of revelation have been bridged through the incarnation, but I think that SAID is wanting us to see something bigger than one religious faith.
I enjoyed these psalms in the way that a piece of art causes you to rethink how others might view the world. In other ways, I thought these poems had little to do with religious faith at all, but the desires of a man to grapple with the brokenness all around him. Yet, I hope people will find some morsels of imagination and creativity that they wouldn’t otherwise.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for review.