Diwan Trilogy Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Vision is a central theme of all three parts of the Diwan Trilogy. In the first book, the “vision” of blindness leads the Prince of Emgión to “see” his ideal, the “All-Holy One,” or the madonna-goddess. To “gaze inwardly,” he contends, will reveal the truth of “what you saw” but which “you never saw” in the days of outward seeing. In The Tale of Fatumeh, love imparts vision. Seeing does not, however, imply outwardly visible reality; rather, it denotes a reality of the soul and of being as opposed to appearance. As Fatumeh’s lover meditates, “And only Your shadow gave my soul/ Substance and Presence.” In a reversal of the traditional roles of being and shadow, the vision of darkness becomes the vision of reality. This is once again explicitly voiced in Guide to the Underworld. The “real” consists of mirror images, shadows and dreams: As the opening poem of the sequence claims, the day is deceptive, while the darkness of night and dreams convey the truth of “your mirror image/ in a mirror-world.” What one sees, the first cycle goes on to suggest, is “unreal in time,” and “external distance” cannot be measured against the inner distance of the eye. The shadow world of dreams allows one to transcend the cruelty of life, to perceive that “love is the dream of beauty.”

The symbol of this vision, which endows substance and presence to the soul, is the madonna-goddess. Her role is not that of the Christian virgin, for God is her subordinate in the mythology of the Diwan Trilogy. As the Prince of Emgión states, “The devil is god/ God is the devil”; each is a tyrant waging war on the other. Above them, viewed through the “narrow chink” between good and evil, stands the ideal, and the oar that rows one toward her is that of one’s own longing. Nevertheless, she is unattainable. “Beauty and Love are there,” says the Devil in his sermon, “but as expectation.” The final poem of the trilogy asks: “How to release life? How to reach ecstasy of life?” The reply is as ephemeral as the vision of the divine lady. “The absurd belief in a grace is born, a flash/ Outside of life’s actual conditions.”