What does the quote, “Every triumph from patience springs, the happy herald of better things” mean in Words in the Dust?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This beautiful quote was the favorite of Zulaikha's mother, and it is a verse from a longer poem of Persian literature titled "Yusuf and Zulaikha". In Quranic tradition, Zulaikha is the wife of Potiphar. In Christian tradition, specifically in the book of Genesis, Potiphar is one of the guards of the castle. Yusuf, or Joseph, is sold to him and Zulaikha as a slave by Joseph's brothers.

Origin (context)

The poem is mainly a story told in verse. It is about the soul's natural hunger for the love of God. However, in the poem, the soul is represented in Zulaikha, Yusuf represents the power of God, and the need for God is represented in Zulaikha's unnatural lust and want for Yusuf.

The story goes, then, that Zulaikha falls madly in love with Yusuf. Although the latter understands where her feelings originate, he does not yield to her desires. A scuffle ensues, since the woman becomes mad with anger and tries to attack Yusuf. Her husband enters and sees evidence that suggests that Yusuf was attacking the woman.

Potiphar thinks that Yusuf is trying to take advantage of his wife, so the poor slave is sent to jail. In jail, however, Yusuf transcends his condition and thrives among the other enslaved men, who learn to love him and take his wise advice. This is because Yusuf is a man who is naturally holy and uncharacteristically given to God.

Zulaikha's grief over Yusuf intensifies after his imprisonment. She feels guilt, love, anger, sadness, and every conflicting emotion. However, the virtue of patience is very heavily weighed in Quranic tradition, and it is her nurse who advices her that she needs to act with patience to soothe her current state of affairs.

According to the woman, impatience is what brought Zulaikha to the situation that she is in right now. By "impatience", she means uneasiness, desperation, anxiety. Zulaikha's lust for Yusuf stems from a chaotic state of mind and soul. Her want to yield to him is not so much a want, but a need to feel loved. Therefore, why not change things, let her soul heal, and let love come naturally to her. She must choose patience.


The poem reads

Patience alone will thy grief assuage...

Let patience allay it with soothing rain....

Patience will lead thee to lasting bliss....

Therefore, the phrase used by the novel's Zulaikha's mother,

Every triumph from patience springs, the happy herald of better things

means that acting with patience is, in a way, an act of faith. When one feels the tranquility that things will work themselves out, one gives positive outcomes a second chance. Patience entails trusting. Trusting entails believing. Trusting with peace in our hearts entails believing with solemnity that the world, God, or something higher than us will intervene on our behalf to help us help ourselves.

Telling this to a child the way Zulaikha's mother did is a great lesson in self-help and self-assurance. Patience puts things into perspective; it brings the chaotic into order. Patience helps us soothe from within and helps us see clearly for ways to solve just about any problems. A happy herald of better things means that patience helps us envision things positively and will allow us to see things from a different perspective; it is a promise of good things to come. Acting with impatience, contrastingly, will only make things worse before they even start. Therefore, patience is, indeed, a virtue that only the most disciplined and intellectual, the most spiritual and the best suited can actually achieve. Zulaikha's mother is telling her daughter that patience is achievable and is the best course of action to take in all situations.

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Words in the Dust

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