The Wilmette Institute’s course on The Bahá’í Faith and the Arts 2017 (faculty, Anne Perry, Peggy Caton) continues to challenge its learners to produce inspiring pieces of art. Stephen Boyanton, now living in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, is no exception. He describes himself as “a writer, a practitioner of Chinese medicine, and a historian.” About using his art in conversations and presentations, Stephen had this to say:
One of the surprises I’ve had was realizing that I may be able to use the ideas we studied in presentations and discussions in my community here in China. I am planning to give a presentation on the Bahá’í Faith and the Arts for the local foreign Bahá’ís at the soonest opportunity. . . . I’m also thinking of giving a more general presentation on the importance of the arts that would be open to anyone. This is new territory for me, so if anyone has any suggestions for how best to hold these sorts of discussions, I’m all ears.
Stephen’s final project for the course on The Bahá’í Faith and the Arts was a poem about Táhirih. He had this to say about the project and the poem:
Here is my finished poetry project. . . . It was a very interesting and, in many ways, a new experience for me to write like this. It was somewhat more purposeful than most of my writing, in that I knew I wanted to write about Ṭáhirih, but it also involved a good bit of letting go, in that I had to immerse myself in the records of her life to find inspiration. I can see myself doing more of this sort of writing in the future, though not exclusively. Overall, it was a very enriching and satisfying experience.
One difficulty that this experience has made me aware of is that, even among Bahá’ís, there is often a lack of “symbolic literacy” regarding Bahá’í imagery. Many people simply don’t know enough about the history of the Bahá’í Faith, its roots in Islam, and the details of its writings to recognize allusions and symbols drawn from its writings and history. On the one hand, this means that the finished artwork requires more explanation than I would normally consider desirable. On the other hand, perhaps this is one of the duties of art at this time: to begin the process of educating ourselves in the symbols and imagery of a new world civilization. If that is the case, then, eventually, in part through the mediation of art, people will learn to recognize this imagery and symbolism as clearly as they do Judeo-Christian motifs nowadays.
Enjoy the poem:
Swifter than steeds her heart did run,
who saw in blessed dreams the Youth
whose clarion-voice brought low the sun—
xxxHe raised you up to sing of truth—
xxxsolace then mine eyes, O Pure One!
Sweeter t’ the ear than song, the pearls
that dropped from her lips—her pen unfurled
visions that silenced a thousand sages.
xxxO calamity of a calamitous age!
xxxO troubling balm for a troubled world!
The maiden on the narrow bridge
strode with feet of iron,
her every breath a rain of swords,
her gaze a rain of fire.
My heart is pierced; my flesh is ash.
My feet in bloody tatters run
and chase, upon the razor’s span,
that countenance, so like the sun.
I shall not slip; I shall not fall.
My heart on wings ascends the vault
of brightest day that knows no night,
of love redeemed that knows no fault.
Tongues shall fail, and mountains cleft
shall lie in broken shards bestrewn
with stars that fell ere break of day,
in dark, bereft of sun and moon.
Yet never shall my heart forget
her visage, fairer than the sun,
nor cease, upon this blade of bridge,
my feet, in her pursuit, to run.
xxxHer spirit bathed in beauty!
xxxHer heart that loved so well!
Her lucent eyes at daybreak’s knell,
piercing clouds and shrouds perceived:
Glory hidden behind the veil.
xxxShe was the Word He uttered,
xxxthe trumpet-blast of dawn,
that set to flight the mighty ones,
broke the chains, and tore asunder
all that hindered her Beloved.