4. The Confession Analyzed.
This is a classical qasida, so typical of the earliest phase of Persian literature. At the same time it is so typical of Nasir-i Khusraw, his mentality, his style of poetry, his aspirations, everything. Apparently nobody has so far noticed that it contains an allusion which may perhaps help us to find put the date of the composition of the poem. It is a reference to al-Mustansir (whose name, however, is not mentioned, but who is obviously implied here, p. 176, line 22) as the one "in charge (khazin) of wisdom, knowledge, and of the Khana'i Ma'mur." i.e. the Ka'ba. This can only refer to that Fatimid caliph's being recognized as the sovereign of the holy city. Such a position existed during his reign in 455-456/1063-1064, when the Sulayhid tribal chieftains held Mekka, recognizing themselves as the vasals of the Fatimids. Thus, if Nasir's poem speaks of what was, and not merely ought to have been, then the poem must have been composed about 456/1064.
The qasida was, beyond doubt, addressed to al-Mu'ayyid fi'd-din as-Shirazi, of whom it is worthwhile to say a few words. This is done further on, in a note on his biography. He obviously was in charge of propaganda affairs in the East, "the Warden of the Gate in the Holy State," which implies that he was a bab. He accepts his oath of allegiance(if this is not merely a poetic figure, and the original oath of secrecy was sworn by Nasir while still in the East). This oath surely does not refer to conversion, but to Nasir's being received into the propaganda service (usually designated by the expression akhadh ‘alay-hi). It would be strange that if he remained a Sunni until his arrival in Cairo, he should have been converted by no less a figure than Mu'ayyid himself, and at once accepted into the service. We may note, however, that Nasir never mentions any "guide" who led him to the Baladu'l-amin, the Holy State. It is quite probable, therefore, that he was really converted by a small missionary in his native place, and was then summoned to Cairo, where he was examined, found useful as a prospective missionary, accepted into the service, trained, and then sent on various tours prior to his departure to his native country where was designated to carry on his work.
The questions which worried him, and to which he could find no satisfactory answer, such as that about the "hand" i.e. the principle that only the progeny of the Prophet could have the legitimate right of supreme authority in Islam, are elementary Ismaili. This is said in poetry, and we must expect some simplified and primitive scheme. It would be interesting to find the real implication of his expression in which he refers to the "hand" being scattered (an dast parakinds shud). This may well refer to the school of the Twlever Shi'ites and discontinuation of Imamat.
His seeking knowledge from the Sindis, Turks, Manichees, and others, is obviously a poetical figure. If he sought such knowledge, it was alchemical, astrological, but certainly not religious. The knowledge was obviously for him the Imam's super-knowledge in the Shi'ite sense. His philosophical quests appear to be a list of the contents of his own works: all exasperatingly dull and lengthy discussions of the creation, of ‘aql, nafs, hayula, and so forth; the problem of predestination, evil, with occasional excursions into the field of physics. All this, beyond any doubt, he found in plenty in the dawat literature of his time, and, later on, having translated it into simple, primitive Persian to suit his probably not highly educated pupils, he repeatedly offered it in the form of his philosophical books. It seems that he possessed neither talent nor systematical schooling to be a real philosopher, i.e. one who creates new ideas and not merely repeats what he has read.
The enchanted city in which he arrives, and in which al-Mu'ayyid is the Warden of the Gates, is not Cairo. His al-baladu'l-amin, an expression which is taken from the Coran (XCV,3), is the ideal Alid state, the advent of which the Fatimids were preaching. Shi'ite expressions are sometimes alluded to in his Diwan. In some places he is quite outspoken (p.431, lines 14-16) : "The world cherisheth the hope of thy victory (he addresses al-Mustansir bi-llah), expecting that thou wilt sweep off the dust from thy sword. When thou seest the whole of it (i.e. conquerest the whole world), at once peace will descend upon it, after all those disasters and calamities. When thou dismountest from thy horse in Baghdad, the Abbasid devil will come out to greet thee, slaughtering his own son as sacrifice for thy good luck." This is probably a vague echo of the events of Nasir's time when the khutba for the Fatimids was inroduced in Baghdad by al-Basasiri (killed in 451/1060).
The late Prof. E.G. Browne proclaimed Nasir-i Khusraw as a rare exception amongst the Persian poets who wrote his poetry as "an artist creating for art's sake," never making it a means of attaining any material advantage. Prof. Browne was as incorrigible optimist. Surely, the poem that is translated here, was not sent for nothing to al-Mu'ayyid, and it clearly requests him to remind the Caliph about him. Nasir even plainly asks for arrangements to be made that it should be recited by a certain Abu Ya'qub, obviously one of those reciters of the Coran or poetry, heralds, who were employed at the Fatimid court. Nasir's other poems are also of the same kind. Quite naturally they are all addressed to eminent Ismaili people. We may ask, to whom else could a poet in the position of Nasir-i Khusraw send poems from his Yumgan? Nasir was certainly no exception in this sense, only he had no opportunities.
We shall discuss the question of his aim in dedicating such poem to al- Mu'ayyid, or to the Caliph himself in the section devoted to Nasir's position in the Ismaili hierarchy. According to the ideas of his time, qasida was a form of composition intended for a definite purpose, and he hardly ever thought of disregarding this. From his works, we cannot imagine him as a sort of modernist who would write "letters that have never been posted," simply for pastime.