Introduction by Alison Marshall
Baha'u'llah wrote the Houri of Wonder in the last years of his 10-year stay in Baghdad. The exact date that it was written is not known, but it is likely to have been the early 1860s. For this reason, the tablet is associated with Baha'u'llah's declaration, which took place 1863.
The tablet is a poem in which Baha'u'llah extols the coming of his new revelation. As with many other tablets on this theme, Baha'u'llah uses the image of a woman of striking beauty to symbolise the overwhelming power of his revelation. The word he uses to refer to her is "houri". The tablet ends tragically, foreshadowing the fact that most people would reject Baha'u'llah's claim to be a manifestation of God and refuse the spiritual gifts he offers them.
At the beginning of the poem, Baha'u'llah describes how the houri removes the veil from her face and reveals her extraordinary beauty. This causes the spirits to faint and then soar up into the spiritual worlds. Using the power of her look and bearing, the houri lights up the earth, burns away all "names and designations" and causes everything on earth to pass out of existence. She perfumes everything, offers everyone the wine of life and causes hearts to melt from her song and beauty. Those who understand allow themselves to be taken by her. But others turn away from her out of pride and suspicion. She is deeply grieved at this and cries out.
Before leaving, she gives the people of the Book some advice. She tells them not to reject her and questions whether they are truly guided and truly God's friends. In response to their rejection, she says that the mysteries will be concealed in the scriptures, and that she will not return until the Day of Resurrection. Baha'u'llah ends the poem by describing this outcome as a "wondrous abasement".
Further discussions on Houri of Wonder can be found in:
- John Walbridge, Sacred Acts. Sacred Space. Sacred Time (Oxford: George Ronald, 1996) p 239.
- Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Baghdad 1853-63 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1977) p 218.