Known for her beauty and for being the female pioneer in the New Persian Poetry, Rabia Balkhi was born in a royal family and was a native of Balkh in Khorasan (which is now in Afghanistan). Her father, Ka’b al-Quzdari, was a chieftain at the Samanid court.
She was one of the first poets who wrote in modern Persian and she is among very few female writers of medieval Persia to be recorded in history by name. Her brother, Haris, inherited his father’s position after his father passed away.
As legends have it, her brother discovered about her secret love with a Turkic slave named Baktash. Rabia and Baktash would see each other in privacy and would write each other poetry. Haris imprisoned Baktash in well, cut the jugular vein of Rabia and imprisoned her in a bathroom. Other accounts tell stories of Rabia sinking into deep depression and pain till she was found dead in ladies bathhouse with her hand’s veins slashed. She wrote her final poems with her blood on the wall of the bathroom until she died.
Baktash escaped the well and assassinated Haris, as soon as he found out about Rabia. He then committed suicide.
A piece of her translated work:
By Rabia Balkhi
I am caught in Love’s web so deceitful
None of my endeavors turn fruitful.
I knew not when I rode the high-blooded stead
The harder I pulled its reins the less it would heed.
Love is an ocean with such a vast space
No wise man can swim it in any place.
A true lover should be faithful till the end
And face life’s reprobated trend.
When you see things hideous, fancy them neat,
Eat poison, but taste sugar sweet