A Limb Just Moved by Mirabai

A Limb Just Moved is a poem attributed to Mirabai, a Hindu mystic and Bahkti saint who lived in the sixteenth century and was well-known for her incredible devotion to Krishna, and to her faith. She is celebrated even today, for her many poems, and for the many poems she inspired, about faith, spirituality, and about the beauty of the world around her.

 

Historical Background

Meera, Mirabai, or Meerabai, lived in the sixteenth century, and was born to an Indian royal family, where she grew up to become a devoted Hindu and poet in the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement was a branch of Hinduism that viewed a person’s journey towards their own spirituality as being a deeply personal one that was distinct and unhindered by an individual’s caste or gender. Mirabai, who is a saint to the movement, was known for embodying these concepts; according to legends surrounding her, she was unconcerned with social conventions that were considered mandatory for her time, and made her faith in Krishna a central aspect of her life, writing poems and songs in his honour that are well-known even today.

Mirabai is generally considered to have been born in the final few years of the fifteenth century, and to have lived for between 47 and 48 years. First-hand accounts from the poet-saint herself are extremely rare, and as such, most of the information concerning her — including her poems — are second-hand or disputable sources. Much of Mirabai’s life appears in legends and fold tales with fairly little to distinguish facts from fictions. Even her poems are a subject of dispute — there are thousands of poems attributed to her authorship, but relatively few can be accurately attributed to her. Many of these poems were in fact written by her followers and by those who were closely connected to her in her life and after her death — as such, it is difficult to properly attribute many of her poems to her own pen, A Limb Just Moved included. That the poems need to be translated into modern English is also a potential issue for discerning meaning.

 

A Limb Just Moved – Poem

You taught Your songs to the birds first,

why was that?

And You practised Your love in the hearts of animals

before You created man,

I know the planets talk at night

and tell secrets

about

You.

A limb just moved before me,

the beauty of this world

is causing me to

weep

 

Bhajan Poetry

A Limb Just Moved is an example of a bhajan verse, rich is simply defined as a song written in an Indian language that has a religious or spiritual theme. It is a popular form of poetry and song in Hindu and Sikh movements, and as such are typically derived from religious teachings, including devotion to a deity or the teachings of a prominent religious figure. Bhakti saints like Mirabai are typically seen as the pioneers of the style. Besides the consistent thematic overtures, there are no “rules” to creating bhajan verses — they are typically written freeform verses, though as they are intended to by accompanied by music and voice, are generally written with that in mind. As poetry, they appear as free form verses, written in a wide variety of styles with no particular rules to the structure of each poem.

 

A Limb Just Moved Analysis

You taught Your songs to the birds first,

why was that?

The free verse style of A Limb Just Moved is made immediately clear, as the first “verse” is posed in the same way such a question would ordinarily be posed. The line break only serves to extend the pause indicated by the comma, and to allow the last three words to stand on their own, emphasized away from the rest of the work. This sets up the idea of a person who is trying to understand divinity; the capitalization of “You” and “Your” implies that the subject of the address is such an entity. The question itself references the songs of a god, and suggests that the natural world and the divine world are closely related, and that the natural world is of higher spirituality than the world of humans. Birds and humans both can sing, but the birds learned the songs first — and the speaker wants to understand why.

And You practised Your love in the hearts of animals

before You created man,

The second section of the poem does not ask a question, but rather is presented as stating a fact; that the creator of life made animals before humans, to practice creating love. Again, there is an idea that animals have a stronger spirituality than humans, and that the divine forces of the universe have, in some way, favoured the natural world over the human world. Once again, the line break is designed to emphasize an idea, this time of a world that existed before humans did.

I know the planets talk at night

and tell secrets

about

You.

In the second half of A Limb Just Moved, the perspective of the piece shifts into a first-person narrative. The speaker says that they know about divine mysteries that the other planets know about. At the time this poem was written, of course, there was no evidence to suggest that the other planets were not sentient beings, but it is likely that this is meant as a metaphor for something unknown, and something greater than people could comprehend based on the knowledge that was available to them. Again, this is the idea that the natural world, as a collective entity, is closer to the spiritual world than humankind is; the birds, the animals, and the planets are all collectively described as knowing something greater — the birds know the songs of gods, the animals understand their love, and the planets know their secrets.

A limb just moved before me,

the beauty of this world

is causing me to

weep

The verse ends with the titular message, which depicts an interaction between the world of humans — in the form of the speaker — and the natural world, in the form of the limb, a common description for a tree branch. The most important part of this verse is the word “weep,” which takes up its own line (again, for emphasis). The core idea that seems to drive A Limb Just Moved is that the natural world, the divine world, and the manmade world are all related, and have always been closely joined in a spiritual sense. When the tree limb moves before the speaker, they cry for its beauty, because in that movement, they see the influence of the creator of all things, and take a very simple joy in the impossibly complex world they live in, even as they embody it in something as simple as a tree and the way it moves, presumably with the wind. The very simple structure and expression here (as there is nothing particularly complex about A Limb Just Moved) is likely designed to parallel the simplicity of the message and the way Mirabai saw the world in her life, where something as simple as a limb that has moved can move her to tears for its simple beauty.

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