O friends, (translated by Jane Hirshfield)


‘O friends,’ by Mirabai is a deeply poignant poem that wrestles exhaustingly with a yearning heartache.


Nationality: Indian

Mirabai was a 16th-century Hindu mystic poet.

She is celebrated as a saint and the north Indian Hindu tradition.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Lovelorn pain can only be healed through reunion.

Themes: Desire, Love, Religion

Speaker: A heartbroken lover.

Emotions Evoked: Love for Him, Pain, Passion

Poetic Form: Ode

Time Period: 16th Century

Mirabai's poem is a powerful expression of the rapturous anguish that can fill the vacancy of a loved one. One that is achieved through the poet's potent illustrations through imagery and figurative language.

‘O friends,’ expresses with exquisite passion and precision the agony of being separated from the one you love. The poem is attributed to a Hindu mystic poet named Mirabai, who lived in 16th-century India and was a notable devotee of the Hindu deity Krishna.

This poem (translated by Jane Hirshfield) offers a comprehensive understanding of the various elements that find fruition in her poetry, from the speaker’s perception of Krishna as both spiritual teacher and lover to their longing for an ecstatic reunion with them. The poem accomplishes this through a series of vividly fervent imagery and metaphors that capture the misery experienced by someone inflamed by overwhelming love.


‘O friends,’ by Mirabai unfolds as an expression of heartache by a speaker aching to be reunited with their lover.

‘O friends,’ opens with the speaker expressing both the burning intensity of their passion (“I am mad / with love”) and a sadness that “no one sees.” In the second stanza, they reveal that this love is directed at someone who isn’t currently with them. The speaker then describes how the separation has made it impossible for them to sleep peacefully and explains that their specific pain and longing are only understood by those who’ve gone through something similar. They emphasize that they’ve searched for a cure to their lovelorn anguish, but no cure exists except a reunion with their “Beloved.” The poem ends with the speaker invoking and praying to the “Dark One” (i.e., Krishna) to heal her heartbreak.

Historical Context

Over the centuries, thousands of poems have been attributed to Mirabai, but scholars are still unsure how many she actually wrote. Yet the folktales and legends inspired by her life have made her a monumental historical and cultural figure and a venerated Bhakti sant. Today, Mirabai’s poems are still sung in India as religious devotional songs called “bhajans,” and her poetry (including translated works) has remained timeless and impassionately affecting.

Literary Devices

‘O friends,’ uses a handful of literary devices, some of which include:

  • Visual imagery: “When the bed of my Beloved / is spread open elsewhere?” (5-6); “O Dark One” (14).
  • Auditory imagery: “Mira calls her Lord” (14).
  • Metaphor: “My mattress is a sword-point, / how can I sleep” (3-4); “Only those who have felt the knife / can understand the wound” (7-8); “only the jeweler / knows the nature of the Jewel” (9-10).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

O friends, I am mad
with love, and no one sees.

The opening stanza of ‘O friends,’ begins with a declaration of love by the speaker. It also contextualizes their words as being spoken to an intimate and trusted group of people. The speaker reveals to these friends that they are “mad / with love” (1-2). Mirabai’s diction accentuates the overwhelming passion of such emotion.

Stanza Two

My mattress is a sword-point,
how can I sleep
when the bed of my Beloved
is spread open elsewhere?

In the second stanza of ‘O friends,’ the speaker offers a metaphor to help illustrate their agony. Comparing their mattress to a “sword-point” (3) that pains them to sleep without their “Beloved” (5). The image is powerful and perfectly articulates the sharp and persistent discomfort of trying to sleep alone without the one you love by your side.

Stanza Three

Only those who have felt the knife
can understand the wound,
only the jeweler
knows the nature of the Jewel.

In stanza three of ‘O friends,’ the speaker clarifies that their pain is understood only by those who have felt both the warmth of love and the sorrow of separation. Two more metaphors are used by Mirabai to communicate these sentiments. The first compares their heartache to a knife wound that only someone who possesses a similar injury can understand.

Then the speaker refers to their love for their beloved as a jewel that only a jeweler who “knows [its] nature” (10) can appreciate. The purpose of both metaphors is to underscore the intensely personal nature of such pain and ecstasy. Those who belittle it or disregard it do so only out of the ignorance of never experiencing either.

Stanza Four

I have lost it,
and though anguish takes me door to door
no doctor answers.

In the fourth stanza of ‘O friends,’ the speaker mentions that they have lost something. This might be a reference to the jewel mentioned in the previous stanza, which symbolizes their beloved. The speaker describes going “door to door” (12) in an attempt to cure their anguish, which characterizes their yearning pain as an active search for a remedy. Tragically however, they find that “no doctor” (13) will answer their call, and they’re left to simply suffer through it.

Stanza Five

Mira calls her Lord: O Dark One,
Only You can heal this pain.

‘O friends,’ ends with a third-person address that dissolves the line between speaker and poet. This stanza also introduces the poem’s religious undercurrents as the speaker narrates how “Mira calls her Lord” (14) to ask for relief. But this isn’t just the words of a heartsick person invoking the gods (in this case, Krishna) to alleviate their woes.

In keeping with Mirabai’s distinctive style, the speaker actually views the deity as their star-crossed lover. It is the absence of Krishna that they pine over and find so utterly unbearable. As a result, the only thing that could hope to heal it is their renewed presence — a rapturously bittersweet request that underscores the relationship between a religious devotee and the deity they passionately worship.


What is the theme of the poem?

One interpretation of the poem’s theme might focus on the speaker’s desperate desire to be reunited with their beloved. In doing so, they believe they will find not just emotional fulfillment but spiritual bliss as well.

Why did Mirabai write the poem?

The poem was written by Mirabai to illustrate their ardent devotion to Krisha. All of her poems revolve around her unrequited desire to be spiritually united with the deity, giving voice to the intense veneration she holds for them.

What does the speaker mean when they say “no one sees” their love?

This could mean that it is deliberately hidden from others (except perhaps close friends), or they are simply not acknowledged or validated. Either way, it develops a motif of suppression and restraint that contrast the speaker’s impassioned love and heartache. It might also reference Mirabai’s own life, as the folktales surrounding her often mention she was shunned and persecuted for her intense romantic devotion to Krishna.

Why does the speaker refer to their “Lord” as “O Dark One” in the poem?

The Sanskrit word that “Krishna” originates from means “black” and “dark coloured.” As a result, the deity is often depicted as having black or blue-hued skin. When the speaker refers to them as “O Dark One,” they are drawing attention to the mystical color of their skin and its beauty with reverence.

Similar Poems

Poetry+ Review Corner

O friends, (translated by Jane Hirshfield)

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Mirabai (poems)


This poem by the Hindu poet Mirabai is indicative of much of her poetry, or bhajans. These devotional lines of verse are dedicated to the deity Krishna, whom the poet felt a passionate kinship with. Through all the hardship she faced in life she remained exceptionally loyal to the god and wrote poems like this to assuage both her own pain and others.
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16th Century

Mirabai came to prominence in the 16th century for her intensely passionate devotion to Krishna, which she recorded in devotional songs called bhajans. Historians have had a difficult time separating fact from legend, as well as determining if there was a difference between the historical Mirabai and the one that has been attributed with so many poems.
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Mirabai was an important Hindu mystic poet and devotee to the Hindu deity known as Krishna. Her poetry was quite influential, as many of her compositions still survive and are sung in modern India both in Hindi and English as was the nature of devotional poems like this one, Kirshna is often depicted as both a yogi and lover.
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As a devotional poem, the speaker expresses a fervent desire to be reunited with their beloved. For Mirabai, this literally meant the deity that was Krishna, whom they felt a special connection with. The poem's imagery and figurative language illustrate the ways in which the speaker is consumed by this desire. It overwhelms them, and the pain of its lack of fulfillment is excruciating to them.
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Love is one of the core themes of the poem. Apart from the passionate desire that the speaker evokes, there is very clearly an underlying love that courses through their words. This is not some temporary bond but a lifelong one, and the pain of not having their beloved with them is sickening.
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This is a religious poem; more specifically, it is a devotional song called a bhajan. These often dealt with religious or spiritual themes, and Mirabai used them to express her profound love and devotion to Krishna. As a result, the poem is not just an expression of passionate love but also of fervent faith as well.
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Love for Him

Mirabai's poem also expresses and inspires a deep love for the deity Krishna. The speaker describes themselves as being made with such love and that only those who have experienced such ardent emotion can understand it. The result is a poem that poignantly captures the powerful nature of such feelings and their feverish ability.
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One of the emotions found within the poem is this potent pain. Being separated from their beloved leads to an unbearable agony that keeps the speaker from sleeping and lacks any cure. Short of being reunited with their lover, they are doomed to exist in this state of anguish; this is made all the more vivid by the poet's use of imagery and figurative language.
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An emotion that is expressed vibrantly throughout the poem is the speaker's passion for their beloved. What makes their words all the more impactful is the way the speaker characterized their desire via their pain. This blurs the line between ecstasy and heartache but offers up a surprisingly lucid illustration of such emotion.
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One of the topics the poem touches on is devotion, in particular, a religious kind directed at the Hindu deity Krishna. Although it is a devotion based on faith, the poem reveals all the similarities between it and romantic love. The speaker themselves are zealous in their conviction that the only thing that can soothe their pain is to be reunited with their beloved.
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Heartbreak is another topic in the poem as Mirabai likens Krishna to both a deity to be worshipped and followed but also loved. According to legend, the poet saw herself as joining the god in a spiritual marriage. Even when the poet was married (through an arranged marriage), she maintained her love for Krishna. In this poem, share reveals her heartbreak in being apart from him and also that people do not understand her love.
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Since this poem is a devotional addressed to Krishna, it can be seen as a form of prayer. Many similar works are attributed to Mirabai and are still sung today, speaking to the timelessness of their expressions. This poem unfolds as a prayer to be reunited with Krishna so that the speaker's heartbreak can be healed.
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The speaker expresses a profound level of faith and devotion that they never once question whether their love is reciprocated. Instead, they passionately await their beloved's return, enduring whatever pain they are faced with. What makes this poem so enduring is how accurately Mirabai articulates the agony of waiting for a loved one.
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Mirabai was known for writing devotional religious poems and songs. As a result, poems like this one greatly resemble a kind of ode, one inspired by both spiritual and romantic passion. This ecstasy is given form by its absence and in the intense longing of the speaker. The result is a poem that both celebrates and yearns for their beloved.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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