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Umar and the Harpist, Masnavi I: 2199-2222

                                                                           Translated by Ibrahim Gamard
Umar1 (may God be pleased with him) changed (the harpist's) viewpoint from the station of weeping, which is being “existent,” to the station of being “drowned.”2 gardânîdan `umar-- raZiyu 'llâhu `an-hu-- naZar-é ô-râ az maqâm-é gerya ke hastî-st ba-maqâm-é istighrâq
2199 Umar then told him, “This weeping of yours is also (one of) the signs of your sobriety.3 2199 pas `umar goft-ash ke în zârîy-é tô
hast ham âSâr-é hoshyârîy-é tô
2200 “(But) the way of the one (who has) become annihilated4 is another way (entirely), because sobriety is another error [for the mystic].5 2200 râh-ê fânî-gashta râhê dîgar-ast
z-ân-ke hoshyârî gonâhê dîgar-ast
“Sobriety is due to remembering what is past-- (but) past and future are a veil (covering awareness) of God. 6 hast hoshyârî ze-yâd-é mâ-maZà
mâZî-wo mustaqbalat parda-yé khodâ
“Set fire to both (of them). How long will you be full of knots like the reed,7 because of these two?.8 âtesh andar zan ba-har dô tâ ba-kay
por gereh bâsh-î az-în har dô chô nay?
“As long as knots are in the reed, it isn't a confidant of secrets (and) it isn't the companion of the lips and outcry (of the flute player).9 tâ gereh bâ nay bow-ad, ham-râz nêst
ham-neshîn-é ân lab-o âwâz nêst
“When you are (engaged) in circling [the Ka'ba], you are wrapped up in yourself in the circling. (Then) when you come home [from Mecca], you are also with yourself. 10 chûn ba-Tawf-î khwad ba-Tawf-î, murtad-î
chûn ba-khâna âmad-î, ham bâ khwad-î
2205 “Your learnings are uninformed of the Giver of knowledge. (And) your repentance is worse than your sin.11 2205 ay khabar-hâ-t az khabar-deh bê-khabar
tawba-yé tô az gonâh-é tô batar
“You are seeking repentance about a past situation. (But) say: when will you repent from this repentance?12 ay tô az Hâl-é goZashta tâwba-jô
kay kon-î tawba az-în tawba be-gô?
“Sometimes you are making a low tone13 to be your direction (of focus), (and) sometimes you are “kissing” (shrill) cries14 of weeping.” ham-chô jân bê-gerya-wo bê-khanda shod
jân-sh raft-o jân-é dîgar zenda shod
When Umar15 became a mirror (revealing) secrets,16 the old man's soul became awake within.17 gâh bâng-é zêr-râ qibla kon-î
gâh gerya-yé zâr-râ qubla zan-î
He became without weeping and without laughing, just like the soul. His soul18 left, and another soul19 became alive (within him). chûn-ke fârûq ây'na-yé asrâr shod
jân-é pîr az andarûn bêdâr shod
2210 (In) that moment, (such) a bewilderment reached his interior that he went beyond the earth and the sky.20 2210 Hayratê âmad darûn-ash ân zamân
ke berûn shod az zamîn-o âsmân
(It was) a seeking and searching beyond seeking and searching.21 I don't know (how to describe it). (If) you know, speak! jost-o jôyê az warây-é jost-o jô
man na-mê-dân-am, tô mê-dân-î be-gô
(It was) a state and an expression beyond states and expressions.22 He became drowned in the Beauty of the Lord of Majesty.23 Hâl-o qâlê az waray-é Hâl-o qâl
gharqa gashta dar jamâl-é Zû 'l-jalâl
(It was) a drowning in which there could not be any deliverancefor him, or (in which) anyone could know (about) him-- besides the Ocean. gharqaêyê na ke khalâSî bâsh-ad-ash
yâ ba-joz daryâ kasê be-sh'nâs-ad-ash
The partial intellect would not be speaking about the Universal (Intellect)24 if there wasn't urgent request after urgent request. `aql-é juzw az kull gôyâ nêsty
gar taqâZâ bar taqâZâ nêsty
2215 Since pressing demand after demand is arriving, the waves of that Ocean are reaching here. 2215 chûn taqâZâ bar taqâZâ mê-ras-ad
mawj-é ân daryâ ba-d-în-jâ mê-ras-ad
(And) since the story of the (spiritual) state of that old man has reached this place, the old man and his state have drawn (their) faces in (behind) the curtain.25 chûn-ke qiSSa-yé Hâl-é pîr în-jâ rasîd
pîr-o Hâl-ash rôy dar parda kashîd
The old man has shed speech and speaking from (his) robe-- (so) half the talk has remained in my mouth. pîr dâman-râ ze-goft-o gô feshând
nêm-é gofta dar dahân-é mâ be-mând
(But) in order to produce this (kind of) joy and delight, it is necessary to gamble away a hundred thousand souls. az pay-é în `aysh-o `ishrat sâkhtan
Sad hazâr-ân jân be-shây-ad bâkhtan
While hunting in the forest of the soul, be a falcon. Be gambling away (your) life, just like the sun of (this) world. dar shekâr-é bêsha-yé jân bâz bâsh
ham-chô khworshêd-é jahân jân-bâz bâsh
2220 The lofty sun falls (into the horizon), scattering (its) life. Every moment it becomes empty (and) then is made full (again). 2220 jân-feshân oftâd khworshêd-é boland
har damê tay mê-shaw-ad, por mê-kon-and
O Sun of (spiritual) Reality! Scatter life, (and) cause newness to appear in this old world! jân-feshân ay âftâb-é ma`nawî
mar jahân-é kohna-râ be-n'mâ nawî
2222 Soul and spirit are coming into human existence from the Invisible (world) like flowing water.26

2222 dar wujûd-é âdamî jân-o rawân
mê-ras-ad az ghayb chûn âb-é rawân

  Mathnawi Meter: XoXX  XoXX  XoX



1Umar: A famous companion of the Prophet Muhammad, and his second successor, or Caliph.

In Rumi's story, a gifted harper became so elderly that his voice became worthless. He became impoverished and even unable to buy bread. He went to the graveyard in Medina and played his harp, singing out his grief to God and praying for money to buy new strings for his harp. The Caliph Umar heard a heavenly voice instructing him to bring some gold from the public treasury to the man who was sleeping in the graveyard. Umar brought the money to the man, who smashed his harp, repented of his attachment to music, and began praying and weeping loudly.

2 Being “existent,” to the station of being “drowned”: means being aware of one's separate self, in contrast to being “non-existent” of self-- which is a state of mystical consciousness beyond the mind, called “passing away” or “non-existence” [fanâ] by the sufis.

Nicholson later changed his translation, on the basis of the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to “...weeping, which is (self-) existence, to the stage of absorption (in God)” (from, “... to the state of absorption (in God), which is non-existence (of self)”).

3Sobriety: “Hushyárí [= sobriety, being sensible] is here opposed to mastí, ‘mystical intoxication and self-abandonment’.” (Nicholson, Commentary) “It means, ‘This weeping and lamenting which you are making is in some way a cause of (self-) existence and sobriety.’” (Anqaravi, Commentary-- translated here from a Persian translation of the famous 17th century Turkish commentary)

4Annihilated [fânî]: the mystical experience of being ecstatically free from the bonds of material existence and bodily and egoic identity. “The one whose path is becoming annihilated with love of God, it is another path.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

5Because sobriety is another error [for the mystic]: Nicholson translated, because sobriety is another sin. Nicholson refers to I:517, which he translated, This uttering of praise (to Him) is (really) theomission of praise on my part, for this (praise) is a proof of (my) being, and being is a sin. And he explained the latter as related to a verse quoted by the famous sufi Junayd (d.910), which he translated: When I say, "What sin have I committed"? she says in reply, "This uttering of praise ... no sin can be compared". (Nicholson, Commentary)

6Past and future are a veil (covering awareness) of God: Nicholson translated, “past and future are to thee a curtain (separating thee) from God.” And he explained: “In the higher planes of mystical experience all relations, including those of time and space, are found to be unreal.” (Commentary) “It means that bringing to mind the events of the past is an indication of sobriety and the action of the intellect.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

7Full of knots like the reed: Nicholson translated, “full of knots (joints) like a reed.” Refers to the reed cane which is not hollow (meaning here, “selfless”) until the joints are removed from the inside. “I.e. ‘so long as you remain in the bonds of illusion, you are cut off from Divine inspiration, just as a knotty unperforated reed is incapable of receiving the breath of the flute-player and making music.’” (Commentary)

8 Because of these two: “It means, ‘Ignite the fire of unity and the flame of negation of annihilation [lâ-yé fanâ] to the past and future so that they become erased.’” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

9The lips and outcry (of the flute player): refers to the shrill and yearning tones produced by the reed-flute player's breath. Nicholson translated, “the (flute-player's) lip and voice.” “It means, ‘Human existence is like the reed. And the bonds of past and future and the appearance of time and place in human existence are like knots and veils.... he is with God in such a way that the breath of the Spirit doesn't become his companion...” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

10You are also with yourself: This line presents some difficulties. While “you are being wrapped up [murtad-î] could also mean, “you are rejected,” the commentators interpret it as meaning “wrapped in (an ordinary garment called) a ridâ.”

The sufi master Junayd (d. 610) asked a man who had returned from the Pilgrimage to Mecca, “When you put on the pilgrim's garb at the proper place did you discard the attributes of humanity as you cast off your ordinary clothes?” The man said, “No.” Junayd replied, ‘Then you have not put on the pilgrim's garb. When you stood on ‘Arafát [= the large plain outside Mecca where pilgrims gather and stand for one day in prayer] did you stand one instant in contemplation of God?” The man answered no to every question, and Junayd told him that he had not yet performed the Pilgrimage and he should return to Mecca with the right spiritual attitude. (Hujwiri's “Kashf Al-Mahjub,” translated by Nicholson, p. 328)

Nicholson had a different interpretation, since he did not think the passage related to the Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ka'ba, or Temple, therein. He later changed his translation to, “When thou art touring (round thyself), thou art wrapped (absorbed) in the tour: when thou hast come home, thou art still with thyself (self-conscious)” (from, “When thou art (engaged) in going about:* when thou hast come home, thou art still with thyself (self-conscious)”; and he added in a footnote: *“I.e. ‘thou art absorbed in thy search, not in God’”). “Most commentators explain tawf [=circling] as referring to the circumambulation of the Ka'bah, i.e. ‘when you circumambulate the Ka'bah of Unity, wearing the ridá [= ordinary garment] of egoism (instead of the ihrám [= ritual garment worn during the rituals performed at Mecca] of self-abandonment), you cannot attain to the realisation of Unity’. In my opinion, however, tawf here describes the self-centered attitude of the penitent whose thoughts, instead of being fixed on God, are ever circling round his own past sins...” (Nicholson, Commentary).

“When will you find the way to the Ka'ba of Unity and how will you circumambulate the place of circling (Divine) Reality if you are circling around yourself and you are wearing the (ordinary) garments of existence?” (Anqaravi, Commentary).

11Your repentance is worse than your sin: “because self-consciousness is the greatest of all sins. Hence the elect do not repent of sinful acts as such, but only of ghaflat, i.e. forgetting God even for a moment. The true penitent is he who has been made immaculate by Divine grace, so that to him the very thought of sin is impossible; he is the lover in whom every attribute of self has been purged away.” (Nicholson, Commentary) “Then, with (your) making repentance [= asserting your own self-conscious will], you are establishing yourself in partnership [sharîk] with God.... And by this very cause, your repentance is worse than your sin.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

12When will you repent from this repentance: “i.e. ‘when wilt thou turn entirely to God?’” (Nicholson, Commentary) “Because this kind of repentance is a kind of sin to the verifiers of truth and those closest (to God), since (involvement with) that which has passed away is for them being in bondage.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

13A low tone: means groaning and moaning.

14You are kissing (shrill) cries: Nicholson translated, “thou dost kiss (art in love with) weeping and wailing.” In this verse there are word plays between “low tone” [zêr] and “shrill cries” [zâr]; and between “direction (of focus)” [qiblah] and “kissing” [qublah]. “These two states [= moaning and shrieking] are a barrier to the contemplation of God. So pass beyond this place.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

15Umar: literally, “Fârûq”-- a title given to Umar, which means “discriminating"between truth and falsehood.

16A mirror (revealing) secrets: “For his sake, (Umar) revealed divine secrets. He revealed plainly the (various) aspects of (Divine) mysteries for that old man.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

17Became awake within: “The spirit of the old harpist became awake within his interior and he obtained a (higher) spiritual rank.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

18His soul: “i.e. his animal soul.” (Nicholson, Commentary)

19Another soul: “i.e. the ‘human’ spirit (ján-i insaní) which God breathed into Adam.” (Nicholson, Commentary) “It means, his animal spirit departed and his godly spirit [rûH-é ilahî] became alive. With the godly spirit he found eternal life.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

20He went beyond the earth and the sky:“It means, he forgot whatever is besides [mâ-siwâ] (God).” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

21Beyond seeking and searching: “i.e. inapprehensible by the intellect. This verse depicts the end of the mystic's quest, viz. faná [= annihilation of self], as God's drawing him (jadhbah) to Himself, so that he becomes majdhúb-i mutlaq” [= absolutely attracted (to God from all else]. (Nicholson, Commentary)

22A state and an expression beyond states and expressions: Nicholson later changed his translation, based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to “Feelings and words beyond (all) feelings and words” (from, “Words and feelings beyond...”). “It means, beyond these commonly known states and words.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

23The Lord of Majesty: “And the Face of thy Sustaining Lord will abide (for ever): the Lord of Majesty and Honor” (Qur'an 55:27, 78)

24The Universal (Intellect): a term borrowed by Muslim philosophers from ancient Greek philosophy. It refers to the first “specification” willed by the Creator, from which the spirits of the prophets, saints, angels, and all of creation proceeded. A person's “partial” intellect is a particularization of the Universal Intellect, or Universal Reason. “I.e. Divine Wisdom requires that the nature of Reality should be made known through Man, whose spirit is an emanation of Universal Reason and perpetually receives from that source the grace and knowledge whereby it ascends to union with God.” (Nicholson, Commentary)

25In (behind) the curtain: means, “he reached the state of (mystical) drowning and absorption.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)

26Like flowing water: “It means, soul and spirit are going into the human body like flowing water, moment by moment. If you offer your entire soul in the way of God, that repeated newness-- and much newer than what you have offered-- will reach you from the Invisible World.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)


From “The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî” (Rhymed Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning) of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with gratitude for R .A. Nicholson's British translation, 1926-1934) ©Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration) (e-mail address: igmrd@yahoo.com)
This selection first published 9/28/00 on "Sunlight"(groups.yahoo.com)

Last updated: May 9, 2004