Home Page
Books on Rumi
Bibliography
Works of Rumi 
Rumi's Poetry

        
Events in UK
Daily Poem
Daily Quotes
Mailing List
Sufism
Discussion Forum
Persian with Rumi

        
Music
Reflections
Acknowledgements
Search
Contact

 

Tales from Masnavi

 

From Tales from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi 

translated by A.J. Arberry

 

Introduction

1-The Lament of the Reed Flute

9-The grammarian and the boatman

12-The man who said, 'It is I'

21-Omar and the man
22-The man who stole a snake

25-The king and his falcon, on penitence 
42-The blind beggar

44-Galen and the madman 

 

 

 45-A story of Moses

48-The man who married a harlot

56-The old man and the doctor
60-The miracle of the wine 

61-The mouse and the camel

65-The prayer that was answered
67-The Jackal that pretended to be a peacock

71-The Elephant in the dark  

73-The striker and the stricken

 

 

 

œ

1-The Lament of the reed-flute is a symbol of the soul's sorrow
at being parted from the Divine Beloved.

LISTEN to this reed, how it makes complaint, telling a tale of separation: 'Ever since I was cut off from my reed-bed, men and women all have lamented my bewailing. I want a breast torn asunder by severance, that I may fully declare the agony of yearning. Every one who is sundered far from his origin longs to recapture the time when he was united with it. In every company I have poured forth my lament, I have consorted alike with the miserable and the happy: each became my friend out of his own surmise, none sought to discover the secret in my heart. My secret indeed is not remote from my lament, but eye and ear lack the light to perceive it. Body is not veiled from soul, nor soul from body, yet to no many is leave given to see the soul.'

This cry of the reed is fire, it is not wind; whoever possesses not this fire, let him be naught! It is the surge of love that bubbles in the wine. The reed is the true companion of everyone parted from a fried: its melodies have rent the veils shrouding our hearts. Whoever saw poison and antidote in one the like of the reed? Whoever saw sympathiser and yearner in one the like of the reed? The reed tells the history of the blood-bespattered way, it tells the stories of Majnun's hopeless passion. Only the senseless is intimate with the mysteries of this Sense; only the heedful ear can buy what the tongue retails. Untimely the days have grown in our tribulation; burning sorrows have travelled along with all our days; yet if our days have all departed, bid them be gone - it matters not; only do Thou abide, O Thou incomparably holy! Whoever is not a fish is soon satiated with His water; he who lacks his daily bread, for him the day is very long. None that is inexperienced comprehends the state of the ripe, wherefore my words must be short; and now, farewell!

 

  Ý

œ

9-The grammarian and the boatman

A GRAMMARIAN once embarked in a boat. Turning to the boatman with a self-satisfied air he asked him:

            ‘Have you ever studied grammar?’

            ‘No,’ replied the boatman.

            ‘Then half your life has gone to waste,’ the grammarian said.

The boatman thereupon felt very depressed, but he answered him nothing for the moment. Presently the wind tossed the boat into a whirlpool. The boatman shouted to the grammarian:

            ‘Do you know how to swim?’

            ‘No’ the grammarian replied, ‘my well-spoken, handsome fellow’.

            ‘In that case, grammarian,’ the boatman remarked, ‘the whole of your life has gone to waste, for the boat is sinking in these whirlpools.’

You may be the greatest scholar in the world in your time, but consider, my friend, how the world passes away - and time!

Ý

œ

12- The man who said, 'It is I'

 

A CERTAIN man once came and knocked on on the door of a friend.

'Who are you, faithful one?' his friend asked.

'I,' he answered.

'Go away', the friend said. 'It is not the proper time. There is no place for such a raw fellow at a table like mine.'

What shall cook the raw, but he fire of banishment and separation? What shall deliver him out of hypocrisy?

That wretched man departed and wandered abroad for a year, burned as with sparks of fire in separation from his friend. So, scorched, he was cooked; then he returned and once more circled about the house of his companion. Fearful a hundredfold, he gently knocked tat the door, anxious lest any unmannerly word should escape his lips. 

His friend called, 'Who is that at the door?'

He answered, 'You also are at the door, heart-ravisher!'

'Now,' the friend cried, 'since you are I, come in. O I! There is not room in the house for two I's.'

Ý

œ

21-Omar and the man who thought he saw the new moon.

OMAR was caliph; the month of the fast had come round. A crowd of people ran to the top of a hill to draw a good omen from the sight of the crescent moon.

'See, Omar!' cried on. 'The new moon!'

Omar did not see any moon in the sky.

'This moon,' he remarked to the man, 'has risen from your imagination. Otherwise, how is it that I do not see the pure crescent, seeing that I am a better scanner of the skies than you? West your hand,' he went on,' and rub it on your eyebrow, then take another look at the new moon.'

The man wetted his eyebrow, and no more saw the moon.

'Yes,' commented Omar. 'The hair of your eyebrow became a bow and shot at you and arrow of surmise.'

One hair through becoming crooked had waylaid him completely, so that he falsely claimed boastfully to have seen the moon.

If one crooked hair can veil the whole sky, how will it be if all your parts are crooked?

Ý

œ

22-The man who stole a snake, ano the answer to prayer

 

A THIEF once stole a snake from a snake-catcher, and in his folly accounted it a rich prize. The snake-catcher escaped from the bite of the snake; the man who had stolen his snake was killed by it most miserably. The snake-catcher saw him, and recognized him.

'Well, well,' he remarked. 'My snake has robbed him of life. My soul was begging and beseeching God that I might find the thief and take my snake back from him. Thanks be to God that my prayer was rejected. I supposed it to be a loss, and it turned out a gain.'

Ý

œ

 

25-The king and his falcon, on penitence

 

 A FALCON once flew away from his royal master to an old woman who was sifting flour, to bake pasties from her children. Her eyes lighted upon the fine, high-born falcon and at once she tied its feet and clipped its wings, cut its talons and gave it straw to eat.

            ‘Unfortunately persons have not treated you properly,’ she said. ‘Your wings have grown beyond measure, you talons are too long. The hand of the unworthy is sure to make you ill; come to your mother, she will look after you.’

            The king hunted all day for his bird, and finally came to the old woman’s tent where he suddenly sighted the falcon all amongst the smoke and dust. The king wept bitterly over eth bird and made lament.

            ‘Though this is the just reward for what you did, seeing you did not keep true faith with  me, yet how could you flee to Hell from Paradise? Did you not heed God’s words, “Not equal are the inhabitants of the Fire and eh inhabitants of Paradise”?’

            The Falcon was all the while rubbing its wings against the king’s hand as if to say, ‘I have sinned.’

            'King, I have sinned,' the falcon siad, 'Now I am penitent. I am converted, I am a Moslem anew'.

 

Ý

œ

42-The blind beggar, on the power of compassion 

 

 THERE was once a blind man who all the time cried, ‘Have pity! I am doubly blind, people of this passing time. Attend therefore, and show me double compassion, for I have two blindnessess, and exist between them.’

            ‘We see your one blindness well enough,’ remarked someone. ‘What may the other blindness be? Pray explain.’

            ‘I have an ugly voice an unpleasing tone,’ he replied. ‘An ugly voice, and blindness – there you have the double. My ugly cry makes people annoyed, so that their affection is diminished by my cry. Wherever my ugly voice betakes itself, it becomes the source of anger, annoyance and hatred. Have double compassion upon my double blindness, make room in you hearts for one who id denied all room.’

            The ugliness of his voice was lessened by this lament, so that the people with one heart took compassion upon him. By telling his secret, his voice was made beautiful y the sweet accents of the voice of his hart. But the man whose heart’s voice is also evil, that triple blindness dooms him to everlasting exile.

 

Yet it may be that the bountiful ones who give without cause will lay a hand upon his hideous head. Since the beggar’s voice became sweet and plaintive, the hearts of the stony-hearted became soft as wax.

Ý

œ

 

45 -A story of Moses, on consorting with the saints

GOD spake unto Moses reproachfully, saying, ‘O thou who hast seen the moon rise out of they bosom, whom I have illuminated with the Light Divine, I who am God fell sick; why camest thou not to visit Me?’

            ‘O Thou who are all-glorious and all-perfect,’ Moses cried, ‘what mystery is this? Explain it to me, O Lord.’

            God spake again unto Moses, saying, ‘When I was sick, why didst thou not kindly enquire after Me?

            Moses answered, ‘Lord, there is no imperfection in Thee: I have lost my reason: uncover these words to me.’

            God said, ‘Verily a chosen all well-loved servant of Mine fell ill. I am he: mark it well: his exemption is my exemption, his sickness I My sickness.’  

Whosoever would sit with God, let him sit in the company of the saints, If you are severed from the company of the saints you are in destruction, being a part without the whole.

Ý

œ

44-Galen and the madman  

 

GALEN said to his companions, ‘One of you administer to me such-and-such a drug.’

            ‘Learned professor,’ one of the replied, ‘the drug you name is prescribed in cases of lunacy. Far be this form you powerful mind! Do not speak of it again!’

            ‘A lunatic,’ Galen explained, ‘turned his face to me, looked into my face agreeably for a while, winked at me, and pulled me by the sleeve. If I had not been to some extent his congener, how would that ugly creature have turned his face towards me? How would he have approached me, had he not seen in me one of his own kind? How would he have fling himself upon one of another kind?’

 

When two people rub shoulder together, without a doubt there is something common between them. Does a bird fly save with its won kind?

 

The company of the uncongenial is the grave and the tomb.

  Ý

œ

48 -The man who married a harlot, on living dangerously 

 

THE prince of Tirmidh said one night to his court-jester Dalqak, 'You have taken to wife a harlot in your haste. You should have mentioned the matter to me, then we might have married you to a respectable woman'.

'I have already married nine respectable and virtuous women,' said the jester. 'They all became harlots, and I wasted away with grief. Now I have taken this harlot not knowing her previously so as to see how this one would turn out in the end. I have tried good sense often enough already; hence forward I intend to cultivate madness!'

Lest safety go, and live dangerously; forsake good repute, be notorious and a scandal. I have made trial of provident good sense; hereafter I am going to make myself mad.

Ý

œ

56-The Old man and the doctor, on inveterate wickedness

 

AN old man said to a doctor, 'My brain I giving me hell.'

The doctor said, 'That infirmity of brain comes from old age.'

The old man said, 'I see dark spot in front of my eyes.'

The doctor said, 'That comes of old age, ancient one.'

The old man said, 'I get terrible backaches.'

The doctor said, 'That comes of old age, skinny old fellow.'

The old man said, 'Everything I eat repeats on me.'

The doctor said, 'A weak stomach comes from old age.'

The old man said, 'It hurts me when I breathe.'

The doctor said, 'Yes, it is probably asthma. Old age brings on two hundred ailments.'

The old man said, 'You fool, you r needle has stuck; that is all you have learned of medicine. Addle-pate, your intellect has not taught you that God has appointed a cure for every pain. Idiot of a donkey, it is sheer incapacity that keeps you stuck in the mud; you have the feet to pick yourself up.'

The doctor said, 'Sexagenarian, you bad temper and rage are also of old age. Since all the functions and parts of your body are attenuated, your self-control and patience have also become feeble.'

 

An old man cannot endure two words together, he cries out at once; he cannot keep down a single gulp, he vomits it straightaway - except of course the Elder intoxicated with God, whose inward being God endows with 'a goodly life;. outwardly he is old, but inwardly he is youthful.

   

Ý

œ

A CERTAIN man accused a shaikh, saying, ‘He is wicked, he is not on the path of rectitude. He is a winebibber, a hypocrite and a profligate; what sort of help is he to his disciples?’

            ‘Show a little respect,’ said one of the disciples. ‘It is no small matter to harbour such thoughts about the great. Far is it form him, and far from his saintly qualities, fro his clear spirit to be darkened by any torrent. Lay not such slander upon the people of God! This is pure imagination on your part. Turn a new page. What you say is quite untrue; and even if it were true, land-bird that you are, what has the Red Sea to fear from one corpse? The shaikh is not less in magnitude than tow jugfuls, or a small cistern, so how can just one drop of impurity defile him?’

            The evil-minded wretch still went on spouting rubbish about the shaikh: a squint-eyed man always has a twisted mind.

            ‘I saw him at a party,’ he babbled. ‘He is naked and bereft of all piety. If you do not believe it, get up and go out tonight and you will see you shaikh’s dissoluteness with your own eyes.

            That night he took the disciple to a window.

            ‘Look at the debauchery and making merry!’ he cried. ‘Look at the hypocrisy by day and the debauchery by night! By day a Muhammad, by night a Bu Lahab; by day called God’s servant, by night-God preserve us! And a wine-cup in his hand!’

            The disciple saw a full beaker in the Elder’s hand.

            ‘Master, is there a tumour even in you?’ he exclaimed. ‘Did you not always say that is a cup of wine the Devil micturates hurriedly and deliberately?’

            ‘They have made my cup so full,’ said the shaikh, ‘that there is not room in it for so much as one grain of rue. Look, is there room here fro a single mote? Some misguided fellow has got the matter all wrong. This is not a cup,’ he went on, ‘and this is not wine. Come down, unbeliever, and look at it for yourself!’

            He came, and saw it was purest honey. That wretched enemy of God was covered with confusion.

            Thereupon the Elder said to his disciple, ‘Go and fetch me some wine, good sir. I am in pain; I am constrained; I am past starvation because of the pain. In time of constraint any carcase is ritually clean – a curse be on the head of the unbeliever!’

            The disciple went round the wine-cellar, tasting of every jar for the sake of the shaikh; but in all the wine-cellars the found no wine at all; the jars of wine had become full of honey.

            ‘Drinkers!’ he cried. ‘What is this state of affairs? What has happened? I cannot find wine in any jar.’

            All the drinkers came to the shaikh, weeping and beating their heads with their hands.

            ‘Most noble shaikh,’ they cried, ‘you entered the tavern and because of you advent all the wines have turned to honey. You have changed the wine and cleanses it of defilement; change our souls also, and purify them of nastiness!’

Ý

œ

61-The mouse and the camel, a warning against spiritual pride

A LITTLE mouse once caught in its paws a camel's head-rope and in a spirit of emulation went off with it. Because of the nimbleness with which the camel set off along with him the mouse was duped into thinking himself a champion. The flash of his thought struck the camel.

'Go on, enjoy yourself,' he grunted. 'I will show you!'

Presently the mouse came to the margin of a great river, such as would have cast down any lion or wolf. There the mouse halted, struck all of a heap.

'Comrade over mountain and plain,' said the camel, 'why this standing still? Why are you dismayed? Step on like a man! Into the river with you! You are my guide and leader; do not halt half-way, paralysed!'

'But this a vast and deep river,' said the mouse. 'I am afraid of being drowned, comrade.'

'Let me see how deep the water is,' said the camel, and quickly set foot in it.

The water only comes up to my knee,' he went on, 'Blind mouse, why were you dismayed? Why did you lose your head?'

'To you it is an ant, but to me it is a dragon,' said the mouse. 'There are great differences between one knee and another. If it only reaches your nee, clever camel, it passes a hundred cubits over my head.'

'Be not so arrogant another time,' said the camel, 'lest you are consumed body and soul by the sparks of my wrath. Emulate mice like yourself; a mouse has no business to hobnob with camels.'

'I repent,' said the mouse. 'For God's sake get me across this deadly water!'

'Listen,' said the camel, taking compassion on the mouse. 'Jump up and sit on my hump. This passage has been entrusted to me; I would take across hundreds of thousands like you.'

Since you are not the ruler, be a simple subject; since you are not captain, do not steer the ship.

Ý

 

œ

65-The prayer that was answered

 

 

A CERTAIN man one night was crying 'Allah!' till his lips were becoming sweet with the mention of his name.

      'Why now, chatterbox,' said the Devil, 'where is the answer "Here am I" to all this "Allah" of yours? Not one answer is coming from the Throne: how long will your grimly go on crying "Allah"?'

     The man became broken-hearted, and laid down his head to sleep. He saw in a dream mystic Khazir11 all in a green garden.
     'Look now,' Khazir called, 'why have you desisted from the mention of God? How is it you repent of having called upon Him?'
     'No answering "Here am I" is coming to me,' the man replied, 'and I therefore fear that I may be refused from His door.'

     Khazir answered, 'Your cry of "Allah" (God says) is itself My "Here am I"; your pleading and agony and fervour is My messenger. All your twistings and turnings to come to Me were My drawing you that set free your feet. Your fear and love are the lasso to catch My grace. Under each "Allah" of yours whispers many a "Here am I".'

 

  Ý

œ

67-The jackal that pretended to be a peacock

A JACKAL once got into a dyeing-vat and there tarried for a space. Then he got out again, and his skin was stained with the dye.
      'See, I have become the Peacock of Heaven's Heights!' he cried.
      Indeed, his dyed fur had acquired a delightful sheen, and when the sun shone upon those colours he beheld himself green and crimson, russet and gold. So he displayed himself to the other jackals.
      'Little jackal,' they all exclaimed, 'what is the matter? Why is your head full of such perverse glee? You have gone apart form us in your exultation; what is the ground for your high disdain?'
      'You here,' one of the jackals went up to him and cried, 'are you a pretender, or is your heart truly joyous? You have perpetrated a fraud so as to jump up on the pulpit and with your vainglory make all the people envious. You have laboured much but experienced no true ardour, so you have displayed a fraudulent piece of impudence.'
      The multicoloured jackal slunk up quietly and whispered into the ear of the reprover.
      'Why, just look at me! Look at my colours! No idolater possesses an idol like me. I have become lovely and many-hued as the garden. Do not turn your head form em: bow down before me! See my pomp and splendour, my sheen, my glitter, my colour! Call me the Pride of the World, the Pillar of the Faith! I have become the theatre of the grace Divine, I have become the tablet expounding the majesty of God. You jackals, beware! Do not call me a jackal; how should a jackal possess so much beauty?
       The jackals gathered about him like months around a candle.
       'Say, what shall we call you then, creature of pure substance?'
       'Peacocks of the Spirit,' they then said to him, 'hold displays in the Garden of Roses. Do you make such a display?'
       'No,' he replied. 'How should I tread the streets of Mina, never having gone into the desert?'
       'Do you utter the peacocks' cry?'
       'No,' he answered.
       'Then you are not a peacock, father of lofty airs! The glory-robe of the peacock is the gift of heaven; how should you ever attain to it by means of dyes and false pretences?'

 

œ

 

   71-The Elephant in the dark, on the reconciliation of contrarieties

 

SOME Hindus had brought an elephant for exhibition and placed it in a dark house. Crowds of people were going into that dark place to see the beat. Finding that ocular inspection was impossible, each visitor felt it with his palm in the darkness.

            The palm of one fell on the trunk.

            ‘This creature is like a water-spout,’ he said.

            The hand of another lighted on the elephant’s ear. To him the beat was evidently like a fan.

            Another rubbed against its leg.

            ‘I found the elephant’s shape is like a pillar,’ he said.

            Another laid his hand on its back.

            ‘Certainly this elephant was like a throne,’ he said.

The sensual eye is just like the palm of the hand. The palm has not the means of covering the whole of the best.

The eye of the Sea is one thing and the foam another. Let the foam go, and gaze with the eye of the Sea. Day and night foam-flecks are flung from the sea: of amazing! You behold the foam but not the Sea. We are like boats dashing together; our eyes are darkened, yet we are in clear water.

  Ý

œ

73-The striker and the stricken, the dilemma of mystical bewilderment. 

 

  A CERTAIN man struck Zaid on the neck. Zaid rushed at him to join issue with him.

            ‘I have a question to ask you,’ said the assailant. ‘Answer me first, and then hit me back. I struck the nape of you neck; there was a sound of a slap. Now I have a question to ask you in all sincerity.  That sound of a slap – was it cause by my hand or by the nape of you r neck, highly honoured sir?’

            Zaid replied, ‘Because of the pain I have not the leisure to stand and reflect on this matter impartially. Since you have no pain, you do the pondering!’

Ý

œ

Further reading:

Teachings of Rumi The Masnaui Jalaludin Rumi, et al / Paperback

Tales from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi A.J. Arberry, - (30 June, 1993) Curzon Press                                                                          

Crazy As We Are : Selected Rubais from Divan-Kebir by Jalal Al-Din Rumi, et al. (December 1992) 

The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi, Afzal Iqbal Paperback  (August 1999) Oxford University Press

I Am Wind Your Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi Annemarie Schimmel,  (December 1992) Shambhala Publications

The Love Poems of Rumi Deepak Chopra (Editor), Fereydoun Kia,  Jalal Al-Din Rumi, et al 1998



 
Last updated: May 9, 2004
www.khamush.com