from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi
by A.J. Arberry
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,
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
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
‘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!
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.'
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
'See, Omar!' cried on. 'The
Omar did not see any moon in
'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
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?
22-The man who stole a
snake, ano the answer
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
'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.'
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.’
I have sinned,' the falcon siad, 'Now I am penitent. I am
converted, I am a Moslem anew'.
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.
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.
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.
man who married a harlot, on living dangerously
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!'
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.
Old man and the doctor, on inveterate wickedness
old man said to a doctor, 'My brain I giving me hell.'
doctor said, 'That infirmity of brain comes from old age.'
old man said, 'I see dark spot in front of my eyes.'
doctor said, 'That comes of old age, ancient one.'
old man said, 'I get terrible backaches.'
doctor said, 'That comes of old age, skinny old fellow.'
old man said, 'Everything I eat repeats on me.'
doctor said, 'A weak stomach comes from old age.'
old man said, 'It hurts me when I breathe.'
doctor said, 'Yes, it is probably asthma. Old age brings
on two hundred ailments.'
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
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.'
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.
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
‘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
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
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.
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!'
a vast and deep river,' said the mouse. 'I am afraid of
being drowned, comrade.'
see how deep the water is,' said the camel, and quickly
set foot in it.
only comes up to my knee,' he went on, 'Blind mouse, why
were you dismayed? Why did you lose your head?'
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.'
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
said the mouse. 'For God's sake get me across this deadly
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
are not the ruler, be a simple subject; since you are
not captain, do not steer the ship.
prayer that was answered
CERTAIN man one night was crying 'Allah!' till his lips
were becoming sweet with the mention of his name.
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"?'
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.'
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".'
jackal that pretended to be a peacock
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.
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.'
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?
gathered about him like months around a candle.
shall we call you then, creature of pure substance?'
of the Spirit,' they then said to him, 'hold displays
in the Garden of Roses. Do you make such a display?'
replied. 'How should I tread the streets of Mina,
never having gone into the desert?'
utter the peacocks' cry?'
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?'
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
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
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.
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!’
of Rumi The Masnaui Jalaludin Rumi, et al / Paperback
from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi A.J. Arberry, - (30 June,
1993) Curzon Press
As We Are : Selected Rubais from Divan-Kebir by Jalal
Al-Din Rumi, et al. (December 1992)
Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi, Afzal Iqbal Paperback
(August 1999) Oxford University Press
Am Wind Your Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi Annemarie
Schimmel, (December 1992) Shambhala Publications
Love Poems of Rumi Deepak
Chopra (Editor), Fereydoun Kia, Jalal Al-Din Rumi, et