The translations published on this webpage are made freely available for the benefit of lovers of Rumi's poetry. They are a work of love. They have been made by an amateur Rumi scholar who has been a "lover" [muHibb] on the Mevlevi ("Whirling Dervish") path of Islamic sufism for many years. The selections have been completed on a weekly basis during the past two years-- and will continue to be made, God willing, on an ongoing basis. The Translator has devoted many hours of his spare time every week to ensure that the translations, commentary, and transliterations as accurate as he is able to make them.
Please respect the copyright, and do not copy the translations (elsewhere on the Internet or on paper) without including the name of the Translator (preferably with his permission). And please do not use these translations in order to make your own "interpretive poetic versions" (and then distribute or publish them as your own "Rumi translations" -- as is the trend nowadays).
This is a literal translation. Words not in parenthesis are usually literal, but are not literal in the case of some idioms. Words in parentheses are added to clarify intended or implied meanings (as well as to smoothe the grammatical flow (see more on this topic below). Words in brackets are the Translator's own interpretations of the meaning. The reader may gain a better sense of the original by reading the verses and skipping the words in parenthesis; occasionally, this may yield a richer understanding of the meaning.
The Translator taught himself classical/medieval Persian, starting about twenty years ago, for the sake of reading and studying Rumi's poetry. He has had little interest in learning to speak Persian or reading other kinds of Persian literature (except for some other sufi poetry classics).
He began translating in 1985, in collaboration with an Afghan scholar, to translate Rumi's quatrains. This work, still unpublished, includes literal translations, explanatory notes, and the original text in Persian script.
He first began translating portions of the Masnavi about 1997, when he translated the first 34 lines of Book I, and continued a similar format done with "The Quatrains of Rumi": literal translations,together with commentary and transliterations of the Persian.
The translations are literal ones (excepting the case of idioms, which would not be understood if translated too literally). The translation words are as close to Rumi's words as the Translator is able to make them. Words in parenthesis are not translations of Rumi's words, but clarify their meanings in such a way as to make the lines understandable and readable in American English. Words in brackets are the interpretations of the Translator. The most literal sense of Rumi's original words is preserved by the careful use of parentheses and brackets, and can be easily discerned by ignoring the parentheses and brackets.
Many people do not care for literal translations of poetry. In the case of Rumi's verses, however, there are so many popular books which distort his words and teachings in an attempt to make them sound poetic, that the Translator strongly believes that literal translations are very much needed in order for readers to understand, at the minimum, the outward sense of his words.
Many readers will not be attracted to translations of Rumi's poetry which include a large number of footnotes and which seem too "academic." However the Translator believes that accurate translations alone are insufficient, and that many of Rumi's verses cannot be adequately understood without explanations of his idiomatic meanings, scriptural references, and teachings. He is self-taught in Persian, and has had no formal academic training in Persian literature. Therefore, his style is scholarly, but not as "academic" as it may appear. The Translator does not expect such literal translations, together with so many detailed footnotes, to ever become popular. But he has been doing this work for the sake of the minority of Rumi lovers who are motivated to make consistent efforts to study, understand, and appreciate his poetry at a deeper level.
Parentheses in translations of poetry are also disliked, and they certainly can be distracting. R. A. Nicholson used them plentifully in his complete translation of the Masnavi. Unfortunately, he put explanations in parentheses which, while providing a more accurate understanding of the Persian text, very often interrupt the flow of the lines. No scholars have used parentheses in literal translations of Rumi since then (including his successor at Cambridge University, A. J. Arberry, as well as W. Chittick more recently).
However, for the reasons mentioned above, the Translator considers parentheses essential in order to understand better which words are translations of Rumi's words and which are not. He has chosen words in parenthesis which provide needed clarifications, yet in a manner which does not interrupt the flow of the lines and maintains readability.
After Nicholson completed his translation of all six books of the Masnavi, in 1934, he spent the next years writing a detailed commentary on the Masnavi, which he completed in 1940. His two volumes of commentary include his own explanations, supplemented by those from the best commentaries of the past (in Persian and Ottoman Turkish). However, very few people know of the existence of these two volumes, which are available primarily in university libraries. They can be ordered from the publisher, as part of the entire eight-volume (3 volumes of Persian text, 3 volumes of English translation, 2 volumes of commentary). They are not available to be bought separately in bookstores (as are the re-prints of the English translation volumes in paperback). Nicholson's commentary on Books I and II (1937) has been re-printed only once (1985), and his commentary on Books III - VI (1940) has been re-printed twice (1971, 1996). Another limitation of these volumes is that, unfortunately, the verse numbers upon which Nicholson comments are printed in Arabic script, which is a barrier for the general reader (although it is very easy to learn to read these numbers). In addition, the words and phrases from the Persian text upon which he comments are often printed in Arabo- Persian script as well..
The present translations are the first which include Nicholson's valuable commentary. Not all of it is included, but only the parts deemed necessary have been quoted or summarized.
In addition, the present translations are the first to include excerpts from the famous commentary made by the 17th century (Ottoman Turkish) Mevlevi scholar, Isma`il Anqaravi. Nicholson followed this commentary very carefully, and relied on it more than on any others. After the Translator acquired a Persian translation (in 15 volumes) of Anqaravi's commentary ("majmû`atu 'l-laTâ'if wa maTmûrâtu 'l-mu`ârif"-- The Collected Subtleties and Stored Mystic Knowledge) in September 2000, he immediately began translating into English relevant excerpts from it (in addition to Nicholson's commentary), starting in September, 2000..
The translated selections are divided into six parts, corresponding to the six books of the Masnavi. The earlier translations, which include commentary from Nicholson, are listed separately from those which include both commentary from Nicholson and Anqaravi.
The approach to transliteration will be seen as unusual by scholars and native readers of Persian. It is mainly the approach which the Translator learned from his collaborator, Dr. Ravan Farhadi, an Afghan scholar. But it should not be thought that this involves "merely Afghan" pronunciation, because Afghan Persian (Dari) is much closer to Rumi's Persian than is contemporary Iranian Persian (Farsi).
The Translator has chosen this approach in an effort to transliterate as closely as he is able to the way the words were pronounced in Rumi's time. As a result, "majhûl" vowels are preserved (to the extent the Translator has been able to learn them). For example, "lion" [shêr] is differentiated from "milk" [shîr]. The archaic "soft w" has been preserved: "dêw" instead of "dîv." Other archaic vowellings are preserved: "khwad" instead of "khod" (and many of these are verified by Rumi's rhyme words).
The Translator has departed from what he learned from Dr. Farhadi in two major ways. Firstly, he has added hyphens to differentiate the grammatical particles. This may be distracting to the Persian reader, but the Translator found it to be a good way to avoid misreadings and to add precision-- and hopefully it may help students of Persian to more easily learn to read Rumi. The other difference is that Arabic words are vowelled differently ("suHbat" instead of "sohbat") in order to differentiate them from Persian words. The Persian reader will see immediately, for example, that the last syllable of "manzil" is pronounced the same as "del" despite the difference of spelling of the rhyme.
The Persian edition of the Masnavi used by the Translator is an edition of the earliest manuscript of the Masnavi done by Dr. Tôfîq SobHânî (Tehran, 1995). Nicholson's text, based on the same (from Book III: 2836 through the end of Book VI), is also consulted.
The Persian translation of the famous Ottoman Turkish commentary of the Masnavi by Anqaravi used by the Translator was done by Dr. `ISmat Sattâlr-zâdah ("sharH-é kabîr-é anqaravî," fifteen volumes, Iran, 1970, 1997).