The Song of the Reed (part two )

Mathnawi I: 4-18

4 "Anyone one who has remained far from his roots,1 seeks a
return (to the) time of his union.2

5 "I lamented in every gathering; I associated with those in bad or
happy circumstances.

"(But) everyone became my friend from his (own) opinion; he did
not seek my secrets3 from within me.

"My secret is not far from my lament, but eyes and ears do not
have the light4 (to sense it).

"The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from the body;
but seeing the soul is not permitted."5

The reed's cry is fire6 -- it's not wind! Whoever doesn't have this
fire, may he be nothing!7

10 It is the fire of Love that fell into the reed. (And) it is the
ferment of Love that fell into the wine.8

The reed (is) the companion of anyone who was severed from a
friend; its melodies tore our veils.9

Who has seen a poison and a remedy like the reed? Who has seen a
harmonious companion and a yearning friend like the reed?

The reed is telling the story of the path full of blood;10 it is
telling stories of Majnoon's (crazed) love.11

There is no confidant (of) this understanding12 except the
senseless!13 There is no purchaser of that tongue14 except the ear [of
the mystic.]

15 In our longing,15 the days became (like) evenings; 16 the days
became fellow-travellers with burning fevers.

If the days have passed, tell (them to) go, (and) don't worry. (But)
You remain!17 -- O You, whom no one resembles in Purity!

Everyone becomes satiated by water,18 except the fish. (And)
everyone who is without daily food [finds that] his days become

18 None (who is) "raw" can understand the state of the "ripe."20
Therefore, (this) speech must be shortened. So farewell!21

-- 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 1926 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 2/24/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (4) roots: also means foundation, source, origin.

2. (4) union: also means being joined.

3. (6) my secrets: "The Perfect Man (prophet or saint) is a stranger in
the world, unable to communicate his sorrows or share his mystic
knowledge except with one of his own kind; he converses with all
sorts of people, worldly and spiritual alike, but cannot win from
them the heartfelt sympathy and real understanding which he
craves. This is the obvious sense of the passage, and adequate so
far as it goes, but behind it lies a far-reaching doctrine concerning
the spiritual "Descent of Man.' .... The whole series of planes forms
the so-called 'Circle of Existence', which begins in God and ends in
God and is traversed by the soul in its downward journey through
the Intelligences, the Spheres, and the Elements and then upward
again, stage by stage-- mineral, vegetable, animal, and man-- till as
Perfect man it completes its evolution and is re-united with the
Divine Soul..." (Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (7) the light: refers to the ancient Greek theory of Galen, that
vision is caused by an "inner light" within the eye. Similarly, the
faculty of hearing was believed to be caused by an "inner air"
within the ear.

5. (8) not permitted: "As the vital spirit, though united with the body,
is invisible, so the inmost ground of words issuing from an inspired
saint cannot be perceived by the physical senses." (Nicholson,
Commentary) The reed flute's speech ends here, and Rumi's
commentary begins next.

6. (9) The reed's cry is fire: Nicholson, in his Commentary, quotes
Rumi's verse (Divan, Ghazal 2994, line 31831): "The flute is all
afire and the world is wrapped in smoke; / For fiery is the call of
Love that issues from the flute."

7. (9) may he be nothing [nêst bâd]: a pun on another meaning of
these words -- "it's not wind." It means, "May he experience
absence of self so that he may burn with yearning love for the
presence of the Beloved."

Nicholson interpreted that this means, "The Mathnawí is not mere
words; its inspiration comes from God, whose essence is Love.
May those yet untouched by the Divine flame be naughted, i.e. die
to self!" He said that the words here [nêst bâd] "should not be
taken as an imprecation [= a cursing]; the poet, I think, prays that
by Divine grace his hearers may be enraptured and lose themselves
in God." (Commentary)

8. (10) into the wine: "i.e. Love kindles rapture in the heart and
makes it like a cup of foaming wine." (Nicholson, Commentary)
9. (11) tore our veils [parda-hâ]: a pun on the two meanings of this
word, "veils" and "melodies." The meaning of this line is that the
sounds of pure yearning from the reed flute tore through the veils
covering up the inward spiritual yearning of listening mystics -- the
sufis, who have had the capacity to understand the meaning of the
reed flute's melodious wails. This is a reference to the "mystical
concert" [samâ`] of the Mevlevi ("Whirling") dervishes in which
the reed flute is prominent.

10. (13) the path full of blood: "the thorny path of Love, strewn with
(Díwán, SP, XLIV, 6) 'with thousands slain of desire who manfully
yielded up their lives'; for Love 'consumes everything else but the
Beloved' (Math. V 588)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

11. (13) Majnoon's crazed love: "Majnún: the mad lover of Laylà: in
Súfí literature, a type of mystical self-abandonment." (Nicholson,
Commentary). Majnoon (lit., "jinn-possessed") was a legendary
Arab lover whose love for the beautiful Laylà [lit., "of the night"]
made him crazy. Majnoon's love for Layla also symbolizes the
perception of spiritual realities seen only by mystics, as in Rumi's
lines: "The Caliph said to Layla, 'Are you the one by whom
Majnoon became disturbed and led astray? You are not more
(beautiful) than other fair ones.' She said, 'Be silent, since you are
not Majnoon!'" (Mathnawi I: 407-08; see also V:1999-2019,
3286-99) This "craziness" of being an ecstatic mystic lover of God
is quite different from the craziness of being psychotic or mentally

12. (14) this understanding: "the spiritual or universal reason (`aql-i
ma`ád) and transcendental consciousness of those who have
escaped from the bondage of the carnal or discursive reason (`aql-i
ma`ásh)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

13. (14) the senseless [bê-hôsh]: a play on "understanding" (hôsh), and
also means devoid of understanding lacking reason, swooned and
insensible. The meaning is that no one can understand mystical
understanding except one who is able to transcend the intellect.

14. (14) that tongue: an idiom for language. The meaning is that only a
mystic who is capable of passing beyond the senses and ordinary
mind has an "ear" which can understand the "tongue" or language
of the heart. Nicholson explained: "i.e. every one desires to hear
what is suitable to his understanding; hence the mysteries of
Divine Love cannot be communicated to the vulgar" [= ordinary
people]. (Commentary)

15. (15) longing [gham]: lit., "grief." An idiom here, meaning the
suffering of longing love.

16. (15) evenings [bê-gâh]: An idiom
meaning "evening." Means that the days became quickly used-up.
Nicholson (1926) erred in translating this idiom too literally as
"untimely." (I am indebted to Dr. Ravan Farhadi, an Afghan
scholar, for this understanding of the idiom.)

17. (16) but You remain: 26. God is addressed directly as "Thou," or
perhaps indirectly as "Love." "The meaning is: 'What matter
though our lives pass away in the tribulation of love, so long as the
Beloved remains?'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

18. (17) water (âbash): Nicholson later corrected his translation to,
"except the fish, every one becomes sated with water" (from,
"Whoever is not a fish becomes sated with His water"). As
Nicholson pointed out, the word for "water" here [âbash] is a noun
(as in III: 1960-- Commentary). It therefore does not mean "his
water" or "water for him" [âb-ash]. Nicholson also explained: "The
infinite Divine grace is to the gnostic [= mystic knower] what
water is to the fish, but his thirst can never be quenched."

19. (17) become long: Nicholson mentions this as "alluding to the
proverb, har kih bí-sír-ast rúz-ash dír-ast" [The day are long for
whoever is without satisfaction] (Commentary)

20. (18) the state of the ripe [pokhta]: refers to the spiritual state of the
spiritually mature, experienced, refined. This contrasts to the state
of the raw [khâm]-- the unripe, immature, inexperienced,
uncooked, the one who bears no fruit. Rumi has been quoted as
saying, "The result of my life is no more than three words: I was
raw [khâm], I became cooked [pokhta], I was burnt [sokht]."
However, this is not supported by the earliest manuscripts
(collected by Faruzanfar), only one of which contains the
following: "The result for me is no more than these three words: I
am burnt, I am burnt, I am burnt (or: I am inflamed, burned, and
consumed-- Divan, Ghazal 1768, line 18521).

In Rumi's famous story of the man who knocked on the door of a
friend, the visitor was asked who he was and he answered, "Me."
He was told to go, for he was too "raw" [khâm]. The man was then
"cooked" by the fire of separation and returned a year later. Asked
who he was, he answered, "Only you are at the door, O beloved."
His spiritual friend then said, "Now, since you are me, O me, come
in. There isn't any room for two 'me's' in the house!" (Mathnawi I:

21. (18) farewell: Here, Rumi's famous first eighteen verses end.
Rumi's close disciple, Husamuddin Chelebi had asked him one
night: "'The collections of odes [ghazalîyât] have become
plentiful.... (But) if there could be a book with the quality of (the
sufi poet Sana'i's) 'Book of the Divine,' yet in the (mathnawi) meter
of (the sufi poet Attar's) 'Speech of the Birds,' so that it might be
memorized among the knowers and be the intimate companion of
the souls of the lovers ... so that they would occupy themselves
with nothing else...' At that moment, from the top of his blessed
turban, he [Rumi] put into Chelebi Husamuddin's hand a portion
(of verses), which was the Explainer of the secrets of Universals
and particulars. And in there were the eighteen verses of the
beginning of the Mathnawi: 'Listen to this reed, how it tells a
tale...." (Aflaki, pp. 739-741) After that, Husamuddin was present
with Rumi for every verse he composed of the Mathnawi during
the next twelve years until Rumi's death. The number eighteen has
been considered sacred in the Mevlevi tradition ever since.


4 har kasê k-ô dûr mând az aSl-é khwêsh
bâz jôy-ad rôzgâr-é waSl-é khwêsh

5 man ba-har jam`îyatê nâlân shod-am
joft-é bad-Hâl-ân-o khwash-Hâl-ân shod-am

har kasê az Zann-é khwad shod yâr-é man
az darûn-é man na-joft asrâr-é man

sirr-é man az nâla-yé man dûr nêst
lêk chashm-o gôsh-râ ân nûr nêst

tan ze-jân-o jân ze-tan mastûr nêst
lêk kas-râ dîd-é jân dastûr nêst

âtesh-ast în bâng-é nây-o nêst bâd
har-ke în âtesh na-dâr-ad nêst bâd

10 âtesh-é `ishq-ast k-andar nây fotâd
jôshesh-é `ishq-ast k-andar may fotâd

nay Harîf-é har-ke az yârê bor-îd
parda-hâ-ash parda-hâ-yé mâ darîd

ham-chô nay zahrê wo tiryâqê ke dîd?
ham-cho nay dam-sâz-o mushtâqê ke dîd?

nay HadîS-é râh-é por khûn mê-kon-ad
qiSSa-hâ-yé `ishq-é majnûn mê-kon-ad

maHram-é în hôsh joz bê-hôsh nêst
mar zabân-râ mushtarê joz gôsh nêst

15 dar gham-é mâ rôz-hâ bê-gâh shod
rôz-hâ bâ sôz-hâ ham-râh shod

rôz-hâ gar raft gô raw bâk nêst
tô be-mân ay ân-ke chûn tô pâk nêst

har-ke joz mâhê ze-âbash sêr shod
har-ke bê-rôzî-st rôz-ash dêr shod

18 dar na-yâb-ad Hâl-é pokhta hêch khâm
pas sokhon kôtâh bây-ad wa 's-salâm

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)