The Rider and the Man Who Swallowed a Snake

Mathnawi II: 1878-1915, 1923-1926, 1930

1878 A wise man was coming, riding on (his) horse, (while) a
snake was going into the mouth of a sleeping man.1

The rider saw that, and acted quickly so that he might scare away
the snake, (but) he found no opportunity.

1880 Since he had the aid of great intelligence, he hit the sleeper
several times with a strong iron-covered club.

(The man) took the blows of that hard mace, and fled from him
until (he arrived) beneath a tree.

Many rotten apples had fallen (there), and (the rider) commanded:
"Eat these, O you (who) are dangling (helplessly) in pain!"

He gave so many apples for him to eat2 that they were falling back
out of his mouth.

He was yelling, "O prince, why have you made (killing) me your
intention, (when) you haven't seen (any) injustice (from me)?3

1885 "If you have an authentic quarrel against my life, (then) strike
(your) sword immediately (and) spill my blood!

"(What) an unlucky hour when I became visible to you! Oh happy
(is) the one who never saw your face!

"Without (any) crime or sin, without (doing) more or less-- (even)
heretics don't consider this (kind of) ill-treatment (to be)

"Blood is leaping from my mouth (along) with (my) words. O
God, retaliate against him in the end!"

He was shouting new curses every moment, (while the rider) kept
beating him, (and) saying, "Run into the desert plain!"

1890 Blows of the mace (continued), and a rider (in pursuit) like
the wind! (The man) was running, and again (and again), he fell on
(his) face.

He was full-fed, filled with drowsiness, and weak; his feet and
face were (covered with) a hundred thousand wounds.

(The rider) kept leading and releasing (him) up to night time, until
vomiting overcame him, caused by (excess) bile.

Everything consumed, bad or good, came up from him: the snake,
together with (everything else) that (was) eaten leaped out of him.

When he saw the snake outside of him, he fell on his face before
that benevolent (man).

1895 (And) when he saw the terror of that big black ugly snake,
those sufferings left him.

He said, "You are (the angel) Gabriel, himself, or (else) you are
God, since you are the protecting friend of merciful kindness!

"Oh (what) a blessed hour (it was) when you saw me; I was dead
(and) you gave me a new life.

"You were seeking me like mothers [searching for their children]
(but) I was running away from you like donkeys.

"The donkey flees from (its) master because of (its)
donkey-nature, (while) its owner (follows) in (its) tracks because
of (his) good-nature;

1900 "He seeks it, not because of profit or loss, but so that a wolf
or (other) wild animal may not tear it (to pieces).

"Oh (how) blessed (is) the one who sees your face, or (who)
suddenly comes upon your lane!

"O you, whom the pure spirit4 has praised! (How) many babbling
and foolish (things) I said to you!

"O lord and emperor and prince! I didn't speak, (but) my
ignorance said (those words). Don't hold it (against me)!

"If I had known the least bit about this situation, I never would
have been capable of (such) foolish talk.

1905 "I would have said many (things in) praise (of you instead),
O you of excellent qualities, if you had said one hint to me about
the situation.

"But you, acting in silence, were (so) disturbed, (and) were
quietly pounding my head!

"My mind became crazy (and) reason leaped out of my skull,
especially (since) this head has very little brain.

"Pardon (me), O you of fine appearance and manners! What
(ever) I said because of frenzy, let (it) pass!"

(The rider) answered, "If I had said (even) a hint about it, (all
of) your gall5 would have turned (into) water that instant.

1910 "If I had told you (about) the snake's qualities, the (resulting)
fear would have lifted the breath of life (right) out of your soul!"

Muhammad said:6 "If I speak truly (about) the description of the
enemy which is within your souls,

"Even the gall bladders of brave men would burst; they7 would not
travel on the roads, nor would they be concerned about any work.

"Nor would endurance remain in their hearts for supplications (to
God), nor would strength (remain) for fasting and ritual prayer.

"They would become as nothing, like a mouse before a cat, and
(deeply) troubled, like a lamb before a wolf.

1915 "(And) no strategy or movement would remain to them.
Therefore, I am supporting you without speaking."

. . . . . . .

1923 (The rider said,) "You would not have had the strength for
eating (the apples), nor (would you have had) a way or care to

"I kept hearing (your) curses, but I kept 'driving the donkey
(forward).'8 (And) I kept reciting in a whisper, 'O Lord, make (it)

1925 "I had no permission to speak about the cause (and yet) I had
no ability to talk about leaving you.

1926 I kept reciting, every moment from (my) inward sorrow, '(O
God,) guide my people, for truly they do not know!'"9

. . . . . . .

1930 This is the form of the "hostility" of the wise ones; their
poison is a joy for souls!10
--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" (, 9/16/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1878) sleeping man: "The Amír [= Prince] in this Story represents
a murshid [= sufi guide], while the man who swallowed the snake
is a sensualist. The nafs [=ego] is frequently symbolised by a
snake." (Nicholson, Commentary)

2. (1883) to eat: Nicholson later changed this, because of a misprint
in his Persian text, to: "He gave him so many apples to eat" (from:
"He gave the man...").

3. (1884) you haven't seen (any) injustice (from me): Nicholson later
changed this, based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi to:
"when you have not suffered injury" (from: "What have I done to

4. (1902) the pure spirit: "probably refers to the angels, who paid
homage to the Perfect Man (Adam)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

5. (1909) gall: means courage, based on ancient beliefs that courage
was linked to the "fiery" quality of bile from the gall bladder. This
usage exists in English, in the sense of rude fearlessness: "He had a
lot of gall to do a thing like that."

6. (1911) Muhammad said: "Cf. the Hadíth: a'dá 'aduwika nafsuka
'llatí bayna janbayka, 'thy worst enemy is thy nafs [= ego] which is
between thy sides.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

7. (1912) they: literally, "he" in the following couplets.

8. (1924) driving the donkey forward Nicholson translated this as an
idiom: "I heard (your) abuse and went on with my work"--
"Literally, 'I was driving my ass along.'" (Nicholson, footnote)

9. (1926) they do not know: "The story goes that in the battle of Uhud
a stone hurled by one of the Quraysh broke the Prophet's teeth; but
instead of cursing his enemies he cried, 'O God, guide my people,
for verily they know not." (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (1930) a joy for souls: "i.e. the remedies they apply are drastic and
bitter as poison, but the result is spiritual happiness." (Nicholson,


1878 `âqilê bar asp mê-âm-ad sowâr
dar dahân-é khofta-yê mê-raft mâr

ân sowâr ân-râ be-dîd-o mê-shetâft
tâ ramân-ad mâr-râ, furSat na-yâft

1880 chûn-ke az `aql-ash farâwân bod madad
chand dabûsê qawî bar khofta zad

bord ô-râ az zakhm-é ân dabbûs-é sakht
z-ô gorêzân tâ ba zêr-é yak derakht

sêb-é pôsîda basê bod rêkhta
goft az-în khwar, ay ba-dard âwêkhta

sêb chandân mar ô-râ dar khward dâd
k-az dahân-ash bâz bêrûn mê-fotâd

bâng mê-zad k-ay amîr âkhir che-râ
qaSd-é man kard-î tô nâ-dîda jafâ

1885 gar to-râ z-aSl-ast bâ jân-am setêz
têgh zan yak-baragê khûn-am be-rêz

shûm sâ`at ke shod-am bar tô padîd
ay khonok ân-râ ke rôy-é tô na-dîd

bê-jinâyat, bê-gonah, bê-bêsh-o kam
mulHid-ân jâyiz na-dâr-and în setam

mê-jah-ad khûn az dahân-am bâ sokhon
ay khodâ âkhir mukâfât-ash tô kon

har zamân mê-goft ô nafrîn-é naw
ô-sh mê-zad k-andar-în SaHrâ be-daw

1890 zakhm-é dabbûs-o sowâr-é hamchô bâd
mê-dawîd-o bâz dar rô mê-fotâd

mumtalî-wo khwâb-nâk-o sost bod
pâ-wo rôy-ash Sad hazâr-ân zakhm shod

tâ shabân-gah mê-kashîd-o mê-goshâd
tâ ze-Safrâ qay shodan bar way fotâd

z-ô bar âmad khwarda-hâ zesht-o nekô
mâr bâ ân khwarda bêrûn jast az-ô

chûn be-dîd az khwad berûn ân mâr-râ
sajda âward ân nekô-kardâr-râ

1895 sahm-é ân mâr-é seyâh-é zesht-é zaft
chûn be-dîd, ân dard-hâ az way be-raft

goft khwad tô jibra'îl-é raHmat-î
yâ khodây-î ke waliyy-é ni`mat-î

ay mubârak sâ`atê ke dîdî-am
morda bûd-am, jân-é naw bakhshîdî-am

tô ma-râ jôy-ân miSâl-é mâdar-ân
man gorêzân az tô mânand-é khar-ân

khar gorêz-ad az khodâwand az kharî
SâHib-ash dar pay ze-nêkô-gawharî

1900 na az pay-é sûd-o zeyân mê-jôy-ad-ash
lêk tâ gorg-ash na-darr-ad yâ dad-ash

ay khonok ân-râ ke bîn-ad rôy-é tô
yâ dar oftad nâ-gahân dar kôy-é tô

ay rawân-é pâk be-setûda to-râ
chand goft-am zhâzh-o bêhûda to-râ

ay khodâwand-o shahenshâh-o amîr
man na-goft-am, jahl-é man goft, ân ma-gîr

shamma'yê z-în Hâl agar dân-ast-am-y
goftan-é bêhûda kay tawânast-am-y?

1905 bas Sanâyat goftam-y ay khwash-khiSâl
gar ma-râ yak ramz mê-goft-î ze-Hâl

lêk khâmosh-karda mê-âshôft-î
khâmush-âna bar sar-am mê-kôft-î

shod sar-am kâlîwa, `aql az sar be-jast
khâSSa în sar-râ ke maghz-ash kam-tar-ast

`afw kon ay khôb-rôy-é khôb-kâr
ân-che goft-am az junûn andar goZâr

goft agar man goft-am-y ranzê az ân
zahra-yé tô âb gasht-y ân zamân

1910 gar tô-râ man goft-am-y awSâf-é mâr
tars az jân-at bar âward-y damâr

muSTafà farmûd agar gôy-am ba-râst
sharH-é ân doshman ke dar jân-é shomâ-st

zahra-hây-é por-del-ân ham bar dar-ad
nay raw-ad rah, nay gham-é kârê khwar-ad

na del-ash-râ tâb mân-ad dar neyâz
na tan-ash-râ quwwat-é rôza-w' namâz

hamchô môshê pêsh-é gorba lâ shaw-ad
hamchô barra pêsh-é gorg az jâ raw-ad

1915 andar-ô na Hîla mân-ad na rawesh
pas kon-am nâ-gofta-tân man parwaresh

. . . . . . .

1923 mar to-râ na quwwat-é khwardan bod-y
na rah-o parwây-é qay kardan bod-y

mê-shenîd-am fuHsh-o khar mê-rând-am
rabbi yassir zêr-é lab mê-khwând-am

1925az sabab goftan ma-râ dastûr nay
tark-é tô goftan ma-râ maqdûr nay

1926 har zamân mê-goft-am az dard-é darûn
ihdi qawmî innahum lâ ya`lamûn

. . . . . . .

1930 doshmanîy-é `âqil-ân z-în sân bow-ad
zahr-é îshân ibtahâj-é jân bow-ad

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)