About the Masnavi

I. Studies of the Masnavi

II. Previous Extensive Translations of the Masnavi in English

(A) Redhouse's Translation

(B) Wilson's Translation

(C) Nicholson's Translation

(D) Gupta's Translation

(E) Mojaddedi's Translation

(F) Williams' Translation

(G) Holbrook's Translation

III. Translations of Selections from the Masnavi

(A) Whinfield's Translation

(B) Arberry's Translations

(C) Türkmen's Translations

(D) Schimmel's Translations

(E) Chittick's Translations

(F) Other Translations

IV. Popular Versions of Selections from the Masnavi

(A) Barks' Versions

(B) Helminski's Versions

(C) Harvey's Versions

(D) Scholey's Versions


The "Masnavi" is Rumi's greatest poetic work, composed during the last years of his life. He began it when he was between the ages of 54-57 [about 1258-1261]1 and continued composing its verses until he died in 1273 (with the last story remaining incomplete). It is a compendium of sufi stories, ethical teachings, and mystical teachings. It is deeply permeated with Qur'anic meanings and references. Rumi himself called the Masnavi "the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion... and the explainer of the Qur'an [wa huwa uSûlu uSûlu uSûlu 'd-dîn... was kashshâf al- Qur'ân] (Masnavi, Book I, Preface).

Its full name is name is "Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî," which means "Rhyming Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning." The name "Mathnawî" (pronounced "Masnavî" in Persian) means "couplets" in Arabic [because the second half of the verse (in Arabic, "thanî") rhymes with the first]. It is the name of a type of poetry (called "mathnawî"). The second word, "Ma`nawî," means "significant," "real," "meaningful," "spiritual" in Arabic. The following is an example of the particular mathnawi meter used by Rumi (there are other mathnawi meters used by other Persian sufi poets): XoXX XoXX XoX. The rhymes in the first three couplets of Rumi's Masnavi are "â-yat mê-ko-nad," "-îda-and, "-âq":




The story of how the beginning of the composition of the Masnavi has been told in the hagiography written by Aflaki (written between 1318-53), a disciple of Rumi's grandson:

"Sirâjuddîn, the Mathnawi-reciter [masnavi-khwân] at the Tomb (of Rumi) told the story that the reason for the composition of the book of the Masnavî-yé Ma`nawî, which is the Revealer of the secrets of the Qur'an was: One day Hazrat-i... Husâmuddîn [Chelebi-- Rumi's closest disciple], may God sanctify his precious secret, found out that some of the friends, in complete relish and great love, were making serious efforts to study the 'Book of the Divine' [Ilâhî-Nâma] of (the sufi poet) Hakîm (Sanâ'î) and the 'Speech of the Birds' [ManTiqu 'T-Tayr] and the 'Book of Misfortune' [MuSîbat-Nâma] of (the sufi poet) Farîduddîn `ATTâr, and (who) were delighted by (studying) their (mystical) secrets and (accounts of) the unusual spiritual amorousness (of the lovers of God) displayed by them. ..... One night, he found Hazrat-i Mawlana [= Rumi] alone. He bowed and said, 'The collections of odes [ghazalîyât] have become plentiful.... (But) if there could be a book with the quality of the 'Book of the Divine' of Hakîm (Sanâ'î), yet in the (mathnawî) meter of the '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 Chelebî Husâmuddîn'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 Masnavi: 'Listen to this reed, how it tells a tale, complaining of separations' up to. 'None (who is) 'raw' can understand the state of the 'ripe.' Therefore, (this) speech must be shortened. So farewell.'"3

The Masnavi is divided into six books, and Rumi wrote prefaces for each book. The earliest complete manuscript (the "Konya manuscript") was completed in December, 1278 (five years after Rumi's death). In a recent printed edition of this manuscript (by Dr. Tôfîq Sobhânî), the total number of lines is 25,575 (Book I, 4019 lines; II, 3721; III,4811; IV, 3855; V, 4240; VI, 4929) R. A. Nicholson was the first to translate the entire Masnavi into English (1926-34). Unfortunately, he did not have access to this earliest manuscript until he had translated through Book III, line 2835. From line 2836, onwards, however, his printed edition is based on the Konya manuscript. As a result,the first two and a half books of his translation are based on less earlier manuscripts which contain numerous "improvements." (In Nicholson's printed edition, the total number of lines is 25,632 (Book I, 4003 lines; II, 3810; III, 4810; IV, 3855; V, 4238; VI, 4916.)

Over the centuries, many such "improvements" have been added to the Masnavi, with the result that many lovers of the Masnavi in Iran, India, and Pakistan have editions which contain more than two thousand extra verses (including many well-loved verses which were not composed by Rumi). A recent book by Professor Franklin Lewis (which is an impressively thorough review of all aspects of Rumi's life, teachings, and influence throughout history) contains relevant information about the Masnavi: manuscripts, commentaries, sources of stories, translations, versions, historical influences -- and even listings of available compact disc recordings of verses recited in Persian.4

Studies of the Masnavi

There are a number of scholarly works written about themes and teachings in the Masnavi, such as written by: Khalifa `Abdul Hakim ("The Metaphysics of Rumi," 1933, published in Lahore, Pakistan); William C. Chittick ("The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi: An Introduction," 1974, published in Tehran, Iran); K. Khosla ("The Sufism of Rumi," 1987), a Theosophist, originally from India; John Renard ("All the King's Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and Revelation," 1994), a revision of a doctoral dissertation (1978) done under the direction of Professor Annemarie Schimmel.5 Other books contain very informative chapters about Rumi's teachings in the Masnavi, such as by Annemarie Schimmel, ("The Triumphant Sun," 1978, "Rumi's Theology," pp. 225-366); by Afzal Iqbal ("The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi," 1956,"The Message of the Mathnawi" and "The Poet As a Thinker," pp. 175-283); by Franklin D. Lewis ("Rumi-- Past and Present, East and West: The Life Teachings and Poetry of Jal'l al-Din Rumi," 2000, "The Teachings," pp. 394-419).

Previous Extensive Translations of the Masnavi in English

The first extensive translations (of at least one of the six books) from Persian directly into English were done by British scholars between 1881-1934. These translations sound very old-fashioned to modern, (especially American) ears.

Redhouse's translation

In 1881, James W. Redhouse made a rhymed translation of Book I (with many inaccuracies, according to Nicholson).

Here is an example of his approach:

"What boot from counsel to a fool?/ Waste not thy words; thy wrath let cool."

. . . . . . .

A mirror best portrays when bright;/ Begrimed with rust, its gleam grows slight.

Then wipe such foul alloy away; / Bright shall it, so, reflect each ray.

Thou'st heard what tale the flute can tell;/ Such is my case; sung all too well." 6

(Masnavi I: 18, 34-35)

Wilson's translation

In 1910, C. E. Wilson translated Book II (Volume I, Translation; Volume II, Commentary).7 He stated: "...the only way to make an abstruse Persian poem intelligible to Europeans is to give a plain literal prose translation accompanied by copious notes. I think, in fact, that translations from the Persian have attracted so little interest mainly because they have been so imperfectly explained, and I have therefore done my best with the help of the best Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and Arabic Commentaries to make this Work intelligible to all who have a little knowledge with mental science."8 He closely followed the Turkish commentary by Anqaravi, in addition to those in other languages. He included all references (in the second Book of the Masnavi) to Qur'anic verses, Traditions of the Prophet, and other poetic verses in translation as well as in transliteration. His approach to commentary is very similar to that later done by Nicholson, except that he made it a point to include transliterations (as well as translations) of all Qur'anic and Hadîth references, whereas Nicholson did so less often). He often refers to Anqaravi's commentary (as did Nicholson).

Here is an example of his approach:

"Enough of these words, conceptions, and figurative expressions! I wish for ardour, ardour! Content yourself with this ardour.
Light up a fire of love in your soul, (and) burn entirely thought and expression.
Those conversant with forms, O Moses, are of one kind; those
whose souls and hearts are burnt are of another."
Every moment lovers are burnt (in the fire of love). Taxes and tithes
are not exacted from a ruined village."9
(Masnavi II: 1762-1765)

Nicholson's translation

R. A. Nicholson was the first to make a full translation of all six books into English. It was published in three volumes (Books I and II, 1926; Books III and IV, 1930; Books V and VI, 1934). In addition to the three corresponding volumes of the Persian text, Nicholson also published two volumes (1937, 1940) of valuable commentary on the Masnavi.10

Here is an example of his approach:

"Being in love is made manifest by soreness of heart: there is no sickness like heart-sickness.

The lover's ailment is separate from all other ailments: love is the astrolabe of the mysteries of God.

Whether love be from this (earthly) side or from that (heavenly) side, in the end it leads us yonder.

Whatever I say in exposition and explanation of Love, when I come to love (itself) I am ashamed of that (explanation).

Although the commentary of the tongue makes (all) clear, yet tongueless love is clearer.

Whilst the pen was making haste in writing, it split upon itself as soon as it came to Love.

In expounding it (Love), the intellect lay down (helplessly) like an ass in the mire: it was Love (alone) that uttered the explanation of love and loverhood.

The proof of the sun is the sun (himself): if thou require the proof, do not avert thy face from him!" (Masnavi I: 109-116)11

Gupta's translation

Dr. M. G. Gupta (died 2010) was a scholar from India, who knew Persian and Arabic, and who belonged to the Radhasoami faith. He translated the entire Masnavi from Persian. It is not a word-for-word literal translation like that done by Nicholson, but a rather a paraphrase of each line followed by short commentary in brackets (sometimes incorporating the views of Surat Shabd Yoga). He seems not to have been aware of the work of Nicholson and other scholars regarding early manuscripts of the Masnavi. Instead, Gupta translated from an "inflated" Persian edition containing several thousand extra lines that have been added to the Masnavi over the centuries. (For example, the earliest manuscript of Book I contains 4,007, and Nicholson's edition has 4,003. But Gupta's Volume One of his translation consists of 4,563 verses).12

Here is an example of his approach:

"With the departure of the rose, and the garden ruined, whence will the nightingale seek the fragrance of rose? After all, it can come only from the rose, and not from rose-water, in the same order. [In the absence of the guru (rose) his disciples can only serve as a poor substitute (rose-water). But something is always better than nothing. If the guru is not manifest let us attend the company of his disciples. At the appropriate hour he may become manifest.]"
(line 40 [= Masnavi, I: 19])13

Mojaddedi's translation

In 2004, Jawid Mojaddedi's rhymed translation (in iambic pentameters) of Book I was published, followed by Book II in 2007.14

Here is an example of his approach:

"Being a lover means your heart must ache,
No sickness hurts as much as when hearts break,
The lover's ailment's totally unique,
Love is the astrolabe of all we seek,
Whether you feel divine or earhly love,
Ultimately we're destined for above.
To capture love whatever words I say
Makes me ashamed whenever love arrives my way,
While explanation sometimes makes things clear;
True love through silence ony one can hear;
The pen would smoothely write the things it knew
But when it came to love it split in two,
A donkey stuck in mud is logic's fate,
Love's nature only love can demonstrate:
Sunshine reveals its nature in each ray,
So if it's proof you want just look this way!"

--p. 11 (Masnavi I: 109-116)

Compare to Nicholson's translation above.

Williams' translation

In 2006, Alan Williams' translation in iambic pentameters of Book I was published.15

Here is an example of his approach:

"The sign of being in love's an aching heart;
there is no suffering like the suffering heart.
The lover's suffering's like no other suffering:
love is the astrolabe of God's own mysteries.
No matter whether love is of this world
or of the next, it steals us to that world.
Whatever words I say to explain this love,
when I arrive at love, I am ashamed.
Though language give a clear acount of love,
yet love beyond all language is the clearer.
The pen had gone at breakneck speed in writing, but when it came to love it split in two. The explaining mind sleeps like an ass in mud,
for love alone explains love and the lover.
The sun alone is proof of all things solar:
if you need proof, do not avert your face."

--p. 16-17 (Masnavi I: 109-116)

Compare to Nicholson's translation] above.

Holbrook's translation

In 2011, Victoria Holbrook's translation (directly from Persian) in imperfect rhyme (vowels and consonants, each line with eleven syllables, replicating the number of syllables in the Persian original) of Book I was published, embedded in a late Ottoman commentary on Book I that she translated from Turkish--the first extensive commentary in English since Nicholson's commentaries were completed in 1940.16

Here is an example of her approach:

"Love is known by a malady of the heart
There's no illness like the illness of the heart
The lover's is unlike other maladies
Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries
Love can rise from this world or from the other
But at last is our guide to the other
Whatever exposition I make of love
I'm ashamed of it all when I come to love
Though the tongue's commentary is luminous
Yet love without tongue is still more luminous
Though the pen speeds on while writing about love
The pen splits upon itself coming to love Intellect sinks like an ass into the mud
Only love explains the lover and his love
The proof of the sun is in the sun itself
If you need proof, don't turn from the sun itself"

--p. 22 (Masnavi I: 109-116)

Compare to Nicholson's translation] above.

Translations of Selections From the Masnavi

Whinfield's translation

In 1898, E. H. Whinfield translated selections from all six books (totalling about 3,500 verses).17

Here is an example of his approach:

"A true lover is proved such by his pain of heart;
No sickness is there like sickness of heart.
The lover's ailment is different from all ailments;
Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries.
A lover may hanker after this love or that love,
But at the last he is drawn to the KING of love.
However much we describe and explain love,
When we fall in love we are ashamed of our words.
Explanation by the tongue makes things most clear,
But love unexplained is clearer.
When pen hastened to write,
On reaching the subject of love it split in twain.
When the discourse touched on the matter of love,
Pen was broken and paper torn.
In explaining it Reason sticks fast, as an ass in mire;
Naught but love itself can explain love and lovers!
None but the sun can display the sun,
If you would see it displayed, turn not away from it."

--p. 5 (Masnavi I: 109-116)

Compare to Nicholson's translation above.

Arberry's translations

The British scholar A. J. Arberry re-translated (from Nicholson's translation) many of the stories in the Masnavi in two volumes.18 He made the stories easier to follow, by eliminating tangential sections (part of Rumi's teaching method of introducing associated material, commentary, sub-stories, etc.-- because his aim is to teach, not tell uninterrupted stories). The translations are very accurate, adopt many of Nicholson's translation words and phrases, but are often just as "Victorian-sounding" as is Nicholson's translation done decades before.

Here is an example of his approach:

"...a sure sign of being in love is when the heart is sore--there is no sickness like heart-sickness. The lover's infirmity stands apart from all other infirmities; love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries."

--p. 5 (Masnavi I: 109-110)

Compare to Nicholson's translation above.

Türkmen's translations

An important contribution to Masnavi studies was done by Erkan Türkmen.19 It includes several introductory chapters with much new information. The body of the work contains excerpts from the Masnavi in Persian script, each of which is followed by two short paragraphs in English: the first is not a word-for-word literal translation, but part translation and part paraphrase of the verses. The second paragraph in each selection gives some relevant explanations, drawn from commentaries in Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and English.

Here is an example of his approach:

"Light up a fire of love in your soul, burn away thoughts and words totally. Lovers have to burn every moment for taxes and tithes are not imposed on a ruined village. There exist no formalities of Ka'abe within Ka'abe and what does it matter if a diver has no snow-shoes? Do not seek guidance from intoxicated lovers, why do you ask about repairing your clothes from those whose own garments are torn. Religion of love is different from all religions, lovers' religion or belief is God."20
(Masnavi II: 1763, 1765, 1768-70)

Schimmel's translations

Annemarie Schimmel wrote an important book on the contents of Rumi's poetry, with many examples of his metaphors and images There are numerous short passages (often single lines only) from the Masnavi (and Rumi's other works) which illustrate references to nature, daily life, philosophy, religion, and mysticism.21

Here is an example of her approach:

How much I may explain and describe love,
When I reach love, I become ashamed.
Although the commmentary by the tongue is illuminating,
love without tongue is more radiant."

--p. 333 (Masnavi I: 112-113)

Chittick's translations

William C. Chittick made an important contribution to Masnavi studies in a book which organizes Rumi's teachings into themes. The book contains numerous short passages (often single lines only) from the Masnavi (as well as from Rumi's other works).22

Here is an example of his approach:

"Trying to explain Love, the intellect fell down in the mud like an ass--Love and loverhood can only be explained by Love.
The sun is the sun's proof; If you must have proof, then turn not your face away from it.

--p. 223 (Masnavi I: 115-116)

Other translations

A couple of authors have included a small number of selections from the Masnavi translated into English selections from the French translations (made from Persian) of Rumi done by the scholar Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch. The translations are fairly reliable when compared to Nicholson and with the original Persian.

One is Simone Fattal, who translated one of de Vitray- Meyerivitch's books.23

Here is an example of her approach (which appears to have adopted some of Nicholson's wording):

"Love is an infinite ocean whose skies are a bubble of foam. Know that it is the waves of Love which make the wheel of the heavens turn; without Love the world would be inanimate. How is an inorganic thing transformed into a plant? How are the plants sacrificed to become gifted with spirit? How is the spirit sacrificed for the Breath, of which only a whiff was enough to impregnate Mary? Each atom is intoxicated with this Perfection and hastens toward it. . . their haste says implicitly: 'Glory be to God.'"24
(Masnavi V: 3853-59)

The other author is Muriel Maufroy, who states in the introduction of her book that she translated excerpts from de Vitray- Meyerovitch's work, and that she has also been connected with the Mevlevi shaykhs in Turkey-- and a preface for the book was written by the (then) Spiritual Director [Sar-i Tarîqat] of the Mevlevi sufi order, Hüseyin Töp. 25

Here is an example of her approach:

"Your intelligence is split into a hundred busy tasks, in thousands of desires, in large and small things. You must unite these scattered parts with love and become as sweet as Samarkand and Damascus. Once you are unified, grain by grain, then you can be stamped with the royal seal."
--p. 213 (Masnavi IV: 3288-90)

Popular Versions of Selections From the Masnavi

Versions differ from translations in that the version-makers do not know Persian and are not working from the Persian text, but instead produce their own renderings based on the literal translations made by others. Generally, version-makers have a poetic bent and are sincerely trying to bring some spiritual life out of dry, academic, and literal translations. Unfortunately there is a tendency for them to call their versions "translations"-- very misleading to both readers and reviewers (who are unable to determine the authenticity of such claims). Unfortunately, not knowing the original language, their "poetic inspiration" often leads them further away from the original meaning and spirit of the work-- instead of closer, as they hoped. Professor Frank Lewis has observed that, "The idea that poets can 'translate' without knowing the source language seems to have originated with Ezra Pound and his circle Pound took Ernest Fenellosa's scholarly translations of Li Po's Chinese poems and Japanese Noh plays and worked them into a startlingly new kind of English poem."26

However, it is extraordinary how the "spirit" of Rumi seems to sufficiently pervade the popular versions-- despite all the errors and distortions-- so that Rumi has become the most popular poet in America.

Two authors have published books consisting entirely of versions of short selections from the Masnavi: Coleman Barks and Kabir Helminski (together with his wife Camille). Both worked from Nicholson's literal translation. Barks was more "creative," whereas the Helminskis were faithful to the teachings of Rumi as conveyed by Nicholson's English text. Other popular authors have included a few short versions from Masnavi in books which contain mostly versions of Rumi's odes and quatrains.

Barks' versions

Encouraged by fellow poet Robert Bly, Coleman Barks began to produce his (enormously popular) versions of Rumi beginning about 1981. He has published books consisting entirely of versions of passages and stories from the Masnavi-- all based upon the literal translation from Persian by the British scholar, R. A. Nicholson (1926-1934): ("Delicious Laughter," 1989; "Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion," 1991; "One-Handed Basket Weaving," 1991) and several books which contain a number of versions from the Masnavi ("Open Secret: Versions of Rumi," 1984; "We Are Three," 1987; "This Longing," 1988). The best-selling collection of his versions, "The Essential Rumi," 1995, includes a selection of Masnavi versions from his earlier works.

Barks' book, "The Soul of Rumi" (2001), consists mainly of versions from the Masnavi, plus some of his own thoughts and reflections about the passages. The book ends with a long section (120 pages) of continuous selections from Book IV of the Masnavi (based on Nicholson's translation as well as Gupta's translation).

From the start, Barks called his renderings "versions" and acknowledged his complete dependence on the literal translations made by others from Persian to English.27 However, after he became well-known, he allowed himself to be listed on the covers and title pages of his books as a "translator." Still, if one looks more carefully, acknowledgment is made of his dependence on specific translators, which he usually mentions.28 In his public readings of his versions of Rumi, he openly acknowledges that he does not read or speak Persian and depends on the translations of others. Nevertheless, he continues to be promoted as "widely regarded as the world's premier translator of Rumi's writings..."29

In spite of all the distortions, omissions, fabrications, and insertions of his own ideas in his versions, Coleman Barks has been the primary author to make Rumi's poetry so popular today. And that is a stunning achievement, which has created an enormous interest, enthusiasm, passion, and love for Rumi's poetry-- after over 700 years.

In addition, Barks has had exposure to sufism and had regular contact with a sufi master.30 And the personal depth he has attained has clearly added to the spiritual power of his versions. Here is an example of his approach, based on a passage from Nicholson's translation of the Masnavi:

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."
(Masnavi V:3644-46, 3676-80, 3693-95)31

Helminski's versions

Kabir Helminski has long been aware of how the academic features and old-fashioned style of Nicholson's translation of the Masnavi makes it unattractively difficult for Americans. He has published two collections (together with his wife, Camille Helminski) of excerpts from the Masnavi: "Rumi: Daylight" (1994) [selections from Books I and II] and "Jewels of Remembrance" (1996) [selections from Books III - VI]. Some of these have been re-published in other formats (such as in "The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski " (1998), which contains a few more of his Masnavi versions, previously unpublished).

The Helminskis have been the most responsible of those who have made versions of passages from the Masnavi. As a shaykh (spiritual leader) of the Mevlevi ("Whirling Dervish") sufi tradition (which has preserved and disseminated the teachings of Rumi and his lineage over the past centuries), Helminski has (together with his wife) produced renditions into clear and readable American English which are faithful to Rumi's teachings. Unlike others, they have not been tempted to insert their own "creative-poetic" ideas into the selections, or to omit Rumi's Islamic terms and references. They have done a great service by revising passages from Nicholson's translation and making them attractive to the general public. Hopefully, more people will be drawn to the treasures of the Masnavi, as a result.

The Helminskis present themselves as if they have re-translated the selections directly from the Persian text.32 They give minimal acknowledgment of their dependence upon Nicholson. ("We are grateful for the extensive groundwork established by R. A. Nicholson in his full translation of the six books of the 'Mathnawi'" ["Rumi: Daylight," p. 8)]; "Although we have studied the Persian language, our work is to an extent based on Nicholson's somewhat literal rendering of the Mathnâwi [sic], supported by more than twenty years of practice and study within the Mevlevi Sufi tradition itself" ["Jewels of Remembrance," xxii]). However, by simply comparing their versions with Nicholson's text, it obvious (and it takes no knowledge of Persian to see) how they have re-Englished Nicholson's translation (and used it fully, not just "to an extent").

Here is an example of their approach, based on a passage from Nicholson's translation of the Masnavi:

"Every fantasy devours another fantasy:
one thought feeds on another.
You can't be delivered from fantasy
or fall asleep to escape from it altogether.
Your thoughts are like hornets, and your sleep is like the water
in which you are plunged: when you awake, the hornets return,
and many hornet-like fantasies fly in
and draw you now this way and then that way.
This mental fantasy is the least of the devourers:
the Almighty knows how great the others are.
Listen, flee from the hordes of devourers
towards the One who has said, 'We are your protector' [their
footnote: "Qur'an: Surah Al-Imran (The House of Imran), 3:150"];
or if you can't hasten towards the Protector Himself,
towards the one who has gained that power of protection."33
(Masnavi V: 729-735)

Harvey's Versions

In one of his books of versions of Rumi's poetry,34 Andrew Harvey included a version of two lines which are from the Masnavi. However, this is not noted since he does not specify the sources for his versions (aside from referring in general to the French translations of Rumi done by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch as one of his influences).

Here is the example of his approach:

"When in my heart the lightning of love arises
I know it is flashing and rearing in His heart also.
And when in ecstasy I can say only His Name
I know it is His Passion that erupts from me."35
(Masnavi III: 4395-96)

Here is another example from a book of which half are excerpts from the Masnavi:36

"Nearness to God is common to us all,
Because we're all created and sustained by God,
But only the authentically noble
Possess and live that nearness
that's a constant upswelling passion of love.
. . . . Be one of those drunkards
Who make intellectuals blanch with envy;
Their whole being is alight
With the holy dancing flames of the Wine."37
(Masnavi III: 704, 711)

Scholey's Versions

Arthur Scholey is an English story teller who previously published a book of stories from the Persian poet, Sa`dî, also called by him "re-told." His book contains 57 concisely told stories from the Masnavi.38

Here is an example of his approach:

"There was once a greengrocer who had a most talkative and clever parrot. Every day it sat with him on a bench in the shop, chatting and even selling the goods to the customers. Increasingly, on the many occasions when the greengrocer had to slip away, he quite happily left the parrot in charge. However, on one of the days when the greengrocer was out, the parrot, in flying from the bench to perch, accidentally knocked over a bottle of rose oil."39
(Masnavi I: 247-50)


1. Franklin Lewis, "Rumi, Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi," Oneworld Publications, England, 2000.

2. Translation:

"Listen to the reed (flute), how it is complaining! It is telling about

(Saying), 'Ever since I was severed from the reed field, men and
women have lamented in (the presence of) my shrill cries.

(But) I want a heart (which is) torn, torn from separation, so that I
may explain the pain of yearning.'"

--from Rumi's Masnavi, Book I, lines 1-3. This is the original text of the poem (later "improved" to "be-sh'naw az nay chûn Hikâyat mê-kon-ad...). For the complete translation, commentary, and transliteration of these lines, go to "The Song of the Reed (part one)" in the "Masnavi" section of this website.

3. Shamsu 'd-dîn AHmad Aflâkî al-`ârifî, "Manâqibu 'l-`ârifîn, pp. 739-41, translated from Persian by Ibrahim Gamard.

4. Franklin Lewis, p. 304.

5. Schimmel wrote in her preface to the book:

"There has been an increasing tendency among Western scholars and, even more, lovers and admirers of Mawlana [= Jalaluddin Rumi] to forget the deeply Islamic background of his poetry. Did not Jami call his Mathnawi 'the Qur'an in the Persian tongue'!? Modern people tried to select from often very vague secondhand translations only those verses that speak of love and ecstasy, of intoxication and whirling dance. The role that the Prophet of Islam plays in Mawlana's poetry is hardly mentioned in secondary literature. But whosoever has listened with understanding to the na`t-i sharif, that introductory musical piece at the very beginning of the Mevlevi [= "Whirling Dervish"] ceremonies, feels, nay rather knows, how deep the poet's love for the Prophet Muhammad was, which is expressed in his words-- the Prophet, 'cypress of the garden of prophethood, springtime of gnosis, rosebud of the meadow of the divine Law and lofty nightingale.' He is the one whose secrets are communicated through Shams-i Tabrizi, the inspiring mystical friend. And as Muhammad was the last in the long line of God-inspired prophets from Adam to Jesus, it is the believers' duty to acknowledge and honor those who brought in divine message in times past. Thus, their stories [= the stories of the Prophets, such as rendered into Persian by Rumi in the Masnavi] as related or alluded to in the Qur'an form part and parcel of Muslim faith." (Annemarie Schimmel, in Renard's "All the King's Falcons," pp. x-xi).

6. James W. Redhouse, "The Mesnevi of Mevlana Jelalud'd-din Muhammed er-Rumi. Book the First," London, 1881.

Compare to Nicholson's accurate translation:

"None that is raw understands the state of the ripe: therefore my
. . . . . . .
Dost thou know why the mirror (of thy soul) reflects nothing?
Because the rust is not cleared from its face.
[The story of the king's falling in love with a handmaiden and
buying her.]
O my friends, hearken to this tale: in truth it is the very marrow of
our inward state."
(Masnavi I: 18, 34-35)


It can be seen how much distortion resulted from Redhouse's rhymed version. He fabricated one verse ("then wipe such foul alloy away..." And he mistakenly thought line 35 was part of the "Song of the Reed," and distorted that line as well.

7. The Masnavî by Jalâlu'd-Dîn Rûmî, Book II translated for the first time from the Persian into prose, with a Commentary," by C. E. Wilson (London, 1910).

8. Wilson, Volume I, "Translator's Preface," p. viii.

9. Wilson, Volume I, p. 153.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"How much (more) of these phrases and conceptions and
metaphors? I want burning, burning: become friendly with that

Light up a fire of love in thy soul, burn thought and expression
entirely (away)!

O Moses, they that know the conventions re of one sort, they
whose souls and spirits burn are of another sort.

To lovers there is a burning (which consumes them) at every
moment: tax and tithe are not (imposed) on a ruined village."

Here is some of Wilson's commentary on this passage:

"Words, conceptions, and figurative expressions": "i.e., generally, 'studied expressions'; or possibly, 'subtle discussions,' 'disquisitions.' The T. Com. [= Anqaravi's Turkish commentary] quotes the Tradition... 'the most hateful to me of you at the Day of the Resurrection, and the most distant of you (will be) the garrulous, the affected in speech, and the diffuse.'"

"Every moment lovers are burnt (in the fire of love)": "Lit., 'Every moment there is a burning for lovers."

"Taxes and tithes are not exacted from a ruined village": "The metaphorical sense is that forms are not expected of the lover who has given up everything and is burnt in the fire of the love of God. The T. Com. [= Anqaravi] quotes: ... 'when love has become perfect the stipulations of forms are discarded.'" (p. 225, Vol. II)


The example cited, when compared with Nicholson's translation (quoted above-- see footnote above), demonstrates what Nicholson wrote about Wilson's work: "Comparing it with my own version of the Second Book, I found that as similar methods produce similar results the two versions often agreed almost word for word, and that where they differed, the point at issue was usually one for discussion rather than correction." (Nicholson, "Introduction" to Volume II, containing the translation of the First and Second Books of the Mathnawi, p. xv.) Wilson's approach was an improvement over that of Whinfield, in that it was more accurate, had less of a Victorian sound (compared to Whinfield's, "How long wilt thou dwell on words..."), and included excellent commentary, very similar to Nicholson's approach twenty years later.

10. The Mathnawí of Jalálu'ddín Rúmí: Edited from the Oldest Manuscripts Available: With Critical Notes, Translation, and Commentary," by Reynold A. Nicholson (London, 1926-34)


The example cited ["it (Love)"] is an example of how Nicholson's (often awkwardly) interrupts the flow of the lines with explanations within parentheses. In this regard, he stated clearly his motives: "The present translation, in which the numeration of the verses corresponds with that of the text of my edition, is intended primarily as an aid to students of Persian; it is therefore as exact and faithful as I can make it, but it does not attempt to convey the inner as distinguished from the outer meaning: that is to say, it gives the literal sense of the words translated without explaining either their metaphorical or their mystical sense." (Introduction to Volume 2, containing Books I and II of the Mathnawi)

Another example of a typical Nicholson translation is: "'Tis (only) out of pity that I am drawing thy feet (hither)..." (I: 799). Other examples of Victorian-sounding words and phrases are: "thither," "hark," "if thou canst not hasten." Nicholson's vocabulary contains words which would be unfamiliar to most Americans (such as: "exiguous," "augment," "assiduously."

12. "Maulana Rum's Masnawi," by M. G. Gupta, in six volumes, published in Agra, India, 1995.

13. Gupta, Volume One, Verses 1-4563, p. 5. Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"When the rose is gone and the garden faded, thou wilt hear no more the nightingale's story."

(Masnavi I: 29)

14. "Rumi: The Masnavi, Book One" by Jawid Mojaddedi (New York, 2004); "Rumi: The Masnavi, Book Two," (New York, 2007).

15. "Rumi: Spiritul Verses: The First Book of the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi," Translated by Alan Williams (London, 2006)

16. "Listen: Commentary on the Spiritual Couplets of Mevlana Rumi by Kenan Rifai," Translated by Victoria Holbrook (Louisville, Kentucky, 2011)

17. E. H. Whinfield, "Masnaví-i Ma`naví: The Spiritual Couplets of Mauláná Jalálu-'d-dín Muhammad-i Rúmí," Abridged and translated by E. H. Whinfield (London, 1887) (Reprinted as "The Teachings of Rumi," Octagon Press, London, 1994)

18. "Tales from the Masnavi," by A. J. Arberry, 1961; "More Tales from the Masnavi," by A. J. Arberry, 1963.

19. "The Essence of Rumi's Masnevi: Including His Life and Works," by Erkan Türkmen, 1992, revised and corrected in 1997, published by Eris Booksellers in Konya, Turkiye, p. 256.

20. Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"How much (more) of these phrases and conceptions and
metaphors? I want burning, burning: become friendly with that


To lovers there is a burning (which consumes them) at every
moment: tax and tithe are not (imposed) on a ruined village.


Within the Ka'ba the rule of the qibla [= the direction toward
Mecca] does not exist: what matter if the diver has no snow-shoes?

Do not seek guidance from the drunken: why dost thou order those
whose garments are rent in pieces to mend them?

The religion of Love is apart from all religions: for lovers, the
(only) religion and creed is--God."

(Masnavi II: 1763, 1765, 1768-70)

Here Türkmen's commentary on the quoted summary:

"When the love of God rules your thoughts and intellect, it burns away everything but the presence of God. As a ruined village is exempt from taxes, similarly a ruined heart which loves God is not confined to the formal prayers. In the presence of God Himself what does a Qible mean? If you are not a lover of God yourself then don't go after the lovers, because they are intoxicated with the love-wine and no prayers are imposed on the intoxicated ones (as the Koran says, 'Approach not prayers with an intoxicated mind...' IV/43) and they cannot be your guide if you are an orthodox." (p. 256)

21. "The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalâloddin Rumi," by Annemarie Schimmel, London, 1978.

22. "The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi," by Wiliam C. Chittick, 1983.

23. "Rûmî and Sufism," by Eva de Vitray-Meyerivitch, translated from the French by Simone Fattal, 1987 (a translation of "Rûmî et le Soufisme," 1977.

24. "Rumi and Sufism," p. 102.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"Love is an (infinite) ocean, on which the heavens are (but) a flake
of foam: (they are distraught) like Zalíkhá in desire for a Joseph.
Know that the wheeling heavens are turned by waves of Love:
were it not for Love, the world would be frozen (inanimate).
How would an inorganic thing disappear (by change) into a plant?
How would vegetive things sacrifice themselves to become
(endowed with) spirit?

How would the spirit sacrifice itself for the sake of that Breath by
the waft whereof a Mary was made pregnant?
Each one (of them) would be (as) stiff and immovable as ice: how
should they be flying and seeking like locusts?
Every mote is in love with that Perfection and hastening upward
like a sapling.
Their haste is (saying implicitly) 'Glory to God!' [= Qur'an 57:1]
they are purifying the body for the sake of the spirit."
(Masnavi V: 3853-59)

25. Muriel Maufroy, "Breathing Truth -- Quotations from Jalaluddin Rumi," London, 1997.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"Thy intelligence is distributed over a hundred important affairs,
over thousands of desires and great matters and small.
Thou must unite the (scattered) parts by means of love, to the end
that thou mayest become sweet as Samarcand and Damascus.
When thou becomest united, grain by grain, from (after thy
dispersion in) perplexity, then it is possible to stamp upon thee the
King's die."
(Masnavi IV: 3288-90)

26. Franklin Lewis, p. 594

27. Night & Sleep: Rumi, Versions by Coleman Barks and Robert Bly," 1981 ("Coleman Barks' versions are the result of collaborating with John Moyne [= an Iranian immigrant and professor of linguistics]. Persian translations provide the base for the versions by Barks.")

28. The cover of the best-selling collection of his versions, "The Essential Rumi" (1994), states: "Translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne." But the title page goes further: "Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A. J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson". At the end of the book, Barks appends a note on the translations: "On the more literal level, the texts I work from to produce these poems are unpublished translations done by John Moyne, Emeritus Head of Linguistics at the City University of New York, and the following translations by Reynold Nicholson and A. J. Arberry, the famous Cambridge Islamicists..." (p. 292)

29. Jacket cover of "The Illuminated Rumi," Coleman Barks, 1997.

30. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1986.

31. "The Essential Rumi: Translations by Coleman Barks, with John Moyne, A. J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson," 1995, p. 109.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"This body, O youth, is a guest-house: every morning a new guest
comes running (into it).
Beware, do not say, 'This (guest) is a burden to me,' for presently
he will fly back into non-existence.
Whatsoever comes into thy heart from the invisible world is thy
guest: entertain it well!

. . . . . . . . . .

Comparing the daily thoughts that come into the heart with the new guests who from the beginning of the day alight in the house and behave with arrogance and ill-temper towards the master of the house; and concerning the merit of treating the guest with kindness and of suffering his haughty airs patiently.

Every day, too, at every moment a (different) thought comes, like
an honoured guest, into thy bosom.

O (dear) soul, regard thought as a person, since (every) person
derives his worth from thought and spirit.

If the thought of sorrow is waylaying (spoiling) joy, (yet) it is
making preparations for joy.

It violently sweeps thy house clear of (all) else, in order that new
joy from the source of good may enter in.

It scatters the yellow leaves from the bough of the heart, in order
that incessant green leaves may grow.

. . . . . . .

(Whenever) the thought (of sorrow) comes into thy breast anew, go
to meet it with smiles and laughter,
Saying, 'O my Creator, preserve me from its evil: do not deprive
me, (but) let me partake, of its good!
"O my Lord, prompt me" [= Qur'an 27:19; 46:15] to give thanks
for that which I see (receive): do not let me feel any subsequent
regret, if it (the benefit received) shall pass away.'"
(Masnavi V:3644-46, 3676-80, 3693-95)


Barks presents Rumi as teaching the ideas of contemporary "pop psychology" that we should welcome and accept the "dark side" of our negative thoughts and feelings rather than "repress" them, because this will help to heal our psyche. However, he leaves out the entire religious context of what Rumi says in this passage.

Rumi does not say to welcome negative thoughts. Rather, he says that we should endure them patiently, pray to be protected from their evil, and pray in gratitude for everything which has been sent by God (perhaps because, as the Qur'an teaches, ingratitude for God's favors has brought misfortune upon the peoples of the past).

32. "Rumi-- Daylight: A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance. Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Selections from Jelaluddin Rumi's Mathnawi Translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski," Threshold Books, 1994 ("Translation in verse of selected verses from : Masnawí, book 1-2. 1. Sufi poetry, Persian-- Translations into English. 2. Sufi poetry, English-- Translations from Persian.") "Jewels of Remembrance: A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance Containing 365 Selections from the Wisdom of Rumi, Selected and Translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski," Threshold Books, 1996 ("Sufi poetry, Persian-- Translations into English.")

33. "Jewels of Remembrance, Selected and Translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski," Threshold Books, 1996, p. 96).

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"Every phantasy is devouring another phantasy: (one) thought
feeds on another thought.
Thou canst not be delivered from any phantasy or fall asleep so as
to escape from it (altogether).
(Thy) thoughts are (like) hornets, and thy sleep is (like) the water
(in which thou art plunged): when thou awakest, the flies (hornets)
come back,
And many hornet-like phantasies fly in and (now) draw thee this
way and (now) take thee that way.
This (mental) phantasy is the least of the devourers: the Almighty
knows (how great are) the others.
Hark, flee from the troop of huge devourers towards Him who hath
said, 'We are thy protector';
Or towards one who has gained that (power) of protection, if thou
canst not hasten towards the Protector (Himself)."
(Masnavi V: 729-735)


This example reveals the Helminskis' basic method: they retain almost all of Nicholson's translation words, retain his punctuation (three colons, one semi-colon, and all the commas), simplify ("one thought feeds on another" instead of "(one) thought feeds on another thought"), occasionally reverse the first and second halves of sentences (or if you can't hasten..." instead of "Or towards one..."), substitute similar words here and there, (such as: "is devouring" instead of "devours"-- the opposite of simplifying, in this case), removed parentheses (ten sets), modernize archaic sounding words ("Hark," "Thou canst not," "who hath said," "thou," "thy," "thee"), and modernize older spellings ("fantasy" instead of "phantasy"). One disadvantage to removing these parentheses is that the words they contain are not translations of Rumi's words but are Nicholson's words of explanation, and this makes the result a less authentic mixture. In some cases, the Helminskis have also incorporated words from Nicholson's footnotes into their versions, giving the misleading impression that these are "translations" of Rumi's words. (For example: the incorporation of Nicholson's footnote number 6 ["I.e. 'repaired the tattered coat of my piety.' ] in "Jewels of Remembrance," p. 112 [fin explanation of Masnavi V: 2307]; Nicholson's footnote number 3 ["The spirit came from God and will return to God. The present life is its 'intermediate state.'"] in "Rumi: Daylight," p. 94 [presented as an entire line of Masnavi II: 12, which it is not]).

In the example above, they guessed incorrectly that Nicholson's translation in quotes (but not italics), "towards Him who hath said, 'We are thy protector'" is a quote from the Qur'an, thinking that it was from Qur'an 3:150-- "God is your Protector" [allâhu mawlâ- kum]. However, the words from line 734 are different from the Arabic verse from the Qur'an and are actually in Persian [mâ-êm-at HafîZ].

34. Andrew Harvey ,"Love's Glory: Re-Creations of Rumi," 1996.

35. Harvey, p. 50.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"When the lightning of love for the beloved has jumped into this
heart, know that there is love in that heart.
When love for God has become doubled in thy heart, without any
doubt God hath love for thee."
(Masnavi III: 4395-96)

36. Andrew Harvey, "Teachings of Rumi," 1999.

37. Harvey, p. 38.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

Nearness (to God) in resect of (His) creating and sustaining (us) is
common to all, (but only) these noble ones possess the nearness
(consisting) of the inspiration of Love.

. . . .

Nay, be one of those inebriates on account of whom, whilst they
are drinking the wine (of Divine Love), mature (strong) intellects
suffer regret."
(Masnavi III: 704, 711)


Harvey, a Rumi popularizer, produces versions which emphasize Rumi's passion-- and he does not hesitate to exaggerate this. In the first example, he has made the verses worse by injecting a sexual- like passion ("in ecstasy I can say only His Name... it is His Passion that erupts from me"). However, Nicholson's accurate translation shows that Rumi is talking, in the most sublime and yet reassuring way, about God's love toward those who are filled with love for Him.

In the second example, he has also altered the literal meaning in Nicholson's translation by injecting images of fiery passion. Nicholson's footnote for this passage states that "the nearness (consisting) of the insiration of Love" possessed by "these noble ones" refers to the prophets and saints. The Persian text has simply, "when they are drinking the wine," to which Nicholson added a parenthetical explanation, "whilst they are drinking the wine (of Divine Love)." But Harvey felt compelled to go further, depicting the wine itself as filled with "holy dancing flames" -- which actually detracts from Rumi's use of "wine" as a symbol for Divine Love.

38. Arthur Scholey, "The Paragon Parrot And Other Inspirational Tales of Wisdom: tales from Rumi retold by Arthur Scholey," London: Watkins Publishing, 2002.

39. Scholey, pp. 3-4.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"There was a greengrocer who had a parrot, a sweet-voiced green
talking parrot.
(Perched) on the bench, it would watch over the shop (in the
owner's absence) and talk finely to all the traders.
In addressing human beings it would speak (like them); it was
(also) skilled in the song of parrots.
(Once) it sprang from the bench and flew away; it spilled the
bottles of rose-oil."
(Masnavi I: 247-50)


Scholey is more honest than many version-producers, in that he does not claim to be a "translator" but states that these stories are retold by him. However, he omits any mention of which translation from Persian he used, which is obviously that of Nicholson, as an analysis of word choices shows (as in the story of the deaf man's visit to a sick neighbor, Masnavi I: 1360, which shows that Scholey followed Nicholson's translation, not that of Arberry's). As this example shows, Scholey does not hesitate to make additions to Rumi's stories in order to make them more pleasing in contemporary British English.