The Grammarian and the Boatman

Mathnawi I: 2829-2847

2829 (Regarding) any skill by which a master has become known,
the souls of (his) students become endowed with it (also).

2830 [For example,] in the presence of a master of (theological)
doctrines,1 the quickly achieving student also studies doctrines.

In the presence of a master jurist, the law-reader studies
(religious) law during the instruction, not doctrines.

(And) in the presence2 of a master who is a grammarian, by him
the soul of his student becomes a grammarian.

Once more, [in the presence of] a master who is obliterated in the
(sufi) Way, by him the soul of his student is annihilated3 in [the
Majesty and Glory of] the King.

Of all these (different) kinds of knowledge, the knowledge of
(spiritual) poverty4 is the (best) preparation and provision for the
road5 (on) the day of death.

The story of what occurred between the grammarian and the

2835 A grammarian sat down in a boat. That egotist6 turned (his)
face to the boatman

(And) said, "Have you studied any grammar." He replied, "No."
(The grammarian) said, "(Then) half your life has gone to

The boatman became disturbed in (his) heart from burning
(sorrow), but kept silent from answering at that moment.

(Then) the wind hurled the boat into a whirlpool. The boatman
shouted to the grammarian,

"Do you know anything about swimming? Tell (me)! He replied,
"No, O good-answering, handsome-faced (man)!"

2840 (The boatman) said, "(Then) the whole of your life is
nothing, O grammarian, because the boat is (going to) drown in
these whirlpools!"

Know that (mystical) obliteration7 is required here, not grammar.8
If you are annihilated (of self), ride into the water without danger!

The ocean water puts the corpse on the surface. But if he is
(spiritually) alive [in God] he will never escape from the Ocean.

If you have died to human qualities,9 the ocean of (Divine)
secrets1 will put you on the topmost surface.

O you who have called the people donkeys! This time you are
stuck on this (slippery) ice like a donkey (yourself).11

2845 Even if you are the most learned person of the time in the
(entire) world, look now at the perishing (nature) of this world and
this time!

We have sewn in (the story) about the man of grammar so that we
might teach you the grammar of the annihilation (of self).12

2847 O wonderful friend! In becoming less,13 you will find the Law
of the (religious) law, the Grammar of grammar, and the
Transformation of the parts of speech.14

--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" (, 11/7/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (2830) (theological) doctrines: Nicholson usually translates this
word [`usûl] more literally as "fundamentals." However, here he
translated it as "(scholastic) theology," as if it meant "fundamentals
of scholastic theology" [`usûlu kalâm].

2. (2832) in the presence: Nicholson later changed this, on the basis
of the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to: "With the master..."
(from, "Then the master...").

3. (2833) annihilated, obliterated: this word [maHw] is a word play
on the word for "grammar" [naHw]. It has the same meaning as the
sufi technical term, "fanâ," which derives from the verse, "All that
is upon (the earth) will pass away [fân-in], but the Face of your
Lord will abide [yabqâ], full of Majesty and Glory" (Qur'an 55:

4. (2834) (spiritual) poverty: An important term in Islamic mysticism,
related to the word "faqeer" (literally, "poor one"), meaning
"Muslim mystic" or "sufi" [and this Arabic term was translated
into Persian as "darveesh," poor beggar]. It refers to the absence of
ostentation, pride, self-worship, and self-centered preoccupation.
"What is with you will vanish, and what is with God will endure"
(Qur'an, 16:97). "O man, you are poor [fuqarâ] in relation to God,
and God is the Rich, the Praiseworthy" (Qur'ân 35:15). A related
saying of the Prophet Muhammad is, "Poverty is my pride"
[al-faqru fakhr-î].

5. (2834) preparation and provision for the road: "Cf. the Hadíth,
'Knowledge is of two kinds: knowledge in the heart, and that is
useful; knowledge on the tongue, and that is useless.' As the
following Story shows, mystical training and experience is the
viaticum [= "traveling expenses"] required for the voyage to union
with God." (Nicholson, Commentary)

6. (2835) egotist: literally, "self-worshipper."

7. (2841) (mystical) obliteration, annihilated (of self): see footnote

8. (2841) not grammar: "Grammar (nahw) is concerned with names
(asmá); the mystic with the Essence, which is the real object of all
names" (Nicholson, Commentary)

9. (2843 died to human qualities: refers to the teaching that sufism is
the annihilation of human attributes and the lasting awareness of
the Divine Attributes of God, which are reflected in the individual
sufi in different degrees.

10. (2843) the Ocean of (Divine) secrets: Nicholson translated,
"Inasmuch as you have died to the attributes of the flesh, the Sea of
(Divine) consciousness will place you on the crown of its head
(will raise you to honor)." "God upholds and exalts those who have
died to self, while those who rely on their own attainments and
efforts are submerged in the whirlpools of illusion." (Nicholson,

11. (2844) like a donkey (yourself): "i.e. in the phenomenal world. The
great scholar, with all his pride of intellect, is unable to take a
single step towards true knowledge." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (2846) the grammar of the annihilation (of self): another word play
on "grammar" [naHw] and "obliteration"-- which may also be
translated as "(mystical) effacement, perishing, vanishing, erasing,
passing away (of self)."

13. (2847) in becoming less: "kam-âmad = níst shudan [= "becoming
nothing"]. (Nicholson, Commentary)

14. (2847) the Transformation of the parts of speech: "I.e. the cream
and essence of these sciences." (Nicholson, footnote) The Turkish
commentators explain fiqh-i fiqh [="Law of law"] as mafhúm-i
fiqh [= "the understanding of law']; nahw-i nahw [= the Grammar
of grammar"] as maqsúd-i nahw [= "the purpose of grammar"]; and
sarf-i sarf [= "the Transformation of the parts of speech"] as
tabdíl-i sarf [= "the conversion of conjugation, inflection,
declension, etymology"]; but in such phrases the first word denotes
the 'essence' or 'reality' of the second. Sárí's commentary on this
verse includes a short treatise by Qushayrí... in which the author
points out parallels and correspondences between the technical
terms of Arabic grammar and the istiláhát [= technical vocabulary]
of the Súfís." (Nicholson, Commentary)


2829 har honar ke ostâ ba-d-ân ma`rûf shod
jân-é shâgerd-ân ba-d-ân mawSûf shod

2830 pêsh-é ostâd-é uSûlê ham uSûl
khwân-ad ân shâgerd-é chost-é bâ-HuSûl

pêsh-é ostâd-é faqîh ân fiqh-khwân
fiqh khwân-ad na uSûl andar bayân

pêsh-é ostâdê ke ô naHwî bow-ad
jân-é shâgerd-ash az-ô naHwî shaw-ad

bâz ostâdê ke ô maHw-é rah-ast
jân-é shâgerd-ash az-ô maHw-é shah-ast

z-în hama anwâ`-é dânesh rôz-é marg
dânesh-é faqr-ast sâz-é râh-o barg

Hikâyat-é mâ-jarây-é naHwî wa kashtî-bân

2835 ân yakê naHwî ba-kashtî dar neshast
rô ba-kashtî-bân nehâd ân khwad-parast

goft hêch az naHw khwând-î? goft lâ
goft nêm-é `umr-é tô shod dar fanâ

del-shekasta gasht kashtî-bân ze-tâb
lêk ân dam kard khâmosh az jawâb

bâd kashtî-râ ba-gard-âbê fakand
goft kashtî-bân ba-d-ân naHwî boland

hêch dân-î âshnâ kardan be-gô?
goft nay ay khwash-jawâb-é khwob-rô

2840 goft kull-é `umr-at ay naHwî fanâ-st
z-ân-ke kashtî gharq-é în gard-âb-hâ-st

maHw mê-bây-ad na naHw în-jâ be-dân
gar tô maHw-î, bê-khaTar dar âb rân

âb-é daryâ morda-râ bar sar nehad
w-ar bow-ad zenda ze-daryâ kay rahad?

chûn be-mord-î tô az awSâf-é bashar
baHr-é asrâr-at nehad bar farq-é sar

ay ke khalq-ân-râ tô khar mê-khwânda-î
în zamân chûn khar barîn yakh mânda-î

2845 gar tô `allâma-yé zamân-î dar jahân
nak fanây-é în jahân bîn w-în zamân

mard-é naHwî-râ az ân dar dôkht-êm
tâ shomâ-râ naHw-é maHw âmôkht-êm

2847 fiqh-é fiqh-ô nahw-é naHw-o Sarf-é Sarf
dar kam âmad yâb-î ay yâr-é shegarf

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)