Things Are Revealed By Their Opposites

Mathnawi I: 1121-1149

1121 You never see red, green, and reddish brown until you
see light, prior to (seeing) these three (colors).

But because your mind was distracted by color, the
colors became a veil to you from (perceiving) the light.

Since the colors are hidden at night, you have therefore
found (that) the sight of colors is (necessarily) due to

(For) without external light, there isn't (any) sight of
color. (It is) the same way (with the sight of) inward
mental colors.2

1125 The outward (light is) from the sun and from the
stars,3 but the inward (light is) from the reflection of the
lights of (Divine) Loftiness.

The ray of the eye's light is itself the light of the
heart,4 (since) the eye's light is the result of the light
of hearts.

(Once) again, the ray of the heart's light is (from) the
Light of God,5 which is pure and distinct from the light
of the intellect and the senses.

There isn't light (at) night, and (so) you don't see
colors; therefore (light) is made evident by the opposite of

(First) is the seeing of light, then the sight of color.
And you know this instantly by (awareness of) the contrary
of light.

1130 God created pain and (yearning) sorrow for this sake:
so that happiness may occur by (means of) this opposite.7

Thus, hidden things are revealed by (their) opposites.
(And) since God has no opposite, He is hidden.

Since the sight is (first cast) upon the light, then to
color, contrary is revealed by contrary-- like the
(light-skinned) Greek and the (dark-skinned) Ethiopian.8

Therefore, you know light by the opposite of light,
(since the perception of) contrary reveals contrary within
(people's) hearts.9

There is no opposite in existence to the Light of God,
so that He may be made to appear evident by it.10

1135 Therefore, our eyes "do not see Him, but He sees" (our
eyes).11 See this from (the example of) Moses and the
mountain (of Sinai).12

Know (that) form (derives) from (spiritual) reality,13
just as the lion (springs) from the jungle, or as the voice
and words (emerge) from thoughts.

This speech and voice arose from thoughts, (but) you
don't know where the ocean of thought is.

Yet since you've seen (that) the waves of speech are
elegant, you know that the ocean of those (waves) is also

When the waves of thought raced out from (intuitive)
knowing,14 it made15 forms of speech and voice (for them).

1140 (Thus) the forms were born from (Divine) Speech16 and
once more died; the waves were brought back into the ocean.

The forms emerged from formlessness (and then) returned,
for "Truly, we belong to Him and to Him we will return."17

Therefore, you have a death and a return (in) every
moment. Muhammad18 said, "This world is (only for) an hour."19

Our thought is (like) an arrow (flying) in the air from
Him.20 It can never be fixed in the air,21 (so) it comes
(back) to God.

The world is renewed every moment22 but, in (seeing its)
continuance, we (are) unaware of its being renewed.

1145 (For) life is like a stream: it arrives new and fresh
(every instant),23 (while) it appears constant in (its)
material form.

It has come as a (seemingly) continuous form due its
speed, like a spark which you move quickly in (your) hand.

(For if) you move a branch of fire in accord (with a
pattern), the flame appears (to be) very lengthy to (your)

The (appearance of) elongation (of objects for) a space
of time24 (is caused) by the swiftness of the (Divine)
action. And (this) quickness appears (because of the)
stimulation of the creative power (of God).25

1149 Although the seeker of this secret may be very
learned-- now [seek the answer from] Husamuddin, who is a
sublime book [of Divine mysteries].26

--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" (, 5/10/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1(1123) the sight of colors is (necessarily) due to
light: "According to the view of Ibn Síná [= died, 1037] and
many Moslem philosophers colour is produced by light and has
no independent existence. Others, while admitting that the
visibility of colour depends on light, deny that it is
non-existent in the absence of light." (Nicholson,

2(1124) (It is) the same way (with the sight of) inward
mental colors: "As colours are produced by light from the
heavenly bodies, so the inner light of reason, which is
reflected from the Light of God (Universal Reason), produces
ideal forms of knowledge and truth." (Nicholson, Commentary)

"Thoughts and inward states come into (the mind's) vision
with the light of discernment and insight [nûr-é baSîrat]."
(Anqaravi, the 17th century Turkish commentator, translated
here into English from a Persian translation).

3(1125) the stars: Nicholson translated literally, "from
Suhá." And he explained that this means, "A small star."
(Footnote) "Suhá, a small star, one of three in the tail of
Ursa Major, is used here for the stars collectively."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

4(1126) The ray of the eye's light is itself the light of
the heart: refers to the ancient physiological theory that
vision is possible because of a subtle kind of "light"
within the eyes. "The light of the heart (núr-i dil), which
is reason, illumines the light of the eye, i.e. the sense of
sight, and thereby enables it to discern the real quality of
the objects which it perceives; hence it may be said that
'the light of the eye is produced by the light of hearts'.
Since animals possess only the former, they lack the power
of induction common to all rational men and blindly follow
their instincts. But these 'lights' have their source in the
transcendent Light of God, though neither physical sense nor
carnal reason is in immediate contact with it. The heart of
the mystic, however, receives illumination without any
'veil', so that he sees by the light of Pure Reason itself."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

5(1127) the ray of the heart's light is (from) the Light
of God: the meaning here is that it derives from the Light
of God (and not that it is the actual Light of God) because
Rumi said (two verses prior) that, "the inward (light is)
from the reflection of the lights of (Divine) Loftiness."

6(1128) by the opposite of light: Nicholson translated,
"by the opposite of light (darkness)."

7(1130) happiness may occur by (means of) this opposite:
"An ethical application of the principle that till we know
what a thing is not we do not know what it is. The
appearance of evil is necessary for the manifestation of
good. Rúmí develops this topic elsewhere, e.g. II 2927 sqq.,
V 574 sqq., VI 1747 sqq." (Nicholson, Commentary)

8(1132) like the (light-skinned) Greek and the
(dark-skinned) Ethiopian: Rumi uses these as symbols of
spiritual types, not as racial superiority or inferiority
(which is alien to the principles of Islam). "i.e. white and
black. In v. 3511 infra the fair-skinned inhabitants of Asia
Minor are contrasted with the swarthy Ethiopians as types of
the blest and the damned respectively. So Turk and Hindú (I
3526, etc.)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

9(1133) contrary reveals contrary within (people's)
hearts [Sudûr]: Nicholson translated this term differently
(according to a secondary meaning, "flowing," "rising,"
springing"): "opposite reveals opposite in (the process of)
coming forth." And he explained: "Sudûr refers to phenomena
and describes their coming into contingent existence. Fayd,
the other term for 'emanation', denotes the 'overflowing' or
'raying out' of the Absolute." (Commentary)

10(1134) There is no opposite in existence to the Light of
God, so that He may be made to appear evident by it:
"Reverting to the analogy of light and colour, the poet
explains that we know light by distinguishing it from
darkness; but the Divine Essence, which itself is the life
and soul of all phenomenal existence, remains for ever
hidden from us, because in reality there is nothing that it
is not. Having no object to compare and contrast with God,
the mind cannot apprehend Him: it perceives only the diverse
forms in which He appears." (Nicholson, Commentary)

11(1135) our eyes "do not see Him, but He sees" (our
eyes): these words are from the Qur'an (6:103), modified for
the sake of the meter: "No eyes perceive Him, but He
perceives (all) the eyes." This may also be translated, "No
(human) vision comprehends Him..."

12(1135) (the example of) Moses and the mountain (of
Sinai): "And when Moses came to Our (appointed) time and his
Lord spoke to him, he said, 'O my Lord! Show (Yourself) to
me, (so that) I may look at You.' (Then) He said, 'You
cannot see Me. But look at the mountain, and if it remains
firmly in place-- (only) then might you see Me.' When his
Lord manifested (His) Glory to the mountain, He made it
crumble, and Moses fell down unconscious." (Qur'an 7:143)

13(1136) form (derives) from (spiritual) reality:
Nicholson translated, "spirit (reality)." And he explained:
"Here súrat [= form] includes both sensible and ideal forms
of things springing forth, like lions, from the mysterious
and impenetrable jungle of Reality [= ma`nà] and
disappearing again in its dark depths." (Nicholson,
Commentary) Rumi often contrasts outward "form" [Sûrat] with
inward "meaning" [ma`nà]. (See William Chittick, "The Sufi
Path of Love: the spiritual Teachings of Rumi," pp. 19-23.)

14(1139) (intuitive) knowing [dánesh]: Nicholson
translated, "Wisdom." "(It means), 'when the waves of
thought and form entered (the mind) from the ocean of
intelligence and wisdom...."

15(1139) it made: Nicholson translated, "When the waves of
thought sped on from (the sea of) Wisdom, it (Wisdom) made
(for them) the form of speech and voice."

16(1140) the forms were born from (Divine) Speech: this is
another way of saying (as in line 1136) that form (derives)
from the invisible realm of spiritual Reality (in contrast
to the external world of transient appearances. In between
these two lines, Rumi has said that the waves of speech and
voice arise from the ocean of (hidden) thoughts and that the
waves of thought arise from (more hidden) intuitive knowing.
Now, he speaking of the Divine origin of forms, the Divine
command, "Be!" "When He decrees something, He says to it,
'Be!' And it is [kun fa-yakun]." (Qur'an 2:117)

"Nicholson translated, "the form was born of the Word."
And he quoted from Rumi's "Fíhi má fíhi [= "Discourses"],
30, 4: 'The heavens and earths are entirely Speech (sukhun)
in the view of one who perceives (mystically), and are born
of Speech (sukhun), i.e. Kun fa-yakún.' The sudden
assignment of a new meaning to sukhun [= speech] is quite in
the manner of Rúmí. European translators and Oriental
commentators alike retain the old meaning [= words], but the
latter have difficulty in showing how 'form was born of
words', which themselves are forms. I am dissatisfied with
the explanation that since the formless thought is uttered
in words and receives from them a definite shape, the words
may therefore be said to 'produce' the form of the thought.
The point is not whether they serve to express it, but
whether they originate it. Sukhun [= speech] here is
parallel to dánish [=intuitive knowing, wisdom] in the
preceding verse, and to bí-súratí [= formlessness] in the
next." (Commentary)

17(1141) "Truly, we belong to Him and to Him we will
return": Qur'an 2:156. "Bí-súratí [= formlessness] refers to
Divine Knowledge (cf. dánish in v. 1139) or Universal
Reason, of which the phenomenal world is the outward form."
(Nicholson, Commentary) Anqaravi quoted an Arabic saying:
"Everything returns to its source" [kullu shay-in yarji` ilà
aSli-hi] (Commentary)

18(1142) Muhammad [muSTafà]: literally, "the Chosen," an
title used only to mean the Prophet Muhammad.

19(1142) "This world is (only for) an hour": a saying of
the Prophet ["al-duny’ s’`at"].

20(1143) in the air from Him: a word play between "in the
air" [dar haw’] and "from Him" [az Huw].

21(1143) It can never be fixed in the air: "i.e. wujúd-i
insánî." [= human existence] (Nicholson, Commentary)

22(1144) The world is renewed every moment: "The world has
only the semblance of duration; in truth all phenomena are
annihilated and re-created at every moment by the eternal
manifestation of Divine energy." "WM [= the late nineteenth
century Indian commentator, Walí Muhammad]... explains the
Súfí doctrine known as 'the renewal of like by like'
(tajaddud-i amthál) as follows: 'The Súfís believe that
every moment a world (`álamí) is annihilated and that
instantaneously the like of it comes into existence, because
God has opposite attributes which never cease to be
displayed...'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

23(1145) life is like a stream: it arrives new and fresh
(every instant): "cf. the sayings of Heraclitus [= ancient
Greek philosopher, died about 480 B.C.]: 'To him who enters
the same river, other and still other waters flow'; 'into
the same river we descend, and we do not descend: we are,
and we are not'." (NIcholson, Commentary)

24(1148) The (appearance of) elongation (of objects for) a
space of time: Nicholson translated, "The swift motion
produced by the action of God presents (this length of
duration (Time) as (a phenomenon arising) from the rapidity
of Divine action."

"This verse is an answer to the implied question, 'How
is it possible that human life is one moment and the
time-period of the world is one hour [= as the Prophet
said], (when) at the same time there are all these long
years and lengthy moments?' You may say in response that
this lengthiness of time is in relation to humanity... (Yet)
at the same time, in relation to Divine years, this world is
(only) a single hour.... But this mystery cannot be
understood by means of words and speech." (Anqaravi,

25(1148) (this) quickness appears (because of the)
stimulation of the creative power (of God): "The whole
circle of existence really begins and ends in a single
point, i.e. the Essence of God, which is perceived by us
under the form of extension. Hence, as the Prophet said,
'the world is but a moment', i.e. a flash of Divine
illumination (tajallí) revealing the One as the Many and the
Many as the One. But in our minds this immediacy produces
the illusion of Time, and we deem the world enduring."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

26(1149) Husamuddin, who is a sublime book [of Divine mysteries]:
Nicholson translated, "(say to him), 'Lo, Husámu'ddín, who is a
sublime book (where you will find the mystery revealed).'"
Husamuddin Chelebi was Rumi's chief disciple (following the
death of Salahuddin Zarkûb)), his first successor after his own
death, and the one to whom he dictated the entire Mathnawi during
the last fifteen years of his life. Rumi occasionally invites the
listener to find out more about the mysteries he is
expounding by asking Husamuddin (see I:428; also in the last
line of fourteen ghazals in the Divan). He also praises
Husamuddin as being the stimulus of his inspiration for this
work (see I: Preface; II: 3-5, 1327-27; IV: 1, 754-55,
2075-78, 3824-26; VI: 1-3).


1121 kay be-bîn-î sorkh-o sabz-o fûr-râ
tâ na-bîn-î pêsh-az în seh nûr-râ

lêk chûn dar rang gom shod hôsh-é tô
shod ze-nûr ân rang-hâ rô-pôsh-é tô

chûn-ke shab ân rang-hâ mastûr bûd
pas be-dîd-î dîd-é rang az nûr bûd

nêst dîd-é rang bê-nûr-é berûn
ham-chon-în rang-é kheyâl-é andarûn

1125 în berûn az âftâb-o az suhâ
w-andarûn az `aks-é anwâr-é `ulâ

nûr-é nûr-é chashm khwad nûr-é del-ast
nûr-é chashm az nûr-é del-hâ Hâsil-ast

bâz nûr-é nûr-é del nûr-é khodâ-st
k-ô ze-nûr-é `aql-o His pâk-o jodâ-st

shab na-bod nûr-o na-dîd-î rang-hâ
pas ba-Zidd-é nûr paydâ shod to-râ

dîdan-é nûr-ast ân-gah dîd-é rang
w-în ba-Zidd-é nûr dân-î bê-derang

1130 ranj-o gham-râ Haq pay-é ân âfrîd
tâ ba-d-în Zid khwash-delî ây-ad padîd

pas nehânî-hâ ba-Zid paydâ shaw-ad
chûn-ke Haq-râ nêst Zid penhân bow-ad

ke naZar bar nûr bow-ad ân-gah ba-rang
Zid ba-Zid paydâ bow-ad chûn rûm-o zang

pas ba-Zidd-é nûr dânast-î tô nûr
Zidd Zid-râ mê-nomây-ad dar Sudûr

nûr-é Haq-râ nêst Ziddê dar wujûd
tâ ba-Zidd ô-râ tawân paydâ namûd

1135 lâ-jaram abSâr-é mâ lâ tudrik-hu
wa-h'wa yudrik bîn tô az mûsà-wo koh

Sûrat az ma`nà chô shêr az bêsha dân
yâ chô âwâz-o sokhon z-andêsha dân

în sokhon-o âwâz az andêsha khâst
tô na-dân-î baHr-é andêsha ko-jâ-st

lêk chûn mawj-é sokhon dîd-î laTîf
bahr-é ân dân-î ke bâsh-ad ham sharîf

chûn ze-dânesh mawj-é andêsha be-tâkht
az sokhon-o âwâz ô Sûrat be-sâkht

1140 az sokhon Sûrat be-zâd-o bâz mord
mawj khwad-râ bâz andar baHr bord

Surat az bê-Suratî âmad berûn
bâz shod ke in-nâ ilay-hi râji`ûn

pas to-râ har laHZa marg-o raj`atê-st
muSTafà farmûd dunyâ sâ`atê-st

fikr-é mâ têrê-st az hû dar hawâ
dar hawâ kay pây-ad? ây-ad tâ khodâ

har nafas naw mê-shaw-ad dunyâ-wo mâ
bê-khabar az naw-shodan andar baqâ

1145 `umr ham-chûn jôy naw-naw mé-ras-ad
mustamirrî mê-nomây-ad dar jasad

ân ze-têzî mustamir-shakl âmada-st
chûn sarar ke-sh têz jonbân-î ba-dast

shâkh-é âtash-râ be-jonbân-î ba-sâz
dar naZar âtash nomây-ad bas darâz

în darâzî muddat az têzîy-é Sun`
mê-nomây-ad sur`at angêzîy-é Sun`

1149 Tâlib-é în sirr agar `allâma'ê-st
nak Husâmu 'd-dîn ke sâmî nâma'ê-st

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)