Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Song of the Reed


In memory of the birth of Maulaana Jalalludin Balkhi, known as
Rumi, Sunlight offers the first verses from his Mathnawi, the story
of The Song of the Reed, in an interpretive version by Jonathan Star,
in translation by Dr. Franklin Lewis, and in translation by Dr.
Ibrahim Gamard, accompanied by a Persian transliteration.

Sunlight note: Dr. Gamard's unpublished translations of verses
from the Mathnawi received this review from Professor Lewis,
in "Rumi, Past and Present, East and West" (Oneworld, 2000): "Gamard
learned Persian out of devotion to Rumi and, judging from the samples
that have appeared on the Sunlight email list, the Gamard-Farhadi
translation ... preserves more of the poetic quality of the work than
Nicholson's parenthetic prose. (Further translations) will be warmly

Sunlight thanks Dr. Gamard for his generous contributions.

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The Song of the Reed

Listen to the song of the reed,
How it wails with the pain of separation:

"Ever since I was taken from my reed bed
My woeful song has caused men and women to weep.
I seek out those whose hearts are torn by separation
For only they understand the pain of this longing.
Whoever is taken away from his homeland
Yearns for the day he will return.
In every gathering, among those who are happy or sad,
I cry with the same lament.
Everyone hears according to his own understanding,
None has searched for the secrets within me.
My secret is found in my lament
But an eye or ear without light cannot know it . . ."

The sound of the reed comes from fire, not wind
What use is one's life without this fire?
It is the fire of love that brings music to the reed.
It is the ferment of love that gives taste to the wine.
The song of the reed soothes the pain of lost love.
Its melody sweeps the veils from the heart.
Can there be a poison so bitter or a sugar so sweet
As the song of the reed?
To hear the song of the reed
everything you have ever known must be left behind.

-- Version by Jonathan Star
"Rumi - In the Arms of the Beloved"
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York 1997

~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~

as this reed
pipes its plaint
unfolds its tale
of separations:
Cut from my reedy bed
my crying
ever since
makes men and women
I like to keep my breast
carved with loss
to convey
the pain of longing ---
Once severed
from the root
thirst for union
with the source

I raise my plaint
in any kind of crowd
in front of both
the blessed and the bad
For what they think they hear me say, they love me --
None gaze in me my secrets to discern
My secret is not separate from my cry
But ears and eyes lack light to see it.

Not soul from flesh
nor flesh from soul are veiled
yet none is granted leave to see the soul.
Fire, not breath, makes music through that pipe --
Let all who lack that fire be blown away.
It is love's fire that inspires the reed
It's love's ferment that bubbles in the wine
The reed, soother to all sundered lovers --
its piercing modes reveal our hidden pain:
(What's like the reed, both poison and physic,
Soothing as it pines and yearns away?)
The reed tells the tale of a blood-stained quest
singing legends of love's mad obsessions

Only the swooning know such awareness
only the ear can comprehend the tongue

In our sadness time slides listlessly by
the days searing inside us as they pass.

But so what if the days may slip away?
so long as you, Uniquely Pure, abide.

Within this sea drown all who drink but fish
If lived by bread alone, the day seems long
No raw soul ever kens the cooked one's state
So let talk of it be brief; go in piece.

Break off your chains
My son, be free!
How long enslaved
by silver, gold?
Pour the ocean
in a pitcher,
can it hold more
than one day's store?
The jug, like a greedy eye,
never gets its fill
only the contented oyster holds the pearl

The one run ragged by love and haggard
gets purged of all his faults and greeds
Welcome, Love!
sweet salutary suffering
and healer of our maladies!

cure of our pride
of our conceits,
our Plato,
Our Galen!
By Love
our earthly flesh
borne to heaven
our mountains
made supple
moved to dance

Love moved Mount Sinai, my love,
and it made Moses swoon. [K7:143]

Let me touch those harmonious lips
and I, reed-like, will tell what may be told

A man may know a myriad of songs
but cut from those who know his tongue, he's dumb.
Once the rose wilts and the garden fades
the nightingale will no more sing his tune.

The Beloved is everything -- the lover, a veil
The Beloved's alive -- the lover carrion.
Unsuccored by love, the poor lover is
a plucked bird
Without the Beloved's
surrounding illumination
how perceive what's ahead
and what's gone by?

Love commands these words appear
if no mirror reflects them
in whom lies the fault?
The dross obscures your face
and makes your mirror
unable to reflect

-- Mathnawi I: 1 - 34
Translation by Professor Franklin D. Lewis
"Rumi -- Past and Present, East and West"
Oneworld, Oxford, 2000

~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~

The Song of the Reed
Mathnawi I: 1-18

Listen* to the reed (flute),* how it is complaining! * It is
telling about separations, *
(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."*
"Anyone one who has remained far from his roots,* seeks a return
(to the) time of his union.*
"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 secrets* from within me.
"My secret is not far from my lament, but eyes and ears do not
have the light* (to sense it).
"The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from the body;
but seeing the soul is not permitted."*
The reed's cry is fire* -- it's not wind! Whoever doesn't have
this fire, may he be nothing!*
It is the fire of Love that fell into the reeds. (And) it is the
ferment of Love that fell into the wine.*
The reed (is) the companion of anyone who was severed from a
friend; its melodies tore our veils.*
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;* it is
telling stories of Majnoon's (crazed) love.*
There is no confidant (of) this understanding* except the senseless!
* There is no purchaser of that tongue* except the ear [of the
In our longing,* the days became (like) evenings;* the days
became fellow-travellers with burning fevers.
If the days have passed, tell (them to) go, (and) don't worry.
(But) You remain!* -- O You, whom no one resembles in Purity!
Everyone becomes satiated by water,* except the fish. (And)
everyone who is without daily food [finds that] his days become
None (who is) "raw" can understand the state of the "ripe."*
Therefore, (this) speech must be shortened. So farewell!*

-- From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed
Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning] of
Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard
(with grateful acknowledgement of R.A. Nicholson's
1926 translation)
(c) Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, and

*Listen: states of spiritual ecstasy were induced in sufi gatherings
by listening to mystical poetry and music. During such a "mystical
concert" [samâ`-- literally, "audition" or "hearing" session] some
dervishes would enter a spiritual state of consciousness and
spontaneously begin to move. Sometimes they would stand up and
dance or whirl. They would listen to the poetry or music as if they
were hearing the voice of God, the Beloved. Such gatherings were
controversial, were criticized by orthodox Muslim leaders, and were
practiced by very few sufi orders-- usually with restrictions and high
standards for participants.

*the reed [nay]: a flute made by cutting a length of a naturally
hollow reed cane and adding finger holes. "The nay or reed-flute as
the poet's favourite musical instrument and has always been associated
with the religious services of the Mawlawي ["Whirling Dervish"]
Order, in which music and dancing are prominent features."
(Nicholson, Commentary). The reed flute symbolizes the soul which
is emptied of ego-centered desires and preoccupations and is filled
with a spiritual passion to return to its original nearness to God.
Rumi said, "The world (is) like a reed pipe [sornây], and He blows
into every hole of it; every wail it has (is) certainly from those two
lips like sugar. See how He blows into every (piece of) clay (and)
into every heart; He gives a need and He gives a love which raises up
a lament about misfortune." (Ghazal 532, lines 5664-5665) Rumi
also said, "We have all been part of Adam (and ) we have heard those
melodies in Paradise. Although (bodily) water and clay have cast
skepticism upon us, something of those (melodies) comes (back) to
our memory.... Therefore, the mystical concert has become the food
of the lovers (of God) for in it is the image of (heavenly) reunion."
(Mathnawî IV: 736-737, 742)

*separations: "The point is that while self-conscious lovers complain
of separation from the beloved one, and reproach her for her cruelty,
the mystic's complaint (shikلyat) is really no more than the tale
(hikلkat) of his infinite longing for God-- a tale which God
inspires him to tell." (Nicholson, Commentary). Rumi said: "I'm
complaining [shikâyat mê-kon-am] about the Soul of the soul;
but I am not a complainer [shâkê] -- I'm relating words
[rawâyat mê-kon-am]. (My) heart keeps saying, 'I'm afflicted by
Him!' And I have been laughing at (its) feeble pretense." (Mathnawî I:
1781-82). "Be empty of stomach and cry out, in neediness (neyâz),
like the reed flute! Be empty of stomach and tell secrets like the
reed pen!" (Divan: Ghazal 1739, line 18239). "Lovers (are) lamenting
like the reed flute [nây], and Love is like the Flutist. So, what
things will this Love breathe into the reed pipe [sôr-nây] of
the body?! The reed pipe is visible, but the pipe-player is hidden.
In short, my reed pipe became drunk from the wine of His lips.
Sometimes He caresses the reed pipe, sometimes he bites it. (Such) a
sigh, because of this sweet-songed reed-breaking Flutist!" (Divan:
Ghazal 1936, lines 20374-20376)
Nicholson later changed his translation, based on the earliest
manuscripts of the Mathnawi, to "Listen to this reed how it
complains: it is telling a tale of separations" (from, "Listen to the
reed how it tells a tale, complaining of separations. " This is what
the earliest known manuscript has. (This is the "Konya Manuscript,"
completed five years after Rumi died, and written by Muhammad ibn
Abdullâh Qûnyawî, a disciple of Rumi's son, Sultân Walad,
under his supervision together with Husâmuddîn Chelabî --
who was present with Rumi during the dictation of every verse of the
Mathnawi.) All manuscripts and editions after the 13th century
adopted a changed (and "improved") version of this line: "Listen
from the nay, how it tells a story... [be-sh'naw az nay chûn
Hikâyat mê-kon-ad / az jodâ'îy-hâ shikâyat

*the reed field [nay-estân]: lit., "place of reeds." A symbol for
the original homeland of the soul, when it existed harmoniously in the
presence of God. "... referring to the descent of the soul from the
sphere of Pure Being and Absolute Unity, to which it belongs and
would fain return." (Nicholson, Commentary)

*in (the presence of) my shrill cries: Nicholson later changed his
translation, based on the earliest manuscript, to: "man and woman
have moaned in (unison) with my lament" [dar nafîr-am] (from, "my
lament hath caused [az nafîr-am] man and woman to moan").

*explain: a pun on the two meanings of the same word [sharH],
"explanation" and "torn."

*the pain of yearning: The longing of love is painful, because of
separation-- yet also sweet. This is because the longing brings
remembrance of the beloved's beauty. Longing for nearness to a
human beloved, such as a spiritual master, is a means for the
spiritual disciple to increase his longing for nearness to God, the
only Beloved. Rumi said: "If thought of (longing) sorrow is
highway-robbing (your) joy, (yet) it is working out a means to
provide joy.... It is scattering the yellow leaves from the branch of
the heart so that continual green leaves may grow.... Whatever
(longing) sorrow sheds or takes from the heart, truly it will bring
better in exchange." (Mathnawi V:3678, 3680, 3683)

*roots: also means foundation, source, origin.

*union: also means being joined.

*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)

*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.

*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.

*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."

*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 Mathnawي 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)

*into the wine: "i.e. Love kindles rapture in the heart and makes it
like a cup of foaming wine." (Nicholson, Commentary)

*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.

*the path full of blood: "the thorny path of Love, strewn with
(Dيwلn, 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)

*Majnoon's crazed love: "Majnْn: the mad lover of Laylà: in
Sْfي 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 ill.
*this understanding: "the spiritual or universal reason (`aql-i
ma`لd) and transcendental consciousness of those who have escaped
from the bondage of the carnal or discursive reason (`aql-i
ma`لsh)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

*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.
*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].

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

*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.)

*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)

*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." (Commentary)

*become long: Nicholson mentions this as "alluding to the proverb,
harkih bي-sيr-ast rْz-ash dيr-ast" [The day are long for
whoever is without satisfaction] (Commentary)

*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:

*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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~

be-sh'naw în nay chûn shikâyat mê-kon-ad
az jodâ'îy-hâ hikâyat mê-kon-ad

k-az nayestân tâ ma-râ bo-b'rîda-and
dar nafîr-am mard-o zan nâlîda-and

sîna khwâh-am sharHa sharHa az firâq
tâ be-gôy-am sharH-é dard-é ishtiyâq

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

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

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

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

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

(meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)

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