Friday, September 28, 2012

[Sunlight] The Song of the Reed


Today, in honor of the anniversary of Rumi's birth on September 29, 1207 A.D., Sunlight offers the beloved opening verses from Rumi's Mathnawi, the story of The Song of the Reed, in an interpretive versionby Jonathan Star, and in a contemporary literal translation by Ibrahim Gamard. Sunlight thanks Dr. Gamard for his generous contributions.


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


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 mystic.]
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 gratitude
for R.A. Nicholson's 1926 British 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 Mawlawí ["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 (shikáyat) is really no more than the tale
(hikákat) 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
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 mê-kon-ad].
*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 Mathnawí 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
*the path full of blood: "the thorny path of Love, strewn with
(Díwán, 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: "Majnún: the mad lover of Laylà: in Súfí
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`ád)
and transcendental consciousness of those who have escaped from
the bondage of the carnal or discursive reason (`aql-i ma`ásh)."
(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 bí-sír-ast rúz-ash dír-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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