The Mesnavi and The Acts of the Adepts, by Jelal-'d-din Rumi and Shemsu-'d-Din Ahmed, tr. by James W. Redhouse, , at sacred-texts.com
There was a scribe 1, before ‘Uthmān 2 had filled that post,
Most diligent in noting revelation's host.
Whatever text the Prophet had to promulgate
On parchment did this scribe trace all its terms of fate.
The splendour of those inspirations filled his soul.
His mind became enlightened, as a glowing coal.
The substance of that wisdom from the Prophet came.
The silly scribe imagined ’twas his genius’ flame:
"The texts the Prophet promulgates with rare effect,
5 Appear verbatim in my mind, without defect."
The Prophet was aware of this egregious sin.
The wrath of God descended from high heaven's welkin.
The scribe renounced his office, and his faith at once.
Religion's fiercest foe he stood now, for the nonce.
The Prophet questioned him: "Benighted, wretched man!
If light there be in thee, whence this thy darkest plan?
Hadst thou a fountain of God's truth been, verily,
This turbid stream had never flowed thence, heavily."
Not caring to expose his scribe to all his friends,
10 The Prophet held his peace, to watch th’ adventure's ends.
The scribe's heart hardened more and more as time rolled on.
Repentance he felt not; his pride grew thereupon.
He sighed. His sighs were not the signs of contrite heart;
But tokens sure that justice made him feel its smart.
God caused his pride to weigh more heavy than a chain.
How many thus are fettered; none can heal their pain.
His blasphemy and pride held him in iron grip;
His very sighs he felt constrained to stifle on his lip.
He cried: "'The iron collars they're compelled to wear;' 1
There's naught but iron collars; these are all we bear! 15
'Behind them is a barrier; but We've bound their eyes,' 2
So that they see not what's before, behind those ties."
The barrier so upreared appears a level plain;
He knows not ’tis a bourn that checks him like a chain.
Thy witness is a barrier, bars sight of the Lord;
Thy teacher is a veil, shuts out God's holy word.
How many infidels, oh! long faith to possess!
Their pride, their honour, stands between them and success.
That barrier, unseen, ’s than iron firmer still.
An axe can hew through iron; not through stubborn will. 20
A bond of iron may be broken by due means;
A moral bond is what holds firmest, where it leans.
A bee, a wasp, may sting one to the very quick;
Yet may the same be warded by precaution's trick.
But what's to do when sting is in our very selves?
The pain is then most biting, deeper far it delves.
Unwillingly has leaped this subject from my mind.
I fear ’twill leave despair in many, deep behind.
Despair thou not; take consolation to thy soul;
And cry to that Deliverer who can make thee whole: 25
"Thou Lover of forgiveness! Pardon to me grant!
Physician of the soul! Relieve my direful want!"
Such counsel wise drove mad that erring sinner, quite.
Think not of him. ’Twill tire thy mind beyond respite.
My friend! This counsel tells with equal force on thee.
It flows through all the saints, though transient thou it see.
Within the house a gleam of light has been espied.
This light comes from a neighbour's lamp, with oil supplied.
Give thanks for it. Be not puffed up. Snort not, good man!
30 To me lend ear. Presumption chase to utmost span.
Alas! that this most transient ray of dubious light,
The nations has seduced from God's sole path of right.
I'll be the very slave of him, who, at each stage,
Will not suppose the goal ’tis of his pilgrimage.
How many stages are there must be left behind,
Before the traveller reach the home he bears in mind.
Although the iron may glow red, the colour's not
Its own; ’tis but reflection of the fire that's hot.
A window or a house with light may be suffused;
35 But still, the source of light is in the sun, diffused.
Each wall, each gate, may cry amain: "I shine! I shine!
I have no need of other's light. ’Tis mine! ’Tis mine!"
But then the sun demurs: "O thing of little sense!
So soon as I shall set, thy darkness will be dense!"
The plants may think their verdure's all their very own.
So fresh, so green; so pleasant every flower full-blown.
But then again the summer season makes comment:
"When I am past, your present charms will soon be spent."
A beauty's lovely body prides itself as fair.
40 Her spirit, having hid itself within its lair,
Remarks: "Thou dunghill! Wherefore all this silly pride?
Thou bloomest but a day or two, while I preside.
Thy affectation, vanity, ’s too vast for me.
But stay till I depart: then straightway thou shalt see.
Thy lovers then shall loathe thy charms, adored before.
To worms, and toads, and snakes they'll fling thee, as cheap store.
Thy stench shall make him hold his nose in deep disgust,
Who lately in thy presence would have licked the dust."
Reflections from the spirit are the tongue, the eye, the ear.
Accessions from the fire steam's bubbles ’tis upbear. 45
E’en as the soul's reflection on the body acts,
Reflection from th’ inspiring saints my soul impacts.
When my soul's life shall quit my soul, alack-a-day!
My soul shall lifeless be, like mortal soulless clay.
’Tis therefore that I cast myself down in the dust,
That earth may witness bear for me before th’ All-Just.
In day of judgment, "when the earth shall quake with fear," 1
Earth shall itself bear witness to my prayerful tear.
Command shall issue: "Loud proclaim the acts thou’st seen."
The earth, the rocks, a tongue shall find, to tell what's been. 50
Philosophers deny this, in their pride of mind;
But tell them: "Dash your heads against a wall, ye blind!"
The speech of earth, of water, and of plastic clay,
Is audible unto the ears of saints that pray.
Philosophers who will deny God's saving grace,
Are strangers to the powers of saints' inspired race.
He holds that inclination, working on man's brain,
Gives rise to heated phantasy's legerdemain.
True, his own blasphemy and lack of firm belief
Have raised in him denial's phantom, reason's thief. 55
Philosophers deny the devil does exist;
While they themselves his sport are, in his cursed fist.
Hast never seen the devil? Look at thy own self!
Who'd paint his forehead blue, unless deceived by elf? 2
Whoever hath a doubt or trouble in his mind,
In secret's a philosopher, as you may find.
He wears the outward semblance of belief; but then,
Anon and ever his philosophy claims pen.
Beware, all ye believers! In you lurks this germ;
60 Within yourselves lies latent vile deception's sperm.
The two and seventy sects are all within your hearts, 1
And only wait a chance to play their fatal parts.
Whoever hath the bud of faith grown in his breast,
As aspen-leaf must tremble, lest it be supprest.
Thou laughest at the devil in thy foolish pride;
Thyself thou hast imagined sin's stern deicide.
But when thy soul shall manifested be to all,
Sad sighs and moans shall rise from those who're seen to fall.
Exhibitors of base coin in this world below
65 Smile now; the touchstone yet is hidden in form's glow.
O Veiler of men's sins! Lift not Thy veil from us! 2
In day of trial be our Helper, gracious!
Adulteration now contends with purest coin;
The gold awaits the day of trial to rejoin.
It slily thinks in its mute way, without ado:
"Await a little, false ones! Trial comes! Soho!
For was not Satan's self, in ages long gone by,
Of light an angel, Prince of Powers, a galaxy,
Until he envied Adam in his froward heart?
70 And then he fell, an outcast from heaven's high rampart.
The son of Beor, Balaam, in the world's esteem,
Was equal unto Moses. So all men did deem.
To him alone was homage paid by high and low;
His prayers were reckoned medicine for every woe.
To Moses he opposed himself, in foolish pride.
The Scripture tells us how most miserably he died. 1
Of Balaams, and of Satans, in this world of ours,
Some manifest, some secret, troops come at all hours.
God granteth them celebrity within their spheres,
That they may witness bear against their own compeers. 75
Then, both are elevated on a gallows high,
As warning unto others who for honours sigh.
They both were covetous of homage and applause;
And both received due punishment through God's just laws.
Thou, man, perchance, the idol of some crowd mayst be.
For God's sake, then, beware thou transgress not as he.
And setting up thyself against a better man,
Thou come to grief, and bring to wreck thy every plan.
The tales of ‘Ād 2 and Thamūd 3 have the moral clear,
That saints of God, and righteous men, are held more dear. 80
Those signs, and swift destruction overwhelming them,
Proclaim aloud the power that saints around does hem.
As brutes are slain that man may live a life of ease,
So men are slaughtered when they sin ’gainst God's decrees.
For, what is wisdom? ’Tis th’ omniscience divine.
Man's wisdom is but folly, set against that mine.
The brutes are timid, shun man's presence everywhere;
Though man, in numbers, yields to them within this sphere.
Their blood may lawfully be shed for needs of man;
Because they lack th’ ennobling spark of reason's scan. 85
The brute is held of low degree on this our earth;
As being weighed against great man's superior worth.
What value will attach to thee, thou arrant fool,
If, like an ass, thou spite the lords of reason's school?
The ass, that renders service meet unto his lord,
Men slay not. ’Tis the wild ass does them chase afford.
The ass reaps naught of recompense for merit due;
Yet, when he errs, fell punishment awaits him, true.
If man, then, go astray, much more he's worthy blame;
90 Most justly shall chastisement visit him with shame.
The blood of misbelievers righteously is shed,
With sword and arrow, like wild ass on mountain fed.
Their wives and children fall a prey to victor's hand;
In that they lack true wisdom, cursed of God they stand.
The reasonable creature fleeing reason's Lord,
Renounces reason, brute becomes, calls for the sword.
Hārūt, Mārūt, 1 two angels famed throughout the earth,
Through pride and insolence lost paradise for dearth.
They trusted in the wondrous power they held of old;
95 As though a buffalo ’gainst lion should wax bold.
His horns are mighty weapons, fearful to the foe;
The lion tears him piecemeal; horns but work him woe.
Had he as many horns as hedgehog quills, all o’er,
They'd help him not; the lion still would him o’erpow’r.
The hurricane roots up the forest trees amain;
While pliant reeds from it no injury sustain.
The fury of the blast hurts not their supple ease.
Of strength, then, boast thee not, man. Seek wrath to appease.
The axe is nothing daunted, seeing boughs of trees;
100 But, one by one, hews through them all; their end foresees.
The axe sets not its trenchant edge to lop off leaves;
’Tis not the silky down of thistles that it cleaves.
A flame is not abashed, though many thorns collect;
Whole herds of sheep can never butcher's knife deflect.
To inward idea's power the outward sign must yield.
That power, ’tis, makes revolve the heavens’ vast starry field.
The sphere, the circling firmament, consider now.
What makes it turn? A force that rest will not allow.
The movements of our bodies have no other source;—
The soul it is originates all vital force. 105
The circulation of the air's from an idea;
The millstone turns by water from the fields’ area.
The ebb and flow of tides, breath drawn, again expired,
Whence all? ’Tis life compels, diffused through all, respired.
The spirit ’tis decides what words our pen shall write;
Or peace, or war, or anything our minds indite.
To right, to left we go, e’en as the spirit wills;
A rose, a thorn,—the spirit says which place it fills.
Our God it was who sent this vital air in blasts,
Like breath of dragons, to destroy old ‘Ād's 1 outcasts. 110
While to the faithful it gave peace, and health, and strength;
In gentle zephyrs softly breathing whole days’ length.
The Prophet hath assured us God's the soul of all.
The Lord's the ocean whence the rills of spirit fall.
The strata of the heavens and earth, with all therein,
Are merely straws afloat on waves where powers begin.
They dance about, are carried here and there by turns;
Their movement's from the waves that power divine still churns.
Decrees this they shall be at rest? At once they're flung
Aside upon the shore, there to decay like dung. 115
Wills it that they be tossed about on waves high-flown?
They're but the leaves of autumn by the wild winds blown.
Now turn we from this subject, most engaging still,
To learn about those angels, victims of self-will.
The sins of all mankind were known to them as sure;
No wickedness escapes the glance of spirits pure.
In anger at such baseness they were moved to scorn;
Their own defect was hidden from their sight, heaven-born.
An ugly man once saw his face in looking-glass.
120 He turned away enraged with that reflecting mass.
So, when one self-conceited sees another's fault,
A flame from hell is lighted in his bad heart's vault.
’Tis pride inflames him;—holy zeal he dubs it straight;
Not conscious of the vanity that makes his freight.
A zeal for holiness by other tokens shines;
And lights a fire by which to ashes earth declines.
God said to them: "If you both shine with virtue's ray,
No notice take of man's backslidings from its way.
Give thanks and praises, rather, you're not made like them.
125 Lusts of the flesh, concupiscence, soil not your stem.
Had I imposed upon you that great burden, sore;
The heavens would not have been your home for evermore.
The chastity that decks your spirit-nature now,
Reflection is of purity that lights My brow.
Know, this is but a quality you hold from Me.
So shall th’ accursed one not make you slaves to be!"
E’en as the Prophet's scribe, with self-importance puffed,
Imagined holy wisdom's light shone as he'd stuffed.
Himself he fancied equal of prophetic quire;
130 His raven croak as their sweet song he dared admire.
He who sets up to write the notes of every bird,
Knows not th’ inspiring springs within their bosom stirred.
Could man acquire the note of nightingale so sweet,
Would he have learnt as well its love the rose to meet?
Should he achieve a notion of that love's intent;
’Twould be mere surmise, like deaf man's from lips’ consent.
Such deaf man once was made aware by some kind friend,
That next door dwelt an invalid near to his end.
The poor man thought within himself: "I'm deaf as stone,
How can I hope to comprehend this neighbour's tone? 135
More 'specially as sick men speak so very low.
Still, go I must; mere decency demands my bow.
When I advance, he'll me address, his lips will move.
From thence I'll glean a notion, may not quite false prove.
I'll ask him how he feels to-day, ’mid so much pain.
He'll answer surely: 'Thank you; better in the main:
Reply I will: 'Most happy! How's the appetite?'
He'll answer: 'Pretty good, if chicken-broth invite.'
I'll say: 'Good! Good! And what are you allowed to drink?
Who is your doctor?' He'll respond, as one may think. 140
Then I'll remark: 'With so much talent at command,
You can't do better. Soon I hope to see you stand.
I've had experience of his skill; I know his worth;
With him as guide, you'll not go wrong.' So forth."
Thus having got his fancied answers all by heart,
He goes to see the sick man; deftly plays his part.
On asking: "How are you?" the patient says: "Near dead."
The deaf man straight rejoins: "Of that I'm very glad."
The sufferer felt insulted by this joy expressed.
The deaf one had surmised,—had failed in what he'd guessed. 145
He now inquired the diet: "Oh! It's poison all!"
Complained the sick man. "Glad to hear it," he let fall.
Still more the patient wondered. "Who attends you, pray?"
Asked Deafy; "whose advice is’t leads you on your way?"
"Death tracks my hours!" said he; "pray leave me now to rest."
The other answered: "Better can't be found; he's best."
The visitor retired, quite pleased with his rich art;
And offered thanks for having played so kind a part.
The sick man, on the contrary, was all on fire:
150 "Whence comes this malice? Who has roused his soul to ire?"
So, turning in his mind the matter o’er and o’er,
A message he determines that shall pay the score.
Just so, a man who's eaten ill-digesting food,
Can have no rest till it's ejected, well and good.
Long-suffering is thy better part, reject it not;
With patience, thou shalt find soft words best heal a plot.
But our sick man found no such solace for his mind;
He called the deaf one "Ass," and "Fool," and "Sot," and "Blind."
Said he: "I'll serve him out; I'll pay him what's his due!
155 Till then, my spirit will his hateful visit rue!
A visit to the sick's for consolation's sake;
His visit I abhor, his insults I'll not take.
He's wished to gloat on foe laid prostrate at his feet;
Some joy to gather thence his secret hate to greet."
How many pious men there are, to outward view,
Reward of joy in heaven, as object, who pursue.
At heart they're sinners still, despite the show they make.
Alas! Hypocrisy for righteousness they take!
Just as our deaf man thought he'd done a friendly act;
160 And yet, withal, had vexed his neighbour, as a fact.
He soothed his soul by thinking: "Kindly part I've played!
I've acted as a neighbour! Sorrow I've allayed!"
Whereas, in truth, a fire he'd lighted for himself;
And his sick neighbour's heart inspired with vengeful elf.
Beware the fires you kindle by such acts as this!
Beware offence to give, while proffering a kiss!
The Prophet said one was a hypocrite, he knew:
"Go, worship, friend; thy act's no worship, as I trew!"
For fear lest we should trespass, even as we pray,
Our worship has the prayer: "Lord, guide us in Thy way!" 1 165
"Permit not Thou, O God, that my devotion's act
Be counted erring hypocrite's unwelcome pact!"
The surmise of our deaf man wide was of the mark.
A ten years’ friendship ’twould have wrecked! Beware such spark!
Man's judgment, friend, that's based on sense's treacherous sand,
Can never be compared with revelation's wand.
Hast ear to hear? Hast mind to recognise the truth?
Know, then, thy moral ear is deaf to godly sooth
The first who followed sense, and reason—as he thought—
Instead of God's true light, the devil was, we're taught. 170
He judged: "The fire more noble is than sordid earth;
From fire was I created; clay gave Adam birth.
The stock from whence it springs decides each kind of fruit;
From darkness Adam's sprung; light at my birth did suit."
The Lord replied: "’Tis not a question of descent.
Pre-eminence is here the prize of righteous bent.
’Tis not a heritage of worldly wealth to share.
Why talk of ancestry? Heart's qualities declare.
The heritage we've now to give is prophecy;
The heirs thereto are they whose spirits hate a lie. 175
The son of Abū-Jahl believed, and saved his soul; 2
A son of Noah rebelled; became perdition's goal. 3
The son of earth was made resplendent as the moon;
Thou, son of fire, begone, disgraced, cursed, none too soon!"
Investigations, reasonings, on days of cloud,
By night, in darkness, guide the doubting crowd;
But, when the sun shines,—when God's temple's clearly seen,
No doubt remains which way to turn one's face, I ween.
The temple hidden, its direction quite unknown,
180 Then use thy judgment. God this method's kindly shown. 1
Whene’er you hear a note of God's truth-warbling bird, 2
You straightway seize its literal sense, just as ’tis heard.
You then use suppositions of your darksome mind,
And form, through wrong conclusions, guesses worse than blind.
The saints use terms of technical significance,
Unknown to worldly reasoners’ crass ignorance.
The language of the bird you learn, as to its notes;
But clean destroy its sense; as sure as fancy dotes.
E’en as the sick man of our tale, saints’ hearts are grieved;
185 Though, like the deaf man, you suppose you've good achieved.
The scribe of writ inspired had all its text by heart;
Then thought himself inspired;—would play a prophet's part.
The Prophet, warbler-like, smote him with powerful wing;
He forthwith sank to blind despair, through conscience’ sting.
So ’tis with you. Perversely, or with vain surmise,
You would interpret words descended from the skies.
Like Hārūt, and like Mārūt, well you've learnt the tune
They sang of old in pride: "We're God's elect," jejune.
You pray for grace on all the sins of wicked men;
190 You curse your own foul egotism, greed's hungry ken.
Beware lest God's just jealousy break forth amain,
And smite you to the earth, ne’er more to rise again.
Those angels owned, in words: "To rule is Thine, O God.
Without Thy strong protection, safety's soon downtrod."
Such were their lip-words. But their hearts’ rebellious pride,
With foolish boasting, thought: "No harm can us betide."
They never ceased to brood on vanities thus framed,
Till fire of arrogance burst forth from breasts inflamed;
Then proclamation made: "O elemental men!
How little have ye known the range of angel's ken. 195
We'll weave dense curtains o’er the sky's revolving face;
Descending then to earth, we'll there our temple place.
We'll justice distribute, and worship we'll commend,
Returning every night to heaven, whence we descend.
So shall we be admired by all who dwell on earth,
And fill the world with gladness, safety, peace, and mirth."
Alas! Such fancy's false! Earth cannot heaven be;
Their difference is radical, as all may see! 199
m234:1 I have failed to discover the name and history of the individual here used to point a moral by our great poet. Ibnu-Hishām and Nawawī do not mention him.—Translator.
m235:1 Qur’ān xxxvi. 7.
m235:2 Qur’ān xxxvi. 8.
m237:1 Qur’ān xcix. 1.
m237:2 In allusion to the Brahminical marks used in India.
m238:1 The heterodox sects of Islām are commonly said to be seventy-two.
m238:2 "The Veiler," i.e., of sin, is one of "the most comely names" of God, but is not found in the Qur’ān. "Yà Sattār!"
m239:1 Some of the commentators hold that Qur’ān vii. 174, alludes to the opposition of Balaam to Moses and the Israelites.
m239:2 See Tale iv. dist. 121; and xi. 112.
m239:3 See Tale ix. 266.
m240:1 Qur’ān ii. 96.
m241:1 See Tale iv. dist. 121.
m245:1 Qur’ān i. 5.
m245:2 ‘Ikrima, son of Abū-Jahl, embraced Islām at sea, as he fled from Mekka at its capture by Muhammed. He returned and was pardoned.
m245:3 Qur’ān xi. 44, 45.
m246:1 This is a canon of Islam. If a worshipper has no means of knowing the direction of "God's House" at Mekka, he may face in any direction he judges most probable, and so perform his worship.
m246:2 The Prophet.