Tales from Masnavi

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From Tales from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi

translated by A.J. Arberry

1-The Lament of the reed-flute is a symbol of the soul's sorrow
at being parted from the Divine Beloved.

LISTEN to this reed, how it makes complaint, telling a tale of separation: 'Ever since I was cut off from my reed-bed, men and women all have lamented my bewailing. I want a breast torn asunder by severance, that I may fully declare the agony of yearning. Every one who is sundered far from his origin longs to recapture the time when he was united with it. In every company I have poured forth my lament, I have consorted alike with the miserable and the happy: each became my friend out of his own surmise, none sought to discover the secret in my heart. My secret indeed is not remote from my lament, but eye and ear lack the light to perceive it. Body is not veiled from soul, nor soul from body, yet to no many is leave given to see the soul.'

This cry of the reed is fire, it is not wind; whoever possesses not this fire, let him be naught! It is the surge of love that bubbles in the wine. The reed is the true companion of everyone parted from a fried: its melodies have rent the veils shrouding our hearts. Whoever saw poison and antidote in one the like of the reed? Whoever saw sympathiser and yearner in one the like of the reed? The reed tells the history of the blood-bespattered way, it tells the stories of Majnun's hopeless passion. Only the senseless is intimate with the mysteries of this Sense; only the heedful ear can buy what the tongue retails. Untimely the days have grown in our tribulation; burning sorrows have travelled along with all our days; yet if our days have all departed, bid them be gone - it matters not; only do Thou abide, O Thou incomparably holy! Whoever is not a fish is soon satiated with His water; he who lacks his daily bread, for him the day is very long. None that is inexperienced comprehends the state of the ripe, wherefore my words must be short; and now, farewell!

9-The grammarian and the boatman

A GRAMMARIAN once embarked in a boat. Turning to the boatman with a self-satisfied air he asked him:

‘Have you ever studied grammar?’

‘No,’ replied the boatman.

‘Then half your life has gone to waste,’ the grammarian said.

The boatman thereupon felt very depressed, but he answered him nothing for the moment. Presently the wind tossed the boat into a whirlpool. The boatman shouted to the grammarian:

‘Do you know how to swim?’

‘No’ the grammarian replied, ‘my well-spoken, handsome fellow’.

‘In that case, grammarian,’ the boatman remarked, ‘the whole of your life has gone to waste, for the boat is sinking in these whirlpools.’

You may be the greatest scholar in the world in your time, but consider, my friend, how the world passes away - and time!

12- The man who said, 'It is I'

A CERTAIN man once came and knocked on on the door of a friend.

'Who are you, faithful one?' his friend asked.

'I,' he answered.

'Go away', the friend said. 'It is not the proper time. There is no place for such a raw fellow at a table like mine.'

What shall cook the raw, but he fire of banishment and separation? What shall deliver him out of hypocrisy?

That wretched man departed and wandered abroad for a year, burned as with sparks of fire in separation from his friend. So, scorched, he was cooked; then he returned and once more circled about the house of his companion. Fearful a hundredfold, he gently knocked tat the door, anxious lest any unmannerly word should escape his lips.

His friend called, 'Who is that at the door?'

He answered, 'You also are at the door, heart-ravisher!'

'Now,' the friend cried, 'since you are I, come in. O I! There is not room in the house for two I's.'

21-Omar and the man who thought he saw the new moon.

OMAR was caliph; the month of the fast had come round. A crowd of people ran to the top of a hill to draw a good omen from the sight of the crescent moon.

'See, Omar!' cried on. 'The new moon!'

Omar did not see any moon in the sky.

'This moon,' he remarked to the man, 'has risen from your imagination. Otherwise, how is it that I do not see the pure crescent, seeing that I am a better scanner of the skies than you? West your hand,' he went on,' and rub it on your eyebrow, then take another look at the new moon.'

The man wetted his eyebrow, and no more saw the moon.

'Yes,' commented Omar. 'The hair of your eyebrow became a bow and shot at you and arrow of surmise.'

One hair through becoming crooked had waylaid him completely, so that he falsely claimed boastfully to have seen the moon.

If one crooked hair can veil the whole sky, how will it be if all your parts are crooked?

22-The man who stole a snake, ano the answer to prayer

A THIEF once stole a snake from a snake-catcher, and in his folly accounted it a rich prize. The snake-catcher escaped from the bite of the snake; the man who had stolen his snake was killed by it most miserably. The snake-catcher saw him, and recognized him.

'Well, well,' he remarked. 'My snake has robbed him of life. My soul was begging and beseeching God that I might find the thief and take my snake back from him. Thanks be to God that my prayer was rejected. I supposed it to be a loss, and it turned out a gain.'

25-The king and his falcon, on penitence

A FALCON once flew away from his royal master to an old woman who was sifting flour, to bake pasties from her children. Her eyes lighted upon the fine, high-born falcon and at once she tied its feet and clipped its wings, cut its talons and gave it straw to eat.

‘Unfortunately persons have not treated you properly,’ she said. ‘Your wings have grown beyond measure, you talons are too long. The hand of the unworthy is sure to make you ill; come to your mother, she will look after you.’

The king hunted all day for his bird, and finally came to the old woman’s tent where he suddenly sighted the falcon all amongst the smoke and dust. The king wept bitterly over eth bird and made lament.

‘Though this is the just reward for what you did, seeing you did not keep true faith with me, yet how could you flee to Hell from Paradise? Did you not heed God’s words, “Not equal are the inhabitants of the Fire and eh inhabitants of Paradise”?’

The Falcon was all the while rubbing its wings against the king’s hand as if to say, ‘I have sinned.’

'King, I have sinned,' the falcon siad, 'Now I am penitent. I am converted, I am a Moslem anew'.

42-The blind beggar, on the power of compassion

THERE was once a blind man who all the time cried, ‘Have pity! I am doubly blind, people of this passing time. Attend therefore, and show me double compassion, for I have two blindnessess, and exist between them.’

‘We see your one blindness well enough,’ remarked someone. ‘What may the other blindness be? Pray explain.’

‘I have an ugly voice an unpleasing tone,’ he replied. ‘An ugly voice, and blindness – there you have the double. My ugly cry makes people annoyed, so that their affection is diminished by my cry. Wherever my ugly voice betakes itself, it becomes the source of anger, annoyance and hatred. Have double compassion upon my double blindness, make room in you hearts for one who id denied all room.’

The ugliness of his voice was lessened by this lament, so that the people with one heart took compassion upon him. By telling his secret, his voice was made beautiful y the sweet accents of the voice of his hart. But the man whose heart’s voice is also evil, that triple blindness dooms him to everlasting exile.

Yet it may be that the bountiful ones who give without cause will lay a hand upon his hideous head. Since the beggar’s voice became sweet and plaintive, the hearts of the stony-hearted became soft as wax.

45 -A story of Moses, on consorting with the saints

GOD spake unto Moses reproachfully, saying, ‘O thou who hast seen the moon rise out of they bosom, whom I have illuminated with the Light Divine, I who am God fell sick; why camest thou not to visit Me?’

‘O Thou who are all-glorious and all-perfect,’ Moses cried, ‘what mystery is this? Explain it to me, O Lord.’

God spake again unto Moses, saying, ‘When I was sick, why didst thou not kindly inquire after Me?

Moses answered, ‘Lord, there is no imperfection in Thee: I have lost my reason: uncover these words to me.’

God said, ‘Verily a chosen all well-loved servant of Mine fell ill. I am he: mark it well: his exemption is my exemption, his sickness I My sickness.’

Whosoever would sit with God, let him sit in the company of the saints, If you are severed from the company of the saints you are in destruction, being a part without the whole.