About the Quatrains

At the end of Rumi's Dîvân (collected works of poetry) are nearly
two thousand quatrains [rubâ`iyât]. A. J. Arberry wrote (in 1950)
that, "maybe about 1,600 are authentic."1

The quatrains make up about 4% of the total verses in the Dîvân.
They consist of four half-lines, and their brevity (which challenges
the poet to be concise, condensed, terse, pithy, ingenious, witty,
subtle) makes them ideal for aphorisms and maxims

The Arabic words for "quatrain" [rubâ`î] and "quatrains"
[rubâ`iyât] derive from a word which means "in fours" [rubâ`] and
refers (in this case) to verses of four half-lines or hemistiches
(miSrâ'].

The first, second, and fourth half-lines rhyme, while the third does
not. This measure of freedom allows the poet enough flexibility to
develop the poem from the initial idea in the first two half-lines to
the (often striking) conclusion. Many of Rumi's quatrains have
rhymes in all four hemistiches, and these are called known as
"two-couplets" [dô-baytî], or (in Khorâsân, in Central Asia) as
"quatrain songs" [rubâ`î-yé tarâna]. The quatrain has twenty
metrical units [marrât] with the general meter of XXo oXXo
oXXo oX.

There are usually 13 syllables in a quatrain (long syllables have
two metrical units and short syllables have one), but since two
short syllables can take the place of a long one, quatrains can
vary between 10-13 syllables (which allows a total of twenty-four
metrical variations).

Here is an example of the quatrain format, which has a meter of
XXo oXoX oXXo oX (the third line has XXo oXXo oXXo oX)
and the rhyme of "-ân nêz nay-and":

ZEN HAA-r(e) ma-GOO ke RAH ra-WAAN NEE-z(e) na-YAND
`EE-SAA si-fa-TAA-no BEE ne-SHAA NEE-z(e) na-YAND
ZEEN GOO-na ke TOO MAH-ra-mé 'AS-RAA-r(e) na-YEE
PEN-DAA-sh(e)-ta-YEE ke DEE-ga-RAAN NEE-z(e) na-YAND2

Persian Editions of the Quatrains

An edition was published in Istanbul, Turkey in 1896 which
consisted of 1,646 quatrains. In 1941, an edition by Muhammad
Bâqir Olfat was published in Isfahan, Iran which consisted of
1,994 quatrains.

The best edition available was done by the Iranian scholar,
Badi`uzzamân Forôzânfar, published in 1963 as Volume 8 of his
edition of Rumi's Dîvân. It consists of 1,983 rubâ`iyât. He collated
the oldest manuscripts of the Mevlevi dervishes available in
Turkey, including a manuscript dated fifty years after Rumi's death
of 1,937 quatrains (in a library in Istanbul) as well as the "Chester
Beatty manuscript," in London, which consists of 1,870 quatrains.

The weakness of Foruzanfar's method was that he included in his
Volume 8 all the quatrains which were in the earliest manuscripts--
even though he knew that some were composed by earlier poets.
(Rumi may have quoted these, and eventually they ended up in the
manuscripts ascribed to him.) The present Translator has found
about 70 of the quatrains in Foruzanfar's edition to be composed
before Rumi's time.

There is a also a (widely distributed) commercial edition in one
volume ("Kulliyât-i Dîvân-i Shamsî Tabrîzî," published by Amîr
Kabîr, 1957, enlarged 1962, and re-printed many times since),
which falsely purports to contain all of Foruzanfar's edition.
However, it was first put out before Foruzanfar completed editing
all of the quatrains (finished in 1963). The one-volume edition
incorporated Olfat's (1941) Isfahan edition of 1,995 quatrains, an
inferior edition unrelated to the authentic work of Foruzanfar. The
quatrains in the one-volume edition are also in a different order
(alphabetized not only by final letters, but by the first letters within
each letter section).

English Translations of the Quatrains

A. J. Arberry published "The Rubâ'iyât of Jalâl Al-Dîn Rûmî:
Select Translations Into English Verse," in 1949. It consisted of
359 quatrains, based upon the Isfahan edition of 1941 (therefore,
about 12% of the quatrains in his translation are not found in
Foruzanfar's edition).

Arberry tried to be accurate in his translation, but, unfortunately,
he labored to produce an old-fashioned British rhyme style:
"Gamble thy life for Love, If thou a Man wouldst prove." "From
the door if He drive thee off,/ Come thou down by the roof." "A
lover I seek,/ Who will havoc wreak;/ Fiery of mood,/ Swift to
shed blood." "If the candle be not dead,/ 'Tis extinguished." "He
that is my soul's repose,/ Round my heart encircling goes:/ Round
my heart and soul of bliss,/ He encircling is."

Annemarie Schimmel translated a few complete quatrains (based
on the authentic Foruzanfar edition), but mainly excerpts of
half-quatrains ("The Triumphal Sun," 1978).

William Chittick translated 7 quatrains (based on the authentic
Foruzanfar edition) in his book which organized a large number of
short excerpts from Rumi's poetry into major themes ("The Sufi
Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi," 1983).

Reza Saberi translated 120 quatrains in a bilingual edition ("A
Thousand Years of Persian Rubáiyát," 2000), using the "pseudo-
Foruzanfar" (Isfahan) edition, of which a fourth are not in the
authentic Foruzanfar edition.

Franklin Lewis translated 11 quatrains "Rumi-- Past and Present,
East and West: The Life, Teaching and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din
Rumi," 2000), using the "pseudo-Foruzanfar" (Isfahan) edition, of
which two quatrains are not in the authentic Foruzanfar edition.

The present Translator (together with an Afghan scholar) has
translated all of the quatrains attributed to Rumi, together
with explanatory notes and Persian text.3 All of the
quatrains are from the authentic Foruzanfar edition (except for
116 quatrains, which were [mostly] composed before Rumi's time
have been placed in an appendix). In addition, an effort has
been made to include references (following each applicable
quatrain) for as many of the previously published translations and
versions as possible. This is so that readers who have any of the
books referred to can compare literal, accurate (and often
explained) translations with the popular interpretive versions.

Popular Translations of the Quatrains

Shahram Shiva, translated 252 of Rumi's quatrains ("Rending the
Veil: Literal and Poetic Translations of Rumi," 1995. Each
quatrain is printed in Persian calligraphy and is followed by a very
literal translation, followed by a more poetic rendering.
Unfortunately, his lack of understanding of classical/medieval
Persian as well as religious terms and references resulted in many
errors. He translated mainly from the "pseudo-Foruzanfar (Isfahan)
edition (yet translated some from the true Foruzanfar edition-- he
was unaware of any difference between the two), so that about an
eighth of the quatrains in his book are not found in the authentic
Foruzanfar edition.

Mustafa Vaziri translated 28 quatrains "(Beyond Sufism and
Sainthood, Insbrook, Austria, 1998), but from an inferior edition.
As a result, a third of his book contains quatrains not found in
Foruzanfar's edition.

Nevit Ergin translated a small, but fairly good translation of 128
quatrains ("Crazy As We Are," 1992) which were translated from a
Turkish translation of the quatrains (made by Golpinarli, 1973).
Unfortunately, due to going from Persian to Turkish to English, the
translations often miss the richness of the imagery of the original
Persian-- which is more amenable to translation directly into
English.

Popular Versions of the Quatrains

Versions differ from translations in that they are made by authors
who do not know Persian, but use the literal translations of others
to make their "creative interpretations." Some (especially those
rendered by Coleman Barks) have been extraordinarily popular,
often memorized, and have contributed to making Rumi the most
popular poet in Americal

Almost all of the published translations and versions of Rumi's
quatrains have been based on the "pseudo-Foruzanfar" edition (the
one-volume edition mentioned above, which has Foruzanfar's
name as the editor, but which has an collection of quatrains which
are not his). As a result, popular versions have been made of about
60 quatrain which are not in the earliest manuscripts and therefore
are not authentic Rumi poems. (In addition, about 40 quatrains
which were composed before Rumi's time-- which are in the
earliest manuscripts-- have also been rendered into popular
versions.)

The popular versions have reached a vast number of people who
would have little interest in "academic" translations. However,
they are so filled with inaccuracies and distortions, that these
sublime quatrains are often stripped of their true religious and
mystical content, and replaced with a vague spirituality instead.

Popular quatrain versions have been produced by Coleman Barks
(based on literal translations by John Moyne, A. J. Arberry, and
Nevit Ergin); Andrew Harvey (who does not list sources, but often
used the French translations of Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch);
Jonathan Star (based on literal translations by Shahram Shiva);
Muriel Maufroy (based on the French translations of Eva de
Vitray-Meyerovitch); Deepak Chopra (based on literal translations
by Fereydoun Kia); Azima Melita Kolin (based on the literal
translations by Maryam Mafi); Raficq Abdulla (based on unknown
literal translations); Kabir and Camille Helminski (based on literal
translations by Lida Saeedian).

Notes

1. Arberry added this estimate when he edited Nicholson's draft of
the introduction to "Rumi: Poet and Mystic," 1950, p. 22.

2. Translation:

Beware: don't say, "There aren't any [real] travellers on the Way,

(Or),"There aren't any who are Jesus-like and traceless."

Since you aren't an intimate of secrets,

You have been thinking that others are not as well.

--Rumi's Quatrain no. 745. For the complete translation, commentary,
and transliteration, go to "Don't Say There Are None Like Jesus" in the
"Quatrains" section of this website.

3. "The Quatrains of Rumi," translated by Ibrahim Gamard
and Ravan Farhadi, 2008, 712 pages). Please go to the
Announcement on this website.