The Song of the Reed (part one)

Mathnawi I: 1-3

1 Listen1 to the reed (flute),* how it is complaining! It is telling
about separations,3

(Saying), "Ever since I was severed from the reed field,4 men
and women have lamented in (the presence of) my shrill cries.5

3 "(But) I want a heart (which is) torn, torn from separation, so that
I may explain* the pain of yearning."6

-- 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)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 2/17/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1) 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.

2. (1) the reed flute [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." (Mathnawi
IV: 736-737, 742)

3. (1) complaining... about 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 (hikáyat) 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." (Mathnawi 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 mê-kon-ad].

4. (2) 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)

5. (2) 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

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

7. (3) 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)


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

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

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

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)