The Song of the Reed (part three)

Mathnawi I: 19-34

19 O son, break the chains (and) be free! How long will you be
shackled to silver and gold?

20 If you pour the sea into a jug, how much will it contain? (Just)
one day's portion.

The jug of the eye of the greedy will never be filled. (And) as long
as the oyster is not content, it will never be filled by a pearl.1

Anyone (whose) robe is torn from love, becomes completely
purified from greed and defect.

Be joyous! O our sweet melancholy Love!2 O doctor of all our

O Medicine of our pride and vanity! O you (are) our Plato and
(our) Galen!3

25 The earthly body went up to the heavens4 from Love! The
mountain began to dance5 and became agile!

O lover! Love became the soul of Mount Sinai! Mount Sinai
(became) drunk "and Moses fell down senseless"!6

If I were joined with the lip of a harmonious companion, I (too)
would utter speeches like the reed!

(But) anyone who becomes separated from one of the same tongue
becomes without a tongue,7 even if he has a hundred songs [to

When the rose has gone and the garden has passed away, you will
no longer hear from the nightingale (about) what happened.8

30 The Beloved is All, and the lover (is merely) a veil; the Beloved
is Living,9 and the lover (is merely) a corpse.

When Love has no concern for him, he is left like a bird without
wings.10 Misery for him!

How can I have awareness of before and behind, when the Light
of my Beloved11 is no (longer) before and behind?

Love wants these words to manifest. (But) how is it that the
mirror reveals nothing?12

34 Do you know why your mirror13 reveals nothing? Because the
rust is not separated from its face!14

-- 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" (, 3/2/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (21) will never be filled by a pearl: means that the oyster must
close its mouth (after receiving a raindrop) and be patiently
hopeful, rather than being greedy. Unless it does this, the raindrop
will not be transformed into a pearl. This is a reference to the
legend that pearls are the result of rain drops that fall into the sea
and are consumed by oysters. The image of the rain drop and the
oyster is a common one in Persian poetry.

2. (23) O our sweet melancholy Love: Rumi's poems often refer to
the longing lover who suffers from melancholy and who takes
pleasure from the sorrow of longing for the beloved. Nicholson
later changed his translation of this to "O our sweet-thoughted
love" (from, "O Love that bringest us good gain"). In this way he
corrected his mistranslation of "sawdâ" as "gain," but his
translation still avoided the sense of extreme love which may drive
the lover into a crazed state of melancholy and frenzy.

3. (24) Plato and Galen: were both viewed as famous ancient Greek
physicians. In addition, Plato taught a metaphysical theory of

4. (25) went up into the heavens: refers to the ascension of Jesus
(Qur'an 4:158) and the night journey of the Prophet Muhammad

5. (25) The mountain began to dance: refers to the Qur'anic account
of how Moses came to Mt. Sinai and asked God to show Himself.
He was told: "'You will never see Me. However, look at the
mountain: if it remains firm in its place, then you will see Me.' So
when his Lord revealed His glory to the mountain, He made it as
dust, and Moses fell down senseless" (Qur'an 7:143). In the next
couplet, Rumi calls this mountain "Tûr," meaning the "Mountain"
of Sinai (Tûri Saynâ-- 23:20). Since Moses was already on Mt.
Sinai, what was destroyed can be understood as an elevated area of
the mountain-- which the Torah calls "a place beside Me" (Exodus:
33: 21-22).

6. (26) "and Moses fell down senseless" [wa kharra Musà sa`iqâ]:
this is a direct quote from Qur'an (23:20), as cited in the previous

7. (28) becomes without a tongue: lit., "he became tongueless." This
means that he becomes like a mute person, since he doesn't have
the company of a "same-language speaker."

8. (29) what happened: means past events, experiences, stories. This
refers to the nightingale's passionate love for the rose-- a common
theme in Persian literature.

9. (30) The Beloved is Living [zenda]: may be a reference to the
"He is the Living (Huwa 'l-Hayy). There is no divinity but Him"
(Qur'an 40:65).

10. (31) without wings [bê-parwâ-yé ô]: this is a pun with "concern for
him" [parwâ-yé ô].

11. (32) the Light [nûr] of my Beloved: may also be translated as the
Light of my Friend. May be a reference to the mention of Divine
Light in the Qur'an: "God is the Light [nûr] of the heavens and the
earth. . . . God guides to His Light whoever He wills" (24:35).
"Their light will run in front of them and on their right hands, (and)
they will say, 'Our Lord! Perfect our light and forgive us, for truly
You are Powerful over all things.'" (Qur'an 66:8).

12. (33) reveals nothing: lit., "doesn't wink." An idiom meaning to
bear tales, to gossip, to reveal secrets about somebody. This term also
occurs in the next line.

13. (34) your mirror: refers to the "mirror of the heart." Until a few
centuries ago, mirrors were made of polished metal and had to be
regularly polished, or burnished. The "rust" of the heart's mirror is
the result of sins, selfish behavior, and ego-centered thinking.
Rumi says: "They give the sufis a place (in the prayer row) in front
of themselves, for they [the sufis] are a mirror for the soul-- and
they are better than a mirror, (for) they have made polished hearts
by (means of ) recollection and meditation, so that the mirror of the
heart may receive virgin images." (Mathnawi I: 3153-54)

14. (34) the rust is not separated from its face: refers to the Qur'anic
verse, "That which they have earned is rust upon their hearts"
(Qur'an 83:14), as well as to a saying attributed to the Prophet
Muhammad: "Truly for everything there is a polishing, and the
polishing for the heart is the recollection of God [zikru 'llâh]." The
meaning here is that the rust of the heart can be cleansed by means
of recollecting, remembering, mentioning, celebrating the praises
of God.

Remembrance of God [Zikru 'llâh] throughout the waking hours
is a major practice of Muslim sufis, in addition to the five daily
prayers. In sufi gatherings, short phrases and Names of God from
the Qur'an are often chanted together in Arabic. The practice of
"recalling" was inspired by the Qur'an: "Recollect your God often"
(33:41; see also 3:41). "Remember your Lord within your soul
with humility and in reverence" (7:205). Remember the name of
your Lord" (73:8). "Recollect God standing, sitting down, and
(lying down) on your sides" (4:103). ". . .those who believe and
whose hearts find satisfaction in the recollection of God [bi-Zikri
'llâh]-- for truly in the recollection of God do hearts find
satisfaction" 13:28). "Men, whom neither buying nor selling can
divert from the remembrance of God" (24: 37). "And don't be like
those who forgot God, for He made them forget themselves. Such
are the transgressors" (59:19). "They have forgotten God; so He
has forgotten them" (9:67). "Remembrance of God is the greatest
[Zikru 'llâhi akbar]"-- Qur'an 29:45.

In the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, the heading for the
first story ("A king's falling in love with a handmaiden and the
king's buying her") precedes the next verse (line 35), so that the
words "O friends, listen to this story" refer to the tale about the
king (and not to the reed flute). Nicholson later published this
correction (since his translation had this as the last line of the
"Song of the Reed," followed by this heading).


19 band bo-g'sel bâsh âzâd ay posar
chand bâsh-î band-é sîm-o band-é zar?

20 gar be-rêz-î baHr-râ dar kôza'ê
chand gonj-ad qismat-é yak rôza-'ê

kôza-yé chashm-é HarîSân por na-shod
tâ Sadaf qâni` na-shod por dor na-shod

har-ke-râ jâma ze-`ishqî châk shod
ô ze-HirS-o `ayb kullî pâk shod

shâd bâsh ay `ishq-é khwash-sawdâ-yé mâ
ay Tabîb-é jomla-yé `illat-hâ-yé mâ

ay dawâ-yé nakhwat-o nâmûs-é mâ
ay tô iflâTûn-o jâlînûs-é mâ

25 jism-é khâk az `ishq bar aflâk shod
kôh dar ragS âm-ad-o châlâk shod

`ishq jân-é Tûr âm-ad `âshiq-â
Tûr mast-o kharra mûsà Sâ`iqâ

bâ lab-é dam-sâz-é khwad gar joft-am-y
ham-chô nay man goftanî-hâ goft-am-y

har-ke ô az ham-zabânê shod jodâ
bê-zabân shod garche dâr-ad Sad nawâ

chûnke gol raft-o golestân dar goZasht
na-sh'naw-î z-ân pas ze-bolbol sar-goZasht

30 jomla ma`shûq-ast-o `âshiq parda'ê
zenda ma`shûq-ast-o `âshiq morda'ê

chûn na-bâsh-ad `ishq-râ parwâ-yé ô
ô chô morghê mân-ad bê-par wây-é ô

man chegûna hôsh dâr-am pêsh-o pas
chûn na-bâsh-ad nûr-é yâr-am pêsh-o pas?

`ishq khwâh-ad k-în sokhan bêrûn bow-ad
âyina ghammâz na-b'w-ad chûn bow-ad?

34 âyina-t dân-î cherâ ghammâz nêst?
z-ânke zangâr az rokh-ash mumtâz nêst

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)