Creator and Creation

Mathnawi I: 596-610

596 The tears of (our) eyes are running, because of separation from
You.1 (And) intense sighs are flowing from the depths of (our)

An infant doesn't argue with (its) nurse [to get milk] but weeps,2
while not knowing (anything about) bad or good.

We are like the harp, and You are strumming (upon it). The
mournful (sound is) not from us, (but) You are causing the lament.

We are like the reed-flute, and the melody within us is from You.

600 We are like a chess game, (engaged) in capture and
checkmate,3 (but) our capture and checkmate is from You, O You
of Beautiful Qualities!4

O You, who are the Soul of our souls, who are we?-- that we
should be5 (in existence) with You in (our) midst!

We and our existences are non-existences, (while) You are the
Absolute Existence6 which causes (our) transient (existences) to

We (are) all lions, but lions (painted) on a flag;7 their charge
(forward) is (only) because of the wind, moment by moment.

(And) their charge (forward) is visible, but the wind isn't visible.
May that which is invisible never be lost8 (to us)!

605 Our wind (which moves us) and our existence9 is (part) of
Your gift; our being is entirely from Your bringing (us) into being.

You made non-existence10 (to become) Your lover, (and then)
You showed the delight of existence to non-existence.

Do not take away the enjoyment of Your favors, (and) do not
take away Your (sweet) desserts, wine, and goblet!

And if You take (them away), who will seek You11 (for an
accounting)? How can the painting act forcefully toward the

Do not gaze upon us, (and) do not look at us! (But) look upon
Your own Honor12 and Generosity!

610 We did not exist, and there was no demand13 (from us), (but)
Your Grace was hearing14 our unspoken (prayer)!

--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" (, 8/12/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (597) from You: in the text, these lines are addressed to a human
beloved (a religious leader --probably the apostle Paul-- spoken by
his disciples). But, as in Rumi's poetry (and in Persian sufi poetry
in general), God is often intended at the same time.

2. (597) but weeps: in his Commentary, Nicholson makes a reference
to Mathnawi 5, 135-36. "The day old infant continues to know the
way, (thinking) 'I will cry until the kind nurse comes!' Don't you
know that the Nurse of (all) nurses* gives no milk free, without
(any) crying?" [* = God]

3. (600) capture and checkmate: refers to the capture of all the
opponent's chess pieces, when only the king remains to be
checkmated. The meaning includes both capturing and being
captured, checkmating and being checkmated. Thus, Nicholson
translated it as "victory and defeat."

4. (600) Beautiful Qualities: refers to the "Most Beautiful Names"
(Qur'an 7:180) of God, such as the "Ninety Nine Names of God"
used in Islamic devotions and sufi prayers.

5. (601) that we should be: Rumi quotes elsewhere (1:517) a sufi
saying: "Existence is a sin"-- meaning, "Only God truly exists and
your 'you-ness' is (for mystics) a kind of defect."

6. (602) You are the Absolute Existence: "Most commentators [of the
Mathnawi] regard the... passage as spoken by the Vizier's
disciples... but the words 'tú wujúd-i muTlaq-í' would naturally
indicate that the poet is speaking in his own person and describing
the utter dependence of the creature on the Creator." (Nicholson,

7. (603) on a flag: "In so far as Man belongs to the phenomenal
world, he is not-being (`adam), which derives from Absolute Being
a transient existence no more substantial than that of a shadow.
God, the One Real Being, causes phenomena to appear, or appears
in the form of phenomena in order that His attributes and actions
may be manifested." (Nicholson, Commentary) "There is a very
close parallel to these verses in Book IV, 3051 sqq., here the spirit,
as the mover of the body, is compared with the wind which sets in
motion a lion pictured on a banner" (Nicholson, Commentary)

8. (604) be lost: based on the earliest manuscript, Nicholson later
changed his translation to: "may that which is unseen not fail!"
(from "not fail from us").

9. (605) our wind and our existence: a word play on "wind" (bâd) and
"existence" (bûd). One commentator (on the Mathnawi) explained
this as "the intellect and spirit by which we are moved," but
Nicholson disagreed, saying that it "seems rather to mean
'existence fleeting and empty as wind.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (606) You made non-existence: Nicholson believes that this
passage was influenced by the teachings of the great mystic Ibnu
'l-`Arabî (died, 1240): "Here 'not-being' (níst) signifies 'relatively
non-existent' (= potentially existent), i.e. the world existing as an
idea in God's knowledge before the latent essence of things were
brought into actual and objective existence. God caused this
'not-being' to love Him, i.e. He made every latent essence capable
(= desirous) of receiving the concrete existence which He
bestowed upon it." (Nicholson, Commentary)

11. (608) who will seek You?: based on the earliest manuscript,
Nicholson later changed his translation to: "who will make inquiry
of thee?" (from, "who is there that will make inquiry?").

12. (609) Honor (ikrâm): a part of one of the "Ninety Nine Names of
God" often chanted by the sufis-- "the Possessor of Majesty and
Honor [dhu 'l-jalâli wa 'l-ikrâm)" (Q.55:27, 78)

13. (610) there was no demand: "i.e. 'We did not exist (actually), nor
did we (explicitly) request Thee to bring us forth from potential
into actual existence.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

14. (610) Your Grace was hearing: "i.e. 'it as through Thy grace that in
response to our (implicit) prayer (cf. Qur. LV 29 ["Every (creature)
in the heavens and the earth seeks (its need) from Him"] we received
actual existence and thus realised our potentialities.'.... for
example the state of a parched plant is virtually a request for water,
while a seed buried in the earth is virtually asking to grow and
spring up.... Hence 'not-being' may be said to 'love' God who
endows it with being, just as the beggar loves the bountiful giver."
(Nicholson, Commentary)


596 ashk-é dîda-st az firâq-é tô dawân
âh-âh-ast az meyân-é jân rawân

Tifl bâ dâya na estîz-ad wa-lêk
gerîd-ô gar-che na bad dân-ad na nêk

mâ chô chang-êm-o tô zakhma mê-zan-î
zârî az mâ na tô zârî me-kon-î

mâ chô nây-êm-o nawâ dar mâ ze to-st
mâ chô kôh-êm-o Sadâ dar mâ ze to-st

600 mâ chô shaTranj-êm andar bord-o mât
bord-o mât-é mâ ze to-st ay khwash-Sifât

mâ ke bâsh-êm ay tô mâ-râ jân-é jân
tâ ke mâ bâsh-em bâ tô dar meyân?

mâ `adam-hây-êm-o hastî-hây-é mâ
tô wujûd-é muTlaq-î fânî-nomâ

mâ hama shêr-ân walî shêr-é `alam
Hamla-shân az bâd bâsh-ad dam ba-dam

Hamla-shân paydâ-st-o nâ-paydâ-st bâd
ân-ke nâ-paydâ-st hargez gom ma-bâd

605 bâd-é mâ-wo bûd-é mâ az dâd-é to-st
hastî-yé mâ jomla az îjâd-é to-st

laZZat-é hastî namûd-î nêst-râ
`âshiq-é khwad karda bûd-î nêst-râ

laZZat-é in`âm-é khwad-râ wâ ma-gîr
nuql-o bâda-wo jâm-é khwad-râ wâ ma-gîr

w-ar be-gîr-î kî-t jost-o jô kon-ad
naqsh bâ naqqâsh chûn nîrô kon-ad?

ma-n'gar andar mâ ma-kon dar mâ naZar
andar ikrâm-o sakhây-é khwad negar

610 mâ na-bûd-êm-o taqâZâ-mân na-bûd
luTf-é tô nâ-gofta-yé mâ mê-shonûd

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)