Joseph and the Mirror

Mathnawi I: 3157-3163, 3170-3171, 3192-3227

3157 A kindhearted friend arrived from the (far) horizons (and)
became the guest of Joseph, the truthful one.1

For they had been friends (since) the time of childhood, leaning
against the cushion of friendship (together).

(The friend) reminded him of the cruelty and envy of (his)
brothers.2 He replied, "That was (like) a chain, but I (was) a lion.

3160 "The lion is not dishonored by the chain, (and) I have no
complaint about what is destined by God.

"Even if there is a chain on the lion's neck, he is (still) a prince
over all the chain-makers."

(The friend) asked, "How were you as a result of the prison and
the well?"3 He replied, "Like the moon in (its cycle of) waning and

3163 "Even if the new moon becomes folded-up during (its)
waning, does it not eventually become the full moon in the sky?"

. . . . . . .

3170 After telling him the (whole) story, he said, "O so-and-so,
what traveler's present did you bring me? Hurry!

3171 "Arriving at the door of friends empty-handed (is) like going
to the mill without wheat."4

. . . . . . .

The guest's saying to Joseph-- (may) the peace (of God) be upon
him, "I've brought you a mirror (as a gift), so that any time you
look in it you will see your own beautiful face (and so that) you
may remember me."

3192 Joseph said, "Bring the present, right away!" (The friend)
groaned out of shame at this request,

(And) said, "I searched [and considered] so many presents for
you, (but) a (worthy enough) present never came into view.

"I wouldn't take a particle (of gold) to a region (full) of (gold)
mines, (and) I wouldn't take a drop (of water) to (the sea of)

3195 "(But) I would bring cumin-seeds to Kerman6 if I could bring
(my) heart and soul (as a gift) before you.

"There isn't a seed (of grain) which is not in the granary [of the
world], except for your beauty-- which has no equal.7

"I found it suitable that I should bring before you a mirror like the
light of a [pure-hearted] chest,

"So that you might see your own beautiful face within it, O you
who are the candle of the heavens like the sun.

"I brought you a mirror, O light (of my eyes), so that when you
look at your face you may remember me."

3200 He brought out the mirror from (under his) armpit. The
beautiful one is occupied with a mirror.

What is the mirror of existence? Non-existence.8 (So) take
non-existence (as a gift), if you aren't foolish.

Existence can be shown in non-existence, (just as) those
possessing wealth bring generosity to the poor.9

The hungry man10 himself is the clear mirror for bread. Also,
something burnable is the mirror for flint.11

Any place that non-existence and deficiency arise is the mirror for
the beauty of all crafts and professions.

3205 For if a robe is sewn and fitting, how can it become a place to
see the tailor's learning?

Tree trunks need to be kept uncut so that the carpenter may form
the roots or branches (into something).

The doctor of bone setting goes to the place where the broken foot
is located.

If there is no thin sickly person, the elegant skill of medicine can
never be revealed.

The alchemical elixir12 can never be shown (to be effective) if the
inferior and base quality of copper items is not made public.13

3210 Imperfections are the mirror for the quality of perfection, and
that lowness is the mirror for the Glory and Majesty (of God).

Because opposite14 makes opposite truly perceptible, (and) because
(the nature of) honey is evident with (the taste of) vinegar.

Whoever has seen and known his own defects has galloped with
ten horses15 in perfecting himself.

For the one who carries a presumption about his own perfection is
not flying toward the Owner of Majesty16 because of it.

O owner of pretense,17 there isn't a worse fault in your soul than
the (high) opinion of (your) perfection.

3215 In order for this self-admiration to go out of you, much blood
(needs to) flow from your heart and eyes.18

The fault of Satan was in (thinking), "I am better,"19 and this
disease exists in the self20 of every (human) creature.

Although (the human) sees himself (as) very broken [and humble],
know that clear water (may have) dung under the stream.

If (Satan) makes you disturbed during a trial, the water will
become dung-colored at that time.

O young man, there is dung in the bottom of the stream, even
though the steam looks clear.

3220 It is the (sufi) elder21 full of understanding, the knower of the
(mystical) Way, who digs a channel for the (pure) streams of the
Universal Soul.22

(Man) can never (by) himself, purify the stream; human
knowledge becomes useful (only) from the knowledge possessed
by God.23

The sword can never carve its own handle. Go (and) entrust this
wound (of yours) to a surgeon.

Flies come (and crowd) together on top of each wound, so that a
person doesn't see the ugliness of his wound.

The flies (are) your anxious cares and your possessions; your
wound (is) the darkness of your states.24

3225 And if the (sufi) elder puts a bandage on your wound,25
(your) pain and shrill cries become calmed at that time--

So that (a person) imagines26 that he has found (good) health (by
himself). (But) the (healing) ray of the bandage (which) was
shining on that place27 [was the real cause].

3227 Take care! Don't (arrogantly) draw your head (away)28 from
the bandage, O you (with a) wounded back! But realize that
(healing is) from the ray. Don't regard (it as) originating from you.

--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" (, 10/14/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (3157) the truthful one [yûsuf-é Siddîq]: In the Qur'an (12:46),
Joseph is addressed, "Joseph, O truthful one!" [yûsufu ayyuhâ

2. (3159) the cruelty and envy of his brothers: refers to the story of
Joseph in the Qur'an (12:8: "They said, 'Certainly Joseph and his
brother are more loved by our father [Jacob] than we...").

3. (3162) the prison and the well: Joseph's envious brothers threw
him into a well (Qur'an 12:10-19), and later, he was thrown into
prison (12:32-42; also in Genesis 37:11-28, 39:40, 40:1-23). "The
comparison of the soul imprisoned in the world to Joseph in the
well is very frequent" [in Rumi's poetry]. (Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (3171) without wheat: Nicholson later changed his translation,
based on a correction added on the margin of the earliest
manuscript of the Mathnawi: "O youth, he who is empty-handed at
the door of friends is like a man without wheat in the mill" (from,
"To come empty-handed to the door of friends is like going
without wheat to the mill").

5. (3194) (the sea of) Oman: often used as an idiom, meaning the sea,
the ocean. "Bahr-i [the Sea of Oman], the southernmost part of the
Persian Gulf." (Nicholson, Commentary)

6. (3195) cumin-seeds to Kerman: cumin is an aromatic seed-like
fruit, used as a spice, and a spice abundantly available in the
Persian city of Kerman. Thus, this is a metaphor for acting
foolishly: "... a proverb like 'carrying coals to Newcastle'"
(Nicholson, Commentary), or taking ice to Alaska.

7. (3196) no equal: "There is nothing in the world that God does not
bring into existence, and every existent thing reveals some aspect
of Him; but His Essence is only revealed to itself when it is
mirrored in the Perfect Man who has 'passed away' and become
one with the Object of his contemplation. 'None but God has
contemplated the beauty of God'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

8. (3201) non-existence: ["non-existence," "not-being"] in the first
hemistich [ first half of the couplet] denotes the relative non-
existence, i.e. the mere potentiality of existence, which is
perpetually being actualised and clothed with Divine attributes and
names; this 'not-being' is, so to speak, the material on which God
works in order that His perfections may be displayed; and for that
purpose no other mirror can serve so well as the 'not-being' of the
mystic whose heart is entirely purged of egotism." (Nicholson,

9. (3202) generosity to the poor: "Bounty and indigence are mutually
dependent on each other: the poor man needs the alms of the rich,
but the rich man also needs the poor in order that his munificence
may be shown." (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (3203) the hungry man: Nicholson suggested that this word also
"may mean 'hunger'." (Commentary)

11. (3203) flint: literally, "fire-striker" [tesh-zana], and refers to flint or
metal which is struck in order to produce a spark on dry kindling.

12. (3209 alchemical elixir: the "philosopher's stone," which was
supposedly able to transform base metals, such as copper or lead,
into gold.

13. (3209) not made public: means by a demonstration of the power of
the alchemical elixir .

14. (3211) opposite: "This passage [this and the previous ten lines]
illustrates the doctrine that the nature of a thing is made manifest
by contrast with something else that lacks its qualities. Our
knowledge of phenomena depends on knowledge of their
correlates. Were there no appearance of darkness and evil, we
should be ignorant of light and good. To be conscious of
deficiency is the first step toward perfection." (Nicholson,

15. (3212) galloped with ten horses: an idiom meaning to advance far
(by being able to exchange an exhausted horse for a fresh one).
Nicholson translated, "has ridden post-haste (made rapid
progress)" and added a footnote ("Literally, 'has galloped with two
horses'"-- which he later corrected based on the earliest
manuscript, to: "... with ten horses").

16. (3213) the Owner of Majesty: refers to God, as in the verse, "And
the Face of your Sustaining Lord will remain (for ever): the Owner
of Majesty and Honor" (Qur'an 55:27, 78).

17. (3214) owner of pretense": a word play which contrasts with
"Owner of Majesty" in the previous line. Means here one who flirts
with the eyes due to a conceited self-opinion.

18. (3215) blood... from the heart and eyes: an idiom of wounded
(emotional) suffering.

19. (3216) I am better: In the Qur'an, Satan is ordered by God to bow
in obeisance to Adam, who showed his superiority over the angels
by knowing "the names of all things" (interpreted by the sufis to
mean the Divine Names of God) which they did not know (Qur'an
2: 31-34). Satan refused because of arrogance, and said, "I am
better than him. You created me from fire and You created him
from clay" (Qur'an 7:12). Sufis have long taught that this attitude is
a disease which remains within the souls of all humanity, is a
major cause of conflict and suffering, and that a path of spiritual
discipline (sufism, or "taSawwuf") is necessary to purify the soul
from it.

20. (3216) self (nafs): may also be translated as soul, or ego.

21. (3220) elder: this word [pir] is a translation into Persian of the
Arabic word "shaykh." Both words literally mean "old man," but
when used in sufism, mean a mature sufi guide and master.

22.(3220) the Universal Soul: "...the second emanation from the One
in the Neoplatonic system" (Nicholson, Commentary)-- of which
the individual human soul is the particular manifestation. (The first
emanation is "Universal Reason.") Means here the state of the
purified and saintly soul, in this life and the next. Nicholson later
corrected his translation, based on an the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi to: "...digs a channel for the gardens of the Universal
Soul" (from, "digs a channel for (draining off) the streams of the
flesh and the body"). And he explained: "The vine-grower digs a
channel to irrigate his orchard: so all souls, each in proportion to
its capacity, are purified by emanations of spiritual influence from
the PĚr [= the spiritual master]." (Commentary)

23. (3221) the knowledge of God: Nicholson later changed his
translation, in accord with the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi,
to: "Who is able to cleanse the channel of his (sensual) self? Man's
knowledge is made beneficial (only) by God's knowledge" (from,
"Can the water of the (polluted) stream clear out the dung? Can
man's knowledge sweep away the ignorance of his sensual self?")

24. (3224) your states: means the ugly reality of your physical,
emotional. and spiritual situation and condition.

25. (3225) a bandage on your wound: means a poultice or dressing,
with medicinal ointment, which is wrapped around a wound.

26. (3226) imagines: Nicholson later changed his translation, based on
the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to: "So that he (the
patient) fancies..." (from, "So that you fancy it (the wound) is
healed..."). "...i.e. 'he (whose soul is sick) fancies that he has
become well (of his own accord'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

27. (3226) on that place: Nicholson translated, "upon the (wounded)

28. (3227) draw your head away: a metaphor expressing arrogant
stubbornness. A stubborn animal turns its head away from the
direction it should go, prior to moving its feet to leave.


3157 âmad az âfâq yâr-é mehrbân
yûsuf-é Siddîq-râ shod mêhmân

k-âshnâ bûd-and waqt-é kôdakî
bar wisâda-yé âshnâyî muttakî

yâd dâd-ash jawr-é ikhwân-o Hasad
goft k-ân zanjîr bûd-o mâ asad

3160 `âr na-b-w-ad shêr-râ az silsila
nêst mâ-râ az qaZây-é Haq gela

shêr-râ bar gardan ar zanjîr bow-ad
bar hama zanjîr-sâz-ân mîr bow-ad

goft chûn bûd-î ze-zendân-o ze-châh?
goft ham-chûn dar muHaq-o kâst-é mâh

3163 dar muHaq ar mâh-é naw gard-ad dô-tâ
ney dar âkhir badr gard-ad bar samâ?

. . . . . . . . . . . .

3170 ba`d-é qiSSa-goftan-ash goft ay fulân
hîn che âward-î tô mâ-râ armaghân?

bar dar-é yâr-ân tahî-dast-âmadan
ham-chô bê-gandom sôy-é TâHûn shodan

. . . . . . . . . . . .

goftan-é mehmân-é yûsuf-- `alay-hi as-salâm-- ke âyena
âward-am-at ke tâ har bârî ke dar way negar-î rôy-é khûb-é
khwêsh-râ bîn-î ma-râ yad kon-î

3192 goft yûsuf hîn be-y-âwar armaghân
ô ze-sharm-é în taqâZâ zad feghân

goft man chand armaghân jost-am to-râ
armaghânê dar naZar n-âmad ma-râ

Habba'yê-râ jânib-é kân chûn bar-am
QaTra'é-râ sôy-é `ummân chûn bar-am?

3195 zêra-râ man sôy-é kermân âwar-am
gar ba-pêsh-é tô del-o jân âwar-am

nêst tokhmê k-andar-în anbâr nêst
ghayr-é Husn-é tô ke ân-râ yâr nêst

lâyiq ân dîd-am ke man âyena'yê
pêsh-é tô âr-am chô nûr-é sîna'yê

tâ be-bîn-î rôy-é khwob-é khwad dar ân
ay tô chûn khworshêd sham`-é âsmân

ânyena âward-am-at ay rôshanî
tâ chô bîn-î rôy-é khwad, yâd-am kon-î

3200 âyena bêrûn kashîd ô az baghal
khwob-râ âyena bâsh-ad mushtaghal

âyena-yé hastî che bâsh-ad? nêstî
nêstî bar, gar tô ablah nêst-î

hastî andar nêstî be-t'wân namûd
mâl-dâr-ân bar faqîr âr-and jûd

âyena-yé Sâfîy-é nân khwad gorsna-ast
sôkhta ham âyena-yé âtesh-zana-ast

nêstî-wo naqS har jâyê ke khâst
âyena-yé khûbîy-é jumla-yé pêsha-hâ-st

3205 chûn-ke jâma chost-o dôzîda bow-ad
maZhar-é farhang-é darzî chûn shaw-ad?

nâ-tarâshîda hamê bây-ad juZû`
tâ dorôgar aSl sâz-ad yâ furû`

khwâja-yé eshkasta-band ân-jâ raw-ad
k-andar ân-jâ pây-é eshkast bow-ad

kay shaw-ad chûn nêst ranjûr-é nizâr
ân jamâl-é San`at-é Tibb âshkâr?

khwârî-wo dûniy-é mes-hâ bar malâ'
gar na-bâsh-ad kay nomây-ad kîmiyâ?

3210 naqS-hâ âyena-yé waSf-é kamâl
w-ân Haqârat âyena-yé `izz-o jalâl

z-ân-ke Zid-râ Zid kon-ad paydâ yaqîn
z-ân-ke bâ serka padîd-ast angabîn

har-ke naqS-é khwêsh-râ dîd-o shenâkht
andar istikmâl-é khwad dah aspa tâkht

z-ân na-mê-parr-ad ba-sôy-é Zû 'l-jalâl
k-ô gomânê mê-bar-ad khwad-râ kamâl

`illatê battar ze-pendâr-é kamâl
nêst andar jân-é tô a Zû 'l-dalâl

3215 az del-o az dîda-at bas khûn raw-ad
tâ ze-tô în mu`jabî bêrûn shaw-ad

`illat-é iblîs 'anâ khayrî bod-ast
w-în maraZ dar nafs-é har makhlûq hast

gar-che khwad-râ bas shekasta bîn-ad ô
âb-é Sâfî dân-o sargîn zêr-é jô

chûn be-shôrân-ad to-râ dar imtiHân
âb-é sargîn rang gard-ad dar zamân

dar tak-é jô hast sargîn ay fatà
gar-che jô Sâfî nomây-ad mar to-râ

3220 hast pîr-é râh-dân-é por-fiTan
jôy-hây-é nafs-é kull-râ jôy kan

jôy khwad-râ kay tawân-ad pâk kard?
nâfi` az `ilm-é khodâ shod `ilm-é mard

kay tarâsh-ad têgh dasta-yé khwêsh-râ?
raw ba-jarrâHê sepâr în rêsh-râ

bar sar-é har rêsh jâm` âmad magas
tâ na-bîn-ad qubH-é rêsh-é khwêsh kas

ân magas andêsh-hâ-wo ân mâl-é tô
rêsh-é tô ân zulmat-é aHwâl-é tô

3225 w-ar neh-ad marham bar ân rêsh-é tô pîr
ân zamân sâkin shaw-ad dard-o nafîr

tâ ke pendâr-ad ke SiHHat yâft-ast
partaw-é marham bar ân-jâ tâft-ast

hîn ze-marham sar ma-kash ay posht-rêsh
w-ian ze-partaw dân ma-dân az aSl-é khwêsh

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)