The Duckling Raised By A Hen

Mathnawi II: 3766-3787

The story of the ducklings which (were) reared by a
domestic hen.

3766 You are (from) the egg of a duck,1 even though a domestic
hen has reared you2 under (her) wing like a nurse.

Your (true) mother was a duck of the river. (But) your nurse was
of the earth and overly attached to dry land.

The fondness for the river which is within your heart is from (your
true) mother, (and) it (is) the natural quality possessed by your

(But) your fondness for dry land is from this nurse. Leave the
nurse, since she is a bad adviser.

3770 Leave the nurse on the dry land and urge (yourself) forward.
Come into the (vast) river of spirituality,3 like the "ducks."4

Even though your mother may frighten you about water, don't be
afraid, and drive forward quickly toward the river.

You are a duck. You can live in (both) dry and wet (places);5 you
aren't like a domestic bird, (living) in a bad-smelling house.6

You are a king because of (the verse), "We have honored the sons
of Adam."7 You can put (your) feet on the dry land as well as in
the ocean.

Since in (your) soul you are (blessed by the verse), "We have
carried them on the ocean," push forth from [being restricted by]
"We have carried them on the land."8

3775 The angels have no way (to reach) the land. (And) also the
(different) kinds of (land) animals are unaware of the ocean.9

In body, (you are) an animal (and) in spirit, you are among the
angels-- so you may go upon the earth as well as upon the heavens.

(And) so the one who has vision may be outwardly "a man like
yourselves"10 (yet may be) in (his) heart (the receiver) of "the
inspiration has come to him."

The bodily form made of dust has fallen to the earth, (but) its
spirit (is) circling above the highest heaven.11

We are all water-birds, young man. (And) the ocean knows our
language completely.

3780 Therefore, the ocean has become (for us like) Solomon12
(and) we (are) like the birds. In "Solomon" we have a journey
(which lasts) forever.

Through Solomon,13 put (your) feet into the ocean so that the water
may make, like David, a hundred rings of mail.14

That Solomon is present before all, but his jealousy is a magician
who shuts our eyes15 (from seeing this),

So that He is (right) in front of us and (yet) we are weary of Him
because of ignorance, drowsiness,16 and arrogant indulgence.

The (loud) noise of thunder brings a headache to the thirsty man
when he doesn't know that it is dragging (rain) clouds of happiness
(to him).

3785 His eyes are kept [low] in (looking for) flowing stream17--
unaware of the delightful taste of heavenly water.

He has driven the horse of aspiration toward (worldly) causes, (so)
of course, he remains veiled18 from the Causer.

3787 (But) the one who clearly sees the Causer will never set (his)
heart on the world's (physical) causes.

--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" (, 7/19/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (3766) You are (from) the egg of a duck: "The duck represents the
Divine spirit in man, while the hen is an emblem of his carnal
nature." (Nicholson, Commentary)

2. (3766) even though a domestic hen has reared you: Nicholson later
corrected his translation, based on the earliest manuscript, to
"though a domestic foul has fostered thee as a nurse beneath her
wing" (from, "has nursed thee beneath her wing"). This parable
resembles the story told by Shams-i Tabriz about his own life from
his "Discourses": "From the time of this supplicant's youth, a
strange situation had occurred. No one understood the condition of
(this) supplicant. My father (was) not (truly) aware of me. He used
to say, 'First, you're not crazy. (But) I don't know what mode of
behavior you have. Corrective training isn't (a remedy), nor is such
and such.' I said, 'Listen to some words from me: you are in such a
way with me (as) a duck's eggs placed under a hen [morgh-é
khânagî], (which) fostered (them) and hatched out the ducklings.
The ducklings became huge youngsters. They came with (their)
mother to the bank of a stream and went into the water. Their
mother was a domestic hen, (so) she went to the edge of the stream
bank, (but there was) no possibility of coming into the water. Now,
O my father, I am looking at the river, (which) has become my
mount, and it is my native land and (natural) condition. If you
belong to me, or (if) I belong to you, (then) come into this river.
And if not, go back to the domestic fowls. And by this (argument)
you are (helplessly) dangling.' He said, '(If) you act like this toward
a friend, how do you act toward an enemy?'" ("Maqâlât-é Shams-é
Tabrîzî," p. 78, Muwahhid edition)

3. (3770) the (vast) river of spirituality: Nicholson translated, "the
Sea of spiritual reality." May also be translated, more literally, as
"spiritual meaning" or "spiritual significance."

4. (3770) like the "ducks": means like the mystics, dervishes, sufis.

5. (3772) living in dry and wet (places): "amphibious, i.e. belonging
to both the spiritual and the material world." (Nicholson, Commentary)

6. (3772) in a bad-smelling house: Nicholson later corrected his
translation, based on the earliest manuscript, to "whose house is
ill-smelling" (from, "whose house is dug (in the ground)."

7. (3773) We have honored the sons of Adam: a verse from the
Qur'an, in which God said, "And, truly, We have honored the sons
of Adam, have carried them on the land and the sea, have provided
them with (lawful) good things, and have favored them far above
most of those We have created with a distinct excellence" (17:70).
According to commentators, this refers to virtues such as abstract
thought, free will, and judgment which make mankind superior to
all animate beings, including the angels. Being carried on the land
and the sea refers to mounted animals (such as camels, horses,
donkeys) and ships, respectively. Nicholson referred to Mathnawi
III: 3291 [= "Because 'We have honored' Man by (the gift of)
free-will: half (of him) is honey-bee, half is snake"] and 3300 [=
"Man rides on the steed of 'We have honoured (the sons of Adam)':
the reins of free-will are in the hand of his intelligence"], "where
free-will (ikhtiyár) is singled out as God's noblest gift to man, in
virtue of which he can choose to live on land, i.e. in the flesh, or on
the sea, i.e. in the spirit." (Commentary)

8. (3774) on the land: these quotes are modifications of the Qur'anic
verse quoted in the previous note.

9. (3775) unaware of the ocean: means all the land-bound animals
(without reference to the minority of amphibious ones). "The
angels are without carnality, and the animals have no spiritual
nature." (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (3777) a man like yourselves: the quotes in this line are
modifications of a verse from the Qur'an in which God instructed
the Prophet Muhammad to give a message to the polytheists: "Say,
'I am only a (mortal) man like yourselves. The inspiration has
come to me that your God is the one and only God. So whoever
expects to meet his Lord [on the Day of Judgment] should do
righteous deeds and not associate any one as a partner in the
worship of his Lord.'" (17:110)

11. (3778) the highest heaven: Nicholson later changed his translation,
based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to "circling in
this highest sphere (of Heaven" (from "in yonder highest

12. (3780) like Solomon: "Our true home is the Universal Divine
Spirit in which, though we are not conscious of it, we live and
move incessantly. Solomon knew the mysteries of the birds, and
such is the relation of God to us." (Nicholson, Commentary) The
reference to Solomon is to his saying, in the Qur'an, that he had
been taught (by God) the speech of the birds, and how men and
jinns (or "genies") and birds stood in front of him in rows and
ranks (Qur'an 17: 16-17).

13. (3781) Through Solomon: means by the power of the (spiritual)
ocean, which Solomon symbolizes here. Nicholson wrote, "The
preposition [= "by means of"], I think, is instrumental. I.e. 'by the
grace of God (or possibly, "through the mediation of the Perfect
Man") seek union with Him in order that His Spirit may
encompass you and protect you from all "otherness"'."

14. (3781) a hundred rings of mail: Nicholson translated, "a hundred
rings of mail (ripples)." David, the son and successor of Solomon,
was taught by God the art of making coats of armor made up of
small iron rings (Qur'an 21:80).

15. (3782) a magician who shuts our eyes: Nicholson translated this as
referring to God: "but (His) jealousy binds (our) eyes (with spells)
and enchants (us)." The literal meaning is, "but his jealousy is an
eye-binder and a magician." An eye-binder is an enchanter who is
able to cast a spell which puts someone to sleep, so that he cannot
open his eyes.

16. (3783) drowsiness: Nicholson translated, "drowsiness

17. (3785) flowing stream: "i.e. the fleeting world of Time."
(Nicholson, Commentary

18. (3786) he remains veiled [maHjûb mând]: Nicholson failed to
correct his translation here, based on the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi. His uncorrected translation was, "he remains debarred."


qiSSa-yé baT-bache-gân ke morgh-é khânagî parward-eshân

3766 tokhm-é baTT-î garche morgh-é khana-at
kard zêr-é par chô dâya tarbiyat

mâdar-é tô baTT-é ân daryâ bod-ast
dâya-at khâkî bod-o khoshkî-parast

mayl-é daryâ ke del-é tô andar-ast
ân Tabî`at jân-t-râ az mâdar-ast

mayl-é khoshkî mar to-râ z-în dâya-ast
dâya-râ be-g'Zâr k-ô bad-râya-ast

3770 dâya-râ be-g'Zâr dar khoshk-o be-rân
andar â dar baHr-é ma`nî chûn baT-ân

gar to-râ mâdar be-tarsân-ad ze-âb
tô ma-tars-o sôy-é daryâ rân shetâb

tô baT-î, bar khoshk-o bar tar zenda-î
nay chô morgh-é khâna-khâna-ganda-î

tô ze-karram-nâ banî âdam shah-î
ham ba-khoshkî, ham ba-daryâ pâ neh-î

ke Hamal-nâ hum `alà 'l-baHri ba-jân
az Hamal-na hum `alà 'l-bar pêsh rân

3775 mar malâyik-râ sôy-é bar râh nêst
jins-é Haywân ham ze-baHr âgâh nêst

tô ba-tan Haywân, ba-jân-î az malak
tâ raw-î ham bar zamîn ham bar falak

tâ ba-Zâhir mithlu-kum bâsh-ad bashar
bâ del-é yûHà ilay-hi dîda-war

qâlib-é khâkî fotâda bar zamîn
rûH-é ô gardân bar-în charkh-é barîn

mâ hama morgh-âbiy-ân-ém ay ghulâm
baHr mê-dân-ad zabân-é mâ tamâm

3780 pas sulaymân baHr âmad mâ chô Tayr
dar sulaymân tâ abad dâr-êm sayr

bâ sulaymân pây dar daryâ be-neh
tâ chô dâwûd âb sâz-ad Sad zereh

ân sulaymân pêsh-é jumla HâZir-ast
lêk ghayrat chashm-band-o sâHir-ast

tâ ze-jahl-o khwâb-nâkî-wo fuZûl
ô ba-pêsh-é mâ-wo mâ az way malûl

teshna-râ dard-é sar âr-ad bâng-é ra`d
chûn na-dân-ad k-ô kashân-ad abr-é sa`d?

3785 chashm-é ô mând-ast dar jôy-é rawân
bê-khabar az Zawq-é âb-é âsmân

markab-é himmat sôy-é asbâb rând
az musabbib lâ-jaram maHjûb mând

3787 ân-ke bîn-ad ô musabbib-râ `ayân
kay neh-ad del bar sabab-hây-é jahân?

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)