The Evils of Procrastination (part one)

Mathnawi II: 1227-1243

(Concerning) the governor's ordering a particular
man, "Tear out this thornbush which you've planted
on the road!"

1227 Like (the story of),1 that harsh and oppressive man of
pleasant speech2 (who) had planted a thorn bush in the middle of
the road.

Travelers became his critics. They told him often, "Dig this up!"
(But) he didn't pull it out.

That thorn bush was becoming greater (in size) every moment,
(while) the feet of the people were becoming bloody from its stabs.

1230 Peoples' clothes were torn by the thorns, (while) the feet of
the poor were severely wounded.

When the governor told him, (very) seriously, "Root it up!" He
replied, "Yes, I'll dig it out some day."

For a time, he gave promises about tomorrow and the next day.
(Meanwhile) his thorn bush became (more) strong and bulky in

One day, the governor said to him, "O crooked promiser! Come
forward to the task (assigned) by us.3 (And) don't crawl back
again (from it).

He answered, "O uncle! The days (to accomplish it) are
between us,4 O uncle." (The governor) said, "Hurry, (and) don't
stretch out (paying your) debt to us."5

1235 You who are saying, "Tomorrow," should know this: that
with each day that time keeps coming,

That bad and corrupt tree6 keeps getting younger and this digger
keeps getting old and (also) needy and desperate.

The thorn bush (gains) in strength and rising higher, (while) the
uprooter of the thorn (bush) (gains) in old age and becoming less.

Every day and every moment the thorn bush (is) green and fresh,
(while) the thorn (bush) digger (is) more groaning and dried-up
every day.

It is becoming younger, (while) you (are becoming) older. Be
quick, and don't gamble away your time (wastefully).

1240 Know (that) every one of your bad habits7 (is like) a thorn
bush (which) has stabbed (your) feet many times.

You have been wounded many times by your own (bad) qualities.
You lack sense8 (and) you've become very senseless.

If, in regard to other people being wounded-- which is because of
your ugly disposition that it is made to reach (them)--

1243 You are thoughtless and unaware, at any rate, you are not
(inattentive) of your own wounds. (For) you are the (cause of)
torment for (both) yourself and every stranger.

--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" (, 10/19/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. Like (the story of): Just prior, Rumi told the story of how a
thirsty man tore down a brick wall which prevented him from
reaching a stream. This immediate action saved him, and Rumi
interpreted (as translated by Nicholson): "Oh, blest is he that
deems his early days an opportunity to be seized, and pays his
debt-- In the days when he has the power, (when) he has health and
strength of heart and vigour.... Ere the days of eld [= being elderly]
arrive and bind your neck.... (Ere) the soil becomes nitrous
(barren), crumbling, and poor.... (When) the water of strength... (is)
cut off.... The face, from wrinkling, like the back of a lizard.... The
day late, the ass lame, and the way long; the shop ruined and the
business in disorder; The roots of bad habit firmly set, and the
power to tear them up decreased" (II: 1215-26). Then the present
section begins.

2. that harsh and oppressive man of pleasant speech: "It means he
is, essentially, crude and harsh-tempered--while, outwardly, he is a
pleasing speaker." (Anqaravi, Commentary-- translated here from
the Persian trans. of the 17th century Turkish commentary)

3. Come forward to the task (assigned) by us: "It means, 'Obey
my command." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

4. The days (to accomplish it) are between us: "I.e. 'there is still
some time before the account between us need be settled.'"
(Nicholson, footnote) "It means that the person who was the owner
of the thorn bush said to the governor of the district.... 'If uprooting
the thorn bush is not a (finished) task today, I will finally eradicate
it (after) one more day.'"

5. don't stretch out (paying your) debt to us: means to withhold
and delay. "The intended meaning of the thorn bush: the desires of
the ego [nafs] and a blameworthy character. And the intended
meaning of the governor: the perfected spiritual guide [murshid]...
(who) constantly advises the beginner and the one who seeks
guidance.... 'Purify your craving nature [nafs] and cleanse your
heart from (worldly) desires. Because if you neglect doing so, day
by day the ugly character of your ego will become stronger.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

6. That bad and corrupt tree: Nicholson translated, "That evil
tree." The word translated here [bad] means evil, malignant,
wicked, foul, corrupt, bad.

7. bad habits [khoy-é bad: means bad (corrupt, foul, etc.) habits,
natures, manners, customs, qualities of temperament and
disposition. "It means ugly and blameworthy habits and
manners..." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

8. You lack sense: "i.e. 'you cannot perceive that the pain which
you are conscious of suffering is caused by your own evil nature.'"
(Nicholson, Commentary)


farmûdan-é wâlî ân mard-râ ke în khâr-bon-râ ke neshânda-î bar
sar-é râh bar-kan

1227 ham-chô ân shakhS-é dorosht-é khwash-sokhon
dar meyân-é rah neshând ô khâr-bon

rah-gozar-yân-ash malâmat-gar shod-and
bas be-goft-and-ash be-kan în-râ na-kand

har damê ân khâr-bon afzûn shody
pây-é khalq az zakhm-é ân por-khûn shody

1230 jâma-hây-é khalq be-d'rîdy ze-khâr
pây-é darwêsh-ân be-khasty zâr zâr

chûn ba-jid Hâkim ba-d-ô goft în be-kan
goft ârî bar-kan-am rôzê-sh man

maddatê fardâ-wo fardâ wa`da dâd
shod derakht-é khâr-é ô muHkam-nehâd

goft rôzê Hâkim-ash ay wa`da-kazh
pêsh â dar kâr-é mâ wâ-pas ma-ghazh

goft al-'ayyâmu yâ `am bayna-nâ
goft `ajjil lâ tumâTil dayna-nâ

1235 tô ke mê-gôy-î ke fardâ, în be-dân
ke ba-har rôzê ke mê-ây-ad zamân

ân derakht-é bad jawân-tar mê-shaw-ad
w-în kananda pîr-o muZTar mê-shaw-ad

khâr-bon dar quwwat-o bar-khâstan
khâr-kan dar pîrî-wo dar kâstan

khâr-bon har rôz-o har dam sabz-o tar
khâr-kan har rôz zâr-o khoshk-tar

ô jawân-tar mê-shaw-ad tô pîr-tar
zûd bâsh-o rôzegâr-é khwad ma-bar

1240 khâr-bon dân har yakê khôy-é bad-at
bâr-hâ dar pây khâr âkhir zad-at

bâr-hâ az khôy-é khwad khasta shod-î
His na-dâr-î, sakht bê-His âmad-î

gar ze-khasta-gashtan-é dîgar kas-ân
ke ze-khulq-é zesht-é tô hast ân rasân

1243 ghâfil-î, bârê ze-zakhm-é khwad na-î
tô `aZâb-é khwêsh-o har bê-gâna-î

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)