The Evils of Procrastination (part two)

Mathnawi II: 1244-1279

1244 Either pick up the axe1 and strike manfully2--and tear up
this gate of Khaybar, like Ali--3

1245 Or make these thorns united with the rosebush,4 (and)
make the light of the friend (of God)5 united with the fire (of
your passions).

So that his (spiritual) light may kill your fire, (and so that) union
with him6 may make your thorns a rose garden.

You are similar to Hell, (and) he is a true believer.7 (But) the
smothering of the fire (of Hell) by the true believer is possible.

(Because) the Prophet8 said, regarding the speech of Hell, that it
becomes a groaning supplicant toward the true believer because of

(And) it says to him, "Pass on from me quickly, O king. Hurry!
Since your light has carried off the burning of my fire."9

1250 Therefore, the destruction of the fire (of Hell) is (caused by)
the light of the true believer. Since the repelling of an opposite is
not possible without an opposite.

The fire (of Hell) will be the opponent of the light (on) the Day of
Justice,10 because that (fire) was caused by (Divine) wrath,11
(and) this (light) by (Divine) grace.

If you want the removal of the fire's evil, send the water of
(Divine) Mercy12 into action against the heart of the fire.

The (gushing) fountain of that water of (Divine) mercy is the true
believer. The Water of Life13 is the pure spirit of the kindly doer
of good.14

Therefore, your ego is running away from him15 because you are
(the nature of) fire (and) he (is) watery-natured.16

1255 Fire runs away from water because its flames are destroyed
by water.

Your senses and thoughts are entirely (made) of fire,17 (but) the
senses of the (spiritual) master,18 and his thoughts, are (made) of
beautiful light.

If the water of his light drips onto the fire, (the sound of) "chak
chak" rises up from the fire and it jumps up.19

When it makes the "chak chak" (noise), tell it, "(May you suffer)
pain and death!"-- so that this (fiery) Hell of your ego20 may
become cold,21

So that it won't burn up your rose garden, (and) so that it won't
burn up your justice and good actions.22

1260 After that, anything which you plant23 will deliver
(flowers); it will present tulips, narcissus, and thyme.

Once again we are traveling wide of the straight road.24 Turn
back, O master! Where is our way?

We were (involved) in explaining, O envious man,25 that your
donkey is lame and the resting place (is) distant--26 (so move)

The year has become late, (it's) not planting time, (and there's)
nothing (in your account) except ugly actions and disgrace.

Worm have fallen into the tree roots of the body.
They need to be eradicated and placed in the fire.27

1265 Move on and hurry, O traveler! It's gotten late. The sun of
life has gone (down) toward the well.28

(For) these two short days when your strength (still) exists, (act)
quickly! Shed (your) old age by way of (youthful) generosity.29

Gamble away30 the (small) amount of seeds which remain to
you, so that long life may grow from these few moments.

As long as this jewelled lamp31 (of yours) is not extinguished,
be quick! Adjust its wick and (add) oil as soon as possible!32

Hurry! Don't say, "Tomorrow"-- since (too many) tomorrows
have elapsed. Don't let the planting days pass away completely!

1270 Hear my advice, that the body is a strong shackle.33 Throw
out the old, if you have the wish for what is fresh and new.34

Shut (your) lips35 and open up (your) hand full of gold. Quit the
body's stinginess36 and bring generosity forward.

(For) generosity is the abandonment of sensual cravings and
pleasures. Whoever has become sunk in sensual cravings37
doesn't rise up.

This generosity is a branch from the cypress tree of Paradise.38
(What) sorrow for him who lets a branch such as this fall from
(his) hand!39

The abandonment of sensual cravings is "the most trustworthy
handhold."40 (And) this branch draws the soul up to the heavens.

1275 (Then act) so that the branch of generosity may carry you
aloft, O man of good religion, drawing (you) toward its origin.

You are (like) beautiful Joseph41 and this world (is) like the
well.42 And this rope (of escape) is patience with God's

O Joseph! The rope has come,44 (so) grab (it with) two hands.
Don't be neglectful of the rope, (since) it's become late.

(All) praise is to God that this rope has been lowered and dangled,
(and that Divine) Grace and Mercy have been mixed together,45

1279 So that you may see the new and fresh spiritual world--46 a
world very evident, yet not visible.47

--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" (, 11/9/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1244) Either pick up the ax: this is a warning not to procrastinate,
as did the man (in this continuing story) who planted a thorn bush
in the middle of the road (which tore the clothes and feet of
passers- by), and who delayed obeying the district governor's order
to uproot it.

2. (1244) and strike manfully: "I.e. fight manfully in the jihádu
'l-akbar" [= the greater combat]. (Nicholson, Commentary) This is
the struggle against the ego. "And those who strive (jâhadû) for
Our sake, surely We will guide them to Our paths" (Qur'an 29:69).
Once, when the Prophet returned from a military expedition, he
said, "We have returned from the Lesser Combat [al-jihâd al-
aSghar = physical battle] to the Greater Combat [al-jihâd al-
akbar]." He defined the latter as the "struggle [jihâd] against the
ego [nafs]." He also said, "The warrior [mujâhid] is the one who
struggles against his ego for the sake of God." A common
mistranslation of the word "jihad" is "Holy War," which is a
Christian term that does not coincide with the Islamic meaning of
the term. In sum, the word "jihad" means much more than physical
combat in defense of Religion, since there are many ways to
struggle and strive in the cause of God. The sufis use the term
"mujâhada" to mean spiritual struggle on the path toward God, of
which an important aspect is the combat against the ego. "It means,
you must seize the ax of strict self-discipline [riyâZat] and
(spiritual) combat [mujâhadat] and strike at your blameworthy
qualities, which resemble a thorn bush." (Anqaravi, Commentary--
translated here from the Persian trans. of the 17th century Turkish

3. (1244) like Ali: the cousin, son-in-law, and fourth successor of the
Prophet Muhammad. He was famous for his heroism as a warrior.
"At the siege of Khaybar, a Jewish settlement which was attacked
by the Moslems in A.H. 7/A.D 628, `Alí pulled down a fortress
gate and used it as a shield." (Nicholson, Commentary) The Jewish
tribes in the Medina area of Arabia (who had long maintained a
sense of superiority among the surrounding illiterate pagan Arabs,
due to their knowledge of the ancient scriptures and traditions of
Judaism) unfortunately allied themselves with the neighboring
polytheist tribes against the small group of (fellow monotheist)
Muslims in Medina-- who found out about this secret alliance and
felt they had no choice but to expel the Jews from the Medina area
(most of whom moved to Iraq).

4. (1245) Or make these thorns united with the rosebush: means,
either eradicate the fire of your ego and its cravings through your
own efforts-- if you can, or seek help by associating with a
spiritual guide. "The 'rosebush' signifies the pure nature of the
spiritual guide (murshid), which assimilates to itself and endows
with its own goodness the evil dispositions that are 'grafted' on it."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

5. (1245) the friend [yâr] (of God): means a spiritual master, or sufi
guide, as well as one of the "saints," or "near ones" [awliyâ], of

6. (1246) union with him: means close association with a saintly
spiritual guide. "Annihilation in the spiritual master" [fanâ fi
'sh-shaykh] on the sufi path precedes "annihilation in God" [fanâ fi
'llâh]. "Union: has the meaning here of being a follower" [= of the
sufi guide].... "The intended meaning: constantly present the
(spiritual) qualities and rays of light of the spiritual guide
[murshid] to your being. And regarding qualities which are
offensive and lead astray, make them distant from yourself and
erased." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

7. (1247) a true believer [mû'min]: "the mu'min in this passage
represents the Perfect Man." [= al-insânu 'l-kâmil, the saint who
reflects all the Names of God, the goal of creation-- a teaching of
the Ibnu `Arabi school of sufism] (Nicholson, Commentary) "The
true believer is the spiritual guide [murshid]." (Anqaravi,

8. (1248) the Prophet [muSTaf`a]: literally, "the Chosen One," a title
used exclusively to mean the Prophet Muhammad.

9. (1249) your light has carried off the burning of my fire: "Cf. the
Traditions [= sayings of the Prophet] that on the Day of
Resurrection Hell will say to the Faithful, 'Cross (the bridge Sirát),
O true believer, for thy light hath put out my flames (fa-qad atfa'a
núruka lahabí)'; and that when the Faithful enter Paradise they will
say to God, 'Didst not Thou promise us that we should come to
Hell-fire (on our way)' whereupon God will answer, 'Yes; but it
was extinguished when ye passed by.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (1251) The Day of Justice: another name for the Day of Judgment.

11. (1251) (Divine) wrath [qahr]: also means severity, punishment,
vengeance, subduing. This word is related to one of the traditional
Ninety-Nine Names of God: the Dominant, the Subduer [al-
Qahhâr-- Qur'an 38:65-66; 13:16; 14:48; 39:4; 40:16).

12. (1252) (Divine) Mercy [raHmat]: this word is related to the Divine
Names, the Merciful [ar-raHmân] and the Compassionate [ar-
raHîm]. The Mercy of God is a central theme of the Islamic
revelation, pervading the Qur'an-- as well as the Divine sayings,
such as: "Truly, My Mercy prevails over My Wrath;' "My Mercy
Precedes My Wrath" (sayings referred to in Mathnawi III: 4166-

13. (1253) the Water of Life: the fountain of eternal youth, a fabled
spring of water said to confer immortality to the one who drinks
from it. According to popular Islamic legend, the Water of Life
was discovered by the Prophet Khizr in the Land of Darkness, who
drank it and became immortal. It is a frequent metaphor in Rumi's

14. (1253) the kindly doer of good: "The meaning of the good-doer
[muHsin] is that person who worships God Most High in the path
of contemplation [Tarîqu 'l-mushâhidah]-- according to the
Tradition (of the Prophet): 'Sincere goodness [al-iHsân] is to
worship God as if you see Him-- for if you don't see Him, He
certainly sees you.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

15. (1254) Therefore, your ego is running away from him: Nicholson
later changed his translation, based on the earliest manuscript of
the Mathnawi, to "Your fleshly soul is fleeing mightily from him"
(from, "Hence your fleshly soul is fleeing from him"). Here, he
read the first word in the verse as "bas" ("mightily") instead of
"pas" (Hence, Therefore). However, the Iranian editor, Tôwfîq
Sôbhanî, printed it as "pas" in his edition of the earliest manuscript
of the Mathnawi (followed here).

16. (1254) he (is) watery-natured [ô âb-khô]: Nicholson translated, "he
(is) the water of the stream," following his text [ô âb-é jô]. Since
he did not later list that the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi
contained a different word in this verse, it was either an oversight
on his part, or perhaps an error in Tôwfîq Sôbhanî's edition
(followed here, and which has a "sukûn" added between "âb" and
"khô"). "But he, by whom is intended the shaykh [= spiritual
master] who is overflowing with (spiritual) abundance and virtue,
is the water of the stream." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

17. (1256) entirely (made) of fire: "It means arising from the Hellish
quality of your ego." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

18. (1256) the (spiritual) master [shaykh]: literally, "elder." Nicholson
translated, "Shaykh (spiritual guide)." Means, here, a sufi master
and guide.

19. (1257) it jumps up: Nicholson translated, "it leaps up (in fury)." "It
means that if the inner light of the spiritual master, which
resembles water, splashes upon your fiery ego, the fire of your ego
will become disturbed by that and will become agitated and
yelling." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

20. (1258) ego [nafs]: Nicholson translated, "fleshly soul." Means the
self, and in sufism means the base and sensual bodily self, or ego
driven by cravings for worldly pleasures and superiority. Rumi
said, "This ego [nafs] is Hell, and Hell is a dragon which does not
become less (fiery) by oceans (of water)." (Mathnawi I: 1375)

21 (1258) may become cold: "It means (so) that the fire of sensual
cravings and anger may be obliterated from your ego." (Anqaravi,

22. (1259) good actions: this line has been added, facing the text in the
margin, to the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi. Nicholson
wrote: "An interpolated verse; it is omitted in the four oldest
MSS." "So that... the orchard of the heart and the garden of
religion and (true) belief may not become burned up and
destroyed." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

23. (1260) anything which you plant: "... anything which you plant in
the earth of (your) body.... Here, the intended meaning (of the
flowers) is the lights of (Divine) Unity [tawHîd], the secrets of the
praise (of God) [tasbîH], and the spiritual states [Halât-é rûHânî]."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

24. (1261) we are traveling wide of the straight road: "I.e. 'we have
been digressing: let us resume the argument'." (Nicholson,
Commentary) "The sense is (the Arabic saying), 'Speech attracts
(more) speech.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

25. (1262) envious man: "The epithet hasúd is commonly applied in
the Mathnawí to those who regard the saints with hostility and
disbelief." (Nicholson, Commentary)

26. (1262) your donkey is lame and the resting place (is) distant: refers
to an earlier verse, which Nicholson translated: "The day late, the
ass lame, and the way long..." (II: 1225) "(It means): O envious
one, for whom the donkey of your ego is lame... Therefore, don't
delay.... It's been said (in Arabic), 'The procrastinator was
destroyed.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

27. (1264) eradicated and placed in the fire: Nicholson translated, "dug
up and put in the fire." "The nafs [= ego; see note 14 above] must
be mortified and purged of corruption." (Nicholson, Commentary)
"It means that the tree of the body must be put on the fire of
austerity and strict discipline [riyâZat], because the worms of
corrupt thoughts within it should be burned up, erased, and
obliterated." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

28. (1265) toward the well: Nicholson translated, "toward the pit (is
about to set)." A poetic image of the near-setting of the sun below
the horizon. "(It means): O traveler, or O (spiritual seeker) [sâlik],
be aware!... for the sun of life... is close to setting." (Anqaravi,

29. (1266) Shed (your) old age by way of (youthful) generosity:
Nicholson later corrected his translation to, "(be) quick, devote the
old man (your old age) generously (to serving God)" (from, "flap
your wings generously"). Nicholson later wrote, "Most edd. and
the best MSS. read pír-afshání bi-kun, which the commentators
explain by 'devote your old age (to serving God).' But can these
words bear the sense of hangám-i pírí kárí qawí bi-kun" [= (in) the
time of elderliness, make a strong effort]?.... Translate, therefore:
'(be) quick, make a last effort with all your might.'" (Commentary)
However, Steingass' "Persian-English Dictionary" (1892, which
Nicholson appears to have overlooked) defines "pîr-afshânî as
"The acting in a youthful manner in old age." "It means: In the path
of God, make old age (a time of) offering and generosity. And in
this life of one or two days, be occupied with worship and service
(to God), for everlasting life may (then) come to (your) hand."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

30. (1267) Gamble away [be-bâz]: Nicholson translated, "Devote..." --
another meaning of the verb.

31. (1268) this jewelled lamp: "i.e. the lamp of life, precious to those
who do not neglect to trim it with the wick and oil of
righteousness." (Nicholson, Commentary)

32. (1268) Adjust its wick and (add) oil as soon as possible: "It means:
inward strength with obedience and worship (toward God). And
make the lamp of your spirit illuminated." (Anqaravi,

33. (1270) the body is a strong shackle: Nicholson translated, "a strong
bond." "In the path of God, there is no stronger veil and obstacle
than the body." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

34. (1270) if you have the wish for what is fresh and new: "It means: If
you have the desire to find spiritual enjoyment and real being
[wujûd-é Haqqânî], throw away and expel from your heart those
chains which your old body is demanding (that you keep)."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

35. (1271) Shut (your) lips: "Just as (the Prophet) said, may the peace
of God be upon him: 'There is blessing for the one who occupied
himself with his own faults apart from (other) people's faults, and
restrained (himself) from excess in his speech and from excess in
spending his property.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

36. (1271) the body's stinginess: means the strong tendency of the ego
(identified with the body's base desires) to be withholding and

37. (1272) sunk in sensual cravings: "Anyone who has become
drowned in sensual cravings-- meaning, who has gone down into
the whirlpool of sensual desires-- won't rise up again: (meaning) he
won't be freed from the chains of sensual cravings." (Anqaravi,

38. (1273) This generosity is a branch from the cypress tree of
Paradise: "Cf. the Hadíth that generosity (sakhá) is a tree of
paradise with branches drooping to the earth, and that any one who
grasps a branch thereof is drawn into Paradise." (Nicholson,

39. (1273) who lets a branch such as this fall from (his) hand: "They
will be deprived of everlasting good fortune, and in the end will be
disappointed and losers." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

40. (1274) the most trustworthy handhold: "Qur. II 257: 'whoso
denieth Tághút and believeth in Allah, he surely hath grasped the
firmest handle'; and XXXI 21: 'whoso giveth himself up to Allah in
doing good, he surely hath grasped the firmest handle.' Súfís
identify Tághút (idols or the Devil) with the nafs [= ego] (cf. I 769
sqq., III 4053 sqq.)." (Nicholson, Commentary) "The intended
meaning of 'the most trustworthy handhold' is metaphorical....
some say that the meaning.... is the Sacred Law [sharî`at], some
(that it is) religious faith [îmân], and some say the Qur'an. And
(for) another group, (it is) the grace and guidance of the Merciful
(God). And others say (it is) the love and attraction of the Creator
of (physical) existence and location. But our holy master [HaZrat-é
Mawlânâ = Jalaluddin Rumi] said: 'The most trustworthy handhold
is the abandonment of (worldly) desire.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

41. (1276) beautiful Joseph: In the Qur'an, the Prophet Joseph is
described as so good-looking that the women friends of his
Egyptian master's wife cut their hands (instead of the melons they
were cutting with knives) in awe and said, "God protect us! This is
not a man. This is none but a noble angel." (Qur'an 12: 31)

42. (1276) like the well: refers to the story of Joseph, whose jealous
brothers decided not to kill him but to throw him down a well. A
caravan stopped by the well and lowered a bucket, discovered
Joseph, rescued him, and sold him in Egypt (Qur'an 12: 10-20).

43. (1276) patience with God's commands: Nicholson translated,
"patience with (submission to) the command of God."

44. (1277) The rope has come: "And hold firmly to the Rope of
God..." (Qur'an 3:303) "Don't be neglectful of holding firmly to the
command of God, since the time for doing (so) has become short."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

45. (1278) mixed together: means in the two strands of the rope.

46. (1279) the new and fresh spiritual world: Nicholson translated,
"the world of the new spirit..." and he explained: "either 'the world
of the new (regenerated) spirit' or 'the new (ever fresh and
incorruptible) spiritual world'. I think the latter interpretation is
preferable." (Commentary)

47. (1279 a world very evident, yet not visible: "It means a world
which is hidden and not visible according to the apparent (vision),
and (yet) is very evident and clear according to the inner (vision).
Contemplate, and arrive to that world." (Anqaravi, Commentary)
Rumi clarifies this theme in the next lines (as translated by
Nicholson): "This (phenomenal) world of non-existence has
become like (real) existence, while that world of (real) existence
has become very hidden. The dust is on the wind: it is playing, it is
making a false show and forming a veil. This, which is busy (in
appearance) is (really) idle and (superficial, like) a husk; and that
which is hidden is its core and origin. The dust is as a tool in the
hand of the wind; deem the wind high and of high descent. The
gaze of the eye of dust falls on the dust; an eye that sees the wind
is of another sort." (II: 1280-1284)


1244 yâ tabar bar gîr-o mard-âna be-zan
tô `alî-wâr în dar-é khaybar be-kan

1245yâ ba-gol-bon waSl kon în khâr-râ
waSl kon bâ nâr nûr-é yâr-râ

tâ ke nûr-é ô kosh-ad nâr-é to-râ
waSl-é ô golshan kon-ad khâr-é to-râ

tô miSâl-é dûzakh-î ô mû'min-ast
koshtan-é âtesh ba-mû'min mumkin-ast

muSTafà farmûd az goft-é jaHîm
k-ô ba-mû'min lâba-gar gard-ad ze-bîm

gôy-ad-ash be-gZar ze-man ay shâh zûd
hîn ke nûr-at sôz-é nâr-am-râ robûd

1250 pas halâk-é nâr nûr-é mû'min-ast
z-ân-ke bê-Zid daf`-é Zid lâ-yumkin-ast

nâr Zidd-é nûr bâsh-ad rôz-é `adl
k-ân ze-qahr angêkhta shod în ze-faZl

gar hamê khwâh-î tô daf`-é sharr-é nâr
âb-é raHmat bar del-é âtesh gomâr

chashma-yé ân âb-é raHmat mû'min-ast
âb-é Haywân rûH-é pâk-é muHsin-ast

pas gorêzân-ast nafs-é tô az-ô
z-ân-ke tô az âtesh-î ô âb-khô

1255 z-âb âtesh z-ân gorêzân mê-shaw-ad
k-âtesh-ash az âb wêrân mê-shaw-ad

Hiss-o fikr-é tô hama az âtash-ast
Hiss-é shaykh-o fikr-é ô nûr-ê khwash-ast

âb-é nûr-é ô chô bar âtesh chak-ad
chak-chak az âtesh bar ây-ad, bar jah-ad

chûn kon-ad chak-chak tô gôy-ash marg-o dard
tâ shaw-ad în dôzakh-é nafs-é tô sard

tâ na-sôz-ad ô gol-estân-é to-râ
tâ na-sôz-ad `adl-o iHsân-é to-râ

1260 ba`d az ân chêzê ke kâr-î bar deh-ad
lâla-wo nasrîn-o sîsanbar deh-ad

bâz pahnâ mê-raw-êm az râh-é râst
bâz gard ay khwâja râh-é mâ ko-jâ-st?

andar ân taqrîr bûd-êm ay Hasûd
ke khar-at lang-ast-o manzil dûr zûd

sâl bê-gah gasht, waqt-é kesht ney
joz seyah-rôyî-wo fa`l-é zesht ney

kerm dar bîkh-é derakht-é tan fotâd
bây-ad-ash bar kan-ad-o dar âtesh nehâd

1265 hîn-o hîn ay râh-raw bê-gâh shod
âftâb-é `umr sôy-é châh shod

în dô rôz-ak-râ ke zûr-at hast zûd
pîr-afshânî be-kon az râh-é jûd

în qadar tokhmê ke mând-ast-at be-bâz
tâ be-rôy-ad z-în dô dam `umr-é darâz

tâ na-mord-ast în cherâgh-é bâ-gawhar
hîn fatîl-ash sâz-o rawghan zûd-tar

hîn ma-gô fardâ ke fardâ-hâ goZasht
tâ ba-kullî na-g'Zar-ad ayyâm-é kasht

1270 pand-é man be-sh'naw ke tan band-é qawî-st
kohna bêrûn kon gar-at mayl-é nawî-st

lab be-band-o kaff-é por zar bar goshâ
bukhl-é tan be-gêZâr-o pêsh âwar sakhâ

tark-é shahwat-hâ-wo laZZat-hâ sakhâ-st
har ke dar shahwat ferô shod bar na-khâst

în sakhâ shâkhê-st az sarw-é behesht
wây-é ô k-az kaf chon-în shâkhê be-hesht

`urwatu 'l-wuSqâ-st în tark-é hawâ
bar kash-ad în shâkh jân-râ bar sama

1275 tâ bar-ad shâkh-é sakhâ ay khwob-kêsh
mar to-râ bâlâ kashân tâ aSl-é khwêsh

yûsuf-é Husn-î-wo în `âlam chô châh
w-în rasan Sabr-ast bar amr-é alâh

yûsuf-â âmad rasan, dar zan dô dast
az rasan ghâfil ma-shaw bê-gah shod-ast

Hamdu li-lâh k-în rasan âwêkht-and
faZl-o raHmat-râ ba-ham âmêkht-and

1279 tâ be-bîn-î `âlam-é jân-é jadîd
`âlam-é bas âshkâr-é nâ-padîd

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)