Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207 – 1273)

Persian poet and Sufi Mystic, born 30 September 1207 in Balkh (present-day Afghanistan), died 17 December 1273 in Konya (present-day Turkey).

Here is a fine example of his poetry, the story of the Parrot of Baghdad, translated from Persian by E.H. Palmer:

In far-famed Bagdad, in a druggist’s shop,
There lived a parrot, —such a clever bird,
That passengers in the bazaar would stop
To hear him. He could utter every word
Of the ‘First Chapter.’ I have even heard
That the Imam was seriously vexed
Because the parrot’s reading was preferred
To his own services, on this pretext,
That Polly threw so much more feeling in the text.

One day a cat, intent upon a mouse,
Caused the poor parrot a tremendous fright
By dashing unawares into the house.
Extremely disconcerted at the sight,
Our parrot spreads its wings, and taking flight
Upwards towards the ceiling, straight proposes,
Aloft and out of danger, to alight
Upon a shelf where stood some oil of roses,
Destined for Beys’ and Pashas’ plutocratic noses.

He gained the shelf, but, in his haste, alas!
Upset the bottles with a dreadful crash.
His master turned, and saw the gilded glass,
With all its precious contents, gone to smash;
And being a man by nature rather rash,
And apt to be by quick impulses led,
He seized his pipe-stem, made a sudden dash
At the offender, struck him on the head,
And stretched him on the ground to all appearance dead.
He was not killed, but from that very day
A change came over the unlucky brute;
His crest and topmost feathers fell away,
Leaving him bald as the proverbial coot.
But worse than that, he had become quite mute;
That pious language for which heretofore
The folks had held him in such high repute—
His quips and jokes, were silenced, and no more
Attracted crowds of buyers round the druggist’s door.

Alike in vain the wretched druggist tries
To make him speak by foul means and by fair;
Even a mirror held before his eyes
Elicits nothing but a vacant stare.
When all else failed, the druggist took to prayer,
And then to cursing; but it did no good,
For Heaven refused to meddle in the affair.
‘Tis strange that men should act as though they could
Cajole or frighten Heaven into a yielding mood.

At length, when he had given the matter up,
There came an old man in a Dervish cloak,
With head as bare as any china cup;
Whereon the bird, who always liked a joke,
Chuckled aloud, bis sulky silence broke
For the first time since the untoward event,
And thus in sympathizing accents spoke,
Though with an air of ill-disguised content:
Hollo, old boy! have you upset your master’s scent?’

He carried his analogy too far,
And so do more than half the world beside;
They say that such things are not or they are,
And on experience alone decide.
Thus the immortal Abdals, who preside
Over the spheres, can be perceived of few,
Yet their existence cannot be denied;
And of two things submitted to their view,
Men still receive the false one and reject the true.

Two insects on the selfsame blossom thrive,
Equal in form and hue and strength of wing,
Yet this one brings home honey to the hive,
While that one carries nothing but a sting.
So from one bank two beds of rushes spring,
Drawing their moisture from the selfsame rill,
Yet, as the months the alternate seasons bring,
The stalks of one kind will with sugar fill,
The other kind will be but hollow rushes still.

Soil, whether rich or poor, is one to see;
Two men may be alike in outward show,
Yet one an angel and a friend may be,
And one a devil and a mortal foe;
Two streams may in the selfsame valley flow,
With equal clearness may their waters run,
But he who tastes of them alone may know
Which is the sweet and which the bitter one;
For naught is what it seems of all things ‘neath the sun.

A prophet’s miracles, when brought to test,
Will conquer the magician’s vain pretence;
And yet alike the claims of either rest
On contravening our experience,
And foiling our imperfect human sense.
Behold, when Israel’s freedom is at stake,
Moses throws down his rod in their defence;
Their rods, too, Pharaoh’s skilled magicians take,
Nor is the difference seen till his becomes a snake.

See how the tricksy ape will imitate
Each human being he may chance to see,
And fancy, in his self-conceited pate:
`I do this action quite as well as he.’
Thus does the sinner oft-times bend the knee,
And in the mosque prefer his sad complaint,
Till in his own eyes he appears to be
No whit less pious than the humble Saint
Ay! and the world believes his sanctimonious feint.

You call him saint, and he is well content
To be a hardened sinner all the same;
But call him sinner, he will straight resent
The insult, and repudiate the name,
As though ’twere in the word that lay the shame,
And not in him to whom the name applies.
The senseless pitcher should not bear the blame
When in the well itself the foulness lies—
But man still seeks to cheat his own and others’ eyes.

I saw a man who laid him down to sleep
Beside a fire one cold and wintry night,
When lo! a burning cinder chanced to leap
Out of the hearth and on his lips alight;
Whereat he started up in sudden fright,
And spat it out, and roared aloud with pain.
Without perceiving them, that luckless wight
Had swallowed cinders o’er and o’er again,
But the first one that burnt him made its presence plain.

To save the body from what harms or kills,
Wise Providence this sense of pain employs;
So, too, the spirit’s various griefs and ills
May prove at last a stepping-stone to joys.
In earthly pain this hope the sufferer buoys,
That skilful leeches make the body whole;
But when some overpow’ring grief destroys
Our peace, we fly to Him who heals the soul
Who holds both life and death in His supreme control.

Physicians mend whate’er has Bone amiss,
To give sick men relief from present woe:
He overturns the crumbling edifice
That He may build it up again —as though
A man his dwelling-place might overthrow,
And find a treasure where the cottage stood
With which to build a palace —even so
To cleanse the river-bed you dam the flood—
To heal the wound you pare the flesh that taints the blood.

But how shall we define the Infinite?
How shall we fix each fresh and varying phase
That flits for aye across our baffled sight,
And makes us faint and giddy as we gaze?
Yet with his call the fowler oft essays
To bring the errant hawk within his reach;
So, when men wander in life’s devious ways,
The Dervish too may utter human speech,
And in mere mortal words immortal truths may teach.

Ye who would search into the truth, beware
Of false instructors, who assume the name
Of Dervish, and the woolen garment wear
Only to hide their inward sin and shame,
Like false Museilima, who dared to claim
The honours due to Ahmad’s self alone,
Till in God’s time the retribution came.
Good wine and bad are by their perfume known,
And only in results are truth and falsehood shown.