ImageMap - turn on images!!! ABOUT THE MASNAVI

I. Studies of the Masnavi

II. Previous Translations of the Masnavi in English
(A) Redhouse's Translation
(B) Whinfield's Translation
(C) Wilson's Translation
(D) Nicholson's Translation
(E) Gupta's Translation

III. Translations of Selections from the Masnavi
(A) Arberry's Translations
(B) Trkmen's Translations
(C) Schimmel's Translations
(D) Chittick's Translations
(E) Other Translations

IV. Popular Versions of Selections from the Masnavi
(A) Barks' Versions
(B) Helminski's Versions
(C) Harvey's Versions
(D) Scholey's Versions

The "Masnavi" is Rumi's greatest poetic work, composed during
the last years of his life. He began it when he was between the ages
of 54-57 [about 1258-1261]1 and continued composing its verses
until he died in 1273 (with the last story remaining incomplete). It
is a compendium of sufi stories, ethical teachings, and mystical
teachings. It is deeply permeated with Qur'anic meanings and
references. Rumi himself called the Masnavi "the roots of the roots
of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion... and the explainer of the
Qur'an [wa huwa uSlu uSlu uSlu 'd-dn... was kashshf al-
Qur'n] (Masnavi, Book I, Preface).

Its full name is name is "Mathnaw-y Ma`naw," which means
"Rhyming Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning." The name
"Mathnaw" (pronounced "Masnav" in Persian) means "couplets"
in Arabic [because the second half of the verse (in Arabic, "than")
rhymes with the first]. It is the name of a type of poetry (called
"mathnaw) which has a particular meter. The second word,
"Ma`naw," means "significant," "real," "meaningful," "spiritual"
in Arabic.

Here is an example of the format, in which the mathnaw meter is
XoXX XoXX XoX and the rhymes are "-yat m-ko-nad,"
"-da-and, "-q":




The story of how the beginning of the composition of the Masnavi
has been told in the hagiography written by Aflaki (written
between 1318-53), a disciple of Rumi's grandson:

"Sirjuddn, the Mathnawi-reciter [masnavi-khwn] at the Tomb
(of Rumi) told the story that the reason for the composition of the
book of the Masnav-y Ma`naw, which is the Revealer of the
secrets of the Qur'an was: One day Hazrat-i... Husmuddn
[Chelebi-- Rumi's closest disciple], may God sanctify his precious
secret, found out that some of the friends, in complete relish and
great love, were making serious efforts to study the 'Book of the
Divine' [Ilh-Nma] of (the sufi poet) Hakm (San') and the
'Speech of the Birds' [ManTiqu 'T-Tayr] and the 'Book of
Misfortune' [MuSbat-Nma] of (the sufi poet) Farduddn `ATTr,
and (who) were delighted by (studying) their (mystical) secrets and
(accounts of) the unusual spiritual amorousness (of the lovers of
God) displayed by them. ..... One night, he found Hazrat-i
Mawlana [= Rumi] alone. He bowed and said, 'The collections of
odes [ghazalyt] have become plentiful.... (But) if there could be a
book with the quality of the 'Book of the Divine' of Hakm
(San'), yet in the (mathnaw) meter of the 'Speech of the Birds,'
so that it might be memorized among the knowers and be the
intimate companion of the souls of the lovers... so that they would
occupy themselves with nothing else...' At that moment, from the
top of his blessed turban, he [Rumi] put into Cheleb Husmuddn's
hand a portion (of verses), which was the Explainer of the secrets
of Universals and particulars. And in there were the eighteen
verses of the beginning of the Masnavi: 'Listen to this reed, how it
tells a tale, complaining of separations' up to. 'None (who is) 'raw'
can understand the state of the 'ripe.' Therefore, (this) speech must
be shortened. So farewell.'"3

The Masnavi is divided into six books, and Rumi wrote prefaces
for each book. The earliest complete manuscript (the "Konya
manuscript") was completed in December, 1278 (five years after
Rumi's death). In a recent printed edition of this manuscript (by Dr.
Tfq Sobhn), the total number of lines is 25,575 (Book I, 4019
lines; II, 3721; III,4811; IV, 3855; V, 4240; VI, 4929)

R. A. Nicholson was the first to translate the entire Masnavi into
English (1926-34). Unfortunately, he did not have access to this
earliest manuscript until he had translated through Book III, line
2835. From line 2836, onwards, however, his printed edition is
based on the Konya manuscript. As a result,the first two and a half
books of his translation are based on less earlier manuscripts which
contain numerous "improvements." (In Nicholson's printed edition,
the total number of lines is 25,632 (Book I, 4003 lines; II, 3810;
III, 4810; IV, 3855; V, 4238; VI, 4916.)

Over the centuries, many such "improvements" have been added to
the Masnavi, with the result that many lovers of the Masnavi in
Iran, India, and Pakistan have editions which contain more than
two thousand extra verses (including many well-loved verses
which were not composed by Rumi).

A recent book by Professor Franklin Lewis (which is an
impressively thorough review of all aspects of Rumi's life,
teachings, and influence throughout history) contains relevant
information about the Masnavi: manuscripts, commentaries,
sources of stories, translations, versions, historical influences --
and even listings of available compact disc recordings of verses
recited in Persian.4


There are a number of scholarly works written about themes and
teachings in the Masnavi, such as written by: Khalifa `Abdul
Hakim ("The Metaphysics of Rumi," 1933, published in Lahore,
Pakistan); William C. Chittick ("The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi: An
Introduction," 1974, published in Tehran, Iran); K. Khosla ("The
Sufism of Rumi," 1987), a Theosophist, originally from India;
John Renard ("All the King's Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and
Revelation," 1994), a revision of a doctoral dissertation (1978)
done under the direction of Professor Annemarie Schimmel.5
Other books contain very informative chapters about Rumi's
teachings in the Masnavi, such as by Annemarie Schimmel, ("The
Triumphant Sun," 1978, "Rumi's Theology," pp. 225-366); by
Afzal Iqbal ("The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi," 1956,"The
Message of the Mathnawi" and "The Poet As a Thinker," pp.
175-283); by Franklin D. Lewis ("Rumi-- Past and Present, East
and West: The Life Teachings and Poetry of Jall al-Din Rumi,"
2000, "The Teachings," pp. 394-419).


The only extensive translations from Persian directly into English
have been done by British scholars. These translations sound very
old-fashioned to modern, (especially American) ears.

Redhouse's translation

In 1881, James W. Redhouse made a rhymed translation of Book I
(with many inaccuracies, according to Nicholson).

Here is an example of his approach:

"What boot from counsel to a fool?/ Waste not thy words; thy
wrath let cool."

. . . . . . .

A mirror best portrays when bright;/ Begrimed with rust, its gleam
grows slight.

Then wipe such foul alloy away; / Bright shall it, so, reflect each

Thou'st heard what tale the flute can tell;/ Such is my case; sung all
too well." 6

(Masnavi I: 18, 34-35)

Whinfield's translation

In 1898, E. H. Whinfield translated selections from all six books
(totalling about 3,500 verses).

Here is an example of his approach:

"How long wilt thou dwell on words and superficialities?
A burning heart is what I want; consort with burning!
Kindle in thy heart the flame of love,
And burn up utterly thoughts and fine expressions.
O Moses! The lovers of fair rites are one class,
They whose hearts and souls burn with love are another." 7

(Masnavi II: 1762-1764)

Wilson's translation

In 1910, C. E. Wilson translated Book II (Volume I, Translation;
Volume II, Commentary).8 He stated: "...the only way to make an
abstruse Persian poem intelligible to Europeans is to give a plain
literal prose translation accompanied by copious notes. I think, in
fact, that translations from the Persian have attracted so little
interest mainly because they have been so imperfectly explained,
and I have therefore done my best with the help of the best Persian,
Turkish, Urdu, and Arabic Commentaries to make this Work
intelligible to all who have a little knowledge with mental
science."9 He closely followed the Turkish commentary by
Anqaravi, in addition to those in other languages. He included all
references (in the second Book of the Masnavi) to Qur'anic verses,
Traditions of the Prophet, and other poetic verses in translation as
well as in transliteration. His approach to commentary is very
similar to that later done by Nicholson, except that he made it a
point to include transliterations (as well as translations) of all
Qur'anic and Hadth references, whereas Nicholson did so less
often). He often refers to Anqaravi's commentary (as did

Here is an example of his approach:

"Enough of these words, conceptions, and figurative expressions! I
wish for ardour, ardour! Content yourself with this ardour.

Light up a fire of love in your soul, (and) burn entirely thought and

Those conversant with forms, O Moses, are of one kind; those
whose souls and hearts are burnt are of another."

Every moment lovers are burnt (in the fire of love). Taxes and tithes
are not exacted from a ruined village."10

(Masnavi II: 1762-1765)

Nicholson's translation

R. A. Nicholson was the first to make a full translation of all six
books into English. It was published in three volumes (Books I and
II, 1926; Books III and IV, 1930; Books V and VI, 1934). In
addition to the three corresponding volumes of the Persian text,
Nicholson also published two volumes (1937, 1940) of valuable
commentary on the Masnavi.

Here is an example of his approach:

"The low (base) man is the enemy of what is high: the purchaser
(seeker) of each place (Heaven or Hell) is manifest (made known
by his actions).

O chaste woman, hast thou ever risen up and decked thyself for the
sake of him that is blind?"

(Masnavi, I: 2388-89)11

Gupta's translation

A Hindu scholar, M. G. Gupta, made a translation into English of
the entire Masnavi. It is not a word-for-word literal translation like
that done by Nicholson, but a rather a paraphrase of each line
followed by short commentary in brackets (sometimes
incorporating the views of Hindu Vedantic mysticism). He seems
not to have been aware of the work of Nicholson and other
scholars regarding early manuscripts of the Masnavi. Instead,
Gupta translated from an "inflated" Persian edition containing
several thousand extra lines that have been added to the Masnavi
over the centuries. (For example, the earliest manuscript of Book I
contains 4,007, and Nicholson's edition has 4,003. But Gupta's
Volume One of his translation consists of 4,563 verses).12

Here is an example of his approach:

"With the departure of the rose, and the garden ruined, whence will
the nightingale seek the fragrance of rose? After all, it can come
only from the rose, and not from rose-water, in the same order. [In
the absence of the guru (rose) his disciples can only serve as a poor
substitute (rose-water). But something is always better than
nothing. If the guru is not manifest let us attend the company of his
disciples. At the appropriate hour he may become manifest.]"

(line 40 [= Masnavi, I: 19])13


Arberry's translations

The British scholar A. J. Arberry re-translated (from Nicholson's
translation) many of the stories in the Masnavi in two volumes.14
He made the stories easier to follow, by eliminating tangential
sections (part of Rumi's teaching method of introducing associated
material, commentary, sub-stories, etc.-- because his aim is to
teach, not tell uninterrupted stories). The translations are very
accurate, adopt many of Nicholson's translation words and phrases,
but are often just as "Victorian-sounding" as is Nicholson's
translation done decades before.

Trkmen's translations

An important contribution to Masnavi studies was done by Erkan
Trkman.15 It includes several introductory chapters with much
new information. The body of the work contains excerpts from the
Masnavi in Persian script, each of which is followed by two short
paragraphs in English: the first is not a word-for-word literal
translation, but part translation and part paraphrase of the verses.
The second paragraph in each selection gives some relevant
explanations, drawn from commentaries in Turkish, Ottoman
Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and English.

Here is an example of his approach:

"Light up a fire of love in your soul, burn away thoughts and
words totally. Lovers have to burn every moment for taxes and
tithes are not imposed on a ruined village. There exist no
formalities of Ka'abe within Ka'abe and what does it matter if a
diver has no snow-shoes? Do not seek guidance from intoxicated
lovers, why do you ask about repairing your clothes from those
whose own garments re torn. Religion of love is different from all
religions, lovers' religion or belief is God."16

(Masnavi II: 1763, 1765, 1768-70)

Schimmel's translations

Annemarie Schimmel wrote an important book on the contents of
Rumi's poetry, with many examples of his metaphors and images
There are numerous short passages (often single lines only) from
the Masnavi (and Rumi's other works) which illustrate references
to nature, daily life, philosophy, religion, and mysticism.17

Chittick's translations

William C. Chittick made an important contribution to Masnavi
studies in a book which organizes Rumi's teachings into themes.
The book contains numerous short passages (often single lines
only) from the Masnavi (as well as from Rumi's other works).18

Other translations

A couple of authors have included a small number of selections
from the Masnavi translated into English selections from the
French translations (made from Persian) of Rumi done by the
scholar Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch. The translations are fairly
reliable when compared to Nicholson and with the original Persian.

One is Simone Fattal, who translated one of de Vitray-
Meyerivitch's books.19

Here is an example of her approach (which appears to have
adopted some of Nicholson's wording):

"Love is an infinite ocean whose skies are a bubble of foam.
Know that it is the waves of Love which make the wheel of the
heavens turn; without Love the world would be inanimate.
How is an inorganic thing transformed into a plant?
How are the plants sacrificed to become gifted with spirit?
How is the spirit sacrificed for the Breath, of which only a
whiff was enough to impregnate Mary?
Each atom is intoxicated with this Perfection and hastens
toward it. . . their haste says implicitly: 'Glory be to God.'"20

(Masnavi V: 3853-59)

The other author is Muriel Maufroy, who states in the introduction
of her book that she translated excerpts from de Vitray-
Meyerovitch's work, and that she has also been connected with the
Mevlevi shaykhs in Turkey-- and a preface for the book was
written by the (then) Spiritual Director [Sar-i Tarqat] of the
Mevlevi sufi order, Hseyin Tp.

Here is an example of her approach:

"Your intelligence is split into a hundred busy tasks,
in thousands of desires, in large and small things.
You must unite these scattered parts with love and
become as sweet as Samarkand and Damascus.
Once you are unified, grain by grain, then you can be
stamped with the royal seal."21

(Masnavi IV: 3288-90)


Versions differ from translations in that the version-makers do not
know Persian and are not working from the Persian text, but
instead produce their own renderings based on the literal
translations made by others. Generally, version-makers have a
poetic bent and are sincerely trying to bring some spiritual life out
of dry, academic, and literal translations. Unfortunately there is a
tendency for them to call their versions "translations"-- very
misleading to both readers and reviewers (who are unable to
determine the authenticity of such claims). Unfortunately, not
knowing the original language, their "poetic inspiration" often
leads them further away from the original meaning and spirit of the
work-- instead of closer, as they hoped. Professor Frank Lewis has
observed that, "The idea that poets can 'translate' without knowing
the source language seems to have originated with Ezra Pound and
his circle Pound took Ernest Fenellosa's scholarly translations of Li
Po's Chinese poems and Japanese Noh plays and worked them into
a startlingly new kind of English poem."22

However, it is extraordinary how the "spirit" of Rumi seems to
sufficiently pervade the popular versions-- despite all the errors
and distortions-- so that Rumi has become the most popular poet in

Two authors have published books consisting entirely of versions
of short selections from the Masnavi: Coleman Barks and Kabir
Helminski (together with his wife Camille). Both worked from
Nicholson's literal translation. Barks was more "creative," whereas
the Helminskis were faithful to the teachings of Rumi as conveyed
by Nicholson's English text. Other popular authors have included a
few short versions from Masnavi in books which contain mostly
versions of Rumi's odes and quatrains.

Barks' versions

Encouraged by fellow poet Robert Bly, Coleman Barks began to
produce his (enormously popular) versions of Rumi beginning
about 1981. He has published books consisting entirely of
versions of passages and stories from the Masnavi-- all based upon
the literal translation from Persian by the British scholar, R. A.
Nicholson (1926-1934): ("Delicious Laughter," 1989; "Feeling the
Shoulder of the Lion," 1991; "One-Handed Basket Weaving,"
1991) and several books which contain a number of versions from
the Masnavi ("Open Secret: Versions of Rumi," 1984; "We Are
Three," 1987; "This Longing," 1988). The best-selling collection
of his versions, "The Essential Rumi," 1995, includes a selection of
Masnavi versions from his earlier works.

Barks' most recent work, "The Soul of Rumi" (2001), consists
mainly of versions from the Masnavi, plus some of his own
thoughts and reflections about the passages. The book ends with a
long section (120 pages) of continuous selections from Book IV of
the Masnavi (based on Nicholson's translation as well as Gupta's

From the start, Barks called his renderings "versions" and
acknowledged his complete dependence on the literal translations
made by others from Persian to English.23 However, after he
became well-known, he allowed himself to be listed on the covers
and title pages of his books as a "translator." Still, if one looks
more carefully, acknowledgment is made of his dependence on
specific translators, which he usually mentions.24 In his public
readings of his versions of Rumi, he openly acknowledges that he
does not read or speak Persian and depends on the translations of
others. Nevertheless, he continues to be promoted as "widely
regarded as the world's premier translator of Rumi's writings..."25

In spite of all the distortions, omissions, fabrications, and
insertions of his own ideas in his versions, Coleman Barks has
been the primary author to make Rumi's poetry so popular today.
And that is a stunning achievement, which has created an
enormous interest, enthusiasm, passion, and love for Rumi's
poetry-- after over 700 years.

In addition, Barks has had exposure to sufism and had regular
contact with a sufi master.26 And the personal depth he has attained
has clearly added to the spiritual power of his versions.

Here is an example of his approach, based on a passage from
Nicholson's translation of the Masnavi:

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."

(Masnavi V:3644-46, 3676-80, 3693-95)27

Helminski's versions

Kabir Helminski has long been aware of how the academic
features and old-fashioned style of Nicholson's translation of the
Masnavi makes it unattractively difficult for Americans. He has
published two collections (together with his wife, Camille
Helminski) of excerpts from the Masnavi: "Rumi: Daylight"
(1994) [selections from Books I and II] and "Jewels of
Remembrance" (1996) [selections from Books III - VI]. Some of
these have been re-published in other formats (such as in "The
Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski " (1998), which
contains a few more of his Masnavi versions, previously

The Helminskis have been the most responsible of those who have
made versions of passages from the Masnavi. As a shaykh
(spiritual leader) of the Mevlevi ("Whirling Dervish") sufi tradition
(which has preserved and disseminated the teachings of Rumi and
his lineage over the past centuries), Helminski has (together with
his wife) produced renditions into clear and readable American
English which are faithful to Rumi's teachings. Unlike others, they
have not been tempted to insert their own "creative-poetic" ideas
into the selections, or to omit Rumi's Islamic terms and references.
They have done a great service by revising passages from
Nicholson's translation and making them attractive to the general
public. Hopefully, more people will be drawn to the treasures of
the Masnavi, as a result.

The Helminskis present themselves as if they have re-translated the
selections directly from the Persian text.28 They give minimal
acknowledgment of their dependence upon Nicholson. ("We are
grateful for the extensive groundwork established by R. A.
Nicholson in his full translation of the six books of the 'Mathnawi'"
["Rumi: Daylight," p. 8)]; "Although we have studied the Persian
language, our work is to an extent based on Nicholson's somewhat
literal rendering of the Mathnwi [sic], supported by more than
twenty years of practice and study within the Mevlevi Sufi
tradition itself" ["Jewels of Remembrance," xxii]). However, by
simply comparing their versions with Nicholson's text, it obvious
(and it takes no knowledge of Persian to see) how they have
re-Englished Nicholson's translation (and used it fully, not just "to
an extent").

Here is an example of their approach, based on a passage from
Nicholson's translation of the Masnavi:

"Every fantasy devours another fantasy:
one thought feeds on another.
You can't be delivered from fantasy
or fall asleep to escape from it altogether.
Your thoughts are like hornets, and your sleep is like the water
in which you are plunged: when you awake, the hornets return,
and many hornet-like fantasies fly in
and draw you now this way and then that way.
This mental fantasy is the least of the devourers:
the Almighty knows how great the others are.
Listen, flee from the hordes of devourers
towards the One who has said, 'We are your protector' [their
footnote: "Qur'an: Surah Al-Imran (The House of Imran), 3:150"];
or if you can't hasten towards the Protector Himself,
towards the one who has gained that power of protection."29

(Masnavi V: 729-735)

Harvey's Versions

In one of his books of versions of Rumi's poetry,30 Andrew Harvey
included a version of two lines which are from the Masnavi.
However, this is not noted since he does not specify the sources for
his versions (aside from referring in general to the French
translations of Rumi done by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch as one of
his influences).

Here is the example of his approach:

"When in my heart the lightning of love arises
I know it is flashing and rearing in His heart also.
And when in ecstasy I can say only His Name
I know it is His Passion that erupts from me."31

(Masnavi III: 4395-96)

Here is another example from a book of which half are excerpts
from the Masnavi:32

"Nearness to God is common to us all,
Because we're all created and sustained by God,
But only the authentically noble
Possess and live that nearness
that's a constant upswelling passion of love.
. . . .
Be one of those drunkards
Who make intellectuals blanch with envy;
Their whole being is alight
With the holy dancing flames of the Wine."33

(Masnavi III: 704, 711)

Scholey's Versions

Arthur Scholey is an English story teller who previously published
a book of stories from the Persian poet, Sa`d, also called by him
"re-told." His book contains 57 concisely told stories from the

Here is an example of his approach:

"There was once a greengrocer who had a most talkative and
clever parrot. Every day it sat with him on a bench in the shop,
chatting and even selling the goods to the customers. Increasingly,
on the many occasions when the greengrocer had to slip away, he
quite happily left the parrot in charge. However, on one of the days
when the greengrocer was out, the parrot, in flying from the bench
to perch, accidentally knocked over a bottle of rose oil."35

(Masnavi I: 247-50)


1. Franklin Lewis, "Rumi, Past and Present, East and West: The
Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jall al-Din Rumi," Oneworld
Publications, England, 2000.

2. Translation:

"Listen to the reed (flute), how it is complaining! It is telling about

(Saying), 'Ever since I was severed from the reed field, men and
women have lamented in (the presence of) my shrill cries.

(But) I want a heart (which is) torn, torn from separation, so that I
may explain the pain of yearning.'"

--from Rumi's Masnavi, Book I, lines 1-3. This is the original text
of the poem (later "improved" to "be-sh'naw az nay chn Hikyat
m-kon-ad...). For the complete translation, commentary, and
transliteration of these lines, go to "The Song of the Reed (part one)"
in the "Masnavi" section of this website.

3. Shamsu 'd-dn AHmad Aflk al-`rif, "Manqibu 'l-`rifn, pp.
739-41, translated from Persian by Ibrahim Gamard.

4. Franklin Lewis, p. 304.

5. Schimmel wrote in her preface to the book:

"There has been an increasing tendency among Western scholars
and, even more, lovers and admirers of Mawlana [= Jalaluddin
Rumi] to forget the deeply Islamic background of his poetry. Did
not Jami call his Mathnawi 'the Qur'an in the Persian tongue'!?
Modern people tried to select from often very vague secondhand
translations only those verses that speak of love and ecstasy, of
intoxication and whirling dance. The role that the Prophet of Islam
plays in Mawlana's poetry is hardly mentioned in secondary
literature. But whosoever has listened with understanding to the
na`t-i sharif, that introductory musical piece at the very beginning
of the Mevlevi [= "Whirling Dervish"] ceremonies, feels, nay
rather knows, how deep the poet's love for the Prophet Muhammad
was, which is expressed in his words-- the Prophet, 'cypress of the
garden of prophethood, springtime of gnosis, rosebud of the
meadow of the divine Law and lofty nightingale.' He is the one
whose secrets are communicated through Shams-i Tabrizi, the
inspiring mystical friend. And as Muhammad was the last in the
long line of God-inspired prophets from Adam to Jesus, it is the
believers' duty to acknowledge and honor those who brought in
divine message in times past. Thus, their stories [= the stories of
the Prophets, such as rendered into Persian by Rumi in the
Masnavi] as related or alluded to in the Qur'an form part and parcel
of Muslim faith." (Annemarie Schimmel, in Renard's "All the
King's Falcons," pp. x-xi).

6. James W. Redhouse, "The Mesnevi of Mevlana Jelalud'd-din
Muhammed er-Rumi. Book the First," London, 1881.

Compare to Nicholson's accurate translation:

"None that is raw understands the state of the ripe: therefore my

. . . . . . .

Dost thou know why the mirror (of thy soul) reflects nothing?
Because the rust is not cleared from its face.

[The story of the king's falling in love with a handmaiden and
buying her.]

O my friends, hearken to this tale: in truth it is the very marrow of
our inward state."

(Masnavi I: 18, 34-35)


It can be seen how much distortion resulted from Redhouse's
rhymed version. He fabricated one verse ("then wipe such foul
alloy away..." And he mistakenly thought line 35 was part of the
"Song of the Reed," and distorted that line as well.

7. E. H. Whinfield, "Masnav-i Ma`nav: The Spiritual Couplets of
Mauln Jallu-d-dn Muhammad-i Rm," Abridged and
translated by E. H. Whinfield (London, 1887) (Reprinted as "The
Teachings of Rumi," Octagon Press, London, 1994)

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"How much (more) of these phrases and conceptions and
metaphors? I want burning, burning: become friendly with that

Light up a fire of love in thy soul, burn thought and expression
entirely (away)!

O Moses, they that know the conventions re of one sort, they
whose souls and spirits burn are of another sort."

(Masnavi II: 1762-1764)

8. The Masnav by Jallu'd-Dn Rm, Book II translated for the
first time from the Persian into prose, with a Commentary," by C.
E. Wilson (London, 1910).

9. Wilson, Volume I, "Translator's Preface," p. viii.

10. Wilson, Volume I, p. 153.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"How much (more) of these phrases and conceptions and
metaphors? I want burning, burning: become friendly with that

Light up a fire of love in thy soul, burn thought and expression
entirely (away)!

O Moses, they that know the conventions re of one sort, they
whose souls and spirits burn are of another sort.

To lovers there is a burning (which consumes them) at every
moment: tax and tithe are not (imposed) on a ruined village."

Here is some of Wilson's commentary on this passage:

"Words, conceptions, and figurative expressions": "i.e., generally,
'studied expressions'; or possibly, 'subtle discussions,'
'disquisitions.' The T. Com. [= Anqaravi's Turkish commentary]
quotes the Tradition... 'the most hateful to me of you at the Day of
the Resurrection, and the most distant of you (will be) the
garrulous, the affected in speech, and the diffuse.'"

"Every moment lovers are burnt (in the fire of love)": "Lit., 'Every
moment there is a burning for lovers."

"Taxes and tithes are not exacted from a ruined village": "The
metaphorical sense is that forms are not expected of the lover who
has given up everything and is burnt in the fire of the love of God.
The T. Com. [= Anqaravi] quotes: ... 'when love has become
perfect the stipulations of forms are discarded.'" (p. 225, Vol. II)


The example cited, when compared with Nicholson's translation
(quoted above, in comparison with Whinfield's translation-- see
footnote above), demonstrates what Nicholson wrote about
Wilson's work: "Comparing it with my own version of the Second
Book, I found that as similar methods produce similar results the
two versions often agreed almost word for word, and that where
they differed, the point at issue was usually one for discussion
rather than correction." (Nicholson, "Introduction" to Volume II,
containing the translation of the First and Second Books of the
Mathnawi, p. xv.) Wilson's approach was an improvement over
that of Whinfield, in that it was more accurate, had less of a
Victorian sound (compared to Whinfield's, "How long wilt thou
dwell on words..."), and included excellent commentary, very
similar to Nicholson's approach twenty years later.

11. The Mathnaw of Jallu'ddn Rm: Edited from the Oldest
Manuscripts Available: With Critical Notes, Translation, and
Commentary," by Reynold A. Nicholson (London, 1926-34)


The example cited is a typical example of Nicholson's turn of the
century sound ("hast thou") and of how he (often awkwardly)
interrupts the flow of the lines with explanations within
parentheses. In this regard, he stated clearly his motives: "The
present translation, in which the numeration of the verses
corresponds with that of the text of my edition, is intended
primarily as an aid to students of Persian; it is therefore as exact
and faithful as I can make it, but it does not attempt to convey the
inner as distinguished from the outer meaning: that is to say, it
gives the literal sense of the words translated without explaining
either their metaphorical or their mystical sense." (Introduction to
Volume 2, containing Books I and II of the Mathnawi)

Another example of a typical Nicholson translation is: "'Tis (only)
out of pity that I am drawing thy feet (hither)..." (I: 799). Other
examples of Victorian-sounding words and phrases are: "thither,"
"hark," "if thou canst not hasten." Nicholson's vocabulary contains
words which would be unfamiliar to most Americans (such as:
"exiguous," "augment," "assiduously."

12. "Maulana Rum's Masnawi," by M. G. Gupta, in six volumes,
published in Agra, India, 1995.

13. Gupta, Volume One, Verses 1-4563, p. 5. Compare to
Nicholson's translation:
"When the rose is gone and the garden faded, thou wilt hear no
more the nightingale's story."

(Masnavi I: 29)

14. "Tales from the Masnavi," by A. J. Arberry, 1961; "More Tales
from the Masnavi," by A. J. Arberry, 1963.

15. "The Essence of Rumi's Masnevi: Including His Life and Works,"
by Erkan Trkmen, 1992, revised and corrected in 1997, published
by Eris Booksellers in Konya, Turkiye, p. 256.

16. Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"How much (more) of these phrases and conceptions and
metaphors? I want burning, burning: become friendly with that

To lovers there is a burning (which consumes them) at every
moment: tax and tithe are not (imposed) on a ruined village.

Within the Ka'ba the rule of the qibla [= the direction toward
Mecca] does not exist: what matter if the diver has no snow-shoes?

Do not seek guidance from the drunken: why dost thou order those
whose garments are rent in pieces to mend them?

The religion of Love is apart from all religions: for lovers, the
(only) religion and creed is--God."

(Masnavi II: 1763, 1765, 1768-70)

Here Trkmen's commentary on the quoted summary:

"When the love of God rules your thoughts and intellect, it burns
away everything but the presence of God. As a ruined village is
exempt from taxes, similarly a ruined heart which loves God is not
confined to the formal prayers. In the presence of God Himself
what does a Qible mean? If you are not a lover of God yourself
then don't go after the lovers, because they are intoxicated with the
love-wine and no prayers are imposed on the intoxicated ones (as
the Koran says, 'Approach not prayers with an intoxicated mind...'
IV/43) and they cannot be your guide if you are an orthodox." (p.

17. "The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalloddin Rumi,"
by Annemarie Schimmel, London, 1978.

18. "The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi," by
Wiliam C. Chittick, 1983.

19. "Rm and Sufism," by Eva de Vitray-Meyerivitch, translated
from the French by Simone Fattal, 1987 (a translation of "Rm et
le Soufisme," 1977.

20. "Rumi and Sufism," p. 102.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"Love is an (infinite) ocean, on which the heavens are (but) a flake
of foam: (they are distraught) like Zalkh in desire for a Joseph.

Know that the wheeling heavens are turned by waves of Love:
were it not for Love, the world would be frozen (inanimate).

How would an inorganic thing disappear (by change) into a plant?
How would vegetive things sacrifice themselves to become
(endowed with) spirit?

How would the spirit sacrifice itself for the sake of that Breath by
the waft whereof a Mary was made pregnant?

Each one (of them) would be (as) stiff and immovable as ice: how
should they be flying and seeking like locusts?

Every mote is in love with that Perfection and hastening upward
like a sapling.

Their haste is (saying implicitly) 'Glory to God!' [= Qur'an 57:1]
they are purifying the body for the sake of the spirit."

(Masnavi V: 3853-59)

21. Muriel Maufroy, "Breathing Truth -- Quotations from Jalaluddin
Rumi," London, 1997.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"Thy intelligence is distributed over a hundred important affairs,
over thousands of desires and great matters and small.

Thou must unite the (scattered) parts by means of love, to the end
that thou mayest become sweet as Samarcand and Damascus.

When thou becomest united, grain by grain, from (after thy
dispersion in) perplexity, then it is possible to stamp upon thee the
King's die."

(Masnavi IV: 3288-90)

22. Franklin Lewis, p. 594

23. Night & Sleep: Rumi, Versions by Coleman Barks and Robert
Bly," 1981 ("Coleman Barks' versions are the result of
collaborating with John Moyne [= an Iranian immigrant and
professor of linguistics]. Persian translations provide the base for
the versions by Barks.")

24. The cover of the best-selling collection of his versions, "The
Essential Rumi" (1994), states: "Translations by Coleman Barks
with John Moyne." But the title page goes further: "Translated by
Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A. J. Arberry, Reynold
Nicholson". At the end of the book, Barks appends a note on the
translations: "On the more literal level, the texts I work from to
produce these poems are unpublished translations done by John
Moyne, Emeritus Head of Linguistics at the City University of
New York, and the following translations by Reynold Nicholson
and A. J. Arberry, the famous Cambridge Islamicists..." (p. 292)

25. Jacket cover of "The Illuminated Rumi," Coleman Barks, 1997.

26. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1986.

27. "The Essential Rumi: Translations by Coleman Barks, with John
Moyne, A. J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson," 1995, p. 109.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"This body, O youth, is a guest-house: every morning a new guest
comes running (into it).

Beware, do not say, 'This (guest) is a burden to me,' for presently
he will fly back into non-existence.

Whatsoever comes into thy heart from the invisible world is thy
guest: entertain it well!

. . . . . . . . . .

Comparing the daily thoughts that come into the heart with the
new guests who from the beginning of the day alight in the house
and behave with arrogance and ill-temper towards the master of the
house; and concerning the merit of treating the guest with kindness
and of suffering his haughty airs patiently.

Every day, too, at every moment a (different) thought comes, like
an honoured guest, into thy bosom.

O (dear) soul, regard thought as a person, since (every) person
derives his worth from thought and spirit.

If the thought of sorrow is waylaying (spoiling) joy, (yet) it is
making preparations for joy.

It violently sweeps thy house clear of (all) else, in order that new
joy from the source of good may enter in.

It scatters the yellow leaves from the bough of the heart, in order
that incessant green leaves may grow.

. . . . . . .

(Whenever) the thought (of sorrow) comes into thy breast anew, go
to meet it with smiles and laughter,

Saying, 'O my Creator, preserve me from its evil: do not deprive
me, (but) let me partake, of its good!

"O my Lord, prompt me" [= Qur'an 27:19; 46:15] to give thanks
for that which I see (receive): do not let me feel any subsequent
regret, if it (the benefit received) shall pass away.'"

(Masnavi V:3644-46, 3676-80, 3693-95)


Barks presents Rumi as teaching the ideas of contemporary "pop
psychology" that we should welcome and accept the "dark side" of
our negative thoughts and feelings rather than "repress" them,
because this will help to heal our psyche. However, he leaves out
the entire religious context of what Rumi says in this passage.
Rumi does not say to welcome negative thoughts. Rather, he says
that we should endure them patiently, pray to be protected from
their evil, and pray in gratitude for everything which has been sent
by God (perhaps because, as the Qur'an teaches, ingratitude for
God's favors has brought misfortune upon the peoples of the past).

28. "Rumi-- Daylight: A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance. Three
Hundred and Sixty-Five Selections from Jelaluddin Rumi's
Mathnawi Translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski," Threshold
Books, 1994 ("Translation in verse of selected verses from :
Masnaw, book 1-2. 1. Sufi poetry, Persian-- Translations into
English. 2. Sufi poetry, English-- Translations from Persian.")

"Jewels of Remembrance: A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance
Containing 365 Selections from the Wisdom of Rumi, Selected and
Translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski," Threshold Books,
1996 ("Sufi poetry, Persian-- Translations into English.")

29. "Jewels of Remembrance, Selected and Translated by Camille
and Kabir Helminski," Threshold Books, 1996, p. 96).

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"Every phantasy is devouring another phantasy: (one) thought
feeds on another thought.

Thou canst not be delivered from any phantasy or fall asleep so as
to escape from it (altogether).

(Thy) thoughts are (like) hornets, and thy sleep is (like) the water
(in which thou art plunged): when thou awakest, the flies (hornets)
come back,

And many hornet-like phantasies fly in and (now) draw thee this
way and (now) take thee that way.

This (mental) phantasy is the least of the devourers: the Almighty
knows (how great are) the others.

Hark, flee from the troop of huge devourers towards Him who hath
said, 'We are thy protector';

Or towards one who has gained that (power) of protection, if thou
canst not hasten towards the Protector (Himself)."

(Masnavi V: 729-735)


This example reveals the Helminskis' basic method: they retain
almost all of Nicholson's translation words, retain his punctuation
(three colons, one semi-colon, and all the commas), simplify ("one
thought feeds on another" instead of "(one) thought feeds on
another thought"), occasionally reverse the first and second halves
of sentences (or if you can't hasten..." instead of "Or towards
one..."), substitute similar words here and there, (such as: "is
devouring" instead of "devours"-- the opposite of simplifying, in
this case), removed parentheses (ten sets), modernize archaic
sounding words ("Hark," "Thou canst not," "who hath said,"
"thou," "thy," "thee"), and modernize older spellings ("fantasy"
instead of "phantasy"). One disadvantage to removing these
parentheses is that the words they contain are not translations of
Rumi's words but are Nicholson's words of explanation, and this
makes the result a less authentic mixture. In some cases, the
Helminskis have also incorporated words from Nicholson's
footnotes into their versions, giving the misleading impression that
these are "translations" of Rumi's words. (For example: the
incorporation of Nicholson's footnote number 6 ["I.e. 'repaired the
tattered coat of my piety.' ] in "Jewels of Remembrance," p. 112
[fin explanation of Masnavi V: 2307]; Nicholson's footnote
number 3 ["The spirit came from God and will return to God. The
present life is its 'intermediate state.'"] in "Rumi: Daylight," p. 94
[presented as an entire line of Masnavi II: 12, which it is not]).

In the example above, they guessed incorrectly that Nicholson's
translation in quotes (but not italics), "towards Him who hath said,
'We are thy protector'" is a quote from the Qur'an, thinking that it
was from Qur'an 3:150-- "God is your Protector" [allhu mawl-
kum]. However, the words from line 734 are different from the
Arabic verse from the Qur'an and are actually in Persian [m-m-at

30. Andrew Harvey ,"Love's Glory: Re-Creations of Rumi," 1996.

31. Harvey, p. 50.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"When the lightning of love for the beloved has jumped into this
heart, know that there is love in that heart.

When love for God has become doubled in thy heart, without any
doubt God hath love for thee."

(Masnavi III: 4395-96)

32. Andrew Harvey, "Teachings of Rumi," 1999.

33. Harvey, p. 38.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

Nearness (to God) in resect of (His) creating and sustaining (us) is
common to all, (but only) these noble ones possess the nearness
(consisting) of the inspiration of Love.
. . . .
Nay, be one of those inebriates on account of whom, whilst they
are drinking the wine (of Divine Love), mature (strong) intellects
suffer regret."

(Masnavi III: 704, 711)


Harvey, a Rumi popularizer, produces versions which emphasize
Rumi's passion-- and he does not hesitate to exaggerate this. In
the first example, he has made the verses worse by injecting a
sexual- like passion ("in ecstasy I can say only His Name... it is
His Passion that erupts from me"). However, Nicholson's accurate
translation shows that Rumi is talking, in the most sublime and yet
reassuring way, about God's love toward those who are filled with
love for Him.

In the second example, he has also altered the literal meaning in
Nicholson's translation by injecting images of fiery passion.
Nicholson's footnote for this passage states that "the nearness
(consisting) of the insiration of Love" possessed by "these noble
ones" refers to the prophets and saints. The Persian text has simply,
"when they are drinking the wine," to which Nicholson added a
parenthetical explanation, "whilst they are drinking the wine (of
Divine Love)." But Harvey felt compelled to go further, depicting
the wine itself as filled with "holy dancing flames" -- which
actually detracts from Rumi's use of "wine" as a symbol for Divine

34. Arthur Scholey, "The Paragon Parrot And Other Inspirational
Tales of Wisdom: tales from Rumi retold by Arthur Scholey,"
London: Watkins Publishing, 2002.

35. Scholey, pp. 3-4.

Compare to Nicholson's translation:

"There was a greengrocer who had a parrot, a sweet-voiced green
talking parrot.

(Perched) on the bench, it would watch over the shop (in the
owner's absence) and talk finely to all the traders.

In addressing human beings it would speak (like them); it was
(also) skilled in the song of parrots.

(Once) it sprang from the bench and flew away; it spilled the
bottles of rose-oil."

(Masnavi I: 247-50)


Scholey is more honest than many version-producers, in that he
does not claim to be a "translator" but states that these stories are
retold by him. However, he omits any mention of which translation
from Persian he used, which is obviously that of Nicholson, as an
analysis of word choices shows (as in the story of the deaf man's
visit to a sick neighbor, Masnavi I: 1360, which shows that
Scholey followed Nicholson's translation, not that of Arberry's). As
this example shows, Scholey does not hesitate to make additions to
Rumi's stories in order to make them more pleasing in
contemporary British English.