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Rumi's Masnavi: More selections from Book 2

(4 minutes)

2.17: The Name of the Tree of Life, and of the Grapes

A certain wise man related that in Hindustan there was a tree of such wonderful virtues that whosoever ate of its fruit lived forever. Hearing this, a king deputed one of his courtiers to go in quest of it. The courtier accordingly proceeded to Hindustan, and travelled all over that country, inquiring of every one he met where this tree was to be found. Some of these people professed their entire ignorance, others joked with him, and others gave him false information; and, finally, he had to return to his country with his mission unaccomplished. He then, as a last resource, betook himself to the sage who had first spoken of the tree, and begged for further information about it, and the sage replied to him as follows:

The Shaikh laughed and said to him, "O friend,
This is the tree of knowledge, O knowing one;
Very high, very fine, very expansive,
The very water of life from the circumfluent ocean.
Thou hast run after form, O ill-informed one,
Wherefore thou lackest the fruit of the tree of substance.
Sometimes it is named tree, sometimes sun,
Sometimes lake, and sometimes cloud.
'Tis one, though it has thousands of manifestations;
Its least manifestation is eternal life!
Though 'tis one, it has a thousand manifestations,
The names that fit that one are countless.
That one is to thy personality a father,
In regard to another person He may be a son.
In relation to another He may be wrath and vengeance,
In relation to another, mercy and goodness.
He has thousands of names, yet is One, -
Answering to all of His descrptions, yet indescribable.
Every one who seeks names, if he is a man of credulity,
Like thee, remains hopeless and frustrated of his aim.
Why cleavest thou to this mere name of tree,
So that thou art utterly balked and disappointed?
Pass over names and look to qualities,
So that qualities may lead thee to essence!
The difference of sects arise from His names;
When they pierce to His essence they find His peace!"

Four persons, a Persian, an Arab, a Turk, and a Greek, were travelling together, and they received a present of a dirhem [coin]. The Persian said he would buy "angur" with it, the Arab said he would buy "inab", while the Turk and the Greek were for buying "unum" and "astaphil", respectively. Now all these words mean one and the same thing - "grapes" - but owing to their ignorance of each other's languages, they fancied they each wanted to buy something different, and accordingly a violent quarrel arose between them. At last a wise man who knew all their languages came up and explained to them that they were all wishing for one and the same thing.

you can read a literal version of the quarreling over names here

2.18: The Young Ducks Raised by a Hen

Although a domestic fowl may have taken thee,
Who art a duckling, under her wing and nurtured thee,
Thy mother was a duck of that ocean,
Thy nurse was earthy, and her wing dry land.
The longing for the ocean which fills thy heart, -
That natural lodging of thy soul comes from thy mother.
Thy longing for dry land comes to thee from thy nurse;
Quit thy nurse, for she will lead thee astray.
Leave thy nurse on the dry land and push on,
Enter the ocean of real Being, like the ducks!
Though thy nurse may frighten thee away from water,
Do thou fear not, but haste on into the ocean!
Thou art a duck, and flourishest on land and water,
And dost not, like a domestic fowl, dig up the house.

The noise of thunder makes the head of the thirsty ache;
When he knows not that it unlocks the blessed showers.
His eyes are fixed on the running stream,
Unwitting of the sweetness of the rain from heaven.
He urges the steed of his desire towards the caused,
And perforce remains shut off from the Causer.
Whoso beholds the Causer face to face,
How can he set his heart on things caused on earth?

you can read a literal translation of the duckling's story here
and a poetic version by Coleman Barks

Before you go on to the next section, make sure you can answer the following questions:

Source: Unless otherwise noted, the readings come from Rumi's Masnavi, translated by E. H. Whinfield (online in pdf format at Omphaloskepsis). This version of the text is provided for your printing convenience. Reading comprehension questions have been added after each section.

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Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Myth.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. 2002.
Page last updated: February 9, 2003 9:21 PM

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