The Masnavi, also known as Mathnawi, is a remarkable literary work crafted by the renowned Persian poet and mystic, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, more commonly known as Rumi. Comprising of an astounding 26,000 couplets divided into six volumes, this magnum opus stands as one of the most significant contributions to Persian mystical literature and Iranian wisdom in the post-Islamic era. The title of the book itself alludes to the poetic form employed in the Masnavi, although poets such as Sanai and Attar had also utilized this form prior to Rumi. However, Rumi’s Masnavi distinguishes itself through its unparalleled literary brilliance.
Contained within its pages are 424 consecutive stories, allegorically portraying the tribulations faced by human beings on their journey towards attaining spiritual union with God. The book was written at the request of Rumi’s disciple, Husam al-Din Hasan Chalabi, between the years 1258 and 1268 AD.
Among the diverse poetic forms found in Persian literature, the Masnavi is classified as one of the more intricate and demanding forms. Esteemed poets such as Nezami-ye Aruzi and Attar of Nishapur have tested their skills in composing Masnavis, achieving great success in their poetic endeavors. Thus, the extensive volume of the Masnavi-e-Ma’navi should not overwhelm the reader. What sets Rumi’s Masnavi apart is its fluidity, intertwined with literary creativity, precise wording, and innovative interpretations. It effortlessly transitions from one subject to another, interconnecting diverse themes and ideas.
To truly grasp the essence of the Masnavi, one must delve into Rumi’s unique worldview. Rumi perceives the world through a mystical lens, with the fundamental principle being the unity of existence and the unity of manifestation. According to this perspective, the entire creation manifests the perfect attributes of the Divine, and love serves as the secret behind this manifestation. Another core tenet of Rumi’s worldview is the return of all things to the Truth. Objects ultimately return to their original source from which they originated. Rumi eloquently captures this concept in the following verses:
“The parts are seeking the whole, like nightingales seeking the face of the rose,
What comes from the sea returns to the sea, it goes back to where it came from.”
A distinctive viewpoint regarding human beings and their special position within this mystical worldview is another vital aspect that greatly influences Rumi’s style and approach. While mystics perceive every being as a manifestation of the Divine Names, human beings hold a unique place in this mystical framework. They are considered the macrocosm in relation to the microcosm of the world. The existential solitude of human beings also assumes significant importance in this mystical worldview. Human beings are perceived as strangers and solitary entities in this world. They experience a sense of dissonance with other objects, a lack of harmony with all other things. The opening verses of the Masnavi exemplify this perspective on the concept of “faraq” or “separation.” In Rumi’s worldview, the laws governing the flow of existence serve as continuous protection by God.
In Rumi’s mystical approach and methodology, nothing from the world and humanity is excluded; all are positively engaged in the journey of mysticism. All knowledge acquired through the understanding of human beings and the world is employed. Rumi employs profound knowledge to apprehend the melody of the cosmic harp, transforming into a wave of that music. Another facet of Rumi’s mystical approach is ecstatic passion. He does not consider ecstatic passion as a fleeting state arising from mere ecstasy and excitement.
The Song of the Reed Flute by Rumi
Listen to the plaintive cries of this reed flute,
Torn from its bed, its mournful tale takes root.
Men and women alike shed tears and moan,
As separation leaves the reed’s heart all alone.
Fragmented and yearning, it longs to convey,
The depths of longing that it bears each day.
For even in distance, a soul still yearns,
Seeking the time when reunion finally returns.
Like the reed, we too experience the pain,
Of separation’s sting, longing to regain,
The connection and love that once held us near,
Eagerly awaiting the time when it does reappear.
In every gathering, I cried and moaned,
Embracing the wretched and the virtuous owned.
People, in their beliefs, became my friends,
Yet none delved into the secrets my soul sends.
The mystery lies not far from my cries,
But that light evades most discerning eyes.
The body and soul are intertwined and known,
Yet the soul’s essence remains veiled, unknown.
The sound of this reed flute is fire, not air,
A blaze that ignites, consuming all despair.
Those without this fire, let them fade away,
For only the ignited hearts truly convey.
The fire of love burns within the reed flute’s core,
Ecstasy of love infuses the wine we adore.
Companion to the one separated from their friend,
Its melodies remove the veils that descend.
Who has witnessed such a paradoxical art,
A poison and antidote, companion of the heart?
The reed flute’s voice speaks of a path soaked in blood,
Tales of Majnun’s love, a tale understood.
The secret of the mind lies in the realm untamed,
Reason abandoned, it is the tongue and ear claimed.
For the one who seeks, a customer is found,
In the melodies that echo, love’s essence is crowned.
Untimely, our days are filled with sorrow’s sting,
Days and burnings now as companions cling.
If days have passed, let them fade away with grace,
No fear remains, their memories we erase.
O one lacking cleanliness, remain in your place,
For purity and virtue we embrace with grace.
Deceived by water, all but fish lost their way,
Days prolonged for those without sustenance’s sway.
The ignorant fail to grasp the raw and cooked’s plight,
Let words be cut short, bringing clarity’s light.
In conclusion, let wisdom guide our discourse true,
Understanding dawns when ignorance we subdue.
O child, break free from the chains that hold you tight,
Why remain captive to silver and gold’s tempting light?
Pouring the sea in a jug yields but a fleeting measure,
A mere portion of a day, a temporal treasure.
The greedy ones’ eyes, jugs left empty and dry,
While the humble, content, with pearls did they comply.
Love’s fervor tears garments, cleansing greed and shame,
O beloved, rise as the healer, our ailments to tame.
In your beauty, love’s essence does reside,
Healing our wounds, in you we confide.
O Plato, our guide, with wisdom profound,
Your teachings, like music, resound.
Through love, our earthly selves transcend,
As mountains dance and agilely ascend.
Oh, lover! Love fills Mount Sinai’s core,
Moses, overcome, falls to the floor.
If I were a reed flute, in harmony I’d sway,
With a companion to share secrets, day by day.
But without my tongue mate, silence befalls,
Though melodies abound, my voice withdraws.
As roses fade and seasons retreat,
The nightingale’s tales, no longer sweet.
In this game of life, pawns we all seem,
The lover, a curtain, veiling the dream.
Without love’s wings, like birds we’re bound,
Oh, woe to those who love have not found!
If my beloved’s light doesn’t shine near and far,
How can I grasp its essence, its eternal star?
Love yearns for words, beyond spoken sound,
To be written, echoed, and resound.
Why does the mirror fail to play its role?
With dust and rust, it can’t reflect the soul!
So wipe away the tarnish, let love shine through,
The mirror’s true purpose it shall pursue.
© 2023 Ali Salami