Masnavi 0A

HomeIranPoetryMowlana Jalaluddin Rumi - Masnavi Stories

STORY IX. The Arab and his Wife.
An Arab lived with his wife in the desert in extreme poverty, so that they
became a reproach to their neighbours. The wife at last lost patience, and
began to abuse her husband, and to urge him to improve their condition. The
Arab rebuked her for her covetousness, reminding her that the Prophet had said,
"Poverty is my glory," and showing her how poverty was a better
preparation for death than riches, and finally threatening to divorce her if
she persisted in her querulous ways. The wife, however, by blandishments
reduced her husband to obedience, as wives always do, and made him promise to
carry out her wishes. She directed him to go and represent their case to the
Khalifa at Bagdad, and to make him an offering of a pot of water, that being
the only present they could afford to make. Accordingly the Arab travelled to
Bagdad, and laid his offering at the feet of the Khalifa, who received it
graciously, and in return filled the pot with pieces of gold, and then sent him
back to his home in a boat up the river Tigris. The Arab was lost in wonder at
the benignity of the Khalifa, who had recompensed him so bountifully for his
petty offering of a drop of water. The story contains several digressions, on
Pharaoh, on the prophet Salih, and on Adam and the angels, and the poet,
apropos of its disconnectedness, compares it to eternity, as it has no
beginning and no end.
Men subdued by women's wiles.
In this manner she pleaded with gentle coaxing,
The while her tears fell upon her cheeks.
How could his firmness and endurance abide
When even without tears she could charm his heart?
That rain brought forth a flash of lightning
Which kindled a spark in the heart of that poor man.
Since the man was the slave of her fair face,
How was it when she stooped to slavish entreaties?
When she whose airs set thy heart a-quaking,
When she weeps, how feelest thou then?
When she whose coquetry makes thy heart bleed
Condescends to entreaties, how is it then?
She who subdues us with her pride and severity,
What plea is left us when she begins to plead?
When she who traded in naught but bloodshed
Submits at last, ah! what a profit she makes!
God has adorned them "fair in the sight of men;" 1
From her whom God has adorned how can man escape?
Since He created him "to dwell together with her," 2
How can Adam sever himself from his Eve?
Though he be Rustum, son of Zal, and braver than Hamza,
Yet he is submissive to the behests of his dame.
He by whose preaching the world was entranced
Was he who spake the two words, "O Humaira!" 3
Though water prevails over fire in might,
Yet it boils by fire when in a cauldron.
When the cauldron intervenes between these two,
Air (desire) makes as naught the action of the water.
Apparently thou art the ruler of thy wife, like water;
In reality thou art ruled by and suppliant to her.
Such is the peculiarity of man,
He cannot withstand animal desire; that is his failing.
The Prophet said that women hold dominion
Over sages and over men of heart,
But that fools, again, hold the upper hand over women,
Because fools are violent and exceedingly froward.
They have no tenderness or gentleness or amity,
Because the animal nature sways their temperament.
Love and tenderness are qualities of humanity,
Passion and lust are qualities of animality.
Woman is a ray of God, not a mere mistress,
The Creator's self, as it were, not a mere creature!
Moses and Pharaoh, alike doers of God's will,
as Light and Darkness. Poison and Antidote.
Verily, both Moses and Pharaoh walked in the right way,
Though seemingly the one did so, and the other not.
By day Moses wept before God,
At midnight Pharaoh lifted up his cry,
Saying, "What a yoke is this upon my neck, O God!
Were it not for this yoke who would boast, 'I am ?'
Because Thou hast made Moses' face bright as the moon,
And hast made the moon of my face black in the face.
Can my star ever shine brighter than the moon?
If it be eclipsed, what remedy have I?
Though princes and kings beat drums,
And men beat cymbals because of my eclipse, 4
They beat their brass dishes and raise a clamour,
And make my moon ashamed thereby,
I, who am Pharaoh, woe is me! The people's clamour
Confounds my boast, 'I am Lord Supreme!' 5
Moses and I are Thy nurslings both alike,
Yet Thy axe cuts down tho branches in Thy woods.
Some of these branches Thou plantest in the ground,
Others Thou castest away as useless.
Can branch strive against axe? Not so.
Can branch elude the power of the axe? Nay,
O Lord of the power that dwells in Thy axe,
In mercy make these crooked things straight!"
Man and wife types of the spirit and the flesh.
The dissension of this husband and wife is a parable;
They are types of thy animal and rational souls.
This husband and wife are the reason and the flesh,
A couple joined together for good and for evil.
And in this earthly house this linked pair
Day and night are ever at variance and strife.
The wife is ever seeking dainties for domestic needs,
Namely, bread and meat and her own dignity and position.
Like the wife, the animal soul seeks comfort,
Sometimes carnal, sometimes ambitious;
Reason has no care for these matters,
In its mind is naught but regard to Allah.
Though the secret moral hereof is a bait and snare,
Hear its outward form to the end.
If spiritual manifestations had been sufficient,
The creation of the world had been needless and vain.
If spiritual thought were equivalent to love of God,
Outward forms of temples and prayers would not exist.
Presents which friends make one to another
Are naught but signs and indications,
To give outward testimony and witness
Of the love concealed within the heart.
Because outward attentions are evidence
Of secret love, O beloved!
The witness may be true or false,
Now drunk with real wine, now with sour whey;
He who drinks fermented whey displays drunkenness,
Makes a noise, and reels to and fro.
That hypocrite in prayers and fasts
Displays exceeding diligence,
That men may think him drunk with love of God;
But if you look into the truth, he is drowned in hypocrisy.
In fine, outward actions are guides
To show the way to what is concealed within.
Sometimes the guide is true, sometimes false,
Sometimes a help, and at other times a hindrance.
O Lord, grant, in answer to my prayers, discernment,
That I may know such false signs from the true!
Know you how discernment accrues to the sense?
'Tis when sense "sees by the light of Allah."
If effects are obscure, still causes testify;
Kindred, for instance, shows that there is love.
But he to whom God's light is the guide
Is no longer a slave to effects and causes.
When the light of Allah illumes his senses,
A man is no longer a slave to effects.
When love of God kindles a flame in the inward man,
He burns, and is freed from effects.
He has no need of signs to assure him of love,
For love casts its own light up to heaven.
Other details are wanting to complete this subject,
But take this much, and all hail to you!
Though reality is exposed to view in this form,
Form is at once nigh to and far from reality.
For instance, these two resemble water and a tree;
When you look to their essence they are far apart;
Yet see how quickly a seed becomes a high tree
Out of water, along with earth and sunshine!
If you turn your eyes to their real essence,
These two are far, far apart from each other!
But let us quit this talk of essences and properties,
And return to the story of those two wealth-seekers.
How God made Adam superior to the Angels
in wisdom and honour.
He said, "By Allah, who knoweth hidden secrets,
Who created pure Adam out of dust;
In the form, three cubits high, which he gave him,
He displayed the contents of all spirits, all decrees!
Communicated to him the indelible tablet of existence, 6
That he might know all that is written on those tablets,
All that should be first and last to endless eternity
He taught him, with the knowledge of his own 'names,' 7
So that the angels were beside themselves at his instruction,
And gained more sanctity from his sanctification.
The expansion of their minds, which Adam brought about,
Was a thing unequalled by the expansion of the heavens.
For the wide expanse of that pure mind
The wide space of the seven heavens was not enough."
The Prophet said that God has declared,
"I am not contained in aught above or below,
I am not contained in earth or sky, or even
In highest heaven. Know this for a surety. O beloved!
Yet am I contained in the believer's heart!
If ye seek me, search in such hearts!"
He said also, "Enter the hearts of my servants 8
To gain the paradise of beholding Me, O fearer of God."
Highest heaven, with all its light and wide expanse,
When it beheld Adam, was shaken from its place!
Highest heaven is greatness itself revealed;
But what is form when reality draws nigh?
Every angel declared, "In times of yore
We bore friendship to the plains of earth;
We were wont to sow the seed of service on the earth,
Wherefore we bore a wondrous attachment to it.
What was this attachment to that house of earth
When our own natures are heavenly?
What was the friendship of lights like us to darkness?
How can light dwell together with darkness?
O Adam! that friendship arose from the scent of thee,
Because the earth is the warp and weft of thy body.
Thy earthly body was taken from there,
Thy pure spirit of light was shed down from here!
But our souls were enlightened by thy spirit 9
Long, long before earth had diverted it to itself.
We used to be on earth, ignorant of tho earth,
Ignorant of the treasure buried within it.
When we were commanded to depart from that place,
We felt sorrow at turning our steps away from it.
So that we raised many questions, saying,
' O Lord! who will come to take our place?
Wilt Thou barter the glory of our praises and homage
For the vain babble (of men)?'
The commands of God then diffused joy upon us; He said,
'What are ye saying at such length?
What ye give tongue to so foolishly
Is as the words of spoiled children to their father.
I knew of myself what ye thought,
But I desired that ye should speak it;
As this boasting of yours is very improper,
So shall my mercy be shown to prevail over my wrath:
O angels, in order to show forth that prevailing,
I inspired that pretension to cavil and doubt;
If you say your say, and I forbear to punish you,
The gainsayers of my mercy must hold their peace.
My mercy equals that of a hundred fathers and mothers;
Every soul that is born is amazed thereat.
Their mercy is as the foam of the sea of my mercy;
It is mere foam of waves, but the sea abides ever!
What more shall I say? In that earthly shell
There is naught but foam of foam of foam of foam!'"
God is that foam; God is also that pure sea,
For His words are neither a temptation nor a vain boast.
Plurality and Partial Evil, though seemingly
opposed to Unity, subserve Good.
The story is now concluded, with its ups and downs,
Like lovers' musings, without beginning or ending.
It has no beginning, even as eternity,
Nor ending, for 'tis akin to world without end.
Or like water, each drop whereof is at once
Beginning and end, and also has no beginning or end.
But God forbid! This story is not a vain fable,
'Tis the ready money of your state and mine, be sure!
Before every Sufi who is enlightened
Whatever is past is never mentioned.
When his whole thoughts are absorbed in present ecstasy,
No thought of consequences enters his mind. 10
Arab, water-pot, and angels are all ourselves!
"Whatsoever turneth from God is turned from Him." 11
Know the husband is reason, the wife lust and greed;
She is vested with darkness and a gainsayer of reason.
Learn now whence springs the root of this circumstance,
From this, that the Whole has parts of divers kinds.
These parts of the Whole are not parts in relation to it,
Not in the way that rose's scent is a part of the rose.
The beauty of the green shoot is part of the rose's beauty,
But the turtle-dove's cooing is a part of that Bulbuls music.
But if I engage in doubts and answers,
How can I give water to thirsty souls?
Yet, if you are perplexed by Whole and finite parts,
Have patience, for c( patience is the key of joy."
Be abstinent, abstinent from vague thoughts,
Since there are lions in that desert (of thoughts).
Abstinence is the prince of medicines,
As scratching only aggravates a scab.
Abstinence is certainly the root of medicine;
Practise abstinence, see how it invigorates thy soul!
Accept this counsel and give ear thereto,
That it may be to thee as an earring of gold!
Nay, not a mere earring, but that thou mayest be a mine of gold,
Or that thou mayest surpass moon and Pleiades.
First, know creation is in various forms;
Souls are as various as the letters from Alif to Ya.
In this variety of letters there seems disorder,
Though in fact they agree in an integral unity.
In one aspect they are opposed, in another united;
In one aspect capricious, in another serious.
The day of judgment is the day of tho great review;
Whoso is fair and enlightened longs for that review;
Whoso, like a Hindoo, is black (with sin),
The day of review will sound the knell of his disgrace.
Since he has not a face like a sun,
He desires only night like to a veil!
If his thorn puts not forth a single rosebud,
The spring in disclosing him is his foe.
But he who is from head to foot a perfect rose or lily,
To him spring brings rejoicing.
The useless thorn desires the autumn,
That autumn may associate itself with the garden;
And hide the rose's beauty and the thorn's shame,
That men may not see the bloom of the one and the other's shame,
That common stone and pure ruby may appear all as one.
True, the Gardener knows the difference even in autumn,
But the sight of One is better than the world's sight.
That One Person is Himself the world, as He is the sun,
And every star in heaven is a part of the sun.
That One Person is Himself the world, and the rest
Are all His dependents and parasites, O man!
He is the perfect world, yet He is single;
He holds in hand the writing of the whole of existence.
Wherefore all forms and colours of beauty cry out,
" Good news! good news! Lo! the spring is at hand!"
If the blossoms did not shine as bright helmets,
How could the fruits display their globes?
When the blossoms are shed the fruits come to a head,
When tho body is destroyed the soul lifts up its head.
The fruit is the substance, the blossom only its form,
Blossom the good news, and fruit the promised boon.
When the blossoms fall the fruit appears,
When the former vanish the fruit is tasted.
Till bread is broken, how can it serve as food?
Till the grapes are crushed, how can they yield wine?
Till citrons be pounded up with drugs,
How can they afford healing to the sick?