A story full of Wisdom, By Rumi


1547 There (once) was a merchant. And he had a parrot,
imprisoned in a cage1— a beautiful parrot.

(Now) when the merchant prepared for a journey (and) was about
to travel to India,

He spoke to each male and female slave (and asked), out of
generosity, “What shall I bring (back) for you? Answer quickly!”

1550 Each one asked him for something wished, (and) that good
man gave (his) promise to all.

(Then) he said to the parrot, “What present from the journey do
you want, so that I may bring it to you from the region of India.”

The parrot answered him,2 “When you see the parrots there,3
explain my situation (and) say,

“‘The parrot so-and-so, who is yearning to see you, is in my
prison by the decree of the heavens.4

“She sends you greetings of peace and wants justice, and desires
a remedy and the path of right guidance.

1555 “She said, ‘Is it proper that I, in (such a state of) yearning,
should give (up my) life here (and) die in separation?

“‘Is it right that I (should be) in (such) strict bondage, while
you (are) sometimes on the green grass (and) sometimes on the
trees?

“‘Is the faithfulness of (true) friends like this, (that) I (am) in
prison and you (are) in the rose garden?’

1558 “O great ones, bring (to mind) the memory of this weeping
bird, (by drinking) a dawn cup (of wine)5 among the grassy
meadows!”

. . . . . . .

1575 (Since) the story of the [ordinary] parrot of the soul is like
this, where is one who is the [chosen] confidant of the birds?6

Where is a bird (who is) helpless and without sin,7 and (yet)
within him (is a) Solomon8 with (his entire) army?

1577 When he cries out bitterly, (but) without gratitude or
complaint, a clamor [to aid him] occurs in the seven heavens!

. . . . . . .

1586 The man of trade accepted this message (and agreed) that he
would deliver the greeting from her to (her on) kind.

When he reached the farthest regions of India, he saw some
parrots in a wilderness.

He held back (his) mount (from going), then gave a shout: he
delivered the greeting and returned that (which he had been given
in) trust.

Among those parrots, one parrot trembled greatly, fell, died, and
stopped breathing.

1590 The merchant became sorry about telling (such) news, (and)
he said, “I went in destruction of (that) animal.

“Is this one, perhaps, a relative of that little parrot? (Or) was
this, perhaps, (a case of) two bodies and one spirit?

1592 “Why did I do this? Why did I deliver the message (and) burn
up the helpless (creature) by means of this crude speech?”

. . . . . . .

1649 The merchant finished his trading (and) returned to (his)
home, satisfying (the best hopes of his) friends.9

1650 He brought a present to each male slave (and) gave a share to
each female slave.

The parrot said, “Where is (this) slave’s present? Tell what you
saw and said!”

(The merchant) replied, “No. I am myself (very) sorry about that,
(and am) chewing my hands and biting (my) fingers (over it).

“Why did I foolishly bring (such) a crude message out of
ignorance and thoughtlessness?”

(The parrot) said, “O master, why are you (so) regretful? What is
it that calls for (all) this anger and sorrow?”

1655 He replied, “I told your complaints to a group of your
fellow parrots.

“That one parrot– her heart broke from getting wind of your pain,
and she trembled and died.

1657 “I became regretful (and thought), ‘Why was (the use of)
saying this?’ But since I had (already) spoken, what was the benefit
of remorse?”

. . . . . . .

1691 When she heard about what that parrot did, she then
trembled,10 fell, and became cold.

When the master saw her fallen like this, he jumped up and hurled
(his) cap on the ground.

(And) when the master saw her with this appearance and
condition, he leaped up and tore the upper front (of his robe).

He said, “O beautiful and sweet-crying parrot, what happened to
you? Why did you become like this?

1695 “Oh what sorrow! My sweet-sounding bird! Oh what misery!
My close companion and confidant!

“Oh what regret! My sweet-singing bird! The wine of (my) spirit,
(my) garden, and my sweet basil!11

“If Solomon12 (could have) had a bird like you, he never would
have become occupied with (all) those (other) birds.

“Oh what a pity! The bird which I got (so) cheaply! (Yet how)
quickly I turned my face away from her face!13

“O tongue! You are a great injury to mankind!14 (But) since you
are talking,15 what can I say to you?

1700 “O tongue! You are both the fire and the harvest stack. How
long will you set fire16 to this harvest stack?

1701 “(My) soul is lamenting in secret because of you, even
though it keeps doing everything you tell it (to do).”

. . . . . . .

1815 The merchant, in (a state of) burning, and agony, and
yearning, kept saying a hundred scattered and disturbed (things)
such as this.
. . . . . . .

1825 After that, he threw her out of the cage. The little parrot flew
to a high branch–

The dead parrot made such a (swift) flight, (it resembled) the sun
when it charges forth, like a Turk,17 from the sky [and rises up at
dawn].

The merchant became bewildered by the bird’s action. All of a
sudden, (still) without understanding, he saw (that there were)
secrets involving the bird.

He raised his head and said, “O nightingale, share a portion (of
wisdom) with us in explanation of the situation.

“What did (that parrot) do so that you learned (something),
prepared a trick, and burned us (with sorrow)?”

1830 The parrot answered, “She gave me advice by her (very)
action, meaning, ‘Escape18 from (attachment to) elegance of voice
and joyful expansion [of your breast in song].

“‘Because your voice is keeping you in shackles.’ She herself
acted dead for the sake of (sending me) this advice,

1832 “Meaning, ‘O (you who) have become a singer to (both)
commoners and the elite: become “dead” like me19 so that you may
find deliverance!'”

. . . . . . .

1845 The parrot gave him one or two (pieces of) advice, full of
(spiritual) discrimination.20 After that, he said to him the
“salaam of parting.”21

The merchant said to her, “Go in the protection of Allah. You have
now shown me a new path.”

The merchant (then) said to himself, “This is the advice for me: I
will take her path, for this path is luminous.

“How should my soul be inferior to a parrot? The soul ought to
(follow) such as this, for it is a (very) good track (indeed)!”

The body resembles a cage.22 The body has become a thorn to the
soul because of the deceptions of those (who are) inside and
outside.

1850 This one tells her,23 “I am your confidant,” and that one tells
her, “No, I am your companion.”

This one tells her, “There is none like you in existence with (such)
beauty, and grace, goodness, and generosity.”

(And) that one tells her, “Both this world and the next are yours,
(and) all our souls are the (eager) uninvited guests of your soul.”

When he sees the people drunk from (being with) him, he loses
control of himself and goes (about full) of pride and arrogance.

1854 He doesn’t know that the Devil has thrown thousands (just)
like him into the river’s water.24

–From “The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî” [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson’s 1926 British translation)
© Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on “Sunlight” (yahoogroups.com), 11/18/99

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1547) a parrot imprisoned in a cage: “In this Story, which
illustrates vv. 1540-1545 [“But if you are accepting (the Qur’án),
when you read the stories (of the prophets), the bird, your soul,
will be distressed in its cage./ The bird that is a prisoner in a cage,
(if it) is not seeking to escape, ’tis from ignorance./ The spirits
which have escaped from their cages are the prophets, (those)
worthy guides./ From without comes their voice, (telling) of
religion, (and crying), ‘This, this is the way of escape for thee./ By
this we escaped from this narrow cage: there is no means of escape
from this cage but this way,/ (That) thou shouldst make thyself ill,
exceedingly wretched, in order that thou mayest be let out from
(the cage of) reputation.'”– Nicholson’s translation], it is related
how a parrot escaped from her cage by feigning death. Rúmí has
borrowed, adapted, and expanded `Attár’s tale of the Hindú sage
and the King of Turkistán (Asrár-námah, 90, 6 sqq.), where a
parrot plays the same trick with equal success. In both cases a
message is sent by the captive parrot to her mates in India: on
hearing it, they all (`Attár), or one of them (Rúmí), fall to the
ground as though dead. When the news is brought to the caged
parrot by the Hindú sage (`Attár), or by the merchant (Rúmí), she
knows what to do in order to regain her liberty. She ‘dies’, is cast
out of the cage, and immediately flies away.” (Nicholson,
Commentary)

2. (1552) answered him: Nicholson later corrected his translation,
based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to: “The parrot
said to him” (from, “The parrot said”).

3. (1552) the parrots there: “i.e. the spirits of departed prophets and
saints and living holy men.” (Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (1553) the decree of the heavens: Nicholson translated, “the
destiny of Heaven,” and Arberry, “by heaven’s decree.” It can be
interpreted either as the direct decree of God in Heaven, or
indirectly, as the decree of God via the “fate” ordained by the
planets (the heavenly spheres). Rumi makes numerous astrological
references in the Mathnawi, but as a Muslim he of course believes
that the ultimate source of destiny is God alone.

5. (1558) dawn cup (of wine): a metaphor for remembering a dear
friend. Refers to the first cup of wine consumed at dawn by the
pre-Islamic Persians. Four verses later, Rumi refers to another
pre-Islamic Arab custom of pouring out the last drops of wine in
memory of past friends. Alcoholic beverages are, of course,
forbidden in Islam.

6. (1575) the (chosen) confidant of the birds: “The… prophets and
saints who possess the transcendental spirit (rûh-i qudsí) and soar
to God on the wings of love, ecstasy, and self-abandonment.”
(Nicholson, Commentary

7. (1576) helpless and without sin: “These words describe the saint in
his human aspect.” (Nicholson, Commentary)

8. (1576) Solomon: “Solomon, on his accession to the throne,
received homage from the birds, whose speech he had been taught
(Qur. XXVII 16)”. (Nicholson, Commentary)

9. (1649) satisfying (the best hopes of) his friends: Nicholson later
corrected his translation based on the earliest manuscript of the
Mathnawi, to: “returned home (prosperously) to the joy of his
friends” (from, “returned home glad of heart”).

10. (1691) she then trembled: Nicholson later corrected his translation
based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to: “thereupon
she trembled, fell” (from, “she trembled exceedingly, fell”).

11. (1696) sweet basil: an aromatic herb used in cooking

12. (1697) If Solomon: a reference to the story of how God gave
Solomon the ability to understand the speech of the birds (Qur’an
27:16).

13. (1698) from her face: “The love that inspires the soul of the mystic
cannot be gained by his own efforts: it is a Divine gift.”
(Nicholson, Commentary)

14. (1699) since you are talking: “i.e. ‘since thou art speaking and
blaming thyself’.” (Nicholson, Commentary)

15. (1699) a great injury to mankind: Nicholson later corrected his
translation based on the earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to:
“thou art a great damage (very injurious) to mankind” (from “a
great damage to me”).

16. (1700) set fire: “The tongue utters both good and evil words: the
latter are compared to a fire which consumes the stack of good
words and works.” (Nicholson, Commentary)

17. (1826) charges like a Turk: an idiom used by Rumi to mean a
“rush, onrush, swift advance.” (Nicholson, Commentary)
Nicholson used a variant, which exists in the oldest manuscript,
and translated: “as when the orient sun rushed onward.”

18. (1830) escape: Nicholson used a variant (present in the oldest
manuscript), and translated, “Abandon thy charm of voice, and thy
affection (for thy master)”.

19. (1832) become “dead” like me: refers the sufi interpretation of the
saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, “Die before you die”
as involving “mystical death”– “annihilation” (fanâ) of ego and
worldly attachments, followed by “subsistence” (baqâ) in God.

20. (1845) full of (spiritual) discrimination: Nicholson translated, “full
of (spiritual) savour,” interpreting the Arabic word here (maZâq)
as equivalent to the sufi technical word meaning “spiritual
taste/savor/experience” (Zawq).

21. (1845) the salaam of parting: “as-salâmu `alaykum” (“(May) the
peace (of God be) upon you”]– the salutation between Muslims
when meeting and saying farewell.

22. (1849) the body resembles a cage: Rumi’s teaching resembles that
of Plato. However, as a Muslim mystic, he of course believed that
the soul is confined in the “cage” of the body by the Will of God,
and also that the soul can only escape from bondage to worldly
attachments (or, in sufism, what is “other than God”) by means of
Divine guidance.

23. (1850) tells her: refers to the soul. Pronouns which refer to the
parrot, the symbol for the soul, are translated here as “her.”

24. (1854) into the river’s water: Nicholson translated,”into the water
of the river (of destruction).”

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