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The Mesnavi and The Acts of the Adepts, by Jelal-'d-din Rumi and Shemsu-'d-Din Ahmed, tr. by James W. Redhouse, [1881], at

p. 228


Joseph and the Mirror.

The kings of yore a custom had, so I've been told,
Of course thou’st heard it;—must remember it, of old,
On their left hand their champions took their usual place;
Because the heart is on the left of body's space.
Their chancellor and scribes stood on their right hand all;
In that the writer's art to the right hand doth fall.
Before their face the holy teachers stood erect,—
The mirrors of the soul;—than mirror more correct.
Their breasts they've polished with the acts of thought and praise,
5 That, mirror-like, they catch each image facts may raise.
Each object born in nature with a lovely mien
Should always have a mirror set to catch its sheen.
A beauteous face enamoured is with mirror's glance;
Heart's piety's the polish best the soul can chance.

A friend of tried sincerity came from afar,
And guest became with trusty Joseph;—free from bar.
They had been friends before, in childhood's artless days;
Had leant their elbows on one cushion, in their ways.

His brethren's envy and wrong-dealing touched upon,
10 Said Joseph: "’Twas a chain. It bound a lion. ’Non!
Disgrace affects not lions, if with chains they're bound.
With God's decree I quarrel not;—it's always sound.

p. 229

A lion with a chain around his lordly neck,
Is still the lord of them who forged the chain as check."
The friend asked: "How wert, in the well, the prison, cast?"
Said Joseph: "As the moon in wane and change at last."

At change, the new moon's bent in two, a poor weak thing,
But ripens to the full apace, night's matchless king. 1
Pearls in a mortar pounded are, by chance, sometimes;
Still, they're esteemed a joy to glad eyes in all climes. 15
Then, grains of wheat are cast into the lowly earth;
But golden ears thence spring, a source of glee and mirth.
These, too, are ground to dust in mill;—vile as to show;
Increased in value, thence, bread it becomes, we know.
Again ’tis crushed between the teeth; to chyme it turns,
And feeds the mind, the thoughts, the soul;—in wisdom burns.
The soul, in turn, is subject to the stress of love;
New miracles, as seen, "the sowers marvel " 2 prove.
But truce to these reflections; let us follow now
The words of Joseph's friend. ’Tis worth while these to know. 20

That conversation closed, said Joseph to his guest:
"What gift, my friend, hast brought in token of thy zest?"

To go with empty hands and visit friends long missed,
Is like a man who goes to mill without his grist.
E’en God will ask His creatures in the judgment day:
"What offerings have you brought to meet your Maker? Say!
Alone, and empty-handed? Is it thus you come?
E’en as We first created you? Gifts left at home?' 3

p. 230

What have you brought as timely offerings in your hands?
25 What are the gifts with which you'd grace your new life's lands?
Or, was it that you'd no belief in this return?
Our promise of this day by you was laughed to scorn?
If you denied thus the hope to be My guest,
Then dust and ashes wait you in My realm, at best.
If you did not deny it, whence your empty hands?
How come you to a friend's gate, scorning just demands?"

Put by a little from thy daily meat and drink,
So shalt thou have a store for offerings’ binding link.
"Sleep little" when thou art of those "who lay them down." 1
30 "Of mornings," be of them who "ask for pardon's crown." 2
Give signs of life, though slight;—as babes do in the womb;
So may God grant thee inward light to cheer thy tomb.
And when thou ’scapest from dark and narrow prison there,
Then mayst thou soar from earth beyond the realms of air.
"The spacious land of God" ’tis named in holy writ, 3
The land to which the prophets all have gladly flit.
The heart is never lonesome in that vast abode;
Its green trees never wither, frosts no leaves corrode.
If now thou load thyself with sensual burden's weight,
35 Fatigued and jaded, faint thou’lt prove beneath their freight.

In sleep thou bearest no burden; borne thou art, instead.
Fatigue is thence recruited;—strength regains its head.
Know then, thy sleep's a foretaste of what is to come,
From the rapt state of saints arriving at their home.
The saints were well prefigured by the "Sleepers Seven." 4
"Their sleep," "their stretchings," "their awaking," lead to heaven.

p. 231

Without the least exertion on their parts by acts,
The "right and left-hand registers" draw them by facts.
The "right-hand register" ’s the record of good deeds; 1
The "left-hand register" ’s the list of fleshly greeds. 2 40
But both of these abolished are in case of saints.
To them such things are but as echo dies and faints.
Though good and evil may their echoes round thee peal,
The echoing mountain hears them not in the ordeal.

Now Joseph once again inquired: "What offering bringest?"
His friend, ashamed of urgent pressing, sighed. Thou singest?
Said he: "Full many offerings have I sought and seen;
But none was worthy of thee; or I much misween.
How could I bring a diamond to its native mine;
Or add a drop of water to a sea of brine? 45
Shall I to Kāshān cummin bring, whence it is drawn, 3
By offering up my life and soul to beauty's fawn?
I know no rarity that's not surpassed by thee;
Thy loveliness the rarity men nowhere see.
The fittest present, then, I've found, a mirror is.
And this I've brought; unsullied, bright, refulgent ’tis 4
Therein thou’lt contemplate thy beauteous, matchless face,
As beaming as the sun that decorates sky's space.
A mirror have I brought, thou charming, witching one;
In it admire thyself; and think of me, when gone." 50

The mirror now he drew from underneath his skirt.
A mirror is, to beauty, with attractions girt.
In non-existence’ mirror if existence gleams,
Present this mirror to it, thou, as best beseems.
In non-existence mirrored, being we may see;
As wealthy men their wealth may show by beggars’ glee.

p. 232

The hungry man's the mirror best shows what is bread.
And tinder mirrors flint and steel's gleam, quickly spread.
Wherever want, defect, is seen, beauty's most prized.
55 The mirror of perfection's then best realised.

If clothes grew, ready cut and sewn, to meet our needs,
Where'd be the use of tailor's art, to fashion weeds?
The unhewn trunk is needed, for the carver's skill,
And carpenter, to cut out thence his frames, his thill.
The surgeon hastens to the couch where suffering lies;
Where limbs are broken, there his bandages he ties.
Were there no patient, malady, no fever, ache,
Could art sublime, the medical, its marvels make?
If humble brass and copper were not to be found,
60 Th’ alchemist's stone could not to gold transmute them round.
Defect is thus the mirror whence perfection's seen;
And vileness is the foil to show off grandeur's sheen.
By contrast does each opposite its fellow show,
Sweet honey by sharp vinegar we best can know.
The man who sees and feels his imperfections sore,
Exerts himself to cure them quickly. all the more.
And he'll ne’er take his flight towards heaven's eternal King,
Who holds at heart the thought that he's a perfect thing.

No worse disease exists, to taint the human mind,
65 Than self-conceit, that paints its owner gold refined.
How many bitter tears has not the vain to shed,
Ere arrogance can be expelled, and pride be dead!
The malady of Satan,—self-conceit:—"I'm best," 1
Exists in germ in every panting human breast.
These fancy they have mortified themselves throughout.
Take them to be pure streams; their filth seek in the grout.

p. 233

Just stir them up a little, for a trial's sake;
Thou’lt see their mud discolour all the water's lake.
There's ooze at bottom of the pond,—be sure of that,—
However clear the surface of the dull dead flat. 70
Our greatest teacher is endowed with fair device.
He digs a conduit in the very soil of vice.
How can he make the water of that conduit pure?
All human wisdom's but one spark from God's vast store.
Does sword inflict a wound in its own handle,—blade?
Find me a surgeon who shall cure a gash so made.
Where wound exists, the flies will ever flock amain,
To hide its hideousness from sight, and lull the pain,
Those flies the symbols are of man's vain, baseless thoughts;
The wound they cover over's ignorance high-wrought. 75
’Tis only when the teacher salve applies with skill,
The throes are quieted that shoot across man's will.
He then imagines that his wound is healing fast.
Effect this is of cunning used, that salve to cast.
O man, whose back is galled, accept his salve with thanks.
Thy solace thence arises; not from thy own pranks. 78


m229:1 In Semitic and Muslim lore the moon is "he," the sun "she."

m229:2 Qur’ān xlviii. 29.

m229:3 Qur’ān vi. 94.

m230:1 Qur’ān li. 17.

m230:2 Qur’ān li. 18.

m230:3 Qur’ān iv. 99.

m230:4 Qur’ān xviii. 8-21.

m231:1 Qur’ān lxix. 19.

m231:2 Qur’ān lxix. 25.

m231:3 The Persian equivalent of our "carrying coats to Newcastle."

m231:4 A metallic mirror, formerly much used.

m232:1 Qur’ān vii. 11.

Next: XIII. The Prophet's First Amanuensis