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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. 248


The Chinese and Roman Artists.

Give ear to this advice from one who's well informed:
"Lay down your head where’er by wine you've been transformed."
Whene’er a drunken man reels forth from tavern door,
A laughing-stock he's made by urchin and by boor.
Now here, now there, he lurches, stumbling on his road;
Falls in the mire; is mocked and jeered, scorned as a toad.
The children of the neighbourhood his steps surround,
Unconscious what is wine's hilarity profound.

So are all people children, round the saints of God;
5 None adults are, save they who've cast off passion's clod.
’Twas said: "The world's a toy, a plaything; and men all
Are infants." 1 These are God's words. True in sense they fall.
No child but loves his toys, his playthings, games, and sports;
By cultivation of the mind man sense imports.

Man's love for worldly things is like child's love for toys;
The child and man, in these, repeat each other's joys.
The child, in play, performs the very selfsame part,
He'll act when grown a hero, learnt debating art.

p. 249

Men's quarrels are the same as those fought out by boys;
They're senseless, reasonless; they squabble for mere toys. 10
Their weapons are but wooden swords, as used in play;
Their objects are not worth a thought, by night or day.
They mount their hobby-horses, ride about on sticks;
Declaring ’tis Bucephalus, Eclipse, that kicks.
’Tis they who bear a burden, pack-horse-like, or ass;
Their vanity converts them into horsemen's mass.

So let it be till that day when God's riders shall,
On steeds of fire, transcend the seventh heaven's rolling ball.
"The spirit and the angels mount unto their God." 1
The spheres shall shake, when under saintly footsteps trod. 15
Whereas the raff of mankind mount their own coat-tails;
Imagining they're horsemen, prancing as ship sails.

The Lord hath said: "Imagining's of no avail." 2
Imagination's steed to scale heaven's heights must fail.
Imagination's best is but a choice of doubts;
Man ne’er disputes about the sun, whate’er the whim he flouts.
The time will come, he'll see what wretched screw he rides;
That which he deemed a courser's but his own shanks’ sides.
His senses, thoughts, and reasonings, he then will find,
Are but the infant's hobby, pa's cane, more refined. 20

The wisdom of the saints is what bears them aloft.
The science of the worldly is their load;—how oft!
The wisdom of the heart sustains and elevates;
But knowledge sensuously acquired as burden rates.
’Tis God hath said: "An ass with volumes for his load." 3
So knowledge is a burden, when not of God's code.

p. 250

All science not received from word of God direct,
Hath no endurance; paint it is; our eyes detect.

Still, if man bear his burden well, he's recompensed;
25 His burden is removed; ease to him is dispensed.
See, then, you bear not science' load from fleshly lust;
Lest you should suffer inwardly fatigue,—disgust;
But mount the agile steed of sacred lore divine;
So shall the burden on your back at once decline.
Unless you drink His cup, how ’scape from fleshly lust?
O you, who, in His name, content are with the Just!
When from His name and attributes some inkling's born,
This inkling points the road to union one fair morn.
Thou’st never known a guide, but some one must be led;
30 And when no road is travelled, gnome can't dog man's tread.
Thou’st never heard a name, but indicates a thing;
A flower thou’st never plucked from verbal rosa's ding.
Hast thou pronounced a name? Straightway the thing ensue.
The moon seek in the sky;—not in lake-waters, blue.
But wouldst thou cast aside all names and words, as vain,
Thyself, then, purge of self. Abstraction thou shalt gain.
Wouldst be a sword? Cast off soft iron's yield refined;
By discipline the mirror burnish of thy mind.
Discharge thyself of every particle of self;
35 So shalt thou see thyself pure, free from soil of pelf.
Within thy heart thou’st see the wisdom of the saints,
Without a book, a teacher, or professor's plaints.

The Prophet said: "That man is one of my true flock,
Whose heart and mind are hewn from my own calling's rock.
His soul perceives me through the selfsame holy light
That unto me reveals his soul serenely bright.
Reports, traditions, chains of evidence, are lost;
When soul communes with soul, minds freely can accost."

p. 251

This riddle solve: "A Kurd I last night was, by birth;
And then, this morning, Arab am, by afterbirth." 1 40
If one, sincere, a Kurdish boor was overnight,
Sincerity an Arab made him by daylight.
Example seekest of science springing in the heart?
This contest heed of Chinaman and Roman's art. 2

The Chinese urged they had the greater painter's skill.
The Romans pleaded they of art the throne did fill.
The sovereign heard them both; decreed a contest fair;
Results the palm should give the worthiest of the pair.

The parties twain a wordy war waged in debate;
The Romans’ show of science did predominate. 45
The Chinamen then asked to have a house assigned
For their especial use; and one for Rome designed,
Th’ allotted houses stood on either side one street;
In one the Chinese, one the Roman, artists meet.

The Chinese asked a hundred paints for their art's use;
The sovereign his resources would not them refuse.
Each morning from the treasury rich colours’ store
Was served out to the Chinese till they asked no more.
The Romans argued: "Colour or design is vain;
We simply have to banish soil and filth amain." 50
They closed their gate. To burnish then they set themselves;
As heaven's vault, simplicity filled all their shelves.
Vast difference there is ’twixt colours and not one.
The colours are as clouds; simplicity's the moon.
Whatever tinge you see embellishing the clouds,
You know comes from the sun, the moon, or stars in crowds.

p. 252

At length the Chinamen their task had quite fulfilled.
With joy intense their hearts did beat, their bosoms thrilled.
The sovereign came, inspected all their rich designs,
55 And lost his heart with wonder at their talents’ signs.
He then passed to the Romans, that his eyes might see.
The curtains were withdrawn, to show whate’er might be.
The Chinese paintings all, their whole designs in full,
Reflected truly were on that high-burnished wall.
Whatever was depicted by the Chinese art
Was reproduced by mirrors, perfect every part.

Those Romans are our mystics;—know, my worthy friend;
No art, no learning; study, none;—but gain their end.
They polish well their bosoms, burnish bright their hearts,
60 Remove all stain of lust, of self, pride, hate's deep smarts.
That mirror's purity prefigures their hearts’ trust;
With endless images reflections it incrust.

The formless Form the thousand thousand hidden forms
Flashed in his breast on Moses’ heart, like mirrored storms.
That Form, ’tis true, the heaven of heavens cannot contain;
Nor all the space between the zenith and the main.
These numbered are, and limited within their bounds;
The mirror of the heart is boundless in its rounds.

Here, reason stands aghast, O erring child of sense;
65 The heart's with God,—the heart is God, boundless, immense
From all eternity, the figures of all things,
Unnumbered, multitudinous, gleam in heart's wings.
To all eternity each new-created form
In heart of saint reflected is, most multiform.
His polished heart is cleansed from being's soiling stain;
And at each moment contemplates fresh beauty's train.

p. 253

The outward gilt, the shell, of science they despise;
The banner of real certitude floats where they rise.
They've thought abandoned; light and life they've truly found;
Their breasts and hearts are filled with love's inspiring sound. 70

Death, that dread thing of which all mankind stand in fear,
Is laughed and mocked at by the saints, when it draws near.
No man has power to dominate their tranquil minds.
The shell may injured be; the pearl harm never finds.
The rhetor's art, the jurist's skill, they set at naught;
But poverty, abasement, to themselves they've taught.
The scenes of all eight paradises 1 are consumed
In that full blaze with which their holy heart's illumed.
They're more exalted than the heavens and what's beyond;
Their place is in the court of love divine, all-fond. 75


m248:1 Qur’ān vi. 32; xxix. 64; xxx. 6; xlvii. 38; lvii. 19.

m249:1 Qur’ān lxx. 4.

m249:2 Qur’ān x. 37.

m249:3 Qur’ān lxii. 5.

m251:1 See, in the author's own preface, his eulogistic mention of Sheykh Husāmu-’d-Dīn, p. iii., where this saying is also given.

m251:2 By " Roman," in the East, is meant what Europeans incorrectly name "Greek." Since Alexander of Macedon's time, no "Greeks" have existed. Their very memory is lost in Asia, and Alexander himself is styled there "the Roman."

m253:1 Commonly, in Islām, eight paradises, or, properly, eight mansions of Paradise, are reported, mentioned, and believed. Baydhāvī, in Qur’ān ii. 23, gives only seven, and one of those is wrong. Guided by him, however, I have corrected this, and verified the others, besides finding the eighth. Their names, then, are as follows:—1. Jennatu-’l-Khuld, the Paradise (garden) of Eternal Duration; 2. Jennatu ‘Aden, the Garden of Eden; 3. Jennatu-’l-Firdaws, the Garden of Paradise; 4. Jennatu-’l-Me’và, the Garden of the Abode; 5. Jennatu-’n-Na‘īm, the Paradise of the Pleasantness; 6. Dāru-’s-Selām, the Home of Security; 7. Dāru-’l-Maqāma, the House of Sojourn; 8. ‘Illiyūn, the Sublime Heights. Baydhāvī has Dāru-’l-Khuld for Jennatu-’l-Khuld; but that is one of the names of Hell, as occurring in Qur’ān xli. 28. There is also a Dāru-’l-Qarār, Home of Permanence, mentioned in Qur’ān xl. 42; but it applies to Hell and Heaven, as does the Dāru-’l-Baqā, Home of Duration, commonly used, but not found in the Qur’ān.

Next: XV. Zeyd's Inspiration