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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. 4


The Prince and the Handmaid

A prince there was, long since in time it is.
Of Church and State the power and wealth were his.
The chase on horse one day to follow, bent;'
With pompous courtier-train afield he went.
A handmaid 1 fair was wand’ring near a grove.
Her he espied, and straightway fell in love.
His heart was snared; her form its cage, its stall.
He lavished gold; and made her thus his thrall.
But now, behold the wayward spite of fate!
5 The maid fell sick, this prince's joy to bate.

An ass had Hodge; no saddle to the fore.
A saddle bought; a wolf straight Jacky tore.
A jug had Dick; the well, alas, was dry.
The well then filled; the jug was broke hard by.

Now leeches called the prince, from left, from right.
"Two lives," quoth he, "depend upon your might.
My health is naught; she's life of life to me.
I'm sad at heart; my sov’reign balm is she.
Who finds a remedy to save her life,
10 Much gold, with jewels, his; and thanks more rife."

All promised marvels; each, to use his skill;
To search the case; to ease the maiden's ill.

p. 5

"Each one of us has Jesu's 1 healing power.
Of all their ills we cure men every hour."
Through pride, "God willing" said they not, I trow. 2
Man's nothingness, in them the Lord would show.
That is to say—to leave out this good word
Is sin; said by mere rote, it will not please the Lord,
How many shrink from tonguing it aloud,
Whose hearts each action with "God willing" shroud. 15

The doctors now prescribe full many a drug.
In vain they ponder, vain their shoulders shrug.
The maid a very skeleton became;
The prince's tears their want of skill did blame.
With oxymel, through fate, did bile increase;
E’en almond oil ran dry where rubbed as grease.
Lax myrobalans act as nutgalls first;
As naphtha feeds a fire, drinks brought but thirst.

The prince no sooner saw their art was vain,
Than barefoot sped, heaven's worship-house 3 to gain. 20
The holy altar, there, he bowed before;
With flood of tears he bathed its sacred floor.
Then, heart-relieved with sorrow's fierce outbreak,
’Mid praise and blessing, thus his suit he spake
"To Thee, whose meanest gift is world-wide sway,
Who know’st each secret wish, why need I pray?
Our refuge art Thou in our every need;
We've erred again; do Thou in mercy lead.
’Tis Thy behest, to whom all thoughts are known,
That man with words approach Thy awful throne." 25

p. 6

His humble supplication proffered so,
Sweet mercy's fount at once did overflow.
His tears undried, deep slumber on him fell,
And heavenly-dulcet tones he heard thus tell:
"Glad tidings, prince, to thee this day I bring:
Next daydawn at thy gate a guest shall ring;
A heav’n-sent stranger, versed in healing art,
In him have faith; he's true in speech and heart.
Imagine not his treatment magic's spell;
30 God's power alone can make thy maiden well."

The promised hour at hand, the daydawn broke;
The sunbeams paled the stars; the prince awoke.
An outlook sought he, whence to watch the way,
And first th’ expected stranger to survey.
One he espied of most majestic mien,
Of radiance mild,—as sun, dark clouds between;
Or moon at full;—so seem’d he from afar.
Mere fancy's pictures ever objects mar.
Things non-existent often frenzy paints;
35 We see mankind deluded over feints.
Their peace, their war, not seldom for a sham;
Their pride, their shame, some sorry epigram.
But visions, such as blessed saints entrance,
Reflections are from heaven's inhabitants.

The semblance by our prince seen in his swoon,
The features wore that now in flesh are shown.
The prince, in lieu of ushers, forward came,
To meet the heaven-sent guest, in his own name.
Their trains one column formed from mingling bands;
40 Their hearts united, fettered not their hands.
The prince: "Would thou’dst my soul enslaved; not she!
But here below effect a cause must see.

p. 7

Be my Muhammed! I thy ‘Umar stand,
With girded loins awaiting thy command."

Pray God to grant thee ever meek respect;
The puffed-up fool's remote from Heaven's elect.
A shameless monarch to himself's a curse,
A firebrand to his realm; nay, even worse.
Food in the wilderness by God was sent;
Food without toil, food gratis, without stint. 45
Some graceless scoffers out of Moses’ host
Dared to demand the onions, lentils lost. 1
Such toilless food then ceased to fall from Heaven;
To dig, to sow, to reap, in lieu is given.
Fresh suit, much later, Jesus made; God willed;
Again food rife became; men's dishes filled.
That food's a gift from Heaven is clearly said,
In Jesu's prayer: "Give us our daily bread." 2
Men's bold presumption Heaven again incensed,
When basketsful to beggars were dispensed. 50
Jesus proclaimed the miracle would last;—
That food would never lack as in the past.
Men doubted, asked for more to store away;
They trusted not God's word for bread each day.
Importunate those suitors, full of greed;
Heaven's gate of mercy closed against their breed.

Withheld is rain when alms have ceased to flow;
Where fornication reigns, black death will grow.
Whatever grief and sorrow's on us sent,
Of wickedness and guilt's a punishment. 55
The hardened sinner, who his God offends,
A ruthless robber is; he spoils his friends.
He who is shameless in his words and deeds,
Despair from disappointment is his meed.

p. 8

Yon orbs of heaven obey their Maker's word;
The holy angels meekly serve the Lord.
The sun's eclipse is but a check to pride;
E’en Satan's fall presumption caused to tide.
Return we now the sequel to attest,
60 Of what befell our prince with his new guest.

His circling arms the welcome form embraced,
And, lover-like, with joy his neck enlaced.
Kisses bestowed he on his hand and brow;
Hoped kindly he'd fared well from home till now.
His health and welfare asking, led him in.
"Its own reward is patience," thought he then.
Patience at first is bitter; but at length
Its fruit is sweet. It gives us heart's content.

Then he aloud: "A gift from God thou’rt come,
65 The proverb's pith: 'By patience overcome.'
This meeting's the reward of all my prayer;
Thou’lt solve the riddle of my dark despair.
Th’ expounder, thou, of all my soul's desires,
Thou’lt extricate me from despond's deep mires.
Be welcome, then; a very friend in need;
Hadst thou delayed, my case were sad indeed.
Prince of physicians! Who'd not welcome thee,
Deserves rejection. Do his eyes not see?"

Urbanity's requirements thus bested,
70 Our prince the stranger to a chamber led.
The maiden's tale and case he there unfolds.,
The patient, next, unveiled, the guest beholds.
Complexion, pulse, egesta, all are seen;
Disposing causes, symptoms, sought, I weep.
Then he: "The remedies till now adduced,
Have detrimental been, no good produced.
The case has been from first misunderstood.
Protect us, Heaven! A blundering brotherhood!"

p. 9

He saw her trouble; thence divined her ill.
Her secret kept he; hidden held it still. 75
The sickness was not caused by bile or spleen.
The scent of perfume's better smelt than seen.
He traced her suffering to a mind oppressed;
Her body sound, her soul a wish suppressed.
Her hesitations made him guess her love;
The symptoms plain,—her heart was sick, poor dove!

A lover's smart is not from fleshly pine;
A probe is love; it sounds hearts' depths, divine.
Let love proceed from this or other cause,
It matters not; heavenward it mortals draws. 80
However well we strive love to portray,
We blush thereat, when love our hearts doth sway.
Words make most matters plain and manifest;
But love unspoken speaks whole volumes best.
When pen took up from zeal the writing trade,
In love's description, oh! such blots it made!
Our wits in love's affairs stand sore perplexed;
Love only can elucidate love's text.

The sun alone can well explain the sun.
Wilt see’t expounded? Turn to him alone. 85
A shade, ’tis true, of him gives some small hint;
The shining sun surpasses all comment.
A shade, like evening chitchat, sends to sleep,
From sun's effulgence does full knowledge leap.
That day-orb, still, each eve sets, here below;
The soul-sun, God, shines in eternal glow.
’Mong things extern that orb has not a peer;
But mock suns we can make, our nights to cheer.
On heart unless the soul-sun cast a ray,
No thought, no picture can its sheen portray. 90
Can mind His glorious essence comprehend?
His presence, then, to image who'll pretend?

p. 10

Of poet's verse when God's the holy theme,
Its minished head the sun may hide, ’twould seem.
At mention of His name each breast must find,
A duty ’tis His grace to call to mind.
The breath of life He to this body gave,
With Him to reunite, should mercy save.
These years I've conversed with Him. Life serene!
95 One repetition more! O blissful scene!
How pleasant heaven and earth their smiling hold!
He offers soul, mind, eye, a hundredfold!

Beyond my strength, O try me not these days!
My reason ’d fail to falter forth Thy praise.
The song of man, when uninspired by Thee,
Mere fulsome, flattering trash is seen to be.
Bid me describe, whose every nerve is seared,
A lover's woe, whom mistress never cheered.
His lonesomeness, the anguish of his breast,
100 Not here I'll paint; elsewhere it may be best.
He cries: "O succour me; I faint, I pant;
And quickly; lest delay the dagger plant!"

The Mystic 1 true relieves each moment's need;
"To-morrow " ’s not a point in his pure creed.
Art not persuaded so? The proverb scan:
"Delay's the thief of time;" say: "bane of man."
Love's sweetest favours are conferred by stealth;
Its darksome hints are treasured mines of wealth.
The tale's most pleasant to a lover's ears,
105 That tells of joys he's tasted, ills he fears.

Speak, meddler, then, in plain, unvarnished guise;
No subterfuge employ; deal not in lies.

p. 11

The veil tear off, dissimulation lost:
"When unadorned, beauty's adorned the most."
Should my sweet love unveil’d her charms display,
Thy smirks and smiles would all be borne away.
Thy suit prefer; use moderation still:
A blade of grass ne’er overturns a hill.
The sun that lights and warms this nether world,
If brought too near, had all to ruin hurled. 110
Seek not to sow dissension in the earth;
Vaunt not the Sun of Tebrīz’ 1 holy birth.
Contention's never-ending. Better far,
Commit to memory this wordy war.

The guest, convinced that love had caused her ill,
Proceeded next the prince's mind to still.
"These chambers clear of every mortal soul;
Leave me alone the patient to control.
No prying ear may linger in the hall;
I've things to ask may not be heard by all." 115

The place was cleared; no soul remained within,
Save leech and patient; other, none was seen.
In gentlest tones he asked: "Where was thy home?
For each town's folk a different cure must come.
What friends, what family hast left behind,—
Companions, playmates, who to thee were kind?"
On pulse his finger. He then, one by one,
Inquired anew each point, omitting none.

So he whose foot is wounded with a thorn,
Upon his knee doth take the limb that's torn. 120
With needle's point he seeks the intrusive dart;
Not finding it, from lip he soothes the smart.

p. 12

If thorn in foot is thus a task to find,
Judge what must be a rankling pang of mind.
Could every chance observer spy those ills,
Where'd be the cankering care, the grief that kills?
Boys place a thorn beneath an ass's tail;
The cure Ned knows not; jumping's no avail.
Whisking's still worse; it deeper drives the dart.
125 ’Tis reason's task to ease the burning smart.
The ass, if sharper grow the throbs and pains,
Kicks, plunges, rolls, his hide with gore bestains.

Our doctor's mind, by art full well prepared,
With gentle measures sought the ill he feared.
Once more, with tact, he bids fresh memories come,
And leads the maid again to talk of home.
The spring once tapped, the stream began to flow;
She told th’ inquirer much he wished to know.
He lends his ear as she each scene displays;
130 His finger notes her pulse, as on she strays;
To learn if any name should raise a start,
And thus betray the secret of her heart.
Anew he mentions every friend, each place;
Repeated such as gave of hope a trace.
He asked: "On quitting, thou, thy native town,
Where first was it thy guardians set thee down?"

A place she named, and on to others passed;
Nor blush, nor pulse gave sign, or notice massed.
Of lords and citizens she gave report,
135 Of festivals, and seats of gay resort.
Town after town, house after house, by name,
She spoke about; no blush, no throb still came.
Her pulse retained its normal ebb and flow.
Till Samarqand's name made her cheeks to glow,
Her pulse beat high, her colour went and came;
Of goldsmith youth she there had been the flame.

p. 13

This point drawn forth,—this secret once confessed,
More easily our leech the sequel guessed.
"O maiden, let me know this youth's abode."
"At Holywell, near Bridge-end's public road." 140

"I knew," said he, "at once, thy case was such.
Now trust me. Thee to serve I will do much.
Make thyself happy. Cast away all care,
As showers cheer meadows, thee I'll greatly spare.
I'll prove thy guardian angel; never fear;
Thy father's place I'll take;—thy burden bear.
Tell not this secret unto mortal soul,
However much the prince may thee cajole.
Keep safe this knowledge in thy own heart's core;
So mayest thou, lass, thy lover see once more. 145
Our holy Prophet's sacred maxim ’twas:
'Who keeps his secret, speedy success has.'
The seed to earth committed sure must be,
Ere field or garden's pride men may it see.
If gold and silver were not hard to find,
How could they grow? 1 They soon would be out-mined."

The good physician's soothing words perceived,
Our maiden's mind from carking care's relieved.
Some promises are truly meant, sincere;
Others are merely made to cheat the ear. 150
A good man's promise is a gem of price;
Rely not on the words of sons of vice.

Our doctor, now, with subtle speech and wiles,
The maiden's grief had turn’d to sunny smiles.
He leaves her then; seeks out the prince; and tells
The news he'd learnt, the source of all her ills.

p. 14

"What's now to do?" the prince's care inquired;
"Delay is dangerous; patience may grow tired."
The doctor then: "Send for him; come he must,
155 From his far home to fill some post of trust.
Invite him here; a dress of honour give;
On him shower gold; new life ’twill make him live."
The prince assented; took the doctor's plan;
Thought it was sound and wise from such a man.
Two trusty messengers he quickly sent,
Sedate, fair-spoken, loved where’er they went.
To Samarqand they journeyed, prompt and sure.
The goldsmith found; the prince's message bore.
"Great man of art, the marvels of thy skill,
160 Are viewed with rapture, or with envy still.
Our prince has need of thee, his mint to guide;
For none like thee is heard of, far and wide.
This dress of honour, yonder gold he sends;
Requests thou’lt come, and be his best of friends."

The gold and dress of honour won his heart;
Goodbye to home he said, with them to start.
He travels joyous; thinks his luck is great;
And never dreams of what's to be his fate.
An Arab charger proudly bore him on;
165 He reeked not at what price all this was won.
O fatuous fool! Thou hastest to thy doom.
The post thou dream’st of, soon will be thy tomb.
His fancy webs of power and fame did weave;
Death's angel thundered: "Come, and all this leave!"

Arrived betimes at his long journey's end,
The doctor led him to the prince, his friend.
Most nobly was he there received in turn.
One trims the lampwick, still, to make it burn.
The prince addressed him; bade him welcome there;
170 Mint-master nam’d him, treasurer, and mayor.

p. 15

Our doctor once again his counsel gave:
"The damsel to this youth for service leave.
United to him, she'll her health regain;
Love's fever will subside with absence’ pain."

The prince bestows the sick one on her mate.
United were the two in solemn state.
Six months they feasted on love's joys so sweet;
The handmaid's health from day to day more meet.

The doctor, now, a potion mixed for him.
His health declines; he every day grows slim. 175
The coin that passes much from hand to hand
Soon loses currency, has no demand.
So he, when beauty no more graced his cheek,
Began to lack worth with the handmaid sleek.
All love that's built on outer skin-deep charms,
Is not true love. At length shame ’tis that warms.
Would it were shame alone that pricks him now!
He'd not been victimised and brought thus low.
His eyes pour forth two streams of bitter tears;
His altered features the worst foe he fears. 180

The peacock's enemy his plumage call.
The monarch bleeds whose splendours neighbours gall.
The musk-deer for the musk-pod still is slain;
His blood for that alone the ground will stain.
The marten for its fur is trapped, surprised,
And strangled. Kings its pelt have prized.
The elephant, sagacious creature, dies,
For iv’ry pierced with weapons as he flies.

"He who slays me for what I leave behind,
Reflects not: 'Blood that's spilt demands its kind.' 185
To-day ’tis I; to-morrow ’twill be thou;
Who'll be most loser? ’Tis not I, all know.

p. 16

The shadow of a wall, ’tis true, is wide;
The sun revolves; the shadow's turn'd aside.
The world's a mountain; all our works, a voice;
Our voice goes forth; its echo has no choice."
Reflecting thus, the goldsmith breath’d his last;
The handmaid's love and grief behind her cast.

A dead mate's love can never more be shown;
190 A dead mate's voice will never more be known;
Love for the living, in the heart and eyes,
Will ever spring; the dead no more can rise.
One Living is there, death that never knows;
Love Him! The life from Him alone still flows,
Love Him, whom saints and prophets all have loved;
Through whom alone we all have lived and moved.
Say not thou canst not to His throne approach;
He's gracious. His rich grace bears no reproach!

The goldsmith's death through lethal drugs, be sure,
195 Was not from hope, or fear, or baser lure.
The doctor kill’d him, not to please our prince;
Him some divine suggestion did convince.
The story of the child by angel slain 1
Cannot be fully grasped by minds too plain.
A saint that acts on Heaven's high behest,
Can never do amiss; ’tis always best.
He who can pardon, he may also doom;
He's God's vicegerent; acts in Heaven's room.
As Ishmaël beneath his father's knife, 2
200 Do thou for such a prince lay down thy life;

p. 17

Thus may thy soul, in future blessed abode,
Muhammed-like, in peace be with thy God.
His lovers joyful are, most, when they slay
Their worldly joys with their own hands, as play.

Our prince took not the goldsmith's life through lust.
Chase such suspicion from thy mind thou must.
Imagine not he'd stoop to mortal sin.
Can holy saint have tainted heart within?
The trial of the fire, and of the flame,
Is but to cleanse pure gold from every blame. 205
So too, temptation on us all is sent,
To part the good from those of bad intent.
Had he not acted thus by God's command,
No prince, a wolf he'd been, rav’ning the land.
From lust, greed, foul caprice, his soul was free;
So did God will, whate’er the cause may be.
Elias sank his ship in full design; 1
That wreck to future blessings was the sign.
Moses was shock’d thereat, with all his skill
And inspiration. Thou must needs judge ill. 210
A blood-red rose call not by murder's name;
Just retribution see thou do not blame.
Had righteous blood been shed by him as naught,
Blasphemer were I to extol him aught.
Praise of the wicked God with horror views;
The good contemn all flatterers of sin's crews.
Our prince was kind and virtuous, wise and just,
A man God-fearing, and in God's full trust.
A victim put to death by such a friend,
Is slain in error, or for some wise end. 215

p. 18

Did not our God mean mercy in His wrath,
How could the Lord of Mercies thunder forth?
A child may tremble at the lancet's smart;
His mother knows there's healing in the dart.
It may half kill him, but restores sound life;
So God's great mercies far surpass our strife.
Men judge of what they see by what they think.
219 From judging justice, men of sense will shrink.


m4:1 In Islām a free person cannot legally be bought and sold.

m5:1 By way of hyperbole, a clever physician is always compared to Jesus, in his miraculous healing powers, by Muslims.

m5:2 Qur’ān xviii. 23, teaches: "Say not, 'I will do so and so,' unless (thou add): 'God willing.'"

m5:3 Divine service in Islam is entirely worship and praise. It is erroneous to talk of Muslims saying their prayers. Praise, laud, and glory is what they are bound to offer. Prayer is voluntary; and is prohibited, unless in some duly authorised form as a collect.

m7:1 Qur’ān ii. 58.

m7:2 Qur’ān ii. 114.

m10:1 The word "sūfī," used in the original, is probably the Greek σοφόι but is explained as meaning, literally; "clad in woollen," from "sūf," wool. Metaphorically, in common use, it means: a pious man.

m11:1 The holy Sheykh Shemsu-’d-Dīn, of Tebrīz, is meant; who was a friend of the author for many years, visiting Qonya at intervals, where he was put to death (in a.d. 1262?). See the "Anecdotes," Chap. iv.; especially No. 17.

m13:1 It was generally believed in bygone days that gems and metals grew and ripened in their mines.

m16:1 The story is in Qur’ān xviii. 73. The angel was disguised as a servant to Moses. The passage says: "And they two proceeded until they met a boy; and he slew him."

m16:2 With Muslims, Ishmaël was to have been sacrificed; not Isaac. The Qur’ān xxxvii. 98-111, relates the story, but gives no name to the "boy." Commentators supply it, by tradition.

m17:1 A continuation of the story from Qur’ān xviii. 70. Some commentators make Elias the servant of Moses on the occasion. There is a tale in one of the essayists of last century,—the "Spectator," if I rightly remember,—that gives these two adventures and others; the angel at last explaining to his companion the secret causes of all his actions.

Next: II. The Oilman and the Parrot