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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. 19


The Oilman and the Parrot.

An oilman there was, who a parrot possessed,
Soft-voiced, and green-coated; could talk with the best.
The oilshop her charge when the man was away;
The customers coaxed she the whole live-long day.
Her speech was quite human, her words full of sense,
In all parrot-tricks she was void of offence.

One day the man popped out, on bus’ness intent;
The parrot, as usual, had charge while he went.
A cat, as it chanced, of a mouse in full chase
Bounced into the shop. This poor Poll could not face. 5
From perch away flew she; took refuge on shelf;
Some jars she knocked over; the oil spread itself.

The master returning, first sat himself down,
As lord of the manor; the shop was his own.
The oil-pools he spied, and then Polly's wet coat;
A blow on the head made her feathers drop out.

In silence some days Polly brooded, from grief;
The oilman's bereft of his wits, to be brief.
He plucked at his beard; he heaved a deep sigh;
"Alas!" then, he shrieked out, "day's darkened on high 10
My hand, would it withered had, ere I'd struck Poll;
I've silenced her prattle that always was droll!"

p. 20

His alms now he showers on each passing scamp,
In hopes Poll her chatter ’d get back by some tramp.
Three days and three nights in this guise did he pass,
Despair at his heart, like a lorn lovesick lass;
Incessantly sobbing and sighing, his word
Was: "Pray now, will speech e’er return to my bird?"

A bare-headed mendicant happened to pass;
15 Whose scalp was close shaved, smooth and shining as glass.
At once our Poll-parrot her silence forswore,
Screamed after the mendicant: "Poor head! Sore! Sore!
Old bald-pate! old bald-pate! What is it thou’st done?
Upset some one's oil jar? The oil is’t all gone?"
The passers-by smiled all at Polly's mistake,
’Tween bald-head and bare-head no diff’rence to make.

So thou, my dear friend, think thyself not a saint;
A quean to a queen bears resemblance, but faint.
Mankind on this point in great error still stands;
20 Th’ elect of the Lord are ignored on all hands.
The equals of prophets acknowledged they be;
Of saints they're the brethren, as all men agree.
Fools say: "The elect are but human, you see;
To eat and to sleep they're constrained, just as we."

Through blindness they miss the real point of the strife,
The diff’rence between them's immense all through life.
The wasp and the bee eat and drink from the fields;
The one stings, the other sweet honey still yields.
The deer of both sorts browse the same mountain's side;
25 The one gives rich musk; dung the other; go, hide.
The canes of two species in one land may grow;
Quite empty that one; from this, sugar will flow.
By thousands, examples of pairs thus are known,
Which differ as much as does cheese from the moon.

p. 21

Our bread, in one case, turns to dirt in our meat;
Another produces the mind, God's own seat.
His food the one man swells with envy and greed;
By like means another gains virtue indeed.
One soil is productive; one barren and salt;
One angel's in heaven; the other's at fault. 30
In form, many pairs may appear as though one,
Clear water is sometimes as hard as a stone.
Excepting the taster by practice, who knows
The wholesome from unwholesome water that flows?

Supposing saints’ miracles tricks, magic-wrought,
They fancy them both the result of deep thought.
Magicians, at bidding of Pharaoh, did cast
Their wands down, to Moses’ rod as a repast.
From his rod to their wands a chasm there must be;
From his act to theirs we an interval see. 35
God's curse on their witchcraft and devilish art!
His blessing on Moses, who chose the best part!

To me, like as apes are man's miscreants all; 1
To speak of them causes me, straight, sick to fall!
Whatever men practise, apes will copy still;
Our actions they mimic; of thought they know nil.
They cunningly do what they've seen that man did;
The reason they seek not; from them that is hid.
A man acts from reason; an ape from mere whim.
Perdition may seize all such actors, and him! 40
The hypocrite 2 worships 3 as aping the saint,
For form's sake, or worse. His religion's mere feint.

p. 22

In pilgrimage, worship, and fasting, and alms, 1
Believers and hypocrites vie, as in psalms.
Believers shall win in the last judgment day;
The hypocrites then shall receive their due pay.
The two are contending one great game of deeds,
As factions of Mervites and Rāzites 2 with creeds.
They each shall go there, where their party shall stand;
45 And each shall be classed as their actions demand. 3

Just style these "Believers," their hearts fill with glee;
But dub them all "Hypocrites," rage then thou’lt see.
The first one's ashamed of the last one's true self;
This last-named's a plague to the first, like an elf.

No virtue in mere words or letters is found;
"Believer" ’s a word in itself but a sound.
If "Hypocrite!" cast in their teeth be at last,
As scorpion's sting to their souls it clings fast.
If "Hypocrite" ’s name be not product of hell,
50 So bitter at all times why does its sound tell?
This name's great repulsion is not in its form;
The bitter it smacks of is not from a corm.
The word's but a vase; ’tis its sense is the wine;
The sense of a book in the title may shine.

Sweet lakes and salt seas do we find here on earth;
The barrier between them: "Thus far; go not forth!"

p. 23

They both, in their origin, flow from one source;
Look not at their severance; it's matter of course.
The touchstone's the test by the which thou must try
If gold be quite pure, or debased with alloy. 55
The touchstone of conscience, where planted by God,
What's certain, what's doubtful, makes plain without nod.
A fishbone that sticks in the throat of a man
No ease ever gives till it's coughed out again.
In ten thousand mouthfuls should one bone be found,
As soon as perceived, it's spit out on the ground.

Perception of things mundane guides here below;
Religion's keen sense leads where God's glories glow.
The health of his senses man asks of the leech;
Religion's sound sense from the Lord we beseech. 1 60
For healthy perceptions, our frame must be sound;
Religion's enjoyments through suff’rings are found.
The health of the soul's through a waste of the flesh,
But after much searching it builds up afresh.

How blest is the soul that, for love of its God, 2
Has flung away wealth, health, e’en life, as a sod!
Has pulled down its house a hid treasure to find,
And built it again from that treasure refined!
Who cuts off the streamlet to clear out its bed;
Then turns on the water with which it is fed! 65
Who gashes his skin to extract the spear-head!
(The skin may now heal, for the irritant's fled.)
Who wrecks a strong castle to drive out the foe,
Then rears it still stronger, to hold evermo’!

The will of Almighty God who shall control?
These sentences written are parables all.

p. 24

Sometimes in one way, in another sometimes,
Religion confuses before it sublimes.
Not terror, bewilderment, loathing, dismay;
70 But ecstacy, rapture, love, come into play.
In trance of love fixed, one contemplates the Lord,
Another, self losing, unites with his God.
Observe the rapt features of that one, of this;
Perchance by such watching thy soul may gain bliss.

Too numerous demons in human form walk;
Beware, then, with whom thou engagest in talk.
The fowler his whistle may ply in the field,
To lure the poor birds, saying: "Come and be killed."
Each songster conceives ’tis the voice of its mate,
75 Descends from the air, and meets with its fate.
The sinner, in pious cant, uses a wile,
To trap the unwary who ponders no guile.
The upright deal faithfully, truly, in trust;
The wicked imagine but fraud and distrust.
A lion of wool is a beggar's device; 1
Musaylama's named Muhammed in a trice. 2
Musaylama liar, deceiver we know,
Muhammed was faithful in weal and in woe.
The wine of God's love was the food of his soul.
80 The wine that inebriates dash from thy bowl.


m21:1 In its true sense, the word "miscreant" signifies one who holds an erroneous belief. We corruptly say now: an infidel.

m21:2 "Hypocrites," in Islām, form a faction. They profess the faith openly, but inwardly they hate or despise it.

m21:3 The Muslims "worship" God in their appointed devotions. If they "pray" also, subsequently, this is a voluntary act.

m22:1 "worship, fasting, alms, and pilgrimage" are the four acts by which a Muslim outwardly attests his faith. "'Worship," five times daily; "fasting," one month yearly; "pilgrimage," at Mekka, once, as a duty, in a lifetime; "alms," whenever property of a certain amount is possessed.

m22:2 "Mervites and Rāzites," citizens of Merv and Rey (Rhages), two great Persian cities in former days, now in ruins. Merv is at present a Turkman camping-ground, aimed at by Russia as a halting place on the road to Herāt and India. Rey, the Rhages of the book of Tobit, not far from Tihrān, the Shāh's present capital of Persia. The two parties were like Ireland's Orangemen and Ribbonmen of our time.

m22:3 Heaven and Hell; the "sheep" and the "goats."

m23:1 The original has "the Darling;" the highest title given to Mohammed by Muslims is God's Darling; which is not found in the Qur’ān.

m23:2 The original has "its dear one;" God is the dear one of mystics.

m24:1 A woollen lion is a toy made and sold or exhibited by mendicants.

m24:2 Musaylama was a prince of Naja, who gave himself out as a prophet, and wrote to Muhammed, proposing that they should divide Arabia between them. His epistle began: "Musaylama, the Apostle of God, to Mohammed, the Apostle of God." Mohammed's answer commenced with: "Muhammed, the Apostle of God, to Musaylama the liar." He was eventually defeated and slain in battle, in the eleventh year of the Hijra after Mohammed's decease; when all Arabia submitted to Islām. He was killed by Wahshi, the Ethiopian slave who, in the battle of ’Uhud, had formerly driven the self-same javelin through the body of Hamza, Mohammed's uncle. Wahshi lived long after these events, in Syria. He used to say that, as a pagan, he had slain one of the best of men, and, as a Muslim, one of the worst. When Mekka was taken, he was proscribed; but he got away safely. Not long afterwards, he made his submission, and Muhammed forgave him, as he did others in analogous circumstances.

Next: III. The Jewish King, Persecutor of the Christians