Of what divisive separations breed
From the reed-bed cut away just like a weed
My music people curse, warn and heed
Sliced to pieces my bosom and heart bleed
While I tell this tale of desire and need.
Will seek and toil until returned to course
Of grievances I sang to every crowd
Befriended both the humble and the proud
Each formed conjecture in their own mind
As though to my secrets they were blind
My secrets are buried within my grief
Yet to the eye and ear, that’s no relief
Body and soul both unveiled in trust
Yet sight of soul for body is not a must.
The flowing air in this reed is fire
Extinct, if with passion won’t inspire
Fire of love is set upon the reed
Passion of love this wine will gladly feed
Reed is match for he who love denied
Our secrets unveiled, betrayed, defied.
Who has borne deadly opium like the reed?
Or lovingly to betterment guide and lead?
Of the bloody path, will tell many a tale
Of Lover’s love, even beyond the veil.
None but the fool can hold wisdom dear
Who will care for the tongue if not ear?
In this pain, of passing days we lost track
Each day carried the pain upon its back
If days pass, let them go without fear
You remain, near, clear, and so dear.
Only the fish will unquenchingly thirst,
Surely passing of time, the hungry curst.
State of the cooked is beyond the raw
The wise in silence gladly withdraw.
Like the reed in making music I succeed;
Whoever away from those lips himself found
Lost his music though made many a sound.
When the flower has withered, faded away
The canary in praise has nothing to say.
All is the beloved, the lover is the veil
Alive is the beloved, the lover in death wail
Fearless love will courageously dare
Like a bird that’s in flight without a care
How can I be aware, see what’s around,
If there is no showing light or telling sound?
Seek the love that cannot be confined
Reflection in the mirror is object defined.
Do you know why the mirror never lies?
Because keeping a clean face is its prize.
Friends, listen to the tale of this reed
For it is the story of our life, indeed!
بشنو از نی چون حکایت می کند
از جدایی ها شکایت می کند
کز نیستان تا مرا ببریده اند
در نفیرم مرد و زن نالیده اند
سینه خواهم شرحه شرحه از فراق
تا بگویم شرح درد اشتیاق
هر کسی کو دور ماند از اصل خویش
بازجوید روزگار وصل خویش
من به هر جمعیتی نالان شدم
جفت بدحالان و خوشحالان شدم
هر کسی از ظن خود شد یار من
از دورن من نجست اسرار من
سر من از ناله ی من دور نیست
لیک چشم و گوش را آن نور نیست
تن ز جان و جان ز تن مستور نیست
لیک کس را دید جان دستور نیست
آتش است این بانگ نای و نیست باد
هر که این آتش ندارد نیست باد
آتش عشق است کاندر نی فتاد
جوشش عشق است کاندر می فتاد
نی حریف هر که از یاری برید
پرده هاایش پرده های ما درید
همچو نی زهری و تریاقی که دید؟
همچو نی دمساز و مشتاقی که دید؟
نی حدیث راه پرخون می کند
قصه های عشق مجنون می کند
محرم این هوش جز بی هوش نیست
مر زبان را مشتری جز گوش نیست
در غم ما روزها بیگاه شد
روزها با سوزها همراه شد
روزها گر رفت گو:"رو باک نیست
تو بمان ای آنک چون تو پاک نیست"
هرکه جز ماهی ز آبش سیر شد
هرکه بی روزیست روزش دیر شد
درنیابد حال پخته هیچ خام
پس سخن کوتاه باید_ والسلام
The Crisis of Identity in Rumi’s "Tale of the Reed"
University of California, Los Angeles
This paper is posted at the eScholarship Repository, University of California.
http://repositories.cdlib.org/international/cnes/3(Copyright c 2005 by the author)
Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word That walk’d among the ancient trees
Jalal al-Din Rumi was born in Balkh in 1207 and died in Konya in 1273. A celebrated mystic and poet, he scarcely needs an introduction. His exceptional achievements in mysticism and poetry, along with his intriguing relationship with Shams al-Din of Tabriz (d.1247), have kept him in the foreground of literary and mystical discussions all over the world.4 Rumi’s intimate relationship with Shams—a mysterious dervish whom he met in Konya in 1244—had a formative influence on his life and his poetry. Rumi considered Shams to be the perfect image of the beloved and the supreme companion he had been seeking in his spiritual life. After the disappearance of Shams from his life, Rumi maintained intense relationships with two other companions, Salah al-Din Faridun Zarkub (d. 1258) and Husam al-Din Chelebi (d. 1284-85); Rumi assigned both of these men, respectiively, to instruct his disciples. These friendships are important in understanding Rumi’s work. Rumi saw in these men a spiritual mirror for his own complex mystical experiences. This article will evaluate an instance of such complexities in a reading of “The Tale of the Reed” (Nay Namih).
Listen to the reed how it tells a tale, complaining of separations— Saying, “Ever since I was parted from the reed-bed, my lament hath caused man and woman to moan.
As early as the second line in the poem, the voice of the reed is heard resonating through the voice of the poetic narrator. The former so dominates the scene of the poem that the poetic narrator has been left in the shadow as a mere tribune reverberating the truth. In the following, I shall demonstrate how the dramatic play of this choir of voices communicates the poet’s fluctuation in and out of himself between two personified voices that relate to different realities: the world of the lover and that of the beloved. The exchanges between these two voices refer to Rumi’s exalted mystical experiences with his companions.
In Nay Namih, Rumi’s “deified manner of speaking” is remembered and articulated in the voice of a narrator whose consciousness incorporates the distinctions between this voice, personified as the reed, and himself as the narrator. To better understand the dynamics between these two personas, we must consider Rumi’s relationship with Shams.
O my friends, hearken to this tale: in truth it is the very marrow of our inward state.
This conclusion is admitted after an esoteric initiation into the poem, whereby a bosom torn with the passion of longing is summoned forth as the desired audience capable of apprehending the tale of separation and union. This concluding line could lead the reader to take the Nay Namih as a premeditated introduction to the Masnavi. Zarrinkub and Furuzanfar, relying on Aflaki’s account of the biography of the master, state that Rumi had written the first eighteen lines of Nay Namih in his own handwriting before he shared them with Husam al-Din, and the idea of composing the Masnavi occurred only later on. This may be a valid approach to interpreting the poem, for there is an evident break in the poem after the eighteenth line, when the poem sways from its predominantly personal and ecstatic theme to a didactic one. Nicholson observes this division in his translation of the poem into English by leaving a gap between line eighteen and the rest of the poem.
The concluding line of Nay Namih (line 35) invokes a select audience to listen to the ensuing tale. The eighteenth line, by contrast, asserts the narrator’s skeptical view of language by remarking that the state of the “ripe” is beyond communication except among those who have matured in the fire of love:
None that is raw understands the state of the ripe: therefore my words must be brief. Farewell! (l. 18) O my friends, hearken to this tale: in truth it is the very marrow of our inward state. (l. 35)
The contrast between these two conclusions highlights the difference between the silent language of rapture and the articulated signs borrowed from the world of dualistic reference; language being among such signs. The allegorical tales of the Masnavi, accordingly, can be read as a medium for portraying Rumi’s grand metaphor for separation and union: the eradication of all divisions and multiplicities through the cleansing fire of ecstasy. The aforementioned conclusions (lines 18 and 35) signify two kinds of discourse: one alluding to the state of the reed, and the other to that of the poetic narrator. The former evokes the realm of silence while the latter is an article of faith in the power of poetic imagination.
This noise of the reed is fire, it is not wind: whoso hath not this fire, may he be naught! ’Tis the fire of Love that is in the reed, ’tis the fervour of Love that is in the wine. The reed is the comrade of every one who has been parted from a friend: its strains pierced our hearts. (ll. 9-11)
It is in light of this background that the voice of the reed is juxtaposed against that of the poetic narrator who illuminates the silent burst of fire. While being aware of the distinctions between the inebriated and the sober states of mind, Rumi’s narrator communicates a state beyond language, the memory of which is the silent fervor of the reed and the allegorical tales of the Masnavi.38 In the Nay Namih, contemplation of silence is this speaking voice: it is silence that the poem asserts as its triumph in conveying the cry of the reed. In contrast to the written words, this silence becomes audible only in between the lines—as the breath of the nay, the fire that sets the poem ablaze, is made visible in the act of negating all else.
Rumi’s conscious inebriation has enabled him to recollect the knowledge he obtained during his rapture (a state beyond words). As discussed earlier, in Nay Namih, this silent state is expressed through juxtaposing the dramatic voices that relate different realities. The opening lines of the poem, while establishing the themes of the Masnavi, convey a poetic ambiguity in identifying the narrative voice and the voice of the reed. The poem begins by referring to the reed as a third person being quoted by the poetic narrator:
Listen to the reed how it tells a tale, complaining of separations— Saying, “Ever since I was parted from the reed-bed, my lament hath caused man and woman to moan.
I want a bosom torn by severance, that I may unfold (to such a one) the pain of love-desire. (ll. 1-3)
In this manner, the reed is introduced to an audience that is assumed to incorporate a broad range from those who understand the tale of the reed to those who do not. This lifelike spectrum of listeners is being addressed directly. Thus, different casts of characters are created in the first two lines of the poem among whom two distinct voices, modulating between rapture and reflection, are audible: the poetic narrator, in resonating the cry of the reed, in transforming its passionate ache for an ecstatic union, is approaching the voice of the reed in an attempt to be identified with it. The narrative voice is, simultaneously, pensive and declarative; it could at times be heard as a soliloquy. While conveying a didactic message, this voice is overwhelmed with awe and sorrow. The choice of the imperative verb bishnu (listen) in initiating the poem can be interpreted as a vocative cry directed to an audience other than the narrator, and/or an exclamation of awe uttered by the narrator in his interior monologue. In this latter case, the person of the narrator could be seen as his own exclusive audience, indifferent to anyone else, one whose solitude is filled with the recollections of an awe-inspiring memory. This voice, so vibrant with different shades of joy and sorrow, is juxtaposed against the enraptured voice of the reed, transliterated by the poetic narrator.
Saying, “Ever since I was parted from the reed-bed, my lament hath caused man and woman to moan. (l. 2)
The compound conjunctive kaz is the transition from first-person to a direct quotation of an otherwise third-person narrator, the reed. Moreover, kaz establishes a causative sense of time that has marked the beginning of this separation and shall be prolonged until the instant when there may be an end to this exile: a bursting free from the chains of a temporal prison of “being.” According to Nicholson, this line refers to the descent of the soul from the sphere of pure being and absolute unity, to which it belongs and would fain return. This “fall” from the realm of unity into the transient world of duality is one that has driven the nay into sorrow and despair. The nay is now in a state wherein his nafir (sharp cry) has caused men and women to wail.
The next line simultaneously identifies the adept audience and the theme of the reed’s story:
I want a bosom torn by severance, that I may unfold (to such a one) the pain of love-desire. (l. 3)
Separation and the pain of longing, “the pain of love-desire,” the intent of the reed’s tale, so overwhelm the confines of the poem that the reed, the poem, and the poet could all be taken as means employed to allow the expression of a higher meaning: the reed, a hollow instrument filled and emptied with breath blown into it; the poem a sanctuary lit with the lamenting voice of the poet set ablaze; the body of the poet, like the reed, a vehicle, the host of a current that induces the poet to cry out the effects of a mysterious love. It is in trying to communicate the force and the intensity of “the pain of love-desire” that the reed and its wail, the poet and his poem, and the body and the soul strive to overcome the dualities that hinder the ambitions of their desire.
The intentional ambiguity in identifying the first-person voice as the reed and/or the poetic narrator highlights the affinities between the two. The poetic narrator is not merely an observer recalling the voice of an-other: he and the reed have both partaken in this fierce ecstasy. Furthermore, this ambiguity could correspond to the narrator’s search for his apt reader. The poet appears to need someone who would pursue him upon this violently tainted path; the route of a journey turned sanguine with the stains of separation:
The reed tells of the Way full of blood and recounts stories of the passion of Majnún. (l. 13)
Upon this road the poet and his audience may be able to discover the similarities and the distinctions between the poet and the reed. The violence involved in this separation is echoed in the unheard sound of the blade that had once, for a hidden reason, cut the reed from the reed-bed, a sound that I believe is reproduced in the repeated sound of “sh” in the third line of the poem:
I want a bosom torn by severance, that I may unfold (to such a one) the pain of love-desire. Sinih khaham sharhi sharhi az faraq / ta biguyam sharh-i dard-i ishtiyaq (l. 3)
Sharhi (butchered, violently torn), the second sharh-i (tale, description of), and ishtiyaq (yearning, passionately longing for) refer to the violent passion that permeates the poem. In this manner, the memory of the world of unity is brought into the foreground in light of a harsh separation. After all, the reed’s tale and/or complaint is inspired by separation. In Nay Namih, the reed’s primary recollection of the world of unity is acutely focused on the instance when it was painfully detached from the reed-bed, a point communicated further in line three, quoted above, where faraq (separation) parallels ishtiyaq (yearning) as they bring the two hemistiches to an end with the same glottal end- rhyme. The conditions of separation and ecstasy create a tenor that embraces both the temporal and the eternal instances of being: the reed/narrator cries out the moment when its embryonic self was cut off from the womb of unity, from the reed-bed. What follows from that moment on is a fall into subjectivity. Accordingly, the poem comes to declare:
The passage of time is a motion that belongs to the fallen world. In Nay Namih, the motion of the fire of love is brought into our time as the current that fills the hollow reed with new meanings; the reed’s rapturous burst of longing is the testament to this current. The coming together of the “time” of the lover and that of the beloved is thus the instance of conscious inebriation. It is the juncture when the wayfarer reflects on the experience, remembers it, and tries to capture it in language. Beyond words, the experience and its remembrance stand for the coming together of indivisibility—beyond subjectivity, thought, and articulation—and division and multiplicity. This state has inspired Rumi to fashion Nay Namih in such a complex manner and by means of the alternations between the voices in the poem. Rumi extends his recollections of the ecstatic instance to his reader, saying:
This noise of the reed is fire, it is not wind: whoso hath not this fire, may he be naught! ’Tis the fire of Love that is in the reed, ’tis the fervour of Love that is in the wine. (ll. 10-11)
The voice that depicts these pictures belongs to the poetic narrator who assumes an omniscient point of view. He beholds the reed inflamed by love; he beholds how suddenly the brazen world of the reed is turned into gold. The reed’s transmutation into the fire of love is an alchemic process laden with magic; this inspiring event has seized the poetic narrator with awe. The narrator is familiar with and recognizes the ingredients involved in this magical event; he identifies the sound of the reed to be fire and not wind, and its substance to be love’s fervor. The poetic narrator thus perceives himself to be the adept witness to an occurrence that unceasingly captivates him with ever varying novelty.
(l. 14) The narrator comes to perceive himself as a vigilant participant in love and in ecstasy.
In this manner, in Nay Namih, rapture is being simultaneously apprehended from within the center of ecstasy as well as from without. Conscious inebriation is posed as the instance when the deified self and the “other” overlap in mutual conception. There, face to face, the consciousness of the deified self is incorporated and remembered by the enraptured man. Rumi had composed most of his verses in a state of rapture and trance; it is this state of joining with the divine that he communicates in the Nay Namih. Having known and partaken in the divine, the whole concept of I-hood, of space and time, is suspended. Identity is thus discovered on the fateful crossroad of eternity and temporality, where the finite and the infinite grasp and greet each other. It is in this manner that Nay Namih is posed as a palpable evidence in the temporal world of dualities that incorporates this unique juncture of being and non-being or the worlds of the Fatherland and of exile. Nay Namih is that point of no return, that point of transmutation, where the nay defines itself as a nostalgic longing.
As discussed earlier, the process of identification in the Nay Namih is analogous with the relationship between Rumi and Shams. In being separated from the beloved, Rumi seeks out and regenerates his own identity by means of poetic creation. Creativity, in this context, is associated with Rumi’s conscious inebriation whereby eternity is grasped in the present instance of the poem: the ecstatic infinitude emanates through the finite body of the words as the deified self finds its dwelling in a body fallen into subjectivity. The poetic narrator in the Nay Namih alternates between the ecstatic nay and the spectator. The tension between these two positions provides the drama, the metaphor of separation and union. The yearning inspired by separation is like fire that burns through the poem in the reed’s cry of longing for the beloved; this passion fills the lover’s emptied self with an illuminating consciousness. Rumi, the inebriated man/poet/mystic, has remembered and versified this experience in the body of the nay and the poetic narrator after he has come to internalize and to claim his beloved Shams as an aspect of his own identity.