Rumi's "I Died as a Mineral" Poem and Arberry's Mistranslation










While browsing the 'Net, I came across Rumi's famous "I Died as a Mineral" poem which is translated into English by the great 20th century British "Orientalist", Arthur John Arberry. Fluent in Arabic and Persian, Professor A.J. Arberry is considered as one of the most imminent scholars in the field of Islamic studies. His contributions to the field of Islamic studies are of enormous proportions, as he not only translated the Holy Quran, but also the major works of Rumi.


Yet despite his scholarly imminence and command of Persian/Farsi language, I humbly disagree with his English translation of Rumi's famous "I Died as a Mineral" poem. I'll begin my argument by presenting Rumi's original poem in Persian/Farsi and Professor Arberry's widely accepted and circulated English translation. I will then present my "Literal" translation of mentioned poem, followed by a brief explanation of Rumi's intended Aristotelian and Platonic argument which is deeply embedded in his "I Died as a Mineral" poem.


Sadly, it's precisely Professor Arberry's following mistranslation of Rumi's poem that has served as the basis of meaningless attacks on Rumi, accusing him as a "Sufi Darwin" and "Believer of Theory of Evolution", by the Muslim fundamentalists. In my humble opinion, Rumi's entire philosophical argument in the following poem is based on Plato and Aristotle's "The Inanimate, the Animate, and the Supernatural” logic. It has nothing to do with the "Evolution Theory". But a Muslim fundamentalist writer, Aboo Idaarah shrewdly writes in
http://forum.athaar.org:
"Jalal-uddin al-Rumi (d. 1273), an infamous Sufi philosopher, in his book Masnawi, confirms his belief in the theory of evolution. The following lines are recognized as the central theme of Rumi's work: "I died as mineral and became a plant, I died as a plant and rose to an animal, I died as an animal and I was a man.."






Here is Rumi's origin poem in Persian:

از جمادی مُردم و نامی شدم
وز نما مُردم بحیوان سرزدم
مُردم از حیوانی و آدم شدم
پس چه ترسم کی ز مردم کم شدم
حملهء دیگر بمیرم از بشر
تا برآرم از ملایک بال و پر
وز ملک هم بایدم جستن ز جو
کل شییء هالک الاوجهه
بار دیگر از ملک پران شوم
آنچه اندر وهم ناید آن شوم
پس عدم گردم عدم چو ارغنون
گویدم کانا الیه راجعون






"I Died as a Mineral"
Translated by A.J. Arberry

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, 'To Him we shall return.'




Here are my "Literal/Word by word" translation and verse by verse explanations:


از جمادی مُردم و نامی شدم
وز نما مُردم بحیوان سرزدم


My literal translation:
I died as an "Inanimate" and became "Animate"
I died as "Animate" and originated as animal.


Prof. A.J. Arberry's translation:
I died as a mineral and became a plant
I died as plant and rose to animal.



If you're a Persian speaker, note that in above verse, Rumi has used the Persian words jamaadi and naami.


جمادی jamaadi in English = Inanimate
نامی naami in English= Animate

How did Prof.Arberry come up with "Mineral" and "Plant", if Rumi was referring to Aristotelian logic of "Inanimate and Animate?






مُردم از حیوانی و آدم شدم
پس چه ترسم کی ز مردم کم شدم


My literal translation:
I died as an animal and became a human being.
So why should I fear?
When did I become less of a Mankind by dying?



Prof. A.J. Arberry's translation:
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?



Why Prof.Arberry completely ignored Rumi's cleverly playing with the Persian words مُردم-Mordam[I died] and Mardoom-مردم [Mankind], as Mardoom[Mankind]- in second line- is entirely missing from Arberry's translation?

Mordam in Persian = I died.
Mardoom in Persian = people, man, Mankind, creature.










حملهء دیگر بمیرم از بشر
تا برآرم از ملایک بال و پر
وز ملک هم بایدم جستن ز جو
کل شییء هالک الاوجهه


My literal translation:
Another attack and I shall die as a human
And I shall draw feathers and wing like the Angels
But I must also give up seeking
This state of Angel-hood
As "All except God shall perish."


Prof. A.J. Arberry's translation:
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.




Why Prof.Arberry decided to use "Angels blest", if Rumi was hoping to draw "feathers and wing" like the Angels?


بال و پرملایک-in English = Angel wings and feather
Angels blest in Persian =
ملایک







بار دیگر از ملک پران شوم
آنچه اندر وهم ناید آن شوم


My literal translation:
Once again, I shall fly away from the Angel-hood
And become what's out of the imagination.


Prof. A.J. Arberry's translation:
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.



Where did Prof. Arberry see the word"Sacrifice" in Rumi's above Persian verse?

Sacrifice in Persian =
قربانی- فداکاری کردن







پس عدم گردم عدم چو ارغنون
گویدم کانا الیه راجعون


My literal translation:
Then I shall become non-existent
A non-existence that's telling me
Like The Organon [Aristole's Organon]:
"To Him we shall return."


Prof. A.J. Arberry's translation:
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, 'To Him we shall return.'

Despite my profound respect and admiration for Prof. Arberry's vast scholarly knowledge and genius, I entirely disagree with his translation of this last verse. Where did the "Oh, let me not exist!" come form?

If you're a Persian speaker, note that Rumi is cleverly using the Persian word [پس so,then]
, as a concluding remark in the last verse, to sum up his animist argument. But, [پس so,then] is entirely missing form Arberry's translation.

Also, Rumi uses the Persian word - ارغنون Arghanun which has two meanings:

a- The Organ- a musical instrument.
b-The Organon- Aristotle's Logical Works.


If Rumi has based his entire above poem on Aristotle's Animism, isn't logical for him to end it with a reference to Aristotelian Organon?


And finally, what was the purpose of Professor Arberry's using a musical instrument, the Organ as opposed to Aristotles' The Organon?



For in-depth study of Animism and Aristotelian Ethics, please visit:
Aristotle's Logic


Animism


Plato's philosophical theories of soul





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