By the end of the twelfth century Persia, though paying nominal allegiance to the ‘ Abbasid Caliphate, had not only asserted her independence m the spheres of religion and politics, but had produced a large and varied literature in which the genius of the race expresses itself unmistakably Of this literature the best part in every sense of the phrase, was composed by poets , for while there are many excellent and valuable Persian hooks written in prose, it remains true that few of these possess the classical quality that has made the names of Firdaudsi, Sa‘di: and Hafiz familiar to us Naturally, both the form and the ideas of the earliest Persian poetry are based, to a great extent, on Arabic models , yet original features are not wanting The Arabic system of prosody is modified and developed, new metres are introduced, and side by side with the time-honoured Qasida several new verse-forms spring up, for example, the ruba‘i (which was chiefly cultivated by minor poets, like Omar Khayyam), the Ghazal and the Mathnawi: While the Qasida and the Ghazal are limited in length and conventional in structure, the Mathnavi, consisting of rhymed couplets and free from all restrictions of size, form and subject-matter, enables the poet to handle the largest themes in any way he may Choose The first great poems of this type are in the field of epic and romance, and, though often imitated, have never been equalled Firdausi can hold his own anywhere, Nizami whose subtle and difficult style is much admired by Persian critics, does not appeal to European lovers of romance so readily as Jami, a fifteenth century poet surpassing him in sweetness and grace but far inferior in power and originality Meanwhile the art of panegyric had reached its culmination in Anwari, and before the death of Nizami in AD 1208 it was becoming clear that henceforth the main stream of Persian poetry would turn away, alike from the historical or legendary and from superficial pictures of contemporary court, into wider and deeper channels of human interest The movement in this direction had been gathering strength for a long time From the tenth century onwards, such notable poets as Nasir-i-Khusraw, Sana‘i of Ghazna, and Nizami’s contemporary, Fariduddin ‘Attar of Nishapur. not to mention others of less importance, devoted their talents to expounding the religious, philosophical, ethical, and mystical ideas that have enthralled the noblest minds of Persian and have exercised so powerful an influence upon the life and character of her people It is the case, no doubt, that almost every first class Persian poet is in some degree didactic In the Shahnama we find many passages of moral wisdom solemn meditations on mortality, and even touches, here and there, of the mystical aspiration which running as an under song through the scenes of romantic passion depicted by Nizami appears without disguise in the second part of the Iskandar-nama the last work of the poet who in his earliest mathnawi, the Makhzan ul-Asar had sought to imbue his readers with the ideals of Sufi asceticism But while Nizami foreshadows the triumph of ethical and mystical poetry over all its rivals three of the greatest pot to contemporary with him namely Anwari, Khaqani and Zahir of Faryab, were panegyrists and courtiers During this period, the late twelfth century, Sufi ethics and mysticism found a voluminous exponent m Fariduddin ‘Attar but it was only after the Mongol invasion that these ideas became, for the first time, the dominating element in Persian poetry Post hoe, and also propter hoc. In nations, as in individuals, intense and prolonged suffering demands an anodyne No wonder that Persia, too exhausted to help herself turned for comfort to those who offered her on the one hand an ideal representation of things all the more prized because they seemed to have vanished from the earth—order, security, Justice, beneficence, the social virtues bound up with established custom and tradition and forming the basis of any organised national life and on the other hand the mystic’s vision of everlasting peace and joy to be attained by the pure in heart who contemplate within themselves the spiritual world that alone is real and enduring

The flood of ravage let loose by Changez and Hulagu was more destructive to poetry than to some branches of learning which on account of their practical utility found favour with the Mongol barbarians Under the new regime bards of the second and third rank continued to arise, if not to flourish, in Persia itself , but almost all the greater poets of the thirteenth century lived and wrote in foreign lands—Amir Khusraw at Delhi, ‘Iraqi’ at Multan in the Panjab and at Qoniya or Iconium in Asia Minor, while Qoniya was also the adopted home of Jalalu‘ddin Rumi. Sa‘di of Shiraz who composed the Bustan and the Gulistan in his native town, is hardly an exception to the rule, for southern Persia escaped the worst fury of the Tartars and, as Browne says “ the life of Shiraz seems to have pone on fairly tranquilly and suffered relatively little disturbance during these stormy days”

Of the poets just mentioned ‘Iraqi’, remarkable as he is, stands far below the other three Moreover, his work both m verse and prose is entirely mystical and what I have to say about the mysticism of the period wall be said in connexion with Jalalu’ddin Rumi and Sa‘di As for Amir Khusraw who followed in the track of Nizami, I must confess that I have not read his historical romances and therefore cannot judge of their merit One of these, the tragic love-story of Prince Khidr khan and the Princess Duwal rani was composed at the request of the hero, who supplied the author with a narrative written by his own hand It would be interesting to see whether the style of this poem is any less conventional and the treatment any more realistic than it usually is in Persian romance I doubt it If the Prince s love-letters had survived, we should probably find that they were modelled upon the sentiments and the language which Nizami puts into the mouths of his heroes, but it would by no means follow that the sentiments of the royal love: were insincere, or that the language in which he expressed them was devoid of spontaneity Although in some respects Persian literature seems to us to be very artificial and remote from life, it has, in fact, shaped and moulded Persian life in every sphere of thought, feeling, and action , and this is pre-eminently true as regards a subject in which feeling and language are inextricably interwoven with each other But apart from the fantastic modes of expression peculiar to Persian love-poetry, there are reasons why it does not, as a rule, attract the Western reader, and I purpose to confine myself on this occasion to the didactic poetry of the thirteenth century which is represented by three famous works—each of them supreme masterpieces of their kind—the Bustan and Gultstan of Sa‘di and the Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi The two former are delightful epitomes of Persian ethics illustrated by anecdotes and reflections which exhibit the author—if we refrain from looking at him too searchingly—as a wise, witty, accomplished and much-travelled man of the world, a pious Muslim with a somewhat shallow vein of mysticism but a singularly broad and flexible code of morality ; while the Mathnavi may be described as a vast labyrinth leading those who traverse its profundities into the world of the dervish and moving a wonderful panorama of Persian religious life with all its lights and shadows, its idealism, antinomianism, arrogance and humbleness, exaltation and despair, sordid hypocrisy and sublime self-devotion The two poets have often been contrasted, vet 1n some ways they are not unlike. To depict Sa‘di as the type of worldly wisdom and Jalaluddin as “the God-intoxicated man,”  though it may be nearly the whole truth so far as Sa‘di is concerned,is only half the truth in regard to Jalalu’ddin.

The visionary enthusiast of the odes collected under the name of his preceptor, Shamsuddin of Tabriz was also the founder and head of a great religious order—the Mevlevis and anyone who reads the Mathnawi, attentively will soon discover that its author was no child in the affairs of this world, that he had an intimate knowledge of human nature, and that he could adapt himself to all sorts and conditions, whether he chose to exert the powers of his mind in serious conversation or to amuse the company by displaying his talents as a raconteur What my old teacher, the late Professor Browne, says of Sa‘di, that “In his works is matter for every taste, the highest and the lowest, the most refined and the most coarse,” Is equally applicable to Jalaluddin Rumi though even here we must distinguish Sa‘di’s cathohcity from Rumi’s universality. At bottom there is a profound difference m the characters of the two men and m their views of life— a difference which naturally manifests itself in their methods of expression This is what I want to bring out , and to revert for a moment to the coarseness of certain anecdotes related m the Gulistan. the Bustan and the Mathnavi, it should be observed that these stones are told by Jalalu’ddin in the plainest and crudest language, without any of the frills and trimmings with which Sa‘di embellishes them The inculcation of moral and spiritual truth by means of such anecdotes is a curious phenomenon, which I will not discuss now it suited the taste of the time and required no justification When tales of this kind were written with the sole object of raising a laugh, some formal apology might be expected, and m the preface to his Mudhikat Sa‘di asks pardon of God and excuses himself for having yielded to the pressure put upon him by a noble patron, coolly adding, however, that no gentleman will blame him, since “ a joke in speech is like salt in food ”

Jalalu’ddin, who always sees the soul of goodness in things evil, draws into his net all the facts of experience, and seeks to unify them. Some of them are ugly, and he a them naked, just as they are Sa‘di’s elegantly ‘aped figures may be more presentable m polite society, but they are infinitely more offensive.

 The use of concrete images for the conveyance of abstract ideas is one of the most obvious characteristics of Persian poetry. Too often the idea merely serves as a prop for igneous, far-fetched, and hyperbolical imagery, which overgrows it in such luxuriance that the reader is apt to be sickened In this respect, as in others, Sa‘di keeps the safe middle course . With him, the image generally accompanies the idea or at least remams separable from it the idea has not been so closely and intensely fused with its external form at the moment of conception that the two appear as one, and here the interiority of Sa‘di’s poetic genius to that of Jalalu’ddin Rami betrays itself For example, the maxim that an evil nature cannot be eradicated by education is expressed in the Gulistan in the following lines

“Good men to an ill race

No grace reflected give

Like water in a sieve

Ts virtue in the base”

And again

“Never will flawed steel make a tempered brand,

The rogue instructed must a rogue remain

Lilies the gentle purity of rain

Breeds in the garden burrs in brackish sand”

The tyrant is in danger from those whom he has inspired with fear of him, even if they be weak.

“ Dread him who dreads thee—aye albeit not much

Ado thou’dst make to fight a hundred such

 See how the cat m desperation flies,

 A clawing Fury at the panther’s eyes

 The viper, darting, wounds the boy in dread

That he will lift a stone and crush its head”

Sa‘di excels in this species of illustration In description, when no moral idea is involved, he is less happy “I have heard,” he says in the Bustan, “ that Hatim of Tayy had an Arab horse,” and he proceeds to describe it

“ Fleet as the zephyr was this sable steed ,

Thunder his snort, no lightings match his speed.

He gallops o’er lull and plain the pebbles fly,

As twere an April hail-cloud passing by ”

Or take the lines in which after having described the miserable light he spent amongst the idolaters at Somnath, he depicts the sudden rise of dawn

“ Night, as a black-robed preacher risen to pray,

From willing scabbard drew the sword of Dav ,

The fire of Morning fell on cindery Night,

And in a moment all the world was bright”

This is clever, but compare it with the verse of Jalalu’ddin Rumi

“The promised hour arrived and day broke, and the

sun, rising from the East, began to burn the stars ”

Here we have a single tage which in the Persian is contained in a single eprthet—akhtar-suz. ‘“star-burning ” A few lines further on, we read

“ The king himself, instead of the chamberlains, went

forward to meet his guest from the Invisible

Both were seamen who had learned to swim.

the souls of both were knit together without sewing”

The idea is that their spiritual affinity was founded on the union of their souls in the state of pre-existence,when, before the bodies had been created, the souls were, so to speak swimming in the ocean of God’s consciousness

“The king opened his hands and clasped him to his breast and received him. like love, into his heart and soul”

“Like love” what could be more expressive than these two words? Sa‘di never writes like that, for between him and Jalalu’ddin there is all the difference between intellectual and imaginative poetry On the whole, however, Persian poetry is intellectual and fanciful rather than imaginative and Oriental critics award the highest praise to the poet who delights them by the invention and combination of subtle ideas, or who creates the most original and perfect forms for ideas that may have been expressed less admirably by hundreds before him. Here Sa‘di, as his countrymen would put at, “carries off the ball” from Jalalu’ddin. He is the finer artist What he Says is often commonplace enough, but he possesses the Horatian gift of saying it in the best way—neatly, tersely and with unfailing urbanity No other Persian poet has a style so classical Moreover he dwells very near the centre of Persian life and thought and owing to his literary genius his works have become the standard of popular morality. The standard is perhaps as respectable as ideals based on good sense and enlightened self-interest are likely to be. There is nothing heroic about Sa‘di, he was no saint and some traits in him remind us of Haji Baba, but he was thoroughly human We can forgive a good deal to the man who wrote

“Men are but limbs of one vast frame

Their seed original the same

Suffering in one limb manifest

Diseases each and all the rest

Unmoved by other’s woe you can

Deserve no more the name of man”

Since has teaching is always directed to a practical end, he warns the inhuman oppressor that his crime will be followed by punishment m this world and the next

“Tis sin to grasp with giant arm and twist

A child’s weak fingers in a brawny fist

Well may the ruthless fear themselves low lard

That none will stretch a pitying hand to aid”

If not here then hereafter

“ Thine ears are stopped against thy people’s cries

With cotton—pluck it out! Be just be wise

Judge as thou shalt be judged the Day of Gods assize”

It is easy to pick holes in Sa‘di’s character. He pays more regard to expediency than to truth and in relating his adventures of travel he seems to have acted upon his own maxim— “The man who has seen the world tells many lies”

If his attitude towards friends is cynical and towards enemies ferocious we must remember that the times in which he lived were steeped in treachery and cruelty And though he lacks the spirit of love and faith which, in the beautiful words of Jalalu’ddin Rumi “makes kindnesses grow out of the causes of hatred.” his ethic docs on occasion approach that level “Enemies,” he says, “ can be disarmed by gentleness severity turns a friend into a foe”.  “The virtuous man’ s rule of life is this to suffer injury and show kindness” If mysticism were only a matter of words, no one could deny Sa‘di’s right to be included among the elect In his youth he studied Sufism at Baghdad under the celebrated Shaikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi and composed a large number of odes in which the fashionable ideas of mystical love- are mixed up with moral reflections and even with compliments to his patrons, while much of his later ethical teaching is derived from Sufi literature. The Odes are exceedingly graceful, and the Third Book of the Bustan, where Sadi’s discourses on mystic love, contains some ex —ages, such as the well-known allegory of the h the Candle Yet they do not ring true Their formal perfection cannot disguise—rather, it forces into relief—the absence of what is essential. We miss the glow of inward feeling, the picture is dead, it has no soul. Those familiar with the writings of genuine mystics will not be deceived by Sa‘di’s brilliant imitations ; but I may mention that in one of his minor works he tries to amuse his readers by parodying a mystical treatise written by himself Perhaps the less said about his sincerity, the better In order to appreciate him fully, we must detach ourselves, so far as we can, from the moral judgment which pronounces much of his poetry to be insincere, and also from the aesthetic judgment (prevalent in Europe since the beginning of the 19th century), which condemns it for its intellectual moderation and cold reasonableness The qualities that render Sa‘di the most opular and, within his limits, the most admirable of Persian poets would readily have obtained recognition in the age of Dryden, Pope and Addison Although Sa‘di outlived Jalailu’ddin Rumi, he wrote the Bustan and the Gultstan about twenty years before A D. 1273, when Jal-Alu’ddin passed away, leaving his Mathnawi unfinished The infinite riches of the Mathnawi are not contained in a little room, and it would be ridiculous to attempt any description of them here I will conclude this paper with some remarks on Jalalu’ddin regarded as a poet. At the same time, since his mysticism is related to his poetry as the spirit to the form, no Separation of the one from the other is really possible While Sa‘di, for the most deals with the relation of the individual to society, Jalalu’ddin makes all depend upon his relation to God. He teaches that man in his essential nature is one with God, and that this unity is realised through love, and through the knowledge which love brings Jalalu’ddin writes from the standpoint of the perfect man who has attained Truth, and who feels, acts, and speaks in harmony with the Truth Whatever view we may take of emotional mysticism, its effects upon the mystics themselves are beyond dispute. The sense of being in immediate contact with the Divine has left its mark on Persian life and literature It rises to astonishing heights in the Odes which Jalalu’ddin consecrated to the memory of Shams-1-Tabriz; the Mathnawi, a didactic work addressed to Sufis, generally moves on a lower plane, but though the poet often wanders far from the fountain-head of his inspiration, he never loses it altogether, and even in the dullest passages it makes its presence felt, if only by the free and unconventional language in which he clothes his ideas As he stands closer than Sa‘di to the heart of things, his representations of the external world assume a deeper significance Whereas Sa‘di touches incidentally upon many details of Persian life, which may or may not illustrate his theme, but in any case are so handled as to furnish an artistic setting for it, Jalalu’ddin sees in life and nature nothing but symbols of that Reality which it is the whole object of his art to reveal , hence his pictures of life and nature are introduced not for art’s sake but for truth’s sake, and his manner of drawing them is correspondingly direct. The following passage illustrates the difficulty of seeing one’s own faults and the need of seeking a spiritual physician who can diagnose them and apply the proper remedy

“ When a thorn darts into any one’s foot, he sets his foot upon his knee,

And keeps search for its head with the point of a needle, and if he does not find it, he keeps moistening the place with his lip

A thorn in the foot is so hard to find how is it, then with a thorn in the heart ? Answer that !

Somebody sticks a thorn under a donkey’s tail. The donkey does not know how to get rid of it. He starts jumping

He jumps, and the thorn only strikes deeper it needs an intelligent person to extract a thorn.

 In order to get rid of the thorn, the donkey from irritation and pain  went on kicking and dealing blows in a hundred places;

But that thorn-removing physician was an expert: putting his hand on one spot after another, he tested it”

 and the narrative to set forth how the physician who was a  wise and holy man, discovered that his patient, the king’s handmaiden, was in love with a goldsmith of Samarkand, and how he cured her by giving her in marriage to the goldsmith, whom he afterwards caused to be put  to death. The whole allegory may be read in the first Book of the Mathnawi.

Equally plain, direct and lifelike is the pot’s description, in the Third Book, of a scene which, perhaps, he had actually witnessed. He describes it in connexion with the sae of temptation and tribulation- quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat

“The mountain-goat runs up the high mountain, unharmed, for the purpose of getting some food.

Whilst he is browsing, suddenly he sees a trick played by the ordinance of Heaven

He casts his gaze upon another mountain on that other mountain is a she-goat.

Straightway his eye is darkened he leaps madly from this mountain to  that

To him it seems so near, and as easy as running round the sink in the court of a house

Those thousands of ells are made to appear to him as two ells, in order that from mad infatuation the impulse to leap may come to him

As soon as he leaps, he falls midway between the two pitiless mountains

He had fled to the mountain to escape  from the hunters has very refuge shed his blood

The hunters are seated between the two mountains in expectation of this awesome decree of God ”

Let the reader compare that with any description of life or nature in Sa‘di, and ask himself whether the greatest literary skill can compensate for lack of true poetic feeling and imagination

 Here are a few more pictures taken at random from the Mathnawi

A druggist’s shop

“Look at the trays m front of a druggist—each  kind put beside its own kind,

Things of each sort mixed with things ot the same sort, and a certain elegance produced by this homogeneity,

If his aloes-wood and sugar get mixed, he picks them out from each other, piece by piece”

Just so, when the world was created,

 “The trays were broken and the souls were spilled : good and evil ones were mingled with each other

God sent the prophets with Scriptures, to pick out and sort the grains on the dish”

Daneing dervishes

“ They ate the viands and began the mystic dance the monastery was filled with smoke and dust up to the roof—

Smoke of the kitchen, dust raised by the beating of feet, tumult of soul caused by longing and ecstasy

Now, waving their hands, they beat the ground with their feet , now, prostrate in prayer, they swept the floor with their foreheads ”

The harvest season

“At winnowing-time—as it not so ’—the labourers on the threshing-floor beseech God for wind,

So that the gram may be parted from the chaff and go into a barn or be stored in pits

When the blowing wind is long delayed, you may see them all turning to God with humble entreaty”

Jalalu’ddin’s powers as a poet are shown to the best advantage in lofty and sustained flights of imagination. Many such occur in the Mathnawi, but they are too long to be quoted here I must confine myself to a few brief extracts, which seem to me characteristic-

On moral responsibility

“ Although the wall casts a long shadow, yet at last the shadow turns back again towards it

The world is the mountain, and our action the shout the echo of the shouts comes back to us ”

On love

“Whether love be from this side or from that, in the end it leads us yonder”

On friendship

“ A friend is like gold, tribulation like fire the pure

gold is glad in the heart of the fire ”

On truth and falsehood

“ Words and names are like pitfalls the sweet flattering word is the sand that sucks up the water of our life.

The one sand whence water gushes is seldom to be found go, seek it!”

The next two passages—the last I shall quote—have parallels in the works of two great English poets of the 19th century.

“ Let us implore God to help us to discipline; he that lacks discipline is deprived of the grace of the Lord. Through discipline this heaven has been filled with light, and through discipline the angels became immaculate and holy “

So Wordsworth in his Ode to Duty

“ Stern Lawgiver !—

Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,

And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.”

The thought expressed by Shelley—

“ Dust to the dust , but the pure spirit shall flow

Back to the burning fountain whence it came ”

Is Jalalu’ddin’s

“That which is of the sea is going to the sea It is going to the same place whence it came—

From the mountain-top the swift-rushing torrents, and from our body the spirit whose motion is mingled with love ”

These are not mere coincidences; Jalalu’ddin has certain affinities to Wordsworth and much in common with Shelley. If  Sa‘di’s outlook is wholly medieval, that cannot be said of the poet who describes woman as “a ray of God” and anticipates the lesson of Goethe’s Faust in a memorable line—

“From Satan logic, and from Adam love”

Jalalu’ddin has been called the Dante of Persia The comparison, though imperfect, explains itself if we regard the Mathnawi as reflecting, cont all its variety of fact and fable, those universal principles and eternal realities which the poet’s eye discerns beneath the forms and outward circumstances of his own age.

Note – This article was published in Islamic culture journal in 1928. For our readers we are re publishing it with some edits.

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