The First Eighteen Verses of Rumi’s Masnevi – Erkan Türkmen

The First Eighteen Verses of Rumi’s Masnevi

Erkan Türkmen

The first eighteen verses of Rumi”s Masnevi are like an entrance to his great villa where he welcomes his guests and gives them the keys of the rooms without which the guests might get lost and falter in the corridors of his grand villa –the Masnevi. If you intend to enter the building, you should surrender humbly to the spiritual entertainment he offers at the entrance.
The first eighteen verses are the summary of the six volumes of the Masnevi. The verses begin with “B” and end with “M”, which are the first and the last letters of “Bismillahirrahmanirrahim”. = “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” with which each sura of the Koran begins.
First, the text of the verse itself has been corrected, where necessary. (a) gives the literal meaning of the verse and (b) the literary meaning and a commentary, which is further compared with the other commentaries. Where other information is needed (c) is added to the commentary.
1) a) Listen to this Ney (the reed-flute) that is complaining and narrating the story of separation.
b) The Ney is the body of man and the breath blown into it is the spirit (breath of God). This refers to the Koranic verse: Behold, thy Lord said to the angels, “I am about to create man, from sounding (dry) clay…” and “when I have fashioned him (man) and breathed into him My spirit fall ye down in obeisance unto him (the Koran, XV/28 and 29); and “for God has poured His love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit who is God”s gift to us” (the Bible, Romans 4/5).
2) a) Ever since they (the people) have plucked me from the reedland, my laments have driven men and women to deep sorrow.
b) The “reed-land” here means the original place of man where he dwelt before his coming to earth. It was in the vicinity of his Beloved God (Paradise) where he was watered with His spiritual light, as was the reed of the Ney once watered by a stream or a lake. Since man is deprived of the vicinity of God and is separated like the piece of reed from its origin, he too laments and cries in every sort of company (of men or women). He can no more be green and fresh (attain eternal joy) unless he succeeds in obtaining spiritual water.
c) The “Ney” here does not necessarily mean a “perfect man” as most of the commentaries say, because being at the higher spiritual stage (being naught in God), a perfect man is already with God and he is free from any worldly worries as the Koran says: “Behold verily, with the friends of God there is no fear nor shall they grieve” (X/62-63). It can mean any man who is in love with God and has begun to feel abandonment. Moreover, it is not used here in its ordinary meaning of “a Ney = a flute “as Ahmad Atesh says (see his article, p.48)
3) a) I want someone with chest (heart) pierced by abandonment so that I may tell him about the pain of my longing.
b) The Ney (actually Rumi or a lover of God) says that it wants to express its unbearable pains caused by the separation from the Beloved to someone who has a heart full of pain like that of its own. Those who have no feeling for love will not be able to appreciate the grief brought about by the separation.
4) a) He who falls aloof from his origin seeks an opportunity to find it again.
b) Rumi here gives a general rule that everything in the universe tends towards its origin. For instance, the physical elements of a human body desire to go back to the earth but the spirit of man wants to rejoin its Centre; and like the dry piece of reed in the shape of the Ney yearns for its reed-land. The breath blown into the Ney also wants to go back to its blower. Since the spirit is the breath of God, it wants to go back to Him. The farther the spirit falls from its Origin, the more it loses the attraction of the Centre.
5) a) I am mournful in all sorts of company and sought by the happy as well as by the unhappy.
b) The company of the Ney can be enjoyed both by the happy and the unhappy (the wretched). Here the happy are those who have attained the Divine Love and are preoccupied with it; and the unhappy are those who indulge in the temporary pleasures of the world and who are prisoners of shapes and forms. They listen to the Ney for physical entertainment but the former listen to it because they hear the voice of their Beloved.
6) a) Everyone becomes a friend with me according to his faculty of perception and many do not seek my inner secret.
b) The “inner secret” here means the spiritual states that a Sufi experiences. Many failed to discover the states Rumi passed through, especially under the guidance of Shams, and they judged Rumi and his master just by looking at their outer appearance. Some orthodox Muslims thought that music, dance (the Sema), and even poetry were non-Islamic elements.
7) a) My secret is not distant from my cries, but physical eyes and ears do not possess the light (to see it).
b) God says in the Koran, “Those who reject our signs (our symptoms in each phenomenon) are deaf and dumb and they are in the midst of darkness” (the Koran VI/39). “The best kind of knowledge is gained when a man may discover God by means of His signs…
The friend is closer to me than myself,
And strange it is that I am so far from him!”. (Bhagawat Gita, Per., p. 79)
Thus, the spirit of man is not concealed from the body but not all-physical ears and eyes can see it. In order to see what lies behind a physical object, one needs spiritual intelligence and illumination.
8) a) (In fact) the body from the spirit and the spirit from the body are not concealed, yet none (not many) are allowed to see it.
b) The spirit that is connected with Divine World is not far from the human body. The spirit and the body can recognise each other, but men may not be able to discern it.
9) a) The sound of Ney is fire and it is not the ordinary wind but he who does not have this fire may he become non-existent.
b) For many people the wind blown into the Ney and its sound are ordinary phenomena, while for a lover of God it is the fire that burns in the core of his heart. The person who has no feelings of love might as well die, because without the divine love, life is meaningless. As the heat of physical body is essential for life so is the love of God for the spirit.
10) a) It is the fire of Divine Love that has entered the Ney, it is the yearning for love that has bought the wine into action.
b) Fermentation of wine, the vibration of the musical instruments or even the motivation of the living beings is due to the hidden attraction of Divine Love. The lovers of God are all in search of their Origin and when they hear the sound of the Ney their fire of love increases too.
c) Like the word “Ney”, wine is also a well-known metaphor in the Sufi language. It means “the esoteric joy or a paroxysm of ecstasy”. If wine is taken in this sense then it would mean that zeal of a Sufi is because of his spiritual drunkenness and due to his physical pleasure.
11) a) The Ney is a friend with anyone who has been deserted, and its musical divisions have torn off veils too.
b) It is not possible to hide the moaning of the Ney when it is played. Similarly, a lover of God (Sufi) cannot hide his feelings of love. Thus the notes of the Ney (perde) tear off the curtains (perdes) of a lover. The Persian word “perde” has been used rhetorically in the double meaning (Homonym).
12) a) Who has seen an antidote as well as a poison like the Ney; who has seen a sympathising and longing lover like the Ney?
b) The Ney is a poison to those who fail to pass from sensory phenomena to intelligible noumena under the light of intuitive guidance, and who remain the prisoners of outer forms. For those whose spiritual eyes have been opened, the Ney is like an antidote, which consoles them when they burn with the fire of love. “The Ney is poison” also refers to orthodox Muslims who give more importance to physical rituals than to inner enlightening.
13) a) The Ney speaks about the bloody and dangerous path and tells stories of Majnun (who sacrificed himself for his beloved Leyli).
b) The path of Divine Love is not a bed of roses for in this path one has to sacrifice all his selfish, carnal desires, egoistic intelligence, and passions. One”s heart should be filled with nothing else but the love of God.
14) a) None other but he who has abandoned his worldly senses can comprehend the secret of my heart (or the story of the Ney); and it is the ear that is the customer (receiver) of the tongue.
b) In order to understand the spiritual state of a lover of God (or the Ney) one has to move out of the bounds of this physical intellect and attain the intuition and spiritual illumination with the heat of Divine Love and devotion. In order to receive the celestial message one has to possess spiritual ears.
15-16) a) In sorrow our days have lost sense of time and they have become fellow travellers with our grieves. If the days have passed away, tell them to keep on going there is nothing to worry about; but O you the purest one (the love of God) stay with us.
b) The love of God makes a lover oblivious of time; and along with this he forgets his worries. The time, fame and wealth of this world are transient but love is eternal and in its presence, the fear of death and the cruelty of time have no value. It is the enduring love that converts all worries into real happiness, so be with such a love.
c) The “pure one” does not mean God Himself as indicated by Nicholson with the capital letter “Thou” (Nich.1/5) nor is it a reference to Husameddin but “Ma=we” refers to all lovers.
17) a) Everyone except a fish is sated with water and he who is not provided with his daily bread (earing) fails to pass days in comfort.
b) “Fish” is again a symbol. It means a lover of God whose desire for spiritual water is endless because he is in theSeaof Mercy and Love. Like a fish the more he drinks of the reviving water of God”s love, the more he desires it. But the man who has never been in such a Sea, he is like a person without wages or a job for he cannot buy spiritual food for himself. The currency of this world is of no use in the love-land of God.
18) a) Since a raw (immature) man is unable to perceive the state of a ripe (mature) man, it is better to cut a long story short and bid him farewell.
b) “An immature man” means a person who is preoccupied with sensory pleasures and is detained from journeying further on the path of love, while “a ripe man” is a person who has gone further towards Truth. Immature man also refers to a fanatic Muslim who does not understand the story of the Ney (Rumi) and who would scorn the musical companies of Sema and the recitation of the Masnevi. To such people Rumi suggests that we should say “farewell” only. In Urdu there is a proverb, “To play the Ney (Biin) in front of a buffalo” or the English “To cast pearls before swine” is what is meant here.
It is evident that in the first eighteen verses Rumi has tried to give us eighteen steps that lead to salvation or unification with God. In order to facilitate the divisions of the following chapters, these steps have been reduced to nine. This will enable us to simplify partially the “peculiar” looseness in the association of ideas of the Masnevi (as put by Jan Rypka, p.241). Rumi brought in parables and tales that may or may not relate to the theme of his Masnevi to attract the attention of his reader. These parables have been excluded from this book to save time. Moreover, they do not need explanation. Their exclusion from the text may result in certain monotony, although the verses selected here cover extracts from them, too.
The Steps:

  1. The state of an immature man (a materialistic man).
  2. The awakening (searching for daily bread or spiritual food).
  3. The desire and quest (feeling of separation from the Origin like that of the Ney).
  4. Indifference to worldly riches (Majnun”s submission).
  5. Divine Love (the blood stained path of love).
  6. Devotion and sacrifice.
  7. Bewilderment (tearing of veils).
  8. Observation of God in every phenomenon.
  9. Unification.