Sunday, December 11, 2005

in search of water

I made a journey through the desert of your love

Searching for some hint that you might join me.

I saw in every home I passed along the way

The corpses scattered of those who went before me.

#1854: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: desert

This morning I was attracted by the word desert partly because it's in my pen-name "Arizona" (dry zone) and partly because it is conjured up by a good deal of dry cynicism that I've come across lately. I have a favourite fairy tale that relates to this theme. It is in the Andrew Lang collection, The Pink Fairy Book, and it is called "The Water of Life". In the tale, after some initial adventures, a girl must set out to rescue her three brothers who have fallen under a spell. She must climb a mountain and find the water of life at the summit. At the foot of the mountain she is given advice from a giant she meets there:

‘You must go to that mountain, which is so full of stones that your feet will hardly find a place to tread, and as you climb you will hear a noise as if all the stones in the world were mocking you; but pay no heed to anything you may hear, and, once you gain the top, you have gained everything.’

The girl thanked him for his counsel, and set out for the mountain; and scarcely had she gone a few steps upwards when cries and screams broke forth around her, and she felt as if each stone she trod on was a living thing. But she remembered the words of the giant, and knew not what had befallen her brothers, and kept her face steadily towards the mountain top, which grew nearer and nearer every moment. But as she mounted the clamour increased sevenfold: high above them all rang the voices of her three brothers. But the girl took no heed, and at last her feet stood upon the top.

Then she looked round, and saw, lying in a hollow, the pool of the water of life. And she took the brazen pitcher that she had brought with her, and filled it to the brim. By the side of the pool stood the tree of beauty, with the talking bird on one of its boughs; and she caught the bird, and placed it in a cage, and broke off one of the branches.

[Full story available at]

Below is the H.J. Ford illustration of her initial task completed, coloured in myself using inks. Once her pitcher is full she descends from the mountain and sprinkles a little of the water of life on each stone. This brings them back to life as people who had succumbed to the mocking voices and been overcome by cynicism. Among those thus saved are her three brothers and, of course, she marries a prince in the end ...

The Water of Life
Illustration by H.J. Ford, with coloured ink added.

Islam arose in the desert and its dogma can drain people dry as much as any modern atheistic cynicism. Rumi's verses gave Islamic culture a deep well from which to drink. He is not alone, of course. He is accompanied by other great mystic poets like Ibn Arabi and Hafez and even the wonderful but essentially atheistic Omar Khayyám. Each was inspired by the woman or goddess or muse or inspirational faculty in man that cannot be adequately named or contained by concepts.

Persian Miniature

Persian Miniature
downloaded from wikipedia, source and copyright unknown



At Monday, 12 December, 2005, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Impressive story. It makes me think of how a writer must bear the bludgeons of other peoples' criticism, both the praise and the condemnation, but keep enough of their own head not to get lost in other peoples' expectations.

At Monday, 12 December, 2005, Blogger Arizona said...

Yes, that's a good application of the story and I would agree that the praise can be as dangerous as the condemnation.

At Sunday, 18 December, 2005, Blogger Bertie said...

Love the picture. You have coloured it beautifully. What skill! As it happens, I've just been writing about Andrew Lang.

At Sunday, 18 December, 2005, Blogger Arizona said...

Thank you, bertie. I like your page on Lang and the concept of your site. Keep up the good work!

At Monday, 06 November, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Azadeh and I'm from Iran.
Today I was searching for Molana's poems in english when I came across your wonderful weblog. I had a great time reading through your posts.
Thank you.

By the way the Persian Miniature that you've mentioned is by the great Iranian artist, Mahmood Farshchian. You can take a look at his beautiful gallery here:
Farshchian's Website
Take Care

At Tuesday, 07 November, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Hi Azadeh,
Thank you for visiting. I'm glad you enjoyed this weblog.

Thank you also for that information about Farshchian. There are so many other beautiful pictures at that link you gave.
Take care.


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