Thursday, February 23, 2006


I hear the song of a drunk nightingale,

And the voice of a temptress on the wind.

I see my love's illusion on the water,

And that flower I smell, I know it well.

#1122: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: nightingale

I've decided to follow the nightingale a little further today, to reflect on birds, on flight, on human aspiration. Here also is a passage from the Mathnawi that speaks of birds.

  A bird flies to the nest by means of wings:
the wings of the human being are aspiration.
  In the case of the lover who is soiled with good and evil,
don't pay attention to the good and evil, pay attention to the
  If a falcon is white and beyond compare,
still it becomes despicable when it hunts a mouse;
and if there is an owl that yearns for the king,
it's as noble as the falcon's head:
don't pay attention to the hood.
  The human being, no bigger than a wooden kneading trough,
has surpassed in glory the heavens and the empyrean.
  Did heaven ever hear the words We have honored *
which this sorrowful human being heard from God?

- Mathnawi VI:134-139, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski ("Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance")

* a reference to Quran 17:70 (Yusufali)
We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.

I should add that, along with bird song, water again appears in today's quatrain, this time as a mirror or canvas for love's illusion. Bob has been talking about water at his Tide of Words article which prompted my own reflection on the water "running through gardens" in yesterday's quatrain as a reference to inspired poetry being a vehicle for the unconscious, allowing its waters to reach many other living souls. I love the way threads of imagery and meaning can meander in and out of one poem into another, in and out of one commentary into another. Ah, such sweet connecting strands!

Apart from bird life, the theme of good and evil links these two poems from Rumi. The nightingale's purity is marred by association with drunkenness and the usual fear of the Circe-like seductress is softened by association with the sweet nightingale. The owl, as I understand it, is viewed unfavourably within Islam for which the falcon is a more accepted symbol. Rumi is saying you can reach God as readily on the wings of an owl as on the wings of a falcon, as readily through following one's passion and longing for the aesthetic as through following the dangerous pathways of magic and erotic allure.


John William Waterhouse: Circe (The Sorceress) @

Of course, I can't help but think of the story of Narcissus in those last two lines, the hapless youth who fell in love with his own image in the still clear waters of a pool. When he died from this self-love, he was transformed into the lovely narcissus flower. This, I feel certain, is the flower that Rumi knows the smell of in the last line. Freud turned narcissism into a neurosis and perhaps it is. However, self-love can also be a pathway to deity, perhaps it is even the most direct. And perhaps all the other loves are, at bottom, self-love. Who really knows and who can say?

The Mathnawi excerpt ends so mysteriously that I can make nor head nor tail of it. "Did heaven ever hear the words We have honored which this sorrowful human being heard from God?" The "We" here (via resonance with the Quranic passage) is clearly God. Here God is not so much honouring humanity as honouring the words issuing from human beings. However, it was a "sorrowful human being" (Mohammad) who heard the words from God in the first place. If heaven is God's place, does this mean that God did not hear His own words? I think this is so, I think this is the meaning. Until humanity articulates God's words, no one can hear them, no one at all, not even God Himself.


At Friday, 24 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Hmm, not sure who "we" and "our" are. Angels? Animals? Kinda confusing.

At Friday, 24 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

These plurals, "We" and "our", appear in the Quran as the voice of Allah. I believe that, in the original Persian (Farsi), it is clear that Rumi is referring to Allah and to that verse of the Quran. I have to rely on the scholars, of course. I can't read the original myself.


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