Rumi

Translations in comparison

The quality and style of English language translations of Rumi's poetry vary widely. Two early translators, R.A. Nicholson and A.J. Arberry (Scottish and British, respectively) produced literal and semi-literal translations of many of Rumi's works, including a series of the ghazals (love poems) from the Diwan, Rumi's collection of miscellaneous verse, in the 19th century.

Many of the more familiar English versions, particularly those of Coleman Barks, are based on previous literal translations, and are intended primarily to render the spirit of Rumi's work in a form accessible to the Western mind, although frequently at the cost of any attempt at literal accuracy.

Nader Khalili, several of whose translations are presented below and in the rest of this site, is a native speaker of Persian as well as a master of English poetry, and his translations capture much of the color of the literal translations while maintaining an immediacy frequently lost in translated poetry. (I have not read Rumi in Farsi, so I am unable to judge the quality of the “literal” translations themselves.)

More information on some of Rumi's translators can be found at Khamush.com.

These translations could not have been assembled without the extensive archives of the fantastic Rumi e-list, Sunlight. I have borrowed their categories of “poetic” and “literal” translations.

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Ghazal 332
Poetic TranslationLiteral Translation
“The House of Love”

Why is there always music in this house?
Ask the owner.

Idols inside the Kaaba?
God's light in a pagan temple?

Here is a treasure this world could not contain.
The house and its landlord 
are all pretext and play.

Hands off this house, this talisman.
Don't argue with the landlord;
he's drunk every night.

The dirt and garbage are musk and rose.
The roof and door are music and verse.
In short, whoever finds this house,
is ruler of the world, Solomon of his time.

Look down, Lord, from the roof;
bless us with your glance.

I swear, since seeing Your face,
the whole world is a fraud and fantasy.
The garden is bewildered as to what is leaf
or blossom.  The distracted birds
can't distinguish the birdseed from the snare.

A house of love with no limits,
a presence more beautiful than venus or the moon,
a beauty whose image fills the mirror of the heart.

Zulaikha's female friends,
beside themselves in Joseph's presence, sliced their wrists.
Maybe a curl of his hair brushed their hearts.

Come in.  The Beloved is here.  We are all drunk.
No one notices who enters or leaves.
Don't sit outside the door in the dark, wondering.

Those drunk with God,
even if they are a thousand, live as One.
But drunk with lust, even one is double.

Enter the thicket of lions unafraid of any wounds.
The shadows you fear are just a child's fantasy.

There is no wound and nothing to be wounded;
all is mercy and love.

But you build up thought
like a massive wooden door.
Set fire to the wood.  
Silence the noise of the heart.
Hold your harmful tongue.
Version by Kabir Helminski Love is a Stranger Threshold Books, 1993
 
    This house wherein continually rings the sound of the bell-
staff—ask of the master what house this house is.
  What is this idol-form, if it is the house of the Kaaba?  And 
what is this light of God, if it is the Magian temple?
    In this house is a treasure which the whole of being cannot
contain; this house and this master are all a fiction and a pretence.
    Lay not hand upon this house, for this house is a talisman; 
speak not to the master, for he is drunk since last night.
    The dust and rubbish of this house is all ambergris and musk; 
the noise of the door of this house is all verse and melody.
    In short, whoever enters this house has found a way to the 
King of the world, the Solomon of the time.
    Master, bend down your head once from this roof, 
for in your fair face is the token of fortune.
    I swear by your life that, but for beholding your countenance,
though it be the kingdom of the earth, all is mere fantasy and
fable.
    The garden is baffled as to which is the leaf, which the
blossom; the birds are distraught as to which is the snare, which
the bait.
    This is the Master of heaven, who is like unto Venus and the
moon, and this is the house of Love, which is without bound and
end.
    The soul, like a mirror, has received your image in its heart;
the heart has sunk like a comb into the tip of your tress.
    Since in Joseph's presence the women cut their hands*, come to 
me, my soul, for the Soul is there in the midst.
    The whole household is drunk, and nobody is aware who
enters the threshold, whether it be X or Y.
    It is inauspicious*; do not sit on the threshold, enter the house 
at once; he whose place is the threshold keeps all in darkness.
    Though God's drunkards are thousands, yet they are one; the
drunkards of lust are all double and treble.
    Enter the lions' thicket and do not be anxious for the wound-
ing, for the anxiety of fear is the figments of women;
    For there no wounding is, there all is mercy and love, but your
imagination is like a bolt behind the door.
    Set not fire to the thicket, and keep silence, my heart; draw in 
your tongue, for your tongue is a flame.*
        
* Joseph, the "fair one of Canaan," often a symbol of divine beauty; 
see Qur'an 12:31
* "It is inauspicious": perhaps rather, "Become intoxicated."
* A play on "zaban" (tongue), and "zabana" (flame).


Translation by A.J. Arberry
Mystical Poems of Rumi, 1
University of Chicago Press, March 1974




Ghazal 441
Poetic TranslationLiteral Translation
show me your face
i crave
flowers and gardens
open your lips
i crave
the taste of honey
come out from
behind the clouds
i desire a sunny face
your voice echoed
saying "leave me alone"
i wish to hear your voice
again saying "leave me alone"
i swear this city without you
is a prison
i am dying to get out
to roam in deserts and mountains
i am tired of
flimsy friends and
submissive companions
i die to walk with the brave
am blue hearing
nagging voices and meek cries
i desire loud music
drunken parties and
wild dance
one hand holding
a cup of wine
one hand caressing your hair
then dancing in orbital circle
that is what i yearn for
i can sing better than any nightingale
but because of
this city's freaks
i seal my lips
while my heart weeps
yesterday the wisest man
holding a lit lantern
in daylight
was searching around town saying
i am tired of
all these beasts and brutes
i seek
a true human
we have all looked
for one but
no one could be found
they said
yes he replied
but my search is
for the one
who cannot be found
Translated by Nader Khalili Rumi, Fountain of Fire Cal-Earth, September 1994
 
    Show your face, for the orchard and rosegarden are my desire;
open your lips, for abundant sugar is my desire.
    Sun of beauty, come forth one moment out of the cloud, for
that glittering, glowing countenance is my desire.
    Out of your air I heard the sound of the falcon-drum; I 
returned, for the sultan's forearm is my desire.
    You said capriciously, "Trouble me no more; be gone!" That
saying of yours, "Trouble me no more," is my desire.
    And your repulse, "Be gone, the king is not at home," and 
those mighty airs and brusqueness of the doorkeeper, are my
desire.
    In the hand of every one who exists there are filings of beauty;
that quarry of elegance and that mine are my desire.
    This bread and water of heavens wheel are like a treacherous
torrent; I am a fish, a leviathan, Oman* is my desire.
    Like Jacob I am crying alas, alas*; the fair visage of Joseph of
Canaan is my desire.
    By Allah, without you the city is a prison for me; I wander
abroad, mountain and desert are my desire.
    My heart is weary of these weak-spirited fellow-travellers; the
Lion of God* and Rustam-i Dastan are my desire.
    My soul is sick of Pharaoh and his tyranny; that light of the 
countenance of Moses son of Imran is my desire.
    I am aweary of these tearful people so full of complaining;
that ranting and roaring of the drunkards is my desire.
    I am more eloquent than the nightingale, but because of
vulgar envy a seal is on my tongue, and lamentation is my desire.
    Last night the shaikh went all about the city, lamp in hand,
crying, "I am weary of beast and devil, a man is my desire."
    They said, "He is not to be found, we too have searched." He
answered, "He who is not to be found is my desire."
    Though I am penniless, I will not accept a small carnelian, for
that rare, precious carnelian is my desire.
    Hidden from every eye, and all things seen are from Him—
that hidden One manifest in works is my desire.
    My state has gone beyond every desire and yearning; from
mine and place to the elements is my desire.
    My ear heard the tale of faith and became drunk; where is the
portion of sight?  The form of faith is my desire.
    In one hand the winecup, in the other the Beloved's curl—to 
dance so in the midst of the arena is my desire."
    That rebeck says, "I am dead of expectation; the hand and
bosom and plectrum of Uthman* are my desire."
    I am at once Love's rebeck, and Love is my rebeck-player;
those favours of the plucking of the All-merciful are my desire.
    Cunning minstrel, number the rest of this ode after this fashion,
for it is after this fashion I desire.
    Show your face from the east, Sun of the Pride of Tabriz; I am
the hoopoe, the presence of Solomon is my desire.
        
* Oman, the southern part of the Persian Gulf, symbolizes the 
  Divine Ocean. 
* "Like Jacob, etc." -- Koran 12:84
* The "Lion of God" was Ali, Muhammad's cousin and fourth caliph.  
  Rustam was the famous Iranian champion.
* Uthman:  Sharaf al-Din-i Qavval the minstrel, see Aflaki 222, etc.


Translation by A.J. Arberry
Mystical Poems of Rumi, 1
University of Chicago Press, March 1974




Ghazal 1393
Poetic TranslationLiteral Translation
i was dead
i came alive
i was tears
i became laughter


all because of love
when it arrived
my temporal life
from then on
changed to eternal


love said to me
you are not
crazy enough
you don't
fit this house


i went and
became crazy
crazy enough
to be in chains


love said
you are not
intoxicated enough
you don't
fit the group


i went and 
got drunk
drunk enough
to overflow
with light-headedness


love said
you are still
too clever
filled with
imagination and skepticism


i went and 
became gullible
and in fright
pulled away
from it all


love said
you are a candle
attracting everyone
gathering every one
around you


i am no more
a candle spreading light
i gather no more crowds
and like smoke
i am all scattered now


love said
you are a teacher
you are a head
and for everyone
you are a leader


i am no more
not a teacher
not a leader
just a servant
to your wishes


love said
you already have 
your own wings
i will not give you
more feathers


and then my heart
pulled itself apart
and filled to the brim
with a new light
overflowed with fresh life


now when the heavens
are thankful that
because of love
i have become
the giver of light


Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
Cal-Earth, September 1994
 
    I was dead, I became alive; I was weeping, I became laughing;
the power of love came, and I became everlasting power.
    My eye is satiated, my soul is bold, I have the heart of a lion, I
have become shining Venus.
    He said, "You are not mad, you are not appropriate to this
house"; I went and became mad, I became bound in shackles.

    He said, "You are not intoxicated; go, for you belong not to
this party"; I went and became intoxicated, I became overflowing
with joy.
    He said, "You are not slain, you are not drenched in joy";
before his life-giving face I became slain and cast down.
    He said, "You are a clever little man, drunk with fancy and
doubt"; I became a fool, I became straightened, I became 
plucked up out of all.
    He said, "You have become a candle, the qibla of this assem-
bly"; I am not of assembly, I am not candle, I have become
scattered smoke.
    He said, "You are shaikh and headman, you are leader and
guide"; I am not shaikh, I am not leader, I have become slave
to your command.
    He said, "You have pinions and wings, I will not give you
wings and pinions"; in desire for his pinions and wings I became 
wingless and impotent*.
    New fortune said to me, "Go not on the way, do not become
pained, for  out of grace and generosity I am now coming to you."
    Old love said to me, "Do not move from my breast"; I said,
"Yes, I will not, I am at rest and remain."
    You are the fountain of the sun, I am the shadow of the
willow; when You strike my head, I become low and melting.
    My heart felt the glow of the soul, my heart opened and split,
my heart wove a new satin, I became enemy of this ragged one.
    The form of the soul at dawn swaggered insolently; I was a
slave and an ass-driver, I became king and lord.
    Your paper gives thanks for your limitless sugar, for it came
into my embrace, and I dwelt in it.
    My darkling earth gives thanks for my bent sky and sphere,
 for through its gaze and circling I became light-receiving.
    The sphere of heaven gives thanks for king and kingdom and
angel, for through his generosity and bounty I have become
bright and bountiful.
    The gnostic of God gives thanks that we have outraced all;
above the seven layers* I have become a shining star.
    I was Venus, I became the moon, I became the two hundred-
fold sky; I was Joseph, henceforth I have become the waxing 
Joseph*.
    Famous moon, I am yours, look upon me and yourself, for
from the trace of your smile I have become a smiling rosegarden.
    Move silently like a chessman, yourself all tongue, for through
the face* of the king of the world I have become happy and 
blissful.


    
* "Impotent": i.e. "plucked clean of feathers."
* "The seven layers": the seven heavens.
* Joseph, after coming up from the well, waxed in beauty and
  power.
* "The face": a pun on "rukh", which also means "rook".


Translation by A.J. Arberry
Mystical Poems of Rumi, 1
University of Chicago Press, March 1974


Ghazal 1506
Poetic TranslationLiteral Translation
believe me
i wasn't always like this
lacking common sense
or looking insane


like you
i used to be clever
in my days


never like this
totally enraptured
totally gone


like sharp shooters
i used to be
a hunter of hearts


not like today
with my own heart
drowning in its blood


nonstop asking and
searching for answers
that was then


but now 
so deeply enchanted
so deeply enthralled


always pushing
to be ahead and above
since i was not yet hunted down
by this
ever-increasing love


Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
Cal-Earth, September 1994
 
"Not Like This Before"




I wasn't like this before.
I wasn't out of my mind and senses.
Once I used to be wise like you,
not crazy, insane and broken down
like I am now.


I wasn't the admirer of life
which has no trace, no being.
I used to ask, "Who is this?
What is that?"
and search all the time.


Since you have wisdom,
sit and think
that probably I was like this before.
I haven't changed much.


I used to try to make 
myself better than everybody.
I hadn't been hunted
with the ever-growing Love before.
I tried to rise above the sky
with my ambition
yet I didn't know
I was just wandering in the desert.
At the end, I have raised
a treasure from the ground.




Translation by Nevit O. Ergin 
(from Turkish translation of the Divan)
Magnificent One: Selected Verses from Divan-I Kebir 
(Out of Print)




Ghazal 1919
Poetic TranslationLiteral Translation
Look!  This is love -- to fly toward the heavens,
To tear a hundred veils in every wink,
To tear a hundred veils at the beginning,
To travel in the end without a foot,
And to regard this world as something hidden
And not to see with one's own seeing eye!
I said:  "O heart, may it for you be blessed
To enter in the circle of the lovers,
To look from far beyond the range of eyesight,
To wander in the corners of the bosom!
O soul, from where has come to you this new breath?
O heart, from where has come this heavy throbbing?
O bird, speak now the language of the birds

Because I know to understand your secret!"
The soul replied:  "Know, I was in God's workshop
While He still baked the house of clay and water.
I fled from yonder workshop at a moment
Before the workshop was made and created.
I could resist no more.  They dragged me hither
And they began to shape me like a ball!


Translation by Annemarie Schimmel
Look! This is Love: Poems of Rumi
Shambhala, April 1996
 
    This is love: to fly to heaven, every moment to rend a hundred 
veils;
    At first instance, to break away from breath -- first step, to
renounce feet;
    To disregard this world, to see only that which you yourself
have seen*.
    I said, "Heart, congratulations on entering the circle of lovers,
    "On gazing beyond the range of the eye, on running into the 
alley of the breasts."
    Whence came this breath, O heart? Whence came this 
throbbing, O heart?
    Bird, speak the tongue of birds: I can heed your cipher!
    The heart said, "I was in the factory whilst the home of water 
and clay was abaking.
    "I was flying from the workshop whilst the workshop was
being created.
    "When I could no more resist, they dragged me; how shall I
tell the manner of that dragging?"


* "to see only that which you yourself have seen" -- Nicholson's
version is "(not to see your own eye) whence all objects derive 
their unreal existence."


Translation by A.J. Arberry
Mystical Poems of Rumi, 1
University of Chicago Press, March 1974


Ghazal 2523
Poetic TranslationLiteral Translation
my dear heart
you're a fire worshiper
an explosive in flame


call on the cupbearer
to sprinkle the wine on you
to soothe your burn with water


that special cupbearer
the same one who sizzles
lives with wine and lips with kisses


the one who first calmed my mind
gave me a cup of fiery wine
and took me to a secret house 
in that special house
dwelled a precious sweetheart
who offered me a choice


a tray full of gold
a tray full of flame
a few words i was told


this gold is soaked with fire
this fire is filled with gold
if you choose fire you'll end up with gold


if you choose the burden of gold
you'll lay heavy and cold
take the fire of the beloved and leap with joy


Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
Cal-Earth, September 1994
 
    Fire-worshipping heart of mine who spins like a ball in the fire*,
say to the Saqi, "Quick now, a glass of lees to begin with!" 
    Come, lip-biting Saqi, cook with wine and raw ones; bravo,
garden and orchard of vine from which you pressed the grapes!
    I will give a hint no one gives; the hint is this, O fair of
stature, that on that night you transported me unselfed, you com-
mitted me to that moonface of mine.
    You, reason, do you remember how, when the king of reason
out of love bestowed that fiery wine on me, at the first breath
you died?
    That darling brought two dishes, one of fire, one full of gold;
if you take gold, it becomes fire, and if you set on fire, you win
the game.
    See the proud Saqi!  Extinguish that pretty fire!  What do you
know of the power of fire, for there you are a little child?
    Get out of the fire, you will rise happy out of Shams-al-din
Tabrizi; and if you flee into the gold, like gold you will have 
congealed.


* Perhaps a better translation is,
    "... who burns like sulphur in a fire".  
    
Translation by A.J. Arberry
Mystical Poems of Rumi, 2
University of Chicago Press, September 1991

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