Thursday, September 12, 2013

Roses from the Rose Garden...........

The Rose Garden
Written by
Shaikh Muslih al-Din Sa'di
Translated by
Francis Gladwin

"It was the season of spring; the air was temperate, and the rose in
full bloom. The vestment of the trees resembled the festive garments
of the fortunate. It was mid-spring, when the nightingales were
chanting from the pulpits of the branches; the rose decked with pearly
dew, like blushes on the cheek of a chiding mistress. It happened
once, that I was benighted in a garden, in company with one of my
friends. The spot was delightful, the trees intertwined; you would have
said that the earth was bedecked with glass spangles, and that the
knot of the Pleiades was suspended from the branch of the vine. A
garden with a running stream, and trees from whence birds were
warbling melodious strains: that filled with tulips of various hues; these
loaded with fruits of several kinds. Under the shade of its trees the
zephyr had spread the variegated carpet. In the morning, when the
desire to return home overcame our inclination for remaining, I saw in
his lap a collection of roses, odoriferous herbs, and hyacinths, which
he had intended to carry to town. I said," You are not ignorant that the
flower of the garden soon fadeth, and that the enjoyment of the rosebush is but of short continuance; and the sages have declared, that
the heart ought not to be set upon anything that is transitory." He
asked, "What course is then to be pursued?" I replied, "I am able to
form a book of roses, which will delight the beholders, and gratify
those who are present; whose leaves the tyrannic arm of the autumnal
blasts can never affect, nor injure the blossom of its spring. What
benefit will you derive from a basket of flowers? Carry a leaf from my
garden: a rose may continue in bloom for five or six days; but this
rose-garden will flourish forever." As soon as I had uttered these
words, he flung the flowers from his lap, and, laying hold on the skirt of my garment, exclaimed, "When the beneficent promise, they faithfully
discharge their engagement." In the course of a few days, two
chapters (one on the comforts of society, and the other containing
rules for conversation) were written out in my notebook, in a style that
may be useful to orators, and improve the skill of letter-writers. In
short, whilst the rose was yet in bloom, the book entitled the Rose
Garden was finished: but it will be truly perfected on gaining a
favorable reception at court, and when it obtains an indulgent perusal
from that prince who is the asylum of the world, the shadow of the
Most High, the ray of providential beneficence, the treasury of the age,
the refuge of religion, the favorite of Heaven, the mighty arm of the
victorious empire, the lamp of the resplendent religion, the most
splendid of mankind, the aggrandizer of the faith, Sa'd, son of Atabuk
the great; that potent monarch to whom nations bend the neck; lord
paramount of the kings of Arabia and Persia; sovereign of land and
sea; inheritor of the throne of Solomon, Muzaffar al-Din, may God
perpetuate the good fortune of both, and prosper all their righteous

Out of the Pan into the Fire

I had grown weary of the society of my Damascus friends, and
therefore, made my way into Jerusalem desert, where I enjoyed the
companionship of the beasts; until the time came when the Franks
made me their prisoner, and kept me with Jews in a trench in Tripoli
digging clay. One of the leading citizens of Aleppo, with who I had
been formerly acquainted, chancing to pass by, recognized me and
said, "Sirrah, what manner of life is this?" I said, "What can I say?
 I fled from men to mountain and to plain,
 For I had nothing from mankind to gain;
 How is my case? Regard me in this den,
 Where I must sweat with men that are not men.
 Better to hand in chains, when friends are there,
 Than dwell with strangers in a garden fair."
 He had compassion on my condition, and with ten dinars procured
my release from bondage. He took me along with him to Aleppo, and
there made me marry his daughter, adding a dowry of a hundred
dinars. Some time passed. She was a woman always scowling,
disobedient and growling; she began to give me plenty of her shrewish
tongue, and made life wholly miserable for me.
 A bad wife comes with a good man to dwell:
 She soon converts his pleasant world to hell.
 Beware of evil partnership, beware:
 From hellish torment, Lord, thy servant spare!
 Once in a torrent of abuse she said, "Are you not that man whom
my father bought back from the Franks?" I said, "Yes, I am that man
whom your father bought back from the Frankish chains for ten dinars,
and delivered into your bondage for a hundred dinars.
 I heard that a sheep had by a great man been rescued from the
jaws and the power of a wolf; in the evening he stroked her throat with
a knife, whereon the soul of the sheep complained thus: "Thou hast
snatched me away from the claws of a wolf, but at last I see thou art
thyself the real wolf."

On Contentment
 I never lamented about the vicissitude of time or complained of the
turns of fortune, except on the occasion when I was barefooted and
unable to procure slippers. But when I entered the great mosque of
Kufah with a sore heart, and beheld a man without feet, I offered
thanks to the bounty of God, consoled myself for my want of shoes,
and recited: "A roast fowl is to the sight of a satiated man less valuable
than a blade of grass on the table; and to him who has no means nor
power a burnt turnip is [as good as] a roasted fowl."

The Last Sleight
Translated by
Reuben Levy

A person had arrived at the head of his profession in the art of
wrestling: he knew three hundred and sixty capital sleights in this art,
and every day exhibited something new; but having a sincere regard
for a beautiful youth, one of his scholars, he taught him three hundred
and fifty nine sleights, reserving, however, one sleight to himself. The
youth excelled so much in skill and in strength that no one was able to
cope with him. He at length boasted, before the Sultan, that the
superiority which he allowed his master to maintain over him was out
of respect to his years and the consideration of having been his
instructor; for otherwise he was not inferior in strength, and was his
equal in point of skill. The king did not approve of this disrespectful
conduct, and commanded that there should be a trial of skill.
 An extensive spot was appointed for the occasion. The ministers of
state and other grandees of the court were in attendance. The youth,
like a lustful elephant, entered with a percussion that would have
removed from its base a mountain of iron. The master, being sensible
that the youth was his superior in strength, attacked with the sleight
which he had kept to himself. The youth not being able to repel it, the
master with both hands lifted him from the ground, and raising him
over his head, flung him on the earth. The multitude shouted; the king
commanded that a dress and a reward in money should be bestowed
on the master, and reproved and derided the youth for having
presumed to put himself in competition with his benefactor, and for
having failed the attempt. He said, "O King, my master did not gain the
victory over me through strength or skill; but there remained a small
part in the art of wrestling which he had withheld from me, and by that
small feint he got the better of me." The master observed: "I reserved it
for such an occasion as the present; the sages having said, 'Put not
yourself so much in the power of your friend that if he should be
disposed to be inimical he may be able to effect his purpose.' Have
you not heard what was said by a person who had suffered injury from
one whom he had educated? 'Either there never was any gratitude in
the world, or else no one at this time practices it. I never taught anyone
the art of archery who in the end did not make a butt of me.'"

The Greedy Merchant
Translated by
Reuben Levy

I saw a merchant who possessed one hundred and fifty camels
laden with merchandise, and forty slaves. One night, in the island of
Kish, he entertained me in his own apartment, and during the whole
night did not cease talking in rambling fashion, saying: "I have such
and such a partner in Turkistan, and such goods in Hindustan; these
are the title-deeds of such and such a piece of ground, and, for this
matter such a one is security." Sometimes he would say: "I have an
inclination to go to Alexandria, the air of which is very pleasant." Then
again: "No, I will not go, because the Mediterranean sea is boisterous.
O Sa'di, I have another journey in contemplation, and after I have
performed that I will pass the remaining of my life in retirement, and
leave off trading." I asked what journey it was. He replied: "I want to
carry Persian brimstone to China, where I have heard it bears a very
high price; from thence I will transport China ware to Greece, and take
the brocades of Greece to India, and Indian steel to Aleppo. The
glassware of Aleppo I will convey to Yemen, and from thence go with
striped cloths to Persia; after which I will leave off trade and sit down in
my shop." He spoke so much of this foolishness that at length, being
quite exhausted, he said: "O Sa'di, relate also of what you have seen
and heard." I replied, "Have you not heard that once upon a time a
merchant, as he was travelling in the desert, fell from his camel? He
said that the covetous eye of the worldly man is either satisfied
through contentment or will be filled with the earth of the grave."


Two almond kernels in the same shell.-Saad Shirazi

Poet, prose writer and thinker, Muslihuddin Abu
Muhammad Abdullah ibn Mushrifuddin Sa'di, also referred
to as Shaykh Sa'di and Sa'di Shirazi, was born in Shiraz in
or around 1200. He died in Shiraz in or around 1292 of old

Little is known about the formative years of the poet's life
other than that his father, Mushrifi Shirazi, was a religious
man and of a religious persuasion. When Sa'di was about
twelve years old, his father passed away and the family
came under the protection of Sa'di's uncle who had a small
shop in Shiraz. With the help of his uncle, Sa'di completed
his early education in Shiraz. The end of his elementary
education coincides roughly with the invasion of Central
Asia by Chingiz Khan and the devastation of Khujand,
Samarqand, and Bukhara, the Iranian peoples' most
cherished cultural centers.

Sa'di left increasingly turbulent Shiraz for Baghdad where
he could study the Arabic language, Arab literature, hadith,
the Qur'an,and commentaries on the holy book at the
Nizamiyyah Academy. Once his education was complete,
he left Baghdad and until 1256, traveled extensively in the
Middle East, especially in Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Morocco,
and Abyssinia and in the eastern Islamic lands, particularly
in Turkistan. In the east, he might have traveled as far as

Sa'di's travels coincide with a time when Chingiz Khan
(1206-1227) passed the scepter of Mongol power to Ogadai
Khan (1221-1241) and when, under Khan Mongke (1251-
1258), Batu Khan devastated Russia and Eastern Europe. In
this respect, Sa'di is very much like Marco Polo who
traveled in the region from 1271 to 1294. There is a
difference, however, between the two. While Marco Polo
gravitated to the potentates and the good life, Sa'di mingled
with the ordinary survivors of the Mongol holocaust. He sat
in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views
with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and
Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued
the same schedule of preaching, advising, learning, honing
his sermons, and polishing them into gems illuminating the
wisdom and foibles of his people.

1256 is the date usually assigned for the time when Sa'di's
zeal for travel gave in to his desire to document the fruits of
his travels. He returned to his home town of Shiraz which,
under Atabak Abubakr Sa'd ibn Zangy (1231-60) was
enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Not only was he
welcomed to the city but was respected highly by the ruler
and enumerated among the greats of the province. In
response, Sa'di composed some of his most delightful
panegyrics as an initial gesture of gratitude in praise of the
ruling house and placed them at the beginning of his

Intended as a vehicle for the transmission of his poetic and
literary gifts, the Bustan (orchard) is an exquisite piece of
didactic poetry composed in 1257. It is comprised of ten
sections of verse, each a dissertation on wisdom, justice,
compassion, good government, beneficence, earthly and
mystic love, resignation, contentment, and humility.
Dedicated to Abubakr Zangy, over the centuries, many of
its verses have become popular proverbs, an indication of
the level of excellence at which the public holds this
contribution of the Shaykh.

Within a year of the composition of Bustan, Sa'di authored
another volume which he entitled Gulistan. Dedicated to
Sa'd ibn Zangy, the Gulistan (rose garden) is intended to
pass to subsequent generations the essence of the Shaykh's
sermons. The volume consists of a cycle of eight rhymed
prose partitions each interspersed with poetry. The themes
 discussed include the manners of kings, the morals of dervishes,
 the preference of contentment, the advantages of keeping silent,
 as well as youth, old age, and the like. The following,
 translated by this author, illustrates Sa'di's attitude towards 
wealth and authority vis-a-vis freedom and enjoyment of a 
tranquil life:

Astride a horse I am not, nor camel-like carry a load,
Subjects I have none, nor follow any sultan's code;
I worry not for what exists, nor fret for what is lost,
I breathe with extreme ease, and live at very little

The volume is melodious in style with a predominance of
love in it. It expresses the poet's true emotions in its prose
as well as in its exemplary poetry. Furthermore, it is a gold
mine for effective use of metaphor displaying mystic love
in the guise of earthly love, and is redolent with contempt
for priesthood and authority. The first Persian literary
contribution to be translated into a Western tongue, the
Gulistan was translated by Rahatsek in Banares in 1888.
Sa'di's collected works includes 65 odes out of which 20 are
in Arabic. His odes are dedicated to such diverse themes as
spring, Shiraz, didactic matters, and religion. Only 20 of his
odes are devoted to either advising rulers or praising them.
Sa'di also wrote 200 quatrains, 7 elegies, and 737 sonnets.
Sa'di distinguished between the spiritual and the practical or
mundane aspects of life. In his Bustan, for example,
spiritual Sa'di uses the mundane world as a springboard to
propel himself beyond the earthly realms. The images in
Bustan are delicate in nature and soothing. In the Gulistan,
on the other hand, mundane Sa'di lowers the spiritual to
touch the heart of his fellow wayfarers. Here the images are
graphic and, thanks to Sa'di's dexterity, remain concrete in
the reader's mind. Realistically, too, there is a ring of truth 
in the division. The Shaykh preaching in the Khaniqah
experiences a totally different world than the merchant
passing through a town. The unique thing about Sa'di is that
he embodies both the Sufi Shaykh and the traveling
merchant. They are, as he himself puts it, two almond
kernels in the same shell.

Although Sa'di's name is associated with many famous
names in the West, three have been instrumental in the
development of his persona. Sir William Jones, for whom
Sa'di was a household name while in India, introduced Sa'di
to England. From there, Sa'di's fame traveled to Europe and
was picked up by Victor Hugo, Honore-de Balzac, and
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who added an international
dimension to Sa'di's fame and moved it across the Atlantic
in the direction of the American Transcendentalists Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau. Among the devoted
readers of this distinguished international group of poets,
Sa'di became as well-known as Omar Khayyam is known

Fame, however, is a fleeting thing. Back in Britain, using
Sa'di's volumes as a textbook for learning the Persian
language, Edward Fitzgerald prepared his first edition of the
Ruba'iyyat of Omar Khayyam and published it
anonymously (1859). Its appeal surpassed that of the works
of Sa'di. In fact the popularity that the second edition of the
Ruba'iyyat received was unmatched by any other translation
of secular Asian poetry into English. Neither translations of
Sa'di's quatrains nor the translation of his other works in
quatrain form could turn the tide. Sa'di was thus forced to
share his fame with Khayyam and later with Hafiz.

Sa'di's prose style, described as "simple but impossible to
imitate" flows quite naturally and effortlessly. Its simplicity,
however, is grounded in a semantic web consisting of
synonymy, homophony, and oxymoron buttressed by
internal rhythm and external rhyme. Iranian authors over
the years have failed to imitate its style in their own
language, how can foreigners translate it into their own
language, no matter what language?

After the composition of the Gulistan, in 1258, Sa'di went
into retirement and was heard of no more. He is the
quintessential Muslim humanist, the first such wise man to
be recognized in the West.

The world honors Sa'di today by gracing the entrance to the
Hall of Nations in the United Nations in New York City
with a call for breaking all barriers. In the present author's
translation, it reads:

Of One Essence is the Human Race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base.
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.
The Unconcern'd with Others' Plight,
Are but Brutes with Human Face.

A Brief Chronology
1200? Sa'di is born in Shiraz
1206 Temuchin takes the title of Chingiz Khan
1220 The Khwarazm Shah is defeated by Chingiz Khan;
Sa'di's primary education in Shiraz ends
1226 Sa'di's education at the Baghdad Nizamiyyah ends
1227 Chingiz Khan dies
1241 Greater part of Russia is subjugated by Batu Khan
1243 Mongols defeat Seljuqs of Rum near Sivas
1256 Hulagu Khan takes Assassin stronghold of Alamut;
Berke, Batu Khan's brother, accepts Islam; Sa'di's
travels end
1257 Sa'di's Bustan is completed
1258 Hulagu Khan takes Baghdad; Sa'di's Gulistan is
1259 Sa'di's retirement begins
1260 Mongols defeated by the Mamluks at 'Ayn Jalut
1271 Marco Polo travels through Persia to China
1273 Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi dies
1290? Sa'di dies in Shiraz