The Divani Shamsi Tabriz is a masterpiece of Persian literature and a classic work in the history of Sufism. With his Masnavi it is one of the key writings of the renowned mystic poet Jalalu'ddin Rumi (1207-73).
Professor Nicholson's English translation of selected poems from the Divan of Rumi is the best known version in a European language but it has been unobtainable for a number of years. It is now again made available, for scholars and students of Persian literature and to all those interested in the mystical literature of Islam. The persian text is printed with facing English translations, and there are copious notes, a lengthy introduction, appendixes and indexes.
About six years ago, when I consulted Professor Robertson Smith, whose kindness and heroic unselfishness none of his pupils can ever forget, as to what I should make the subject of the dissertation expected from candidates for a Trinity Fellowship, he suggested the Divani Shamsi 'Tabriz, in other words, the lyrical poetry of Jalalu'ddin Rumi, I was the more ready to follow his advice as the Sufi doctrines had even then begun to inspire me with the strange and irresistible fascination which a religion of love and beauty exercises over certain minds. Accordingly, Mr E. G. Browne having lent me his copy of the 'Tabriz Edition of the Divan, I worked through it page by page, selecting the poems that pleased me best and translating them in prose or verse. The present volume is an outcome of that experiment. It is not, however, merely a rechauffe. My original dissertation was based upon a single text and left many difficulties unsolved. In 1894 I collated a splendid manuscript of the Divan preserved in the Vienna Hofbibliothek, and on my return I examined one of equal importance, which the authorities of the Leyden University. Library generously placed at my disposal. The text thus obtained I have corrected and supplemented by reference to MSS. in the British Museum and elsewhere. As regards interpretation also much has been gained. In a wider knowledge of Sufi literature, and especially of the Masnavis, I found the key to passages which seemed hopelessly obscure. The comparative method may be abused ; its value is beyond dispute. Sufism has few ideas, but an inexhaustible wealth and variety of illustration. Among a thousand fluttering masks the interpreter is required to identify each old familiar face. Now one mask reveals more than another, and when that has been penetrated, its neighbour can no longer dissemble the likeness which hitherto remained unrecognised. I do not, of course, pretend to have understood everything: Sufiam is neither an exact science nor a popular history of the Creation. This enigmatic and ambiguous style, of which the Divan is a masterpiece, will always leave ample room for conjecture, even though its chief characters are easily deciphered. I trust that my explanatory notes, if occasionally they prove to be beside the mark, may nevertheless contribute to a better appreciation of the greatest mystical poet of any age.
While the Masnavi is accessible in the scholarly abstract of Mr Whinfield and the laborious but amazingly unpoetical version of Bk. I. by Sir James Redhouse, the Divan, scarcely inferior in merit or fame, has been less fortunate. There is no English edition ; Austria has given us Rosenzweig's Auswahl (1838), and the clumsy translations of Von Hammer in his Schone Redekunste Persiens. For a notice of both the reader is referred to the Introduction. I have included three odes which appear in the Auswahl ; the rest are now published in Europe for the first time. The task of selection was not a simple one, and I have necessarily relied on my own taste and feeling. If my book were not addressed to students of Persian rather than to lovers of literature, I should have been tempted to imitate Abu Tammam, whose Hamasa is a compilation of verses torn from their context. Such a plan is peculiarly favoured by the loose structure of the ghazal, where couplets complete in themselves are strung together in the slightest fashion. But as no writer can fairly be judged by fragments, however fine, I have endeavoured to make this anthology a true and sufficient reflexion of the whole Divan.
1. The Divani Shamsi Tabriz acquaints us with a striking literary phenomenon '. It is true that books have been ascribed by ambition or malice to those who had no hand ill producing them. It is true, again, that while the fashion of pseudonymous authorship is everywhere understood and practised, in Persia the poet a la mode cannot dispense with a takhallus, which instead of exciting curiosity and sparing modesty a blush serves to gratify the generous patron, to immortalise a place or event, to unfold some characteristic, and in fine to secure that its owner shall not for all time lie buried under one of those cumbrous family trees that betray alike the poverty and confusion of Mohammedan nomenclature. But here is no question of takhallus, forgery, or composition holding up to ridicule the imagined author. The Divan was never attributed to Shamsi Tabriz, who probably died before it was complete. Why then does his name appear on the title-page and at the end of most of the odes? Who was he, and in what relation did he stand to Jalalu 'ddin Rumt? Why should a poet who ranks with Firdausi and Hafiz lay on the brow of an unknown dervish his wreath of imperishable lyric song ?
2. Jalalu'ddin Rumi was born at Balkh on the 6th of Rabi'u 'l Awwal, 604 A. H. (30th September, 1207)'. We may pass lightly over the apocryphal genealogy which connects him with Abu Bekr, the first Caliph. His descent, on the mother's side, from the royal house of Khwarazm is well established. Jalalu 'ddin Husain AI-Khatibi married a daughter of 'Ala 'u 'ddin Muhammad Khwarazm-Shah. Their son, Baha 'u 'ddm Walad, is the poet's father.
Baha 'u 'ddin was a man of great learning and piety, all eloquent preacher and distinguished professor, Unfortunately, not content with' declaiming against the philosophers and rationalists of the day,' he seems to have indulged in political diatribes. According to Aflaki, he attacked the 'innovations' of the reigning monarch, Muhammad kutbu 'ddin Khwarazm-Shah, surnamed Takash, who held sway in the north-east of Persia and in Transoxania. Another account depicts the king as jealous of his growing influence and popularity. Whatever may have been the cause, he found it convenient to quit Balkh with his family and a few friends (about 607 A. H.). At Nishapur the travellers were met by the famous Sufi, Faridu 'ddin 'Attar, who gave Jalal, at this time a mere child, his Asrar-nama (Book of Mysteries), and prophesied that he would attain the highest pitch of spiritual eminence. From Nishapur they went to Baghdad, where they received news of the destruction of Balkh by Jingiz Khan (608 A. H.); then to Mecca, Damascus, and Malatiya (Melitene). Four years were spent at Arzanjan in Armenia, and seven at Laranda. Here Jalalu 'ddin married Jauhar Khatun, daughter of the Lala Sharafu 'ddin of Samarcand (623 A.H.). Soon afterwards the family settled in Qoniya (Iconium), the capital of the Seljuq prince, 'Ala 'u 'ddm Kaikubad, and Baha 'u 'ddin resumed his professorial activity under the royal patronage.
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