In this lesson, we go over one of Rumi's most famous poems, beshnō een nay, which means ‘listen to the reed flute,' with our friend Muhammad Ali of Persian Poetics. We go over the essence and meaning behind the poem, and analyze it line by line using Muhammad Ali's English translation. Beshnō een nay is the first poem in Rumi's Masnavi, and is a common poem for Iranians to have memorized. The major theme of the poem is that of separation, either from a specific place or from the divine, and the return to the ‘self,' whatever that may be. The following is the full poem, both written in phonetic Persian and in Persian script, followed by Muhammad Ali's translation:
beshnõ een nay chon shekayat meekonad
Listen to this reed-flute, how it complains
بِشنو این نَی چون شِکایَت میکُند
az jodāyeehā hekāyat meekonad
it tells stories of separation pains
از جُداییها حِکایَت میکُند
kaz neyestān tā marā beboreedé-and
since they cute me away from the reedbed
کَز نیستان تا مَرا بِبُریدهاَند
dar nafeeram mard ō zan nāleedand
men and women have cried into my head
در نَفیرم مَرد و زَن نالیدهاند
seené khāham sharhé sharhé az farāgh
I seek a heart, from longing torn apart
سینه خواهم شَرحه شَرحه از فِراق
tā begooyam sharhé dardé eshteeyāgh
so the pain of yearning, I can impart
تا بگویم شَرحِ دَردِ اشتیاق
har kasee k'oo door mānd az aslé kheesh
From their roots, whoever remains away
هر کسی کو دور ماند از اصلِ خویش
bāz jooyad roozgār vaslé kheesh
seeks a reunion with the self one day
باز جوید روزگارِ وصلِ خویش
man bé har jam'ee nālān shodam
In every crowd, I cried out in despair
من به هر جمعیتی نالان شدم
jam'é badhālān ō khoshhālān shodam
with happy and sad I became a pair
جُفتِ بَدحالان و خوشحالان شدم
har kasee az zané khod shod yāré man
whoever thought they confided with me
هرکسی از ظَنِ خود شد یارِ من
az darooné man najost asrāré man
did not seek the secrets inside of me
از درون من نَجُست اَسرارِ من
how are you?
Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’
Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.
Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.
|chetor-ee||how are you?|
|khayli khoobam||I’m very well|
|khoob neestam||I’m not well|
|bad neestam||I’m not bad|
|chetor-een?||how are you? (formal)|
|hālé shomā chetor-é?||how are you? (formal)|
|hālet chetor-é?||how are you? (informal)|
|khoob-ee?||are you well? (informal)|
|chetor peesh meeré?||how’s it going?|
|ché khabar?||what’s the news? (what’s up?)|
Leyla Shams: Can you tell us a bit about the Masnavi in general.
Muhammad Ali: The Masnavi is Rumi's main work. Rumi left behind a few different works. One is a collection of sermons that he gave that people wrote down, another one is a similar type of work. But the two most famous ones are definitely any Persian speaker, and especially if they're raised in a Persian speaking country, like Iran, Afghanistan would definitely know is the Ghazal poem, which is in the Devoneh Shams and the Masnavi. So the Ghazal poems are a huge collection of love poems, and that's where a lot of the famous Rumi poems that we know of comes from, like, for example, I know you have translated Rooz o Shab, that one that's one of the Ghazals, and basically any, especially Iranian would know these, because they appear in a lot of contemporary music. They're very popular now. They've kind of resurgent popularity. But this book that we're covering the first book of the very, very first introductory poem, it's the masnavi, which is a longer narrative poem. It's actually pretty long. It's six books collected into one. And it's a bunch of stories, but basically, they're all connected with the lessons that are given there. And it's a very spiritual work, it's preferred by Sufi or people who have like mystical leanings. It wasn't originally intended as a manual for Sufism, because Rumi you know, as we know him as like a famous poet and all that he was initially he was like a Sufi teaching Sufi disciples were trying to uncover, you know, spiritual truths, as he would say, in his Masnavi.
Leyla Shams: Right. And so, maybe going back, let's talk a little bit about Rumi. You said he was a spiritual teacher? And then what is Deevoneh Shams? And who is Shams?
Muhammad Ali: Rumi was born in the eastern ends of what was then a bunch of disconnected, let's say, I don't want to say empires because it wasn't like the pre Islamic Persian Empire. But basically, during Rumi's time, there were a bunch of different dynasties that were controlling what we would consider kind of like the Iranian cultural sphere, but they weren't necessarily a modern country so he was born in what currently is the Republic of Afghanistan. But in that time, it was part of a greater Persian cultural sphere. We love to talk about this as Iranians, right. His family for seeing very smartly. his dad's especially for seeing the Mongol invasions, moves westward. Goes through modern Afghanistan into the modern country of Iran, and then goes to the country of modern Syria, and then ends up in at the time was the Saljuk dynasty, which, if you listeners are familiar with Iranian history, they're one of the many dynasties that we've had. And he ends up settled there. And he grows up in a normal household that was religiously inclined, his dad was an Islamic scholar. And I should note that back then there were no modern universities and all these jobs. Basically, if you're educated, you would become either an Islamic scholar, or let's say, a musician, or maybe a military leader, there was very few jobs that you could do. So his dad was an Islamic scholar, and he like people back then inherited his dad's job, that was the norm. You know, your dad was a goldsmith, you were a goldsmith, etc. So he kind of grows up as an average Islamic scholar is a well known person literary well read and all that but nothing too special, right? Just like an average person living an average life. And then a person named Shamseh Tabrizi comes along. Shamseh Tabrizi was what we call a wandering dervish. These people are like ascetics, as we would say, in English, they were like monks, they live detached from the world, they would go from town to town, doing basic jobs, maybe teaching or doing small work, collecting a little money and go to the next place. They kind of were like, maybe you could pick like a Buddhist monk or a Christian monk living in a monastery, they try to detach themselves from the world as much as possible. And Shams would go from place to place looking for students or people to teach the spiritual truths that he had learned. So he arrives one day in Konya and as we'd say, in Farsi, and modern day Turkey, in central Anatolia, and he hears that there's this famous scholar named Rumi. So he approaches Rumi in the middle of the street. This is one of the stories, there are few stories, but this is the one that I prefer. He approaches Rumi and Rumi is getting followed by students you can imagine like a few university professors really Beloved, like walking in the street, and a few people are like, Hey, can I ask you a question, etc. And, you know, back then people who knew things were very few, you know, maybe like 4% 5% of the people on the city were literate at all. So like, this is someone who who knows how to read is a big deal, you know, and again, back then there were there weren't as many doctors and all these things like whatever question you had, you would just kind of ask like the religious person, like they would give you medicine and all this stuff. So Rumi is getting followed in shops with like, dirty torn clothes, approach, like confronts him and gets in his face. And then he's like, what are you doing? Who are you, you know? And then Shams says, I heard you're one of the people of knowledge in this city. I have a question for you. The Rumi says, okay, sure, ask me. And then Shams says who was the greater mystic? The Prophet Muhammad, or Bayazeedeh Bastami. Bayazeedeh Bastami was just another Sufi mystic from Bastam in modern Iran. And Rumi says Of course, you know, the Prophet Muhammad, you know, what kind of question is that? And then Shams said, but then why is it that Bayazeedeh Bastami has reached God. He said, I am like one with God almost like at the same level, but Mohammed said, I have not known you the way I should have known you or you are due to be known. So he felt like he didn't know God enough. And then Rumi said that's because by Bastami was limited in his mystical spiritual understanding, but Muhammad was unlimited. There was no limit to how much he could know. And Shams says like okay, I'll take you as a student. You can imagine like what that would be like, if like a homeless person approaches like a really famous professor and is just like, I'll take you as a student. So Rumi and Shams spent 40 days in seclusion, Shams is teaching Rumi uncovering these these mystical truths, let's say, and then Shams disappears. And Rumi is like devastated. So word comes as Shams went to Damascus, this was normal Sams goes, so he's kind of like a grifter, he's on to the next thing. He's like a backpacker, a better word. And then Rumi senses his son, he says go bring him back. He has to come back to his son goes to Damascus, brings him back to Konya. And Rumi is like, Look, I want you to stay here and just live here. I'll set you up. And back then it wasn't like private homes. It was like a big compound home, you know, like a home, a place where you cook a bathroom plays kind of like old homes in Iran are kind of like this annoying. So he was like, I'll give you a room in my home. I'll marry you to one of like someone and you can just stay here. So Rumi has Shams married to someone but the marriage doesn't work out. And then they continue studying. And then one day Shams is just gone but this time, it's for good. There's many theories as to what happened. Some people say that Shams just was going to move on anyway, he wanted to teach Rumi one last lesson, which is lesson of separation. Other people say that the people who around me were jealous of the new relationship that had formed and the dislike that Shams had kind of transformed their very mainstream moderates, you know, lukewarm cleric into like this person who's spending 30 days and 40 days in seclusion, and who's wearing tattered clothes and who's saying poems and doing all these like weird things, you know. And then Shams goes, and Rumi, I don't even I don't want to say snapped, but basically, like something happened. And he just kind of goes crazy. He starts like uttering poems out of nowhere, like in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Greek, like from any language, and his students actually follow him around and be ready to write it down, because he would just utter it. And if you read his poems, you can kind of tell that because he repeats a lot of words. And then some of the lines like there's, there's so many of them, there's like 1000s and 1000s of his poems, like I did that math, you would have had to write like at least four or five poems a day, to be able to write that many poems. And in that time, like, just again, I'm talking like poems that are like 20, 30 lines, it's no joke. And on top of that, he writes this huge book that we're going to read a bit of today, Masnavi. So yeah, at the end, he ends up leaving, like, I want to say, like, 80,000 lines of poetry or something like insane, like, unimaginable,
Leyla Shams: Wow.
Muhammad Ali: He becomes like, he just, I don't even know how to I mean, like, at a loss for words to describe it. But he gathers all these students and even non Muslims like Greeks, there were a lot of Greeks, they're living in the time. So Greek Christian started, like, following him, like, we want to learn more from you. And there's also Jewish people who are following him, like, he kind of transcended all understandings that we have of like, what a religion is, or what faith is, or what a faith group is, kind of was like a very Universalist figure, right? And then he gathers all these students, and then you know, one day he passes away to the students say, we can't let these teachings go. So they record all of his writings and preserve it. And they found a Sufi order, all the Mevlevi in Turkish, the Mevlevi Sufi order, which just means coming from Maulana from his name. And that order exists all this today, till this day, and they're they're known for the famous spinning Sufi dance, and a lot of people who've been to Turkey, or they've seen it online, there's their famous practice that he started, where he would, he would spin around. And I mean, you know, still, I mean, after all, this time studying him, I still feel at a loss for words to describe him or his relationship with the Shams. Inshallah, that was the best description that I could give for now.
Leyla Shams: Yeah, that's great. And, you know, these poems have a lot of layers and a lot of different interpretations. And, you know, some people say that it's very literal, and it's about wine. And it's about, you know, physical love, and it's about all these things. And then some people see it as just, you know, spiritual and you know, it's about God, and it's about getting lost in, in God. And then there's like, a balance of all these things and saying, okay, it's about all of these things. So I'm excited to hear your interpretation. So we're going to read read this poem. So for the first one, you chose Beshno een nay, and nay is a flute or read an instrument that is played in, in Iran. And so and this is a poem about separation. And why did you choose this poem?
Muhammad Ali: Sure. So I think this is a good a good poem to open up with Rumi, because in a way kind of encapsulates his whole personality and his view on life like it's basically about him. And I find it really interesting, because he didn't want to write this really long book that this is opening with, he was approached by a student saying, you know, we want to work where all your lessons are written down, we don't want to just be oral, and then it's the last like, we want something on paper so that we can pass it and teach in cetera. So Rumi actually pulls out a little scroll from his like turban or hat or whatever he was wearing. And he had already had this so he said, Why don't we make this the intro, and then we'll start from there. I think this poem has a nice story in it kind of, I feel like we can relate to it as, as people who are experiencing this, this diaspora situation, we can kind of relate to the messages and we'll see as we get into it,
Leyla Shams: So then you're going to read a line in the original version. And then Is this your translation that you sent me?
Muhammad Ali: Yes, this is my translation.
Leyla Shams: Wonderful. He has translations himself that you can see on his Instagram and his website and his Twitter, Persian poetics. So that's where this is from. So yeah, go ahead. All right,
Muhammad Ali: Beshno een nay, sheyakat meekonad. Az jodayeeha hekayat meekonad.
Leyla Shams: Listen to this read flute. How it complains, it tells stories of separation pains.
Muhammad Ali: Kaz neyestan mara beboreede-and Dar nafeeram mard o zan naleedeand
Leyla Shams: Since they cut me away from the reedbed men and women have cried into my head.
Muhammad Ali: So this is if we picture a wooden flute not like a metal flute that is common in western classical music and Iran turkey etc They were made out of wood and they were originally reeds they kind of look similar sugar canes and they'd get cut away so Rumi here is comparing himself to like a reed that's from a bed of reeds you know with all the other reeds and it's cut away and taken away from its source. So the same way that he was from Eastern the eastern lands of where Persians lives and cut away and taken away to Turkey which is like a world of distance then I feel like we can also relate to this as people who have been moved away from where we're from
Leyla Shams: Right right.
Muhammad Ali: Seene khaham sharhe sharhe az faragh Ta begooyam sharheh dardeh eshteeyagh.
Leyla Shams: I seek a heart from longing torn apart. So the pain of yearning, I can impart.
Muhammad Ali: Har kesee koo door mand az asleh kheesh Baz jooyad roozegareh vasleh kheesh
Leyla Shams: from their roots whoever remains away seeks a reunion with the self one day,
Muhammad Ali: man beh har jameeyatee nalan shodam, jofteh khosh halan o bad halan shodam.
Leyla Shams: In every crowd, I cried out in despair, with happy and sad I became a pair.
Muhammad Ali: Har kasee az zaneh khod shod yareh man, az darooneh man najost asrareh man
Leyla Shams: Whoever thought they confided with me, did not find the secrets inside of me. All right. All right. That's really nice. So I love the way you translated it. How did you do the meaning and also get it to rhyme?
Muhammad Ali: Hours of banging my head at the dictionary? Yeah, trying to find words. And that's ultimately the struggle that I've kind of confined myself. I want to make it rhyme. Like it rhymes in Persian. Yeah, but to find the meaning and also, like find words that line up a lot of the source flipping.
Leyla Shams: Wow, that's really impressive. And yeah, a lot of I mean, I was just thinking of the translation, as I was reading, it's really well done. It's kind of like a puzzle, isn't it? Like you have to find, right, right. And like, which direction to put it in?
Muhammad Ali: Exactly. That's kind of the fun of the challenge, right? That's part of it.
Leyla Shams: Right? Yeah. Well, so hopefully, you listened and you kind of got the feeling of the poem. But now we're going to go through, you know, to line by line and really go through it. So, so first of all, in this poem, so cazale has a really specific structure, right? So in these poems, is there a very specific structure?
Muhammad Ali: Absolutely. But the lines, each of them have the same amount of syllables and the length of syllables. So if you were to say any line, but the person didn't know Persian and all they could hear is like the sounds, they could notice the beat Beshno een nay, as jodayeeha, kaz neyestam, dar nafeeram. They all have like the same length and width of syllables and a very tuned ear like if you meet someone who's from Iran, and they've studied Persian poetry, they can tell if a fo like a syllable is missing the vas Nish sign Ganesha or seborrhoeic showed like the the meter or the rhyme is like it's like heavier or too weak here like something's missing. And then the same way all the letters rhyme all the inside the lines checkol yet mokona hikayat mokona they've already done naughty Dan. Ish Dr. Farah Isla He's fast the fish so this is kind of what makes it fun to read write write because it has a rhythm when you're reading it feels like you know, like it's going like predictable up and ups and downs and they also the letters rhyme. And this is this is what makes it really fun compared to prose. When you're reading it, it's just like, right, but it's kind of feels like it's just bouncing around. You know the words. You read Hafez and stuff when you're like in love, but you know, when I read picture Rumi I picture like my grandma sitting in the corner reading like thinking and scratching her head and like pondering, you know,
Leyla Shams: Okay, so let's do a little bit of that now. Read the first two lines again and let's talk about it.
Muhammad Ali: Behsno een nay chon shekayet meekonad Az jodayeeha hekayat meekonad
Leyla Shams: Okay, so jodayeeha, separation and shekayat means complaint or maybe a little bit even stronger than complaint, right?
Muhammad Ali: It's a complaint that has a bit of like anger maybe as well. You can also say like, negh zadan, like a kid complaint. But shekayat is like in Iran for example, if you want to press charges against someone, the word is shakayat. The beginning it starts with it's so interesting. It's such a beshno, it's like a command. And this is kind of, it's like a command for the whole book. Different poets, they speak at different angles with you Like sometimes. When Khayyam talks to you and Hafez talks, you feel like their buddy talking to you. But when Rumi talks to you, he's like an elder. He's like your grandfather and you're a kid. And he's like, beshno, I'm going to tell you something about like, what life's really about. So it's that's like the first word, you know, like the first words telling you, you're gonna hear something like serious like, sit, sit down. Listen, don't be bazee goosh. And I'm gonna tell you. Right, right when he says een nay, this flute, right? He's on say, like, hear. Like when he says this word it's like hear from me, you know, like, he's calling himself a flute, right? There's a lot of a lot of meaning in those first three, three words. These two lines, I have a commentary behind me of the Masnavi these two lines alone, there's like three pages of writing. Wow, summarizing all the opinions and theories and all this stuff.
Leyla Shams: Wow. And then Okay, what's the what's hekayat mean?
Muhammad Ali: Sure. hekayat is an Arabic borrowing into Persian it's kind of like less common now. You wouldn't hear it in really spoken Persian. It's basically like a story, but a story with a with a moral. I think the word fable is similar, but fables can be I think, are fake usually, like make believe, but hekayat isn't necessarily fake. But it's kind of similar, like, like a parable, I guess would be a good English equivalent.
Leyla Shams: Okay, and it rhymes really nicely with shekayat. So we're being asked to listen to these complaints, and it's about to tell us a story. So okay, let's go to the next lines. And let's start hearing the story. This is now from the point of view of the reed, right?
Muhammad Ali: So you can imagine like little quotation marks like right "Kaz neyestan mara beboreede-and Dar nafeeram mard o zan naleedeand "
Leyla Shams: The translation was since they cut me away from the reedbed men and women have cried into my head. And I want to point out here that it does make a distinction mard o zan because we don't have pronouns in the Persian language. So you really have to go out of your way to say it's a man and woman crying.
Muhammad Ali: I think this is a really cool element of Persian that many languages I wish they would have is this, this ability to be ambiguous with gender is so cool. Like these poems are so open to interpretation isn't about a God and man, a woman, like a thing? So basically, this image that he's starting with is like your picture a neyestan like a calm water a bunch of reeds growing out. And someone comes along with a axe and like, picks the the perfect thing and chops and it's like, I'm going to turn this into a flute, you know,
Leyla Shams: Right.
Muhammad Ali: And then so that's the first part of the second line. And the second part, he's saying 'dar nafeeram' and nafeer is like a really archaic word. I think even modern Persians don't know the word, but it's like the inside of a flute I think it's called a cry in English the cry Okay, like the internal parts. So men and women have naleedan like they've cried out right? It's funny because the word cry is like it can be to play like a flute but here naleedan is like to cry in pain or sadness.
Leyla Shams: It's kind of like wailing
Muhammad Ali: And it's interesting that you mentioned mard o zan because back then in the medieval version, society, gender segregation I mean, if we think it's kind of like strict now compared to like America back then it was super strict right? So I think this he puts this purposely in some of the commentators have have talked about this like, why did he say mard o zan? Why specifically mard o zan? What was the purpose of making sure to point out that it was women as well.
Leyla Shams: So what do you think?
Muhammad Ali: I personally don't know i'm not saying inclined to every opinion, maybe he just means like, every single person because there's this like connotation in an old Persian writing, like if you just say mardan, it can mean like important men like you know, dude sitting in like the Sultan's palace, but if you say mard o zan, it gives an idea of being like everyone, you know, from your commoner to like, your important people, every single person.
Leyla Shams: Right.
Muhammad Ali: And it's specifically including women, because again, back then it was a male centric society. So when you just speak about people, I mean, literate, people were basically almost only men, unfortunately. So it was basically understanding was like, we're just talking about guys here, you know, just the dudes. Right? But then when you say zan as well, it indicates like, not just men, but also anyone, right?
Leyla Shams: Well, yeah, and it's a very dramatic language. That's what stands out to me like 'beboreedan' like you said, it's like cutting away like really violently in a way and the naleedan isn't. It's not just like, you know, singing into the reed flute. It's like, putting all of your like, you know, pain into it. It's all about pain, isn't it? Both of those words beboreedan and naleedan are about pain. Let's go to more pain.
Muhammad Ali: Seene khaham sharhe sharhe az faragh Ta begooyam sharheh dardeh eshteeyagh
Leyla Shams: Alright so I seek a heart from longing torn apart so the pain of yearning I can impart
Muhammad Ali: So it's interesting because he says khaham is like I want right it's honestly like seeking but it's like it's almost like I desire is like seeking almost feels like oh I'm gonna go to the store and I like if I see what I want I'll get it but khaham is like I really desire like I deeply want it like I'm still yearning to find that person and sharheh sharheh is Arabic here but it's almost like the words almost have their own imagery, like sharheh sharheh here like you can imagine like almost sounds like something getting cut when he says it right and i mean we would say 'boreedeh shodeh', but that doesn't give the same energy as a sharheh sharheh, you know, right and then foragh is like that idea of like being distant from the lover. So I can and then he says Ta begooyam sharheh dardeh eshteeyagh so I can give like the explanation. Sharheh is another Arabic word of music to explain something, the pain of yearning.
Leyla Shams: So what is he yearning for? What is your idea here?
Muhammad Ali: It's like a return. I mean, this is a common theme in in Rumi and also most of like the mystical Persian poems. It's like a return. Right? But what is it a return to is a return to his roots? And then of those roots, like literally where he's from? Or is it returned to God? Or, or what does that return? You know, this is like, what's being elaborated on in the whole, the whole work, basically.
Leyla Shams: And like we said, there's so many layers of interpretation. So we can interpret it in a way of like, yeah, being located physically away from the location that we should have been born or were born. And then but we can also interpret it as like all humans have been torn away from the divine.
Muhammad Ali: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Then he continues: Har kesee k’oo door mand az asleh kheesh Baz jooyeed roozegareh vasleh kheesh
Leyla Shams: And this seems like be the main point of the poem. From their roots, whoever remains away seeks reunion with the self one day.
Muhammad Ali: So basically think any person who remains far from the 'asl' the origin, or we say now asl means, it's not fake, like, Oh, this is an asl, like phone or whatever. But here it means like the origin the essence of kheesh and kheesh, is like an old, old word for khod, as we would say, khodam. You're saying like from the truth, the true origin of yourself, will again seek out the day that they return to the south, right? So here, it's kind of going one level deeper than just like the physical place. He doesn't say, whoever's far from their birthplace, or their homeland, it's like a level deeper. It's like whoever is far from their self. In actuality, they'll seek when they can return to that style. And I think this is really amazing, because I've met people, Iranian Americans, also, you know, Americans of other backgrounds, from other countries from Turkey, Lebanon, wherever you can imagine. And they do this, this thing where they are not they do this thing, but they have this identity crisis growing up, they think, well, I'm from this country. I speak English fluently. I'm American. You know, I grew up here. I am American, but part of them feels like they're not fully with themselves. Right now. I feel like to some level, we've definitely all felt this. And then you know, as we both have come, we tried this. They say, Okay, I know the solution. Well, not to say to speak for you. I don't know if that was your feeling 100%. But I've seen this a lot lately, I'll go back to where my parents are from, and then I'll figure it out there. They go to Beirut, or Cairo or Teheran, or Delhi, wherever they're from, and then there, and they still don't feel the closeness, if anything, maybe they feel far, because before in their mind, Iran is this place, like that's where home is, that's the place. But then when they go there, they're like, wait a minute, this place also isn't home. And then that's like, even more confusing, you know. So then Rumi is saying, the home he's clarifying, maybe in case we were we were like mistaken in the first few lines. I'm not talking about like, Balkh or like Mashhad or wherever I happen to be born from? I'm talking about like a deeper understanding of that, right. It's almost like there's this thing like you can't cross the same river twice. where like, once you leave a place, you can never truly go back to it. Like I miss college, but I'm sure if I signed up for classes again, I wouldn't feel like I was at college again. Right? So it's like this idea that the return to that place, it sounds like a physical location return, you know,
Leyla Shams: Okay, so then the next couple lines,
Muhammad Ali: Man beh har jameeyatee naleen shodam Jofteh badhalan va khoshhalan shodam
Leyla Shams: Okay, so first I don't know this word nalan.
Muhammad Ali: Nalan is an old like, I don't even know I think pasvand is a Persian word like postfix on is like when you're actively doing something. But it's like the active. I think it's like the active participle. I don't know what the English word is exactly. But basically, it's like you're doing it at that moment.
Leyla Shams: We had nalan in the very beginning.
Muhammad Ali: We did. So this is kind of like pointing to that line. Right?
Leyla Shams: Right. Okay. So the translation is in every crowd, I cried out in despair. With happy and sad I became a pair. Now I want to really go focus on these words happy and sad. Because this is one of those things that you just cannot translate that bad halan and khosh halan. It's such a beautiful concept. Can you explain the concept of hal?
Muhammad Ali: Exactly. So how is like the English translation? Like you said, it's so weird. It's like state, right? But when I say your state, it's not the same as hal. How does this like how's everything all together? When you say like, how are you in English? It's like, how are you? Is your day Good? Did you have like a bad hair day? Do you get your coffee or not? You know, like, was last night fun. That's kind of what like, how are you? How are you is but like, hal is like, are you happy in life? Are you sad? Like, are you feeling fulfilled? You know, like, how's your hal like the whole thing?
Leyla Shams: Right, right. It's so hard to translate. And it's a big concept in Sufism, like 'halan'
Leyla Shams: So how is your state of being maybe that's a good way to say it.
Muhammad Ali: Exactly.
Leyla Shams: I guess like, how are you does kind of get to it? How are you? You know, how is your being?
Muhammad Ali: Yes, I think it's also a cultural difference. Because I remember at least in the Midwest, we're kind of more similar to Iran than in other places in the west for example. I had a teacher was from Northern Europe, in high school in America. And he said the first day I was in America, someone I asked someone how are you to like say hi to them? And they started telling me actually how they were doing and I thought whoa, wait a minute. Like we don't actually say that like we don't elaborate on our day to strangers. So in America we are kind of different than but in some cultures like people don't like start talking about like making small talk. In Sweden I know for example, they don't make like personal small talk to strangers but Iran would not like that, like any Iranian gets in a cab and you're like, Oh, I owe money to my cousin and my wife is yelling at me every day. Like my son's doing bad at school and it's raining.
Leyla Shams: So he's saying Man beh har jameeyatee naleen shodam- So jam is a crowd of people. So to any group that I became a pair in terms of like this crying out in disappear so if anyone blew into me basically right?
Muhammad Ali: it's kind of like saying like we say in Persian as well like we dance or sing to any song. So he's saying like if I was with happy people I'd be happy if I was you know with sad people I would be sad but the way I kind of interpret this is related to the next line because he says as we read earlier as well, every person thought they were they knew me. Everyone relates to this on some level like you go to somewhere you know you make small talk like you're with the vibe but maybe you feel alone inside at that moment like you don't feel like you're really connected you just kind of like going through the external motions someone says a joke you laugh. Well maybe inside you're bothered by something and you're not really all there. And this is kind of like what he's talking about like I was with every group of people some were happy some are sad, whatever, but I wasn't truly there. I was only like there in the exterior basically.
Leyla Shams: Well, let's read the last line.
Muhammad Ali: Har kasee az zaneh khod shod yareh man Az darooneh man najost asrareh man
Leyla Shams: Okay, so whoever thought they confided with me did not find the secrets inside of me. Okay, so let's go back to this whole khosh halan and bad halan. Jofteh badhalan va khoshhalan shodam- so I became one with the happy and the sad. So then he saying there's the reader saying that it's me advising. Right, right. Yeah. So it is empathizing with them. But then in the end, it says that, even though I was empathizing people thought they like understood me, and they knew me. I think, very common, you go somewhere and like, someone just talks your head off, and they don't realize you haven't said anything. And they say, oh, we're such good friends. And it's just you've been giving and like empathizing.
Muhammad Ali: This is feeling I think, people who feel like Molana might feel generally like, wherever they go, wherever they talk to, maybe it feels superficial, or it's not totally fulfilling, or they don't feel connected to their friends. I mean, some people even feel this way. Sometimes, like their closest relationship with their parents or spouse, whatever their siblings or kids like, they feel like there's a they're connected in a way but it's like there's a level is like a superficial ness. But like, you truly don't know. And sometimes I don't remember which Western philosopher said this is like, language is not like it's unlimited. still limited, like humans can never truly fully explain how they feel to any right. There's always a limit of how far you could explain a feeling. So maybe Rumi is saying like, I when I was at the happy people, they thought they were my friend. Like we're cracking jokes. Rumi's, laughing, you know, we're a bunch of pals and you know, maybe he was like with a sad person and I empathize with you. And they thought, wow, like, we're really yar. But at the end, no one truly got to know him out of all those people, right?
Leyla Shams: So as darooneh man, najost- is like, didn't seek right. Like they didn't seek within me. They didn't seek and what's 'asrar' I don't know that word.
Muhammad Ali: Asrar- a it's an Arabic plural. It's the it's a plural or ser, which means secret or raz as we would say in Persian.
Leyla Shams: Okay, Az darooneh man najost asrareh man So, even though I was empathizing, we were having this good time, you know, telling these secrets. They didn't try to find.
Muhammad Ali: They didn't look right, which is the most precise translation, they didn't truly what was down there. It was just a superficial interaction.
Leyla Shams: What's going on here? What is he trying to say?
Muhammad Ali: I don't know. Maybe, maybe it's because it almost reminds me of the episode was with Shams where he approaches him, and he's in the streets with all these people around him. Maybe anyone who's like well known and has a good position in life, they kind of feel like externally things finally got a good job. And people know me unimportant, like people are following me in public. But those people who are following me around, like, they really know who I am, or is it just because like, I'm an important person, and I teach and like that, that time is equivalent of a university and like, I my dad was a famous person as well. And like, I worked for the king of the city. Is that is that the reason they're fighting me? Do they really know who I am? You know, like all these. And I think maybe people you hear oftentimes famous people are the most depressed people in society, unfortunately. Because like all this, like fame, and fanfare, and whatever, can like create a superficial feeling of happiness, but it's very hollow. It's deeper there. That's where we felt like after, I want to say at least 40 years of living a normal life those people around, he was like, well, has anyone truly gotten to know me? Or there's no like, the, the famous version of
Leyla Shams: Right. And I like it because I'm sure like, you know, the ney is a very common object. It's not expensive. Anyone can have a ney, and I feel like he's saying, okay, from the beginning, he's like, 'beshno een nay'. Like, let's finally listen to this flute. That's been like singing to us all this time. Like, it sounds like it's happy. It sounds like it's sad. But what is it really saying?
Muhammad Ali: Listen to it speak for itself. Not what other people are seeing through, but what he says about itself. So many books have been written to comment on this book overall, the masnavi. And this poem, especially is the most commented on like every commentary, for every other line, there might be just a couple lines of writing. But for this one, there's always like pages. The mevlevi Sufi order, their teachers and elders, they always say, it takes four decades to comprehend this poem, like after 40 years of comprehension. So like, from ages 20 to like, 60 let's say that you finally get it.
Leyla Shams: One thing we do with this poetry program is we ask our students to study it and memorize it, and then send us videos of them reciting it. So hopefully, we'll be getting those videos in soon. But I think that this poem especially is very important to memorize because of what you're saying. Like, I think that once you memorize a poem, it's within you. And as you're living your life and like in different situations, I think that you'll all of a sudden, like two of the lines will just mean something more to you. And it'll just like, come up. Right, right. Yeah, so that happens a lot in Iranian society where everyone's just sitting around and like talking about problems or something, and then someone will bust out into poems.
Muhammad Ali: Yeah, and I think this poem along with a couple other ones, there's a few lines and phrases of poetry that every single Persian speaker knows, so definitely anyone who's like learning Persian, it would be good if they get added to like their repertoire of little lines that they could pull out because you'll just be like sitting in a cab. And there's a few of these really famous ones that you'll always hear repeated, and people just pull it out. And they mention it. And it's kind of like it's in the same way that in American culture there's a lot of like quotes from like, famous movies and family services like that entered pop culture.
Leyla Shams: Have you heard this one? Just like out in the street recently?
Muhammad Ali: Yeah, definitely. I walked up. Yeah, I walked up to someone who's playing the flute. And I gave them like some I was like the tip street performers. And they're like, oh, like, are you like a musician or something? Because I was I tried to dress in like traditional clothes. Yeah. And a lot of times people were into music and like art and stuff as well do that trend among young people. Like are you also a musician? Because like musicians tip other musicians as No no, I I work on Rumi and teaching Persian then he just started singing saying visualize nature and a guy who said a few the lines. And yeah, definitely in I one time talking about like, coming to Iran. One guy's like, Why do you come to Iran? And I kind of gave the explanation. And then he quoted 'Har kesee k’oo door mand az asleh kheesh, Baz jooyeed roozegareh vasleh kheesh' Yeah, definitely these poems come up in and day to day speech.
Leyla Shams: That's great. Well, so this, this is the first lesson that we're doing on this poem. And then there will be a series of other lessons where I'll go through myself individually, all the words and phrases, and a lot of these words and phrases you can use in everyday conversation. So it's a lot of useful stuff in here. And a lot of Arabic words I don't use but would also be definitely I mean, Arabic is really how did you learn all these words? Like what was your process and version.
Muhammad Ali: So after a while of doing Persian poetry, I became more interested in the Arabic language because back then, Arabic was the language of knowledge and understanding I like similar to English and in French and things like that these days, you know, back then, the bosses were in battle dad, and even though many of them were Persians, and both daddies, even a Persian word, like the language of learning was in Arabic, and maybe some of our elder elder relatives, kind of remember a time when it was was fading, but kind of was still like that. So the Persian poets, a lot of their writing was in Arabic, because to signal that you were like you news, your stuff, you would quote the Arabic. So and they were informed, they would read the Quran, and like the Islamic scriptures as well. So that all that figured into it, at a certain point I became really interested in at the time, I was considering doing a Master's, and my advisor is also an Iranian Professor by the name of Cameron. I mean, if he ends up listening this big shout out to him as a professor, I mean, at the University of Michigan, he said, Well, if you want to increase your chances of getting into a program, you should really go in with two knowledges or two languages. I'm sorry. He's like, I knew Turkish and Persian, though, and he's, he's Turkish Iranian. So I was like, I guess I should learn Arabic that, you know, I like Arabic music, and there's a lot of Arabic in these poems, and I needed to get into the program. So let's do it. And I went to Jordan for a ultimately for eight months. And that's why I learned Arabic. But even still, a lot of these words are not taught in contemporary Arabic contexts. They're like ancient words. The Arabs would be like, I don't know what this word is, like, let me look it up in a dictionary. These are like medieval Arabic.
Leyla Shams: You have to just kind of look it up then. And like learn them. Yeah,
Muhammad Ali: A lot of times people just kind of like memorize the the meanings like for example, I think like of like Christians, when they say, Oh, God, you know, hollowed by a be thy name, thy kingdom come as it is in heaven. Maybe they don't know what like Hallowed be thy name is but they kind of like understand the sentiments, let's say, like, when like you would Christians quote, the archaic English. It's the same way in Persian, like maybe every Irani, who closest balm doesn't know every single like word particularly. But the sentiment is what resonates overall. And that kind of creates the meaning kind of like if you're learning a language and you hear someone speak and you don't get 100% of it, but you still got it all. It's kind of the same thing.
Leyla Shams: Yeah, you'd said in our Growing Up Irooni interview that you just need to learn maybe 50% and then the rest of it is just like a snowball rolling. So I think that's good. And I think that it's another point of like memorizing these because once you memorize them is when it really becomes part of you and you can use these words in conversation and really get going. Well, my daddy, I won't take your time. Thank you so much. That was a lot of fun. And yeah, we'll link to my my daddy's Persian poetics on here. And he has a lot more content where he goes through, you know, line by line poems with his own translations, which are very well done, obviously, you can see with this song, and so we'll link to all that on the show notes. And until the next lesson, thank you for listening.
Muhammad Ali: Thanks for having me.