Reflections on Rumi’s Song of the Reed

Mawlana Jaluldeen Rumi was a great Hanafi jurist and Sufi who’s passionate love for Allah inspired many for the past 700 years. This is one of his laments translated by Kabir Helminski in his book Love is a Stranger.  This is not a scholarly commentary, rather these are my personal reflections so take note of that as you read this.
Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,
how it sings of separation:
Ever since they cut me from the reed bed,
my wail has caused men and women to weep.
I want a heart torn open with longing
the share the pain of this love.
Whover has been parted from his source
longs to return to the state of his union.
At everything gathering I play my lament.
I’m a friend to both happy and sad.

Mawlana describes a reed who is devastated from having been separated from his original state. This is an allusion to the original state to which the human has separated himself from. Every human is born according to a natural state called the fitra. He withdraws from this state as he sins because the fitra is to be in conformity with God’s command for that is the nature that God created the universe. Much of this is introductory to what is to come and is a sort of platform to which Mawlana describes his deep spiritual state of longing for the divine.

Each befriended me for his own reasons,
yet none searched out the secrets I contain.
My secret is not different from my lament,
yet this is not for the senses to perceive.
The body is not hidden from the soul,
nor is the soul hidden from the body,
and yet the soul is not for everyone to see.

The secret Mawlana refers to is the path to God and the state that which he achieved in his one thought being God. The idea of a secret is very prominent in Islamic spirituality and many people follow scholars very closely in order to derive this secret in hopes of achieving God countenance, a state that is not to be underestimated.

This flute is played with fire, not with wind,
and without this fire you would not exist.
It is the fire of love that inspires the flute.
It is the ferment of love that completes the wine.

The fire is indicative of Mawlana’s love and passion. The passion that allows to exist is the desire for servitude towards God that each soul was imbued with on the Day of Arafat where every soul was gathered before given a body and witnessed their servitude to God. This love is embodied in saying “There is no God but God.” When one truly masters the meaning of this statement, all other things cease to matter just as though one is drunk. The spiritual drunkenness is very different from the physical drunkenness for the physical drunkenness is sudden and only pleasurable for a brief period whereas the spiritual drunkenness is more enduring is fills the soul with light. Thus is the analogy of the wine.

The reed is a comfort to all estranged lovers.
Its music tears our veils away. Have you
ever seen a poison or antidote like the reed?
Have you seen a more intimate companion and lover?
It sings of the path of blood;
it relates the passion of Majnun.
Only to the senseless is this sense confided.
Does the tongue have any patron but the ear?
Our days grow more unseasonable,
these days which mix grief and pain…
but if the days that remain are few,
let them go; it doesn’t matter. But You, You remain,
for nothing is as pure as You are.
All but the fish quickly have their fill of His water;
and the day is long without His daily bread.
The raw do not understand the state of the ripe,
so my words will be brief.

In these lines, Mawlana give the read more insight as to what the reed is and delves so deeply into describing his state that I cannot fully understand him. The reed is the passion for the Divine and it is how we attain the happiness that seems to elusive to much of humanity. The lifting of the veils refers to the barriers between the servant and his beloved Master that the servant had placed before himself. In order to seek God’s countenance, the servant must turn wholly to him. He refers to Majnun Layla, a man who fell in love with a woman named Layla and sought her to the point where he was considered mad. Like Majnun, the servant must pursue his Beloved as though he was mad as well. In these lines are some of his most passionate writings where the describes how empty his life is without God.

Break your bonds, be free, my child!
How long will silver and gold enslave you?
If you pour the whole sea into a jug,
will it hold more than one day’s store?
The greedy eye, like the jug, is never filled.
Until content, the oyster holds no pearl.
Only one undressed by Love,
is free of defect and desire.

Rumi then precedes to advise us. He tells us to let go of this world noting that no matter how much we have, we cannot be satiated. The ocean being poured into the simple jug is a description of how the outward form cannot contain true happiness and will still seek more. He draws this relation in a very blunt manner. The oyster, i.e. the outward form, will never contain a pearl, a beautiful soul, until it is happy with it has in this world and turns to go. To begin with, God is the Provider and our sustenance is in His hands only. Undressed by love is another allusion to the lifting of the veil as mentioned earlier and only by going to our Lord will we “be free of defect and desire.” The absence of desire also connotes contentment and happiness. To seek God is to seek happiness.

O Gladness, O Love, our partner in trade,
healer of our ills, our Plato and Galen,
remedy our pride and vanity.
With love this earthly body could soar in the air;
the mountain could arise and nimbly dance.
Love gave life to Mount Sinai, O lover.
Sinai was drunk; Moses lost consciousness.
Pressed to the lips of one in harmony with myself,
I might also tell all that can be told;
but without a common tongue, I am dumb,
even if I have a hundred years to sing.
When the rose is gone and the garden fades,
you will no longer hear the nightingale’s song.
The Beloved is all, the lover just a veil.
The Beloved is living, the lover a dead thing.
If Love withholds it strengthening care,
the lover is left like a bird without wings.
How will I be awake and aware
if the light of the beloved is absent?
Love wills that this Word be brought forth.
If you find the mirror of the heart dull,
the rust has not been cleared from its face.
O friends, listen to this tale,
the marrow of our inward state.

Rumi describes how he has not the words to express his love and what words he does choose are well beyond me. He describes the power of love and all the amazing things it does and how without love, he would despair. He then advises us to clean the mirror of our hearts (by repenting for and leaving sin and increasing good works) so that we can turn to God and find the love that Rumi describes within ourselves. And God knows best and He alone is enough for us.

2 responses to “Reflections on Rumi’s Song of the Reed

  1. Munzareen Padela

    Oh my goodness! I love the deep meanings of this poem. I haven’t even read your post yet bu I was thinking I should do something very very similar on my page. GMTA!

  2. I *love* this poem.
    Jazakallah khair!

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