Sa'di

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Contents   

Introduction

The Fragrant Garden

Purgatory may be Paradise

The Wrestler

King and Peasant

A Poet’s Wit

The Unmelodious

Parrot and Crow

Scorn for the Learned

Laila and Majnun

May and January

Father and Son

Schoolmasters

Experience  

Aphorisms

Source

 

Introduction

 

Shaikh Sa’di Shirazi (about 1194-1292 CE), originally named Muslih-uddin, was born in Shiraz and studied at the Nizamiyya seat of learning in Baghdad. He remained there for about 30 years, where his fame as a great Persian poet and popular writer was established. He took the name Sa’di in honor of his patron Sa’d b. Zengi.  Between 1226 and 1256 he traveled widely, visiting Europe, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Turkey, Arabia, Iran, and beyond the Indus to Hindustan.  Sa'di had one son, whose early death caused him great grief and led to a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

     

Sa'di spent some years at Damascus where he became known as an excellent pulpit orator. He then became a recluse wandering in the desert near Jerusalem until he was captured by Frankish soldiers and condemned to forced labor in the trenches of the fortress of Tripoli. He was ransomed by a rich friend from Aleppo who gave him his daughter in marriage. Her quarrelsomeness spurred him to leave her and continue his travels, finally returning to Shiraz in his seventies. He remained there until the end of his life, studying Sufic wisdom and writing poetry.  

   

His travels and observations of the characters of the people he met, backed by his extensive learning, led him to compose two masterpieces—The Bustan [The Fragrant Place, i.e Flower Garden] and The Gulistan (The Flower Garden). The second, from which extracts are given here, is a prose work interspersed with verses that touches on practical wisdom and moral questions in an easy and entertaining style. In 'May and January' we can see a foreshadowing of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Much of the other material is autobiographical.

 

The Fragrant Garden

1   On the 1st of April, that charming month, 

The nightingales were caroling on tree-bough pulpits;

And the dew-fallen pearl on the damask rose rivaled

The perspired drop on the cheek our chiding mistress.

I happened one such night to fall into a nocturnal conversation with a friend in a garden—a lovely and refreshing spot and its heart-gladdening groves intertwining overhead; its walks you might say were strewed with spangles of crystal, and clusters of fruit like the Pleiades hung aloft from its boughs:

Meadows, whose rivulet waters meandered

Like the links of a chain;

Bowers, harmonious with songs of birds,

Studded with flowers of various colors,

Trees loaded with fruits of divers kinds,

While zephyrs through tree shade were spreading

A carpet of variegated hues in the shifting moonlight.

2    At dawn, when the thought of going home overcame a wish for sitting still, I noticed that my companion had filled his robe with roses, hyacinths, spikenards, and sweet basils, and was desirous of returning to the city. I said: “As you well know, the flower of the garden has no continuance, nor can we confide in the promise of the rose bower; and philosophers have told us whatever is not lasting merits not our affection.” He asked: “'What is our alternative?” I replied: “For the gratification of beholders and recreation of spectators I can write such a Kitabi Gulistan, or Book of a Flower Garden, as neither the rude storm of autumn shall be able to lay the hand of usurpation upon its leaves, nor the revolution of the season convert the serenity of its summer into the gloom of winter:

What can a basket of flowers avail thee?

Pluck but one leaf from my Flower Garden;

A rose can thus can live for five or six days,

But this Flower garden must bloom to all eternity!

   

3    So soon as I uttered these words he let the flowers drop and seized on my robe, saying: “As the generous man promised, so he performed!”

     That same day two chapters, one of them on the Accomplishments of Education, and the other on the Rules for Conversation, were recorded in my note book in such a clothing as may come in practice with orators, and as decorates the style of letter writers. In a short time, the book of the Gulistan was finished, and roses yet continued to flourish in the garden.

     

Purgatory May Be Paradise

4    A king was embarked on board a ship, which also carried a Persian slave. The boy had never been at sea, nor experienced the inconvenience of a ship. He set up a weeping and wailing, and all his limbs were in a state of trepidation; and, however much they soothed him, he was not to be pacified. The king's pleasure party was disconcerted by him; but they offered no help. On board that ship there was a physician. He said to the king: “If you will order it, I can manage to silence him.” The king replied: “It will be an act of great favor.”

 The physician directed that they throw the boy into the sea, and after he had plunged repeatedly, they seized him by the hair of the head and drew him close to the ship, where he grabbed the rudder with both hands and, scrambling up on to the deck, slunk into a corner and sat down quiet.

The king, pleased with what he saw, said: “What art is there in this?” The physician replied: “Originally he had not experienced the danger of being drowned, and undervalued the safety of being in a ship; just as a person is aware of the preciousness of health only when he is overtaken with the calamity of sickness.”

A barley loaf of bread has,
O epicure, no relish for you.
That is my mistress who appears so ugly to your eye.
To the houris, or nymphs of paradise,
Purgatory would be hell;
Ask the inmates of hell whether
Purgatory is not paradise.
There is a distinction between the man
Folding his mistress in his arms
And him whose two eyes are fixed
On the door expecting her.

   

The Wrestler

5     A person had become a master in the art of wrestling; he knew three hundred and sixty moves in this art, and could exhibit a fresh trick for every day throughout the year. Perhaps owing to a liking that a corner of his heart took for the handsome person of one of his scholars, he taught him three hundred and fifty nine of those feats, but he was putting off instruction of one, and under some pretence deferring it.

    In short, the youth became so proficient in the art and talent of wrest­ling that none of his contemporaries was able to cope with him. At length he one day boasted before the reigning sovereign, saying: “To any superiority my master possesses over me, he is beholden to my reverence of his seniority, and by virtue of his tutorage; otherwise I am not inferior in power, and am his equal in skill”

    This want of respect displeased the king. He ordered a wrestling match to be held, and a spacious field to be fenced in for the occasion. The ministers of state, nobles of the court, and gallant men of the realm were assembled, and the ceremonials of the combat marshaled. Like a huge and lusty ele­phant, the youth rushed into the ring with such a crash that had a brazen mountain opposed him he would have moved it from its base. The master being aware that the youth was his superior in strength, engaged him in that strange feat of which he had kept him ignorant. The youth was unacquainted with its guard. Advancing, nevertheless, the master seized him with both hands, and, lifting him bodily from the ground, raised him above his head and flung him on the earth. The crowd set up a shout.

   The king ordered them to give the master an honorary robe and handsome gifts. The youth he addressed with reproach and asperity, saying: “You played the traitor with your own patron, and failed in your presumption of opposing him.” The youth replied: “O sir! my master did not overcome me by strength and ability, but by the one cunning trick in the art of wrestling which he refrained from teaching me. By that little trick he had the upper hand today!”

    The master said: “I prepared myself for such a day as this. As the wise have told us, put not so much into a friend's power that, if hostilely disposed, he can do you an injury. Have you not heard what that man said who was treacherously dealt with by his own pupil:

Either in fact there is no good faith in this world, or
            Nobody has perhaps practiced it in our day.
            No person learned the art of archery from me
            Who did not in the end make me his target.”

   

King and Peasant

6   A king, attended by a select retinue on a sporting excursion during the winter, had got some way off from any of his hunting lodges, and the evening was closing fast, when he saw in the distance a peasant's cottage. The king said: “Let us go over there for the night, to get shelter from inclement weather.” One of the courtiers replied: “It would not become the dignity of the sovereign to take refuge in the cottage of a low peasant; we can pitch a tent here and kindle a fire.” The peasant, who saw what was going on, came forward with what refreshments he had at hand. Laying them before the king, he kissed the earth in subservience, and said, “The lofty dignity of the king would not be lowered by this condescension; but these gentlemen did not choose that the condition of a peasant should be exalted.” The king was pleased with this speech, and they passed the night at the peasant’s cottage. In the morning the king bestowed an honorary robe and hand­some gifts upon him. I have heard that the peasant was resting his hand for some paces upon the king's stirrup, and saying:

 “The state and pomp of the sovereign
Was not degraded by his stooping
To be a guest at a peasant’s cottage.
But the corner of the peasant's cap
rose to a level with the sun
when the shadow of such a monarch
as you fell upon his head.”

 

A Poet’s Wit

7    A certain poet presented himself before the chief of a gang of robbers, and recited a casidah, or elegy, in his praise. Unimpressed, the chief ordered that they should strip off the poet's clothes, and kick him out of the village. The naked wretch was going away shivering in the cold, the village dogs barking at his heels. He stooped to pick up a stone to hurl at the dogs, but found it bound by frost to the ground. In his frustration he cried out: “What rogues these villagers are, for they let loose their dogs and tie up their stones!”

The robber chief saw and heard him from a window. Smiling at his wit, he called him near and said: “Learned sir! Tell me how I can help you.” The poet replied: “I ask for my own garments, if you will condescend to give them back.  I shall then be helped enough in your permitting me to depart:

   

From others, men expect charity;

I expect no charity from thee,

Only offer me no injury.”

The chief robber felt compassion for him. He ordered his clothes to be restored, and added to them a robe of fur and sum of money.

   

The Unmelodious

8    A person with a harsh voice was reciting the Koran in a loud tone. A good and holy man went up to him, and asked: “How much do they pay you for this?”
        The unmelodious one answered: “Nothing.”
        “Then,” added the other, “why give yourself so much trouble?”
        He replied: “I am reading for the sake of God.”
        The good and holy man responded: “For God's sake read no more:

For if you chant

The Koran in this way

You must cast a pall

Over Islam’s glory.”

   

Parrot and Crow

9    They shut up a parrot in the same cage with a crow. The parrot was affronted at the crow’s ugly look, and said: “What an odious countenance, a hideous figure; what an accursed appearance, and ungracious demeanor!

Would to God, O raven of the desert!

We were wide apart as east is from west.

To cross your path by morning,

Changes the serenity of peaceful day

To gloomy night.

An ill-conditioned wretch like you

Should be your companion;

But where could we find

Such a one in this world?”

But what is more strange, the crow was also out of all patience, and vexed to the soul at the society of the parrot. Bewailing his misfortune, he was railing to the revolutions of the skies. Wringing the hands of chagrin, he lamented his condition, saying: “What an unfavorable fate is this, what ill-luck, and adverse fortune! Could they not in any way maintain my dignity, who would in my day strut with my fellow crows along the wall of a garden?

It were sufficient imprisonment

For a good and holy man that

He should be made the companion

of the wicked.

What sin have I committed that my stars in retribution of it have linked me in the chain of companionship, and immured me in the dungeon of calamity, with a conceited blockhead, and good-for-nothing babbler?

Nobody will approach the foot of a wall

on which they have painted your por­trait.

Were you to get a place in paradise,

Others would go in preference to hell.”

 

Scorn for the Learned

10  I have introduced this next parable to show that however much learned men despise the ignorant, the latter are a hundredfold more scornful of the learned.

A zahid, or holy man, fell in

with some travelling entertainers.

One, a charmer of Ballkh, said:

“If you are displeased with us, do not look sour,

For you are already sufficiently offensive—

In an assemblage of roses and tulips,

You stick up like a withered stalk;

Like an opposing storm, and a chilling winter blast;

Like a ball of snow, or lump of ice.”

 

Laila and Majnun

11  To a certain king of Arabia they were relating the story of the love of Majnun for Laila, and his ensuing insane state, saying: “In spite of his knowledge and wisdom, Majnun has turned his face towards the desert, and abandoned himself to distraction.”

The king ordered that they bring Majnun into his presence; and he reproved him, saying: “What have you seen unworthy in the noble nature of man that you should assume the manners of a brute, and forsake the enjoyment of human society?”

Majnun wept and answered:

“Many of my friends reproach me

For my love Laila.

Alas! that they could one day see her,

That my excuse might be manifest for me.

Would to God that those who blame me could

Behold your face, O ravisher of hearts!

That at the sight they, from inadvertency,

Might cut their own fingers instead

Of the orange in their hands.

   

Then might the truth of the reality bear testimony against the semblance of fiction, what manner of person that was for whose sake you were upbraiding me.”

The king resolved that, by viewing in person the charms of Laila, he might be able to judge what her form could be that had caused all this misery. So he ordered her to be brought into his presence. Having searched through the Arab tribes, they discovered her and presented her before the king in the courtyard of his seraglio. He viewed her figure, and beheld a person of a tawny complexion and feeble frame of body. She appeared to him in a contemptible light, inasmuch as the lowest menial in his harem surpassed her in beauty and excelled her in elegance.

Majnun, in his sagacity, penetrated what was passing in the royal mind, and said: "It will be necessary for you, O king, to contemplate the charms of Laila through the gate of a Majnun's eye, in order that the miracle of such a spectacle might be illustrated to you:

    

You can have no fellow-feeling for my disorder.

A companion to me must have the same sickness,

That I may sit by him all day, telling my tale;

For rubbing two pieces of dry firewood together

Will make them burn brighter.

 

Had that grove of verdant reeds heard the murmurs

Of love that pass through my ear in detail

Of my mistress's story, it would have

Sympathized with my pain.

 Tell it, my friends, to those ignorant of love;

 

Would you could be aware of what wrings my soul!

The anguish of a wound is unknown to the healthy;

We must detail our aches only to a fellow-sufferer.

It were idle to talk of a hornet to him

Who has not yet smarted from its sting.

 

Till your condition is something like mine,

My state will seem like an idle fable.

Compare not my pain with that of another:

He holds salt in his hand,

I bear it on an open wound.”

 

May and January

12  An old man was telling a story, saying: "I had married a young virgin, adorned the bridal chamber with flowers, seated myself with her in private, and riveted my heart and eyes upon her. Many a long night I would lie awake, and indulge in pleasantries and jests, in order to re­move any coyness on her part, and encourage familiarity. One of those nights I was addressing her, and saying: 'Lofty fortune was your friend, and the eye of your prosperity broad awake, when you fell into the society of such an old gentleman as I am, being of mature judgment, well-bred, worldly experienced, inured to the vicissitudes of heat and cold, and practiced in the goods and evils of life; who can appreciate the rights of good fellowship, and fulfill the duties of loving attachment; and is kind and affable, sweet-spoken and cheerful:

I will treat you with affection, as far as I can,

and if you deal with me unkindly,

I cannot act unkindly in return.

If, like a parrot, your food be sugar,

I will devote my sweet life for your nourishment.

And you did not become the victim of a rude, conceited, rash, and headstrong youth, who one moment gratifies his lust, and the next has a fresh object; who every night shifts his abode, and every day changes his mistress:

 Young men are lively and handsome,

But they keep good faith with nobody.

Expect not constancy from nightingales,

Who will every moment serenade a fresh rose.

Whereas my class of seniors regulate their lives by good breeding and sense, and are not deluded by youthful igno­rance:

 Court the society of a superior,

And make much of the opportunity;

For, in the company of an equal,

Your good fortune must decline.'”

The old man continued: “I spoke a great deal in this style, and thought that I had caught her heart in my snare, and made sure of her as my prey; when she suddenly drew a cold sigh from the bottom of a much afflicted bosom, and answered:

13  “All this speech which you have delivered has not, in the scale of my judgment, the weight of that one sentence which I have heard of my nurse: that it were better to plant a spear in a young maiden's side than to lay her by an old man in bed!”:

Much contention and strife will arise

In that house where the wife shall get up

Dissatisfied with her husband.

Unable to rise without the help of a staff,

How can an old man stir the staff of life?”  

 

14  In short, there being no prospect of concord, they agreed to separate. After the period prescribed by the law, they united her in marriage with a young man of an ill-tempered and sullen disposition and in very narrow circumstances, so that she endured much tyranny and violence, penury and hardship.

Yet she was offering up thanksgivings for the Almighty's goodness, and saying: “Praised be God that I have escaped from such hell-torment, and secured a blessing so permanent:

Amid all this violence and impetuosity of temper,

I bear with your caprice, because you are lovely.

It were better for me to burn with you in hell-fire

Than to dwell in paradise with another.

The smell of an onion from the mouth of the lovely

Is sweeter than a rose in the hand of the ugly.”

 

Father and Son

15  In the territory of Diarbekr, or Mesopotamia, I was the guest of an old man, who was very rich, and had a handsome son. One night he told a story, saying: “During my whole life I never had any child but this boy. And in this valley a certain tree is a place of pilgrimage, where people go to supplicate their wants; and many was the night that I have besought God at the foot of that tree before he would bestow upon me this boy.”

I have heard that the son was also whispering to his companions, and saying: “How happy I should be if I could discover the site of that tree, in order that I might pray for the death of my father”.

The gentleman was rejoicing and saying: “What a sensible youth is my son!” and the boy was complaining and crying: “What a tedious old dotard is my father!”

    

Many years are passing over your head

When you did not visit your father's tomb.

What pious offering  made you to his memory

That you should expect so much from your son?

 

Schoolmasters

16  In the west of Africa I saw a schoolmaster of a sour aspect and bitter speech, crabbed, misanthropic, beggarly, and intemperate, inasmuch that the sight of him would derange the ecstasies of the orthodox; and his manner of reading the Koran cast a gloom over the minds of the pious. A number of handsome boys and lovely girls were subject to his despotic sway, who had neither the permission of a smile nor the option of a word, for this moment he would smite the silver cheek of one of them with his hand, and the next put the crystalline legs of another in the stocks.

In time, their parents, I heard, were made aware of a part of his disloyal violence, and beat and drove him from the mosque. And they made over his school to a peaceable creature, so pious, meek, simple, and good-natured that he never spoke till forced to do so, nor would he utter a word that could offend any­body. The children forgot that awe in which they had held their first master, and remarking the angelic disposition of their second master, they became one after another as wicked as devils. Relying on his clemency, they would so neglect their studies as to pass most part of their time at play, and break the tablets of their unfinished tasks over each other's heads:

  

 When the schoolmaster relaxes his discipline,

The children will play at marbles in the market place.

A fortnight later I passed by the gate of that mosque and saw the first schoolmaster, with whom the parents had been obliged to make friends, and to restore him to his place. I was in truth offended, and asked: “Why have they again made a devil the preceptor of angels?” A facetious old gentleman, who had seen much of life, listened to me and replied: “Have you not heard what they have said:

‘A king sent his son to school, and hung

A tablet of silver round his neck.

On the tablet he had written,

The severity of the master is more useful

Than the indulgence of the father.’”  

  

Experience

17  One year I was on a journey with some Syrians from Balkh, and the road was infested with robbers. One of our escort was a youth expert at wielding his shield and brandishing his spear, mighty as an elephant, and cased in armor, so strong that ten of the most powerful of us could not string his bow, or the ablest wrestler on the face of the earth throw him on his back. Yet, as you must know, he had been brought up in luxury and reared in a shade, was inexperienced of the world, and had never traveled. The thunder of the great war drum had never rattled in his ears, nor had the lightning of the trooper's scimitar ever flashed across his eyes:

He had never fallen a captive

Into the hands of an enemy,

Nor been overwhelmed by

A shower of their arrows.

It happened that this young man and I kept running ahead together; and any venerable ruin that might come in our way he would overthrow with the strength of his shoulder; and any huge tree that we might see he would wrench from its root with his lion-seizing wrist, and boastfully cry:

 “Where is the elephant, that he may behold

The shoulder and arm of warriors?

Where the lion, that he may feel

The wrist and grip of heroes?”

Such was our situation when two Hindus darted from behind a rock and prepared to cut us off, one of them holding a bludgeon in his hand, and the other having a mallet under his arm. I called to the young man: '”Why do you stop?

Display whatever strength and courage you have,

For the foe came on his own feet to his grave.”

 

I perceived that the youth's bow and arrows had dropped from his hands, and that a tremor had fallen upon his limbs:

 

It is not he that can split a hair

With a coat-of-mail cleaving arrow

That is able to withstand

An assault from the formidable.

No alternative was left us but that of surrendering our arms, equipment, and clothes, and escaping with our lives:

“On an affair of importance employ a man

Experienced in business who can

bring the fierce lion within the noose of his halter;

Though the youth be strong of arm

And has the body of an elephant,

In his encounter with a foe

Every limb will quake with fear.

A man of experience is best qualified

To explore a field of battle,

As one of the learned is

To expound a point of law.”

 

Aphorisms

18     No reliance can be placed an the friendship of kings, nor vain hope put in the melodious voice of boys, for the one passes away like a vision, and the other vanishes like a dream.

19     Bruise the serpent's head with the hand of an antagonist, and be sure of one of two things: if the adversary succeed, you kill the reptile; and if it prevails, you get rid of a rival.

20     Let a gem fall into the mire, and it remains the same precious stone it was; let dust be whirled up to heaven, and it retains its base origin.

21     A wise man is like a vase in a druggist's shop, silent but full of virtues; and the ignorant man resembles the drum of the warrior, being full of noise, and an empty babbler.

22     The sinner who spends and gives away is better than the devotee who begs and lays by.

23     A scholar without diligence is a lover without money; a traveler without knowledge is a bird without wings; a theorist without practice is a tree without fruit; and a devotee without learning is a house without an entrance.

24     The object of sending the Koran down from heaven was that mankind might make it a manual of morals, and not that they should recite it by sections.

25     A falsehood is like the cut of a saber; for though the wound may heal, the scar of it will remain.

 

Source

Adapted from Sadi: Gulistan or Flower Garden translated by James Ross. Walter Scott Ltd., London, 1823 p142 et seq. An electronic text  is available from the Internet Classics Archive.

Koorosh Angali, UC Berkeley, for meaning of "Bustaan".

       Adaptation and selection Copyright © Rex Pay 2000