Poem of the Sufi Way by Umar Ibn al-Farid

     Recently we have discovered a marvellous illustration to the topics touched upon in the epoch-making program The Meaning of Life: Immortality, where Bodhisattva Rigden Djappo participated. It’s the ancient literature masterpiece dating back almost 1,000 years – the brilliant Poem of the Sufi Way (Naẓm al-Sulūk) by ancient Arab Sufi mystic and scholar Umar ibn `Alī ibn al-Fārid who lived in 1181-1235. This work, also having such titles as the Great Qasida (Ode), Great Mystery, Poem of the Way, Poem of Progress, or the Way of the Pious, is a unique phenomenon in the world poetry, psychology and spiritual literature. The author poetically communicates experience of a man who is becoming saint, describing in human language what is almost impossible to describe, i.e. the process taking place in the other world, the spiritual world, at the junction of the 6th and 7th dimensions. It’s exactly the process of the Personality fusion with the Soul and the birth of a new spiritual being – an Angel!

    There are many translated versions of the poem in different languages, including several in English, though translation of this work is known for its difficulty.

    Herein, we present a translation of the original Arabic text into English verse, made by the respected British orientalist Arthur John Arberry. Below there are several bright extracts, and thereafter we will give a link to the webpage where the entire poem and translator’s comments may be downloaded.


The Poem of the Way


The pupil of mine eye stretched forth its hand

To grasp my bowl (her matchless countenance

Transcending mortal beauty) and therefrom

Poured me the fever and the flame of love,

While with my glance I gave my friends to think

Draining their juice it was that filled my soul

(And I intoxicated) with deep joy;

Yet having eyes to drink, I could dispense

With that my goblet, since her qualities

And not my wine inebriated me.

So in the tavern of my drunkenness

The hour was ripe that I should render thanks

To those the lads by whose conspiracy

My passion could be perfectly concealed

For all my notoriety. But when

My sober mood was ended, boldly I

Requested union with her, being now

No more inhibited by clutching fear

But wholly unrestrained in love’s expanse;

And privily, as when a bride unveils

Before her bridegroom, I disclosed to her

All my heart’s story, having none to share

And spy upon my joy, no lingering trace

Even of self-regard. So, while my state

Attested my torn passion, as between

Annihilation in discovery

Of her my love, and re-establishment

Shocked by the loss of her, I pleaded thus:

‘Give me, ere love annul in me at last

Poor relic of myself, wherewith to look

Upon thee – give me but one fleeting glance

As turning casually upon thy way!

Or if thou willest not that I should gaze

At thee, grant to mine ear the blessed grace

Of that Thou shalt not wherein ere my time

Another once rejoice; for I have need

Imperious, in my spirit’s drunkenness,

Of that twice sobering, by which my heart

Except for passion were not fragmented –

And if the mountains, and great Sinai

Itself among them, had been made to bear

The burden of my anguish, even ere

The revelation of God’s splendour flashed

They had been shattered – passion tear-betrayed,

Ardour augmenting those the inward flames

Whose sick-bed fevers made an end of me…


* * *


So I have come to hope what other men

Shrink from in fear: succour therewith the soul

Of a dead man prepared for endless life!

Now let me be her ransom, by whose grace

I did aspire to love, treading the path

Of them who went before me, and refused

All laws of life but mine. In every tribe

How many fell her victims, slain by grief,

Who never won upon a single day

Even one glance at her! How many men

Like me she slew of passion, and had she

Gazed in compassion on them, every one

Had stood revived! Now if she make my blood

Lawful to shed, and that I loved her well,

Upon the heights of exaltation, yea

The pinnacles of honour she hath set

My rank secure forever. By my life,

If I do lose my life in loving her

I win the bargain; if she waste my heart

Yet shall she after heal it whole again.

I was humiliated in the tribe

Through her, until I found myself, in their

Esteem, too mean-aspiring to attain

The least worth striving; my subservience

To them debased me to obscurity

Matching my feebleness, so that they deemed

Me too contemptible to serve their will.

So I have fallen, after all my pride,

Down from the heights of glory to the deeps

Of degradation; lost my self-respect,

Men no more press my gate, nor put their hopes

In my authority; no neighbour comes

To me for shelter from the world’s despite.

It is as if I had been never held

In honour by my fellows, but was still

Despised, alike in hardship and in case.

Had any asked, “Whom lovest thou?” and I

Boldly declared her name, they would have said,

‘He means another, surely’, or ‘Poor man,

A demon madness hath assailed his brain!’


* * *


Behold, the faithful archangel, when first

Our Prophet’s inspirations came on him,

Came to our Prophet in the fleshly form

Of Dihya: tell me then, was Gabriel

This Dihya, when he manifested thus

To our true Guide to guidance? That he knew

Beyond contention the identity

Of his he saw, proveth superior

His consciousness to theirs who stood him by.

He saw an angel that revealed to him;

The others saw a man, full reverend

As one who kept the Prophet’s company.

In the more perfect of these visions twain

I have an indication, which acquits

Of all pretences incarnationist

My simple creed. ‘This not to be denied

The Scripture speaks of covering, and I

Go not beyond the twain authority

Of Holy Book and Apostolic Word.

This much of knowledge I have given thee:

If thou desirest its unveiling, come

See thou my path, and make beginning now

Of following my Law; for Sadda’s fount

Springs from a water whose abounding well

Is found in me; tell not to me the tale

Of some mirage a-shimmer in some waste!

Behold the ocean, wherein I have plunged

While those aforetime halted on its shore

Guarding the locus of my sanctity:

Draw ye not nigh the orphan’s property

That is a reference to a hand held back

When it was stretched to take it; and none else

Beside me ere attained to aught of it

Except a youth, who never ceased to tread

Upon my steps in hardship or in ease.

Then stray not from the traces of my path,

And fear the cloud that shadows o’er the heart

Who chooses other than myself; strive on

Upon my very road; her friendship’s vale,

O friend of heart serene, runs in the march

Of my command, and enters ‘neath my sway…


* * *


In me the holy vale was sanctified,

Where I bestowed my putting off of shoes

On my companions, an unstinted gift.

And I beheld my beams, and was their guide –

O wondrous soul, that shines upon that light!

I founded firm my Sinais, and there

Prayed to myself, and all my wants fulfilled;

My essence was my interlocutor.

My moon set not; my sun ne’er sank from sight;

By me are guided all the shining stars

Upon their courses; all the planets swim

About my heavens as my will controls

All things I own; my angels prostrate fall

Before my sovereignty. And in the world

Of recollection still the soul doth own

Its ancient knowledge my disciples pray

That I bestow on them. Haste then to my

Eternal union, wherein I have found

The greybeards of the tribe as little babes!

For these my fellows living in my age

Drink but the dregs that I have left; and those

Ahead of me, the merits men in them

Applaud are but my superfluity.



Full text of the poem + translator's notes in PDFhere



Prepared by Julia Matveyeva (Russia)

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