The Mukhtarnama of Attar

The rubal is not always a poem of questionable authorship. There are quatrains to be found in the collected works of practically all the great masters of the Sufi tradition who will be mentioned in the course of the following chapters of the present survey. The oldest of these collections incorporated in a divan is the set of quatrains of Sana'I of Ghazna (d. 1131). Among the many poets of quatrains mention should be made at least of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, Auhad ad-Din KirmanI (thirteenth century) and 'Abd ar-Rahman Jam! (fifteenth century).

More than passing attention must be given to the ruba'Iyat of Farid ad-Din 'Attar (died about 1220), who especially became famous for his mystical epics. His poetical output is, however, more varied than is usually known to Western readers and includes, besides a substantial Divan, also a separate volume of quatrains. As the title of the collection, Mukhtar-nama ('Book of Selection') indicates the work contains merely an anthology by the poet from his quatrains, which he made because they were too numerous to be included in the Divan.19 In an introduction he thus explains the spiritual values to be found in his ruba iyat:

These verses are the result of experiences; there is nothing artificial about them and they are free from any pretence. I wrote them down as they came to me and entered my blood. If one day actual experience gets your soul in its grip, and if you, for some nights,

have been submerged in confusion, then you will know from which nest these tender nightingales and these sweet-talking parrots flew: 'Whoever did not taste it, will never know.'

Quite remarkable is the division of the collection into fifty chapters, each containing quatrains devoted to a specific theme. The classification is a very fine one. It not only includes a detailed list of religious and mystical subjects, but also motifs and images current in Persian lyrical poetry: the description of a beloved person and the sufferings of the lover, antinomian attitudes and wine drinking, the rose, dawn and the celebrated simile of the moth and the candle. The following examples show the variety of 'Attar's repertoire:

You think that you can see the soul? Behold all secrets hidden in the world? The more your vision is perfected, The more your blindness comes to light.20

I said: For your sake I put heart and soul at risk. All things that I possessed I sacrified to you. He said: Who are you that you should do or do not? It was no one but me who robbed you from your rest.21

The Christian boy who made me break my vow, Last night he came and made me touch his locks. After he danced around four times he left me Bound four turns to the girdle of his unbelief.22

To the rose I spoke: You are like Kanaan's Joseph; The sultanate of meadow's Egypt suits you well. The pages of my petals are so many, the rose said, It is only one of these that you can read.23

Oh dawn! When you'll begin to rise, You will set out to seek my death. If my heart's sighs should really hurt you, Only halfway you would turn and go back.24

Thus moth to candle spoke: Be my beloved! The candle said: If you so madly love me, Enter my flame; and be consumed by it If you so badly want to be embraced.25

Being aware of the discrepancy between imagery and meaning in many of these quatrains, 'Attar apologises for having devoted so much attention to subjects which might seem to be frivolous and unworthy of his lofty intentions:

If the reader through determined meditation reaches the secret of this treasure, there will be no genre where he will not attain his goal, though there are some verses which are not suitable for this boob. Some are beyond the mind of every one and no one will be able to understand them. Some are outwardly clothed in locks, moles, lips and mouths; their wording is the same as that current among professionals (ahl-i rasm?J. As they had been composed, however, I entered them together into a single necklace, because looking at a mole without seeing the face, or at a face without seeing the mole, amounts to being shortsighted.

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