The Story of the Grammatist and the Boatman

Peace, one and all…

The Story of What Happened between the Grammatist and the Boatman

‘A grammatist once got into a boat.
That self-regarding man looked at the boatman

And said, ‘Do you know grammar?’ ‘No,’ he said.
‘And half your life has gone!’ he chided him.

The boatman’s heart was broken by the pain,
but for the moment made his answer silence.

The wind then blew the boat into a whirpool.
The boatman hollered to the grammatist,

‘Do you know how to swim at all, please tell me?’
He said, ‘I don’t, you shrewd and handsome man!’

‘Then all your life has gone, dear grammatist,’
he said.  ‘Our boat is sinking in these whirlpools’.

Absorption’s needed here, not grammar, see!
If you’re absorbed, jump in.  There’s no danger.

The ocean wave will raise the dead aloft.
How can the living man escape the sea?

And if you’ve died to human qualities,
the sea of secrets sets you at its summit.

And you who’ve called the people asinine,
now you’re the one who’s like an ass on ice.

World’s greatest scholar of your time you may be,
but note this world is passing – watch the time!

Now we stitched up the grammatist in order
to tell you of the grammar of absorption.

The heart of all the learned sciences,
my learned friend, you’ll learn in self-effacement.

That pitcher is our learned sciences,
that caliph is the Tigris of God’s knowledge.

Full jars we’re carrying to the river Tigris,
and we’re an ass, though we don’t know it yet.

At least the Bedouin man could be excused –
from distant parts, he didn’t know the Tigris.

If he, like us, had known about the Tigris
would he have lugged his jar from place to place?

No, surely, if he’d known about the Tigris,
he would have smashed his jar upon a rock’.

Masnavi 1.2847-2864, trans. A. Williams

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