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(Masnavi Book 3: 18) The Snake-catcher and the frozen Snake









Story of the snake-catcher who thought the frozen serpent was dead and wound it in ropes and brought it to Baghdád.

Listen to a tale of the chronicler, in order that you may get an inkling of this veiled mystery. A snake-catcher went to the mountains to catch a snake by his incantations.
Whether one be slow or speedy (in movement), he that is a seeker will be a finder.
Always apply yourself with both hands (with all your might) to seeking, for search is an excellent guide on the way.

980. (Though you be) lame and limping and bent in figure and unmannerly, ever creep towards Him and be in quest of Him.
Now by speech and now by silence and now by smelling, catch in every quarter the scent of the
King.
Jacob said to his sons, “Make search for Joseph beyond (all) bounds.
In this search earnestly direct your every sense towards every side, like one that is ready.”
He (Jacob) said, “Do not despair of God's breath (mercy)”; go you (also) to and fro as one that has lost his son.

985. Inquire by means of the sense of the mouth, and lay your ears on the four roads of that
(which ye seek).
Whenever a sweet scent comes, smell in that direction, for ye are acquainted with that direction. Whenever you art aware of a kindness from any one, it is possible you mayst find the way to
the source of the kindness.
All these lovely things are from a deep Sea: leave the part and keep yours eye (fixed) upon the
Whole.
The wars of mankind are for the sake of Beauty; the garniture of ungarnishedness is the sign of the Túbá tree.

990. The angers of mankind are for the sake of Peace; restlessness is ever the snare for Rest. Every blow is for the sake of fondness; every complaint makes (you) aware of gratitude (due for benefits received).
Smell (all the way) from the part to the Whole, O noble one; smell (all the way) from opposite to opposite, O wise one.
Assuredly wars bring peace; the snake-catcher sought the snake for the purpose of friendship. Man seeks a snake for the purpose of friendship and cares for one that is without care (for him).

995. He (the snake-catcher) was searching round about the mountains for a big snake in the days of snow.
He espied there a huge dead dragon, at the aspect whereof his heart was filled with fear. (Whilst) the snake-catcher was looking for snakes in the hard winter, he espied a dead dragon.
The snake-catcher catches snakes in order to amaze the people—behold the foolishness of the people!
Man is a mountain: how should he be led into temptation? How should a mountain become
amazed at a snake?

1000. Wretched Man does not know himself: he has come from a high estate and fallen into lowlihood.
Man has sold himself cheaply: he was satin, he has sewn himself on (become attached) to a tattered cloak.
Hundreds of thousands of snakes and mountains are amazed at him: why (then) has he become amazed and fond of a snake?
The snake-catcher took up that snake and came to Baghdád for the sake of (exciting)
astonishment.
In quest of a paltry fee he carried along a dragon like the pillar of a house,

1005. Saying, I have brought a dead dragon: I have suffered agonies in hunting it.” He thought it was dead, but it was living, and he did not see it very well.
It was frozen by frosts and snow: it was alive, but it presented the appearance of the dead. The world is frozen: its name is jamád (inanimate): jámid is (means) frozen, O master.
Wait till the sun of the Resurrection shall become manifest, that you mayst see the movement of the world's body.

1010. When here (in this world) the rod of Moses became a snake, information was given to the intellect concerning motionless (inanimate) beings.
Since He (God) made your piece of earth a man, you shouldst recognise (the real nature of) the entire sum of the particles of earth:
(That) from this standpoint they are dead and from that standpoint they are living; (that they are) silent here and speaking yonder.
When He sends them from that quarter towards us, the rod becomes a dragon in relation to us. The mountains too make a song like that of David, and the substance of iron is (as) wax in the hand.

1015. The wind becomes a bearer for Solomon, the sea becomes capable of understanding words in regard to Moses.
The moon becomes able to see the sign in obedience to Ahmad (Mohammed), the fire becomes
wild-roses for Abraham.
The earth swallows Qárún (Korah) like a snake; the Moaning Pillar comes into (the way of)
righteousness.
The stone salaams to Ahmad (Mohammed); the mountain sends a message to Yahyá (John the
Baptist).
(They all say), “We have hearing and sight and are happy, (although) with you, the uninitiated, we are mute.”

1020. Forasmuch as ye are going towards (are inclined to) inanimateness (worldliness), how shall ye become familiar with the spiritual life of inanimate beings?
Go (forth) from inanimateness into the world of spirits, hearken to the loud noise of the particles of the world.
The glorification of God by inanimate beings will become evident to thee; the doubts suggested
by (false) interpretations will not carry you away (from the truth).
Since your soul has not the lamps (the lights necessary) for seeing, you have made interpretations,
Saying, “How should visible glorification (of God) be the meaning intended? The claim to see
(that glorification) is an erroneous fancy.

1025. Nay, the sight of that (inanimate object) causes him that sees it to glorify God at the time when he regards its significance.
Therefore, inasmuch as it reminds you of glorification, that indication (which it gives to you) is even as (equivalent to its) uttering (the words of glorification).”

This is the interpretation of the Mu‘tazilites and of those who do not possess the light of immediate (mystical) intuition.
When a man has not escaped from sense-perception, he will be a stranger to the ideas of the unseen world.
This discourse has no end. The snake-catcher, with a hundred pains, was bringing the snake along,

1030. Till (at last) the would-be showman arrived at Baghdád, that he might set up a public show at the cross-roads.
The man set up a show on the bank of the Tigris, and a hubbub arose in the city of Baghdád— “A snake-catcher has brought a dragon: he has captured a marvellous rare beast.
Myriads of simpletons assembled, who had become a prey to him as he (to it) in his folly.
They were waiting (to see the dragon), and he too was waiting for the scattered people to assemble.

1035. The greater the crowd, the better goes the begging and contributing (of money). Myriads of idle babblers assembled, forming a ring, sole against sole.
Man took no heed of woman: on account of the throng they were mingled together like nobles and common folk at the Resurrection.
When he (the snake-catcher) began to move the cloth (which covered the dragon), the people in the crowd strained their throats (necks),
And (saw that) the dragon, which had been frozen by intense cold, was underneath a hundred kinds of coarse woollen cloths and coverlets.

1040. He had bound it with thick ropes: that careful keeper had taken great precaution for it. During the delay (interval) of expectation and coming together, the sun of ‘Iráq shone upon the snake.
The sun of the hot country warmed it; the cold humours went out of its limbs.
It had been dead, and it revived: from astonishment (at feeling the sun's heat) the dragon began to uncoil itself.
By the stirring of that dead serpent the people's amazement was multiplied a hundred thousand fold.

1045. With amazement they started shrieking and fled en masse from its motion.
It set about bursting the bonds, and at that loud outcry (of the people) the bonds on every side went crack, crack.
It burst the bonds and glided out from beneath—a hideous dragon roaring like a lion. Many people were killed in the rout: a hundred heaps were made of the fallen slain.
The snake-catcher became paralysed with fear on the spot, crying, “What have I brought from the mountains and the desert?”

1050. The blind sheep awakened the wolf: unwittingly it went towards its ‘Azrá’íl (Angel of death).
The dragon made one mouthful of that dolt: blood-drinking (bloodshed) is easy for Hajjáj. It wound and fastened itself on a pillar and crunched the bones of the devoured man.
The dragon is your sensual soul: how is it dead? It is (only) frozen by grief and lack of means.
If it obtain the means of Pharaoh, by whose command the water of the river (Nile) would flow,

1055. Then it will begin to act like Pharaoh and will waylay a hundred (such as) Moses and
Aaron.
That dragon, under stress of poverty, is a little worm, (but) a gnat is made a falcon by power and riches.

Keep the dragon in the snow of separation (from its desires); beware, do not carry it into the sun ofIráq.
So long as that dragon of yours remains frozen, (well and good); you art a mouthful for it, when it gains release.
Mortify it and become safe from (spiritual) death; have no mercy: it is not one of them that deserve favours;

1060. For (when) the heat of the sun of lust strikes upon it, that vile bat of yours flaps its wings.
Lead it manfully to the (spiritual) warfare and battle: God will reward you with access (to Him). When that man brought the dragon into the hot air, and the insolent brute became well (again), Inevitably it wrought those mischiefs, my dear friend, (and others) too, twenty times as many as
we have told.
Dost you hope, without using violence, to keep it bound in quiet and faithfulness?

1065. How should this wish be fulfilled for any worthless one? It needs a Moses to kill the dragon.
By his dragon hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the rout, as he had designed.

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