Persian Poetry: The Truth

A Monthly Column

By  Mehdi Bagheri

The Truth

 

The fool paid for the fake in hopes of getting the gold

For lies don’t emerge without the truth

 

If there was no genuine currency in the world

When could spending be done from the forged?

 

When would there be a lie whilst there is no truth

It’s the lie that gains flare from the truth

 

In hopes of the direct path, they buy the crooked

The sweet is poisoned and then fed

 

If it was not for the value of the precious wheat

A swindler couldn’t profit selling barley mixed with wheat

– Rumi

(Translated by Mehdi Bagheri)


For my sixth column on Odd Magazine, I am humbled to translate part of a poem by Rumi, a poet and a mystic philosopher, whose words from 8 centuries ago still guides us in widening our perspectives on different issues that we encounter in life.

In this poem, Rumi is telling us how and why truth is valuable by reminding us about the opposite of it.

In different ways, the poet tells us that lies won’t come into existence when there is no truth. There must be a truth when we hear lies. There must be a genuine when we see something fake. But how is it that at times we still accept lies? Or we still pay for what is fake? With a bit of introspection on Rumi’s words, we can conclude that the essence of humanity is of a truth-seeking nature. It is for getting the truth that we as humans at times fall into believing the lies we are told.

Imagine a traveller lost in the middle of a desert. He knows for a fact that there is an oasis within his reach, before the sun sets, however, he is not sure how to get there. If a passer-by points in a direction to show the traveller where the oasis is situated, the traveller will accept to head towards that direction. The passer-by could be telling a lie or saying the truth but regardless of that, the traveller decides to believe him because he knows for a fact that before he passes out of thirst, there is an oasis within his reach and that he had no clue of how to get there anyway. But what if both the traveller and the passer-by know for sure that there is no oasis within reach for lesser than three days of distance; then neither of them will lie nor believe it if they are lied to.

What is Rumi trying to tell us here? The importance of Rumi’s argument lies in the fact that those who do not get to know the truth are the ones who suffer from believing in lies. Those who at the same time hesitate to seek experts’ assistance and do not have the required knowledge on an issue are victims of deception. Believing in lies also can be associated with a person’s impatience, greed and so forth in the poem above.

In the beginning lines, the poet demonstrates truth as something genuine and valuable by comparing it to gold. Rumi argues that if it wasn’t for the value of gold a fool would have not been deceived in buying fake gold. On the other hand, this means lies are fake truths that deceive us in believing they are valuable. This is where the poet says “it’s the lie that gains flare from the truth”.

In the eighth hemistich, we are told of how we are being fed with lies. No one sells fake and says it’s fake neither no one lies and says he’s lying. We are lied to, in a way to believe that we are being told the truth otherwise we are going to reject it. Here, Rumi compares lie to poison and truth to sweet. Liars beutificate their words with an aim to deceive their audience. In Rumi’s words, they “poison the sweet” in order to be able to tempt humans to accept something without considering the implications of it. We accept lies because we are in pursuit of gaining anything that’s valuable but we are lazy to spend time gaining knowledge about what’s being given to us. We are impatient to become in possession of anything valuable, whether it be an object or a concept. Some of us are greedy too as well. Not greedy of knowledge but greedy of saying “I know all about it”.

In the final two hemistiches, the poet compares liars to swindlers who benefit from selling us goods that look precious and valuable but in fact are not as valuable or are just invaluable. In the poet’s example, this happens when we don’t pay attention and take a bag of wheat that’s mixed with barley which is less valuable, while imagining that we have acquired something as valuable as we wanted it to be.

In a broader perspective, Rumi indicates that finding the truth is not an easy task. Sometimes because of our beliefs and comfort, we let go of searching for the truth. This happens when we are too attached to our religious, political and patriotic beliefs that we find our knowledge to be enough or we find any new knowledge or perspective in contradiction of our belief system to be false.

The more I read Rumi, the more I yearn to learn.