… In 1926, while still an undergraduate, I had attended the funeral of Edward Granville Browne. It was a studentship established under his will that enabled me in 1927 to embark on my new studies. My teachers were Anthony Ashley Bevan, a Victorian agnostic who was a splendid philologist and a most kindly man, and Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, the eminent authority on Islamic mysticism. My encounter with Nicholson was the turning point in my life. He was at that time engaged on his last and greatest work, the editing and translating of the Masnavi of Jalal al dın Rumi; and when I was ready to undertake research in Arabic and Persian, he persuaded me to follow in his footsteps and to explore the rich literature of the Sufis. My first labor was to edit and translate the Mavaqif of al-Niffari, and this led to my first journey to the East and three years’ residence in the lands of Islam. In those years I married and became a father. Nicholson was a very shy and retiring man, painfully diffident— a scholar of the study who never traveled out of Europe, yet he achieved a deeper penetration of the mind and spirit of Islam than any other man I have ever known. He rarely spoke of his personal beliefs, and in twenty-five years of close friendship I learned little of his own spiritual formation. But the impression I gained was that he too had lost his faith as a young man, and had regained it through his intellectual communion with the mystics of Islam. In his old age he composed a poem in which he revealed for the first time his inner thoughts. These thoughts had obviously been profoundly influenced by his long studies of Rumi.
Deep in our hearts the Light of Heaven is shining
Upon a soundless Sea without a shore.
Oh, happy they who found it in resigning
The images of all that men adore.
Blind eyes, to dote on shadows of things fair
Only at last to curse their fatal lure,
Like Harut and Marut, that Angel-pair
Who deemed themselves the purest of the pure.
Our ignorance and self-will and vicious pride
Destroy the harmony of part and whole.
In vain we seek with lusts unmortified
A vision of the One Eternal Soul.
Love, Love alone can kill what seemed so dead,
The frozen snake of passion. Love alone,
By tearful prayer and fiery longing fed,
Reveals a knowledge schools have never known.
God’s lovers learn from Him the secret ways
Of Providence, the universal plan.
Living in Him, they ever sing His praise
Who made the myriad worlds of Time for Man.
Evil they knew not, for in Him there’s none;
Yet without evil how should good be seen?
Love answers: “Feel with me, with me be one;
Where I am nought stands up to come between.”
There are degrees of heavenly light in souls;
Prophets and Saints have shown the path they trod,
Its starting points and stages, halts and goals,
All leading to the single end in God.
Love will not let his faithful servants tire,
Immortal Beauty draws them on and on
From glory unto glory drawing nigher
At each remove and loving to be drawn.
When Truth shines out words fail and nothing tell;
Now hear the Voice within your hearts. Farewell.
~ Excerpt taken from “Mystical poems of rumi” – Translated from Persian by A. J. Arberry