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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Merchant and the Parrot
By Jalāl-ad-dīn Rūmī (1207–1273)
From the ‘Masnavī’: Version by A. V. Williams Jackson

THERE was a merchant owned a parrot which was kept shut up in a cage, the paroquet’s world.  1
  On a certain occasion the merchant made preparations for a journey, beginning with Hindustan.  2
  Calling each of his man-servants and his maid-servants, he said: “What am I to bring back to you? Let me know.”  3
  Each expressed a wish according to his own choice; and the good man promised something to every one.  4
  Turning to the poll-parrot, he said: “And what gift am I to bring you from the land of Hindustan?”  5
  Polly replied: “When you see those parrots there, make my situation known to them, and say:—  6
  “‘There is a certain parrot who is longing for you, but is confined from the free vault of heaven, shut up in a cage.  7
  “‘He sends you his greetings, and he asks of you direction and some means of deliverance.’  8
  “And add: ‘Does it seem fair for me to be wasting my life in longing and to die here far away?  9
  “‘Am I to be allowed to continue in durance vile, while you are in green nooks among the boughs?  10
  “‘Is this to be the loyalty of friends—for me to be in a cage, and you out in the gardens?  11
  “‘Recall to memory that grieving bird, O ye grandees, in the morning draft amid your delightsome nooks.’”  12
  [The parrot proceeds then to expatiate upon love, and upon the union existing between souls.]  13
  The merchant received the message, with its salutation, to deliver to the bird’s kindred.  14
  And when he came to the far-off land of Hindustan, he saw in the desert parrots, many a one.  15
  Stopping his beast and raising his voice, he delivered his salutation and his message.  16
  Then, wonderful to relate, one of the parrots began a great fluttering, and down it fell, dead, and breathed its last.  17
  The merchant sore repented of telling his message, and said: “’Tis only for the death of a living creature I am come.  18
  “There was perchance a connection between these parrots, two bodies with but a single soul.  19
  “Ah, why did I do it! Why did I carry out my commission! I am helplessly grieved at telling this.”  20
  [The merchant moralizes at some length upon life, and upon the soul and its relation to God.]  21
  When the merchant had finished up his business abroad, he returned to his glad home.  22
  And to every man-servant he presented some gift, and to each maid-servant he handed out a gift.  23
  Then up spake the Polly: “What gift for the prisoner? What did you see and what did you say? Tell me that.”  24
  Said the merchant: “Ah me! That whereof I repent me, and for which I could bite my hand and gnaw my fingers.  25
  “Why did I, through ignorance and folly, vainly carry that idle message?”  26
  Said Poll: “Merchant, what’s this repentance about? And what has brought about this passion and grief?”  27
  He replied: “I told that plaintive story of yours to a flock of parrots that looked just like you.  28
  “And a certain parrot felt so keenly for your distress that its heart broke in twain, and it fluttered and dropped dead.  29
  “I felt deep regret. What was this I had said? But what does regret help, whatever I said?”  30
[The merchant moralizes at some length.]
  As soon as the parrot heard what that bird had done, he too fluttered and dropped down and grew cold.  32
  When the merchant observed it thus fallen, he started up and flung down his turban upon the ground.  33
  And when he saw the bird in such plight and condition, he started to tear the very clothes at his throat,  34
  Saying: “O Polly, my pretty creature, what is this, alas, that has happened thee? Why art thou thus?  35
  “Ah, alas, my sweet-voiced bird! Ah, alas, my companion and confidant!  36
  “Ah, alas, my sweet-note bird; my spirit of joy and angel of the garden!”  37
  [He continues to lament over the departed bird. But it must have fallen in accordance with the Divine Will. Man’s dependence upon God.]  38
  Thereupon the merchant tossed the bird out of the cage; but the paroquet instantly flew up on a high bough. The merchant was dumbfounded at the bird’s conduct; amazed and at a loss, he marveled at the mystery of the bird.  39
  And looking upward he said: “My nightingale, give some explanation of what you have done!…”  40
  Said the parrot: “That bird it was gave me counsel how I should act; in effect, this: ‘Rid yourself of your speech, voice, and talking;  41
  “‘For it is your voice that has brought you into captivity.’ And then to prove its counsel it died itself.”  42
  [The parrot dilates further in religious manner upon the changes and chances of mortal life.]  43
  Then Polly gave one or two bits more of guileless advice, and now said:—  44
  “Adieu, good-by! Farewell, my merchant; you have done a mercy to me: you have set me free from bonds and oppression.  45
  “Farewell, O merchant: I am now going home; and one day mayest thou become free just like me.”  46
  The merchant responded: “To God’s keeping go thou; thou hast taught me from this instant a new path of life.”  47

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