One of the most important of the medieval Persian poets, SA’DI (1194-1292) is still read widely today, with an influence that extends to Western writers such as La Fontaine, Diderot, Voltaire, Hugo, Balzac, Goethe, and Emerson. He spent much of his life traveling through Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, returning to his native Shiraz (in what is now Iran) as an elderly man to compose works based on his experiences and wisdom gained. The Gulistan (“garden of roses”), part prose and part poetry, is divided into four “gateways” (“The Manners of Kings,” “Concerning Darweeshes,” “The Excellency of Moderation,” and “The Benefits of Taciturnity”) teeming with humorous anecdotes and insight. More than 700 years after his death, Sa’di’s ruminations on leadership, materialism, and the virtues of silence—here translated by Edwin Arnold at the turn of the 20th century—live on in this classic work.
Here are some excerpts from his work, always relevant to this day and age, and always beautifully expressed. Available for purchase here.
The following inscription was upon the portico of the hall of Feridun:
O brother, the world remains with no one.
Bind the heart to the Creator, it is enough.
Rely not upon possessions and this world
Because it has cherished many like thee and slain them.
When the pure soul is about to depart,
What matters it if one dies on a throne or on the ground?
One of the kings of Khorasan had a vision in a dream of Sultan Mahmud, one hundred years after his death. His whole person appeared to have been dissolved and turned to dust, except his eyes, which were revolving in their orbits and looking about. All the sages were unable
to give an interpretation, except a dervish who made his salutation and said: ‘He is still looking amazed how his kingdom belongs to others.’
Many famous men have been buried under ground
Of whose existence on earth not a trace has remained
And that old corpse which had been surrendered to the earth
Was so consumed by the soil that not a bone remains.
The glorious name of Nushirvan survives in good repute
Although much time elapsed since he passed away.
Do good, O man, and consider life as a good fortune,
The more so, as when a shout is raised, a man exists no more.
I saw at the palace-gate of Oglimish the son of a military officer
who was endued with marvellous intellect, sagacity, perception and
shrewdness; also the signs of future greatness manifested themselves
on his forehead whilst yet a small boy.
From his head intelligence caused
The star of greatness to shine.
In short, he pleased the sultan because he had a beautiful
countenance and a perfect understanding; and philosophers have said:
‘Power consists in accomplishments, not in wealth and greatness in
intellect, not in years.’ His companions, being envious, made an
attempt upon his life and desired to kill him but their endeavours
What can a foe do when the friend is kind?
The king asked: ‘What is the cause of their enmity to thee?’ He
replied: ‘Under the shadow of the monarchy of my lord I have satisfied
my contemporaries except the envious, who will not be contented but by
the decline of my prosperity, and may the monarchy and good fortune of
my lord be perpetual.’
I may so act as not to hurt the feelings of anyone
But what can I do to an envious man dissatisfied with himself?
Die, O envious man, for this is a malady,
Deliverance from which can be obtained only by death.
Unfortunate men sometimes ardently desire
The decline of prosperous men in wealth and dignity.
If in daytime, bat-eyed persons do not see
Is it the fault of the fountain of light, the sun?
Thou justly wishest that a thousand such eyes
Should be blind rather than the sun dark.