However, I am not a Rumi scholar, nor do I know any of the six languages in which Rumi wrote his poetry. I translate from English only and am dependent, therefore, on the real translators, the people who could have spoken face to face with Mevlana. Surprisingly, in this age of globalization and mass migration there are not very many of them, and hundreds of Mevlana's English versificators are drinking from the same few fountains.
The most prolific in recent decades has been Dr. Nevit Ergin, who dedicated almost half a century to this labor of love. He translated almost all colossal Divan in 23 volumes with one exception - the Rubayat, the final and most sophisticated 4% of the Divan. Towards that end, Dr. Ergin published two books of the quatrains, which have 178 and 233 rubais respectively, with significant overlap. And now he is finishing that monumental work, by offering English readers the first complete translation of one of the best and oldest of the Rumi's medieval texts - the famous Konya manuscript, containing 1765 quatrains.
The main difficulty in organizing Rumi's rubais in any language is the problem of their classification. Spread out from India to England there are three dozen medieval manuscripts of Rumi's Divan of varying age (the earliest dating back to 50 years after Mevlana's death), quality, content, order and total number (between 0 and 1,925) of surviving quatrains.
Some of the rubais in the manuscripts do not belong to Rumi and can be found in well authenticated sources of known authorship from previous centuries or from the time immediately following Mevlana's death. The reason for such discrepancies is that in the medieval times, scribes and their masters felt free to select personal collections of their favorite poetry and the concept of the "standard textbook" did not exist for non-religious canons. Mevlana's texts were better preserved in comparison with many other authors', because of his high social status as the aristocrat, the scholar, the founder and leader of the Mevlevi, the spiritual brotherhood known as "Whirling Dervishes" in the West.
The efforts to classify Mevlana' poems began in the West at the beginning of XX century with the Russian scholar Prof. Leonid Bogdanov, who started with the Divan manuscript (of very interesting military history) in the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg. Due to the disturbances of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Prof. Bogdanov was forced to immigrate to Iran and later to India and Afghanistan, where he discovered, dated and gave scientific description of the two most complete Rumi's Divan manuscripts, one of which had 2,206 rubais (before damage). Prof. Bogdanov became a French citizen and made the first complete translation of Rumi's Mathnawi into French. Unfortunately, his much anticipated translation of the Divan (and the Rubayat) was not complete at the time of his untimely death in Kabul in 1945. Famous Rumi scholar - Cambridge Prof. Arthur Arberry continued work on this task - he discovered the so-called Chester Beatty manuscript (the oldest and best preserved) with 1980 rubais in a private library in London, England, described it and published the partial translation of around 360 rubais in 1949.
The classification of Rumi's rubais was finished by the great Mevlana scholar – Iranian Prof. Badiuzzaman Foruzanfar, who created a numbering system, which became the world's standard and is named after him. Unfortunately, there are two sets of the Foruzanfar numbers:
- the old, inferior, set which it is based on an unfinished work of Prof. Foruzanfar, printed in 1957 by a commercial publisher – Amir Kabir Press (it incorporates an earlier work by Muhammad Baqir Olfat printed in Isfahan in 1941); the book is still in print in the form of one or two volumes. This system is called Isfahan or commercial,
- the new set, which is based on the final work of Prof. Foruzanfar, published in 1963 by the Teheran University Press, in volume 8 of the multivolume set of the Divan. It is called Teheran or academic system.
The content – the quatrains, the order in which they are listed, and the total counts are different in these two systems. The Prof. Foruzanfar's method is not perfect, though, because he didn't filter out (both knowingly and not) the rubais, which didn't belong to Rumi; as long as they were listed in the old authentic manuscripts.
Scholars (e.g. Profs. Chittick, Ernst, Lewis, Schimmel) use only the academic system, but authors outside of academia are less disciplined in their reference approach and sometimes create confusion by using both systems at once or giving no reference at all. I don't want to name names, but there are versificators out there who have published different versions of the same rubai translations, without even knowing about that duplicity.
Over the last 10 years I have collected all known English books with Rumi rubais – around 50 in all by some 30 authors and created a concordance – a table, containing the first lines of the translations, sorted by the academic Foruzanfar number as the primary key, with the commercial Foruzanfar number as the secondary key. The table has around 2,300 rows, with a few gaps (around 100 as of today), because not all of the known Rumi quatrains are translated and published in English yet, even after the current work of Dr. Ergin.
Most of the table cells have multiple entries since translation of the Rumi poetry became a favorite pastime among Mevlana's English speaking lovers after Coleman Barks made his name so popular in these parts of the World.
Outside of the table there are around 300 additional rubais attributed to Rumi by their translators (e.g. Prof. Andrew Harvey,) who do not provide any Foruzanfar references and I couldn't identify them independently by comparison with other translations either.
In order to place the quatrains translated by Dr. Ergin (or any other translator) in my table, I have to know their Foruzanfar numbers in either of the two systems. Unfortunately, Dr. Ergin's previous books did not have this information, which was why I contacted Dr. Ergin in 2007 via email to inquire. Initially, he did not show any interest in finding these references and was even puzzled why a strange Russian was interested in such things. He called me on the phone and inquired who I was and why was I interested in Mevlana. It seemed to me that I did not convince him of my genuine interest on the first attempt, which is why I asked our mutual friend and collaborator, the great poet Prof. Coleman Barks for help and a personal introduction.
After Coleman's recommendation, Dr. Ergin dropped his guard and told me about his ongoing work on the Konya manuscript rubais. He advised me to wait until he finishes it, not wanting to be bothered with the Foruzanfar numbers of a small subset of rubais in his earlier books. Needless to say, I was anxious! After a year of waiting, just when I was starting to think that he had forgotten about me, Dr. Ergin generously sent me his master file, which I opened with the anticipation of a child unwrapping his Christmas gifts!
But after the first burst of happiness, I discovered that the master-file still had quite a few Foruzanfar numbering issues, which may be characterized as follows: some rubais did not have any references, some had mutually exclusive references, and others had numbers which contradicted references made by other reputable translators, e.g. Prof. Arberry.
There are several reasons for these discrepancies: Dr. Ergin used two Rubayat books translated from Farsi to Turkish as his sources, one by Prof. Abdulbaki Golpinarli and another by Sheikh Sefik Can. Prof. Golpinarli, according to Dr. Ergin, did not provide Foruzanfar references at all, referring instead directly to the pages and rubais' sequential numbers in the Konya manuscript. Sheikh Sefik Can included Foruzanfar numbers, but with many errors, as well as using sources besides the Konya manuscript (e.g. "Manakib-ul arifin" by Ahmed Aflaki) and missing or excluding several of the Konya manuscript rubais for unknown reasons.
For more than six months in 2008 – 2009 Dr. Ergin and I worked together on those issues and brought their number from more than 200 down to 56.
The remaining reference gaps in Dr. Ergin's work fall into two categories:
- the rubais which do not have Foruzanfar references at all are taken from the Golpinarli book only and do not exist in the Sefik Can book
- the rubais that have mutually exclusive references are taken from the Sefik Can book only and could not be classified independently by comparison with other available English translations.
Besides reference problems, Dr. Ergin and I worked together on clarifications of hundreds of other issues: botanical, geographical, historical, legal, metallurgical, metaphysical, musical, theological and zoological terms, koranic and hadithic quotations, and murky meanings of some rubais. All of these instances are annotated now in this book.
I wish to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Ergin for the opportunity to participate in his great endeavor.
And I hope that we – the people from different religious and cultural backgrounds (who had never met each other in-person) - can continue our collaboration via the modern marvel - the Internet in the future.