Shaikh Saadi- The Persian poet par excellence
Human beings are members of a whole,
in creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
the name of human you cannot retain.
The above lines are from the poem “Bani Adam” by Shaikh Saadi which appears in one of his stories titled “On the Conduct of Kings”. Using the analogy of a human body, Saadi conveys the message of oneness of humanity and states how pain, if inflicted on one person, can be tormenting for others. And if one is insensitive to other’s misery, then perhaps he is not worthy to be a human or Bani Adam, meaning children of Adam.
These verses woven in gold letters on a carpet, adorn the wall of a meeting hall at UN at New York. The poem rose in popularity when Former US president quoted it to greet Iranian people on their new year-Nouroz in 2009. The poem, an ultimate declaration of peace and humanity, attracted further eminence when the British Band Coldplay featured a song titled Bani Adam with recitation of the poem in their album “Everyday Life.”
Who was Shaikh Saadi?
Shaikh Saadi was a thirteenth century poet born in 1210 (in some records it is 1213) in Shiraz, a city in Iran. His full name was Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī however, he adopted the pseudonym “Saadi” taking a clue from the name of the local prince, Sa’d ibn Zangi. He received his early education in Shiraz and later studied in Baghdad at Nizamiyya University where he took up Islamic Studies and theology, Law, History and Persian Literature. It is noted he was a student of renowned scholar Sufi Shaikh Shihabud-Din Suhraward.
He gained fame as a diligent student with a leaning towards exploring the dimensions of human characteristics as observed in the Persian surrounding. His life sketch mentions he travelled widely to holy shrines and his pilgrimages took him to central Asia, India, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia, and Morocco. He further attained prominence as a philosopher cum prose writer deeply engaged with moral and social thoughts expressed in descriptive passages. His immense contribution to classical literature earned him glorious titles which honour his absolute mastery over the Persian language, like “Master of Speech” (Ustad-e-Sukhan) and “The King of Speech”.
He died in 1291 and his tomb, with inscription of his writings, is an attractive tourist sight in Shiraz. (The dates of his birth and death are ambiguous and have been derived from his writing, mentioning historic events).
Books by Saadi
His classical works include two books- “Gulistan” (Rose Garden) and “Bustan” (Orchard). “Bustan” is his first books and was published in 1257. It is completely in verse or rhyming couplets (Mussnavi) a compilation of traditional Persian text, short stories and contains anecdote from his travels along with and poems conveying the message of justice, empathy and compassion-his hallmark themes. The other book Gulistan is mainly prose and was completed in 1258. It is a collection of Persian moral stories interspersed with aphorisms and poems. Both the books have been compiled as “Kuliyat-e-Saadi”. His works have been widely translated.
Virtue pardons the wicked, as the sandal-tree perfumes the axe which strikes it.
– Shaikh Saadi
(Written by: Shazman Shariff, freelance writer based in Bangalore, available at [email protected].)