Reading Sa’di’s Gulistan

Master, ‘ostad,’ is a nickname the Persian poet Sa’di of Shiraz (1210-1291/92) rightfully deserves. His verses are elegant and his prose contains many thoughtful observations on morals, love, and life in general. Sa’di’s Gulistan, Rose Garden, written in 1258 was once a book of instruction and it remains one of the marvels of Persian literature. I recommend the translation by W.M. Thackston. You can open the book at random and find marvelous passages on different topics: The Art of Conversation, on Love, on the Conduct of Kings, on Dervishes.

I’m reading the Persian section out loud to savor the beautiful language of Sa’di. You can also find it recorded online in Persian, and even if you don’t understand the language, you will still enjoy Sa’di’s musicality.

Here is one favorite passage:
“Are you musk or ambergris?” I asked, “for I am intoxicated by your enchanting fragrance.”
“I used to be just mud,” it said. “A mere nothing, but I sat for a time with the roses,
And the perfection of my companions had an effect on me. Otherwise I am nothing but dust.”

«بگفتا من گل ناچیز بودم
و‌لیکن مدتی با گل نشستم
کمال همنشین در من اثر کرد
و گر نه من همان خاکم که هستم.»

What poetry do you enjoy? What is on your reading list right now?

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37 Comments

  • Manuel Xavier: Exquisite poetry! Thank you for reminding me! It is now back on my bedside table. October 3, 2022 at 9:14am Reply

    • Victoria: So glad to hear this. October 4, 2022 at 7:16am Reply

  • Mona Chipman: Lovely. Merci beaucoup October 3, 2022 at 10:05am Reply

  • Neva: How delightful! Thank you Victoria! October 3, 2022 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it. October 4, 2022 at 7:16am Reply

  • Katy: Lovely. I was thinking about his quote that is hung in tapestry in the UN. Heartbreaking what happens in this world. Thank you for sharing this. October 3, 2022 at 11:50am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure to share. October 4, 2022 at 7:15am Reply

  • Gabriela: Immensely beautiful. Thank you.
    Find beauty, be still. October 3, 2022 at 12:32pm Reply

  • Linda: I never know what I will find on your site, but I do know I will be introduced new beauty. Thank you. October 3, 2022 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Michele Davis: I agree!! October 3, 2022 at 10:32pm Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: So do I! Thanks Victoria! October 4, 2022 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Linda! October 4, 2022 at 7:15am Reply

    • Diana: and I agree as well; thank you Linda & Victoria November 7, 2022 at 9:18am Reply

  • Mel: Just finished Becoming Modern by Carolyn Burke which is a bio of the poet Mina Loy. Her collection “Lunar Baedeker,” published in 1923, is probably the most “well-known” of her mostly overlooked output and a sumptuous experience to read. October 3, 2022 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, I will take a look at her work. October 4, 2022 at 7:15am Reply

  • Maggie M: How I long to step on that dirt again! October 3, 2022 at 3:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: One of my favorite verses from Gulistan. October 4, 2022 at 7:14am Reply

  • Fazal: This is awesome. I have often said that if ever a young person asked me for an advice, I will say this, “If there is only one advice I could give you, it is to choose your company wisely because whether you realize it or not, the company you keep has a significant impact on you!” October 3, 2022 at 7:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree. This is a central message in Sa’di in general. I could have quoted so many other passages. October 4, 2022 at 7:14am Reply

  • Michele Davis: I’m reading Clive James Poetry Collection which you can find online using those words. I particularly love reading aloud “Language Lessons”. It’s not as floral or exquisite as Victoria’s regular selections, but it is a magical poem of love and desire, shaped through a Dante theme.
    https://www.clivejames.com/language-lessons.html October 3, 2022 at 10:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for sharing this. There are so many layers to this poem. October 4, 2022 at 7:06am Reply

      • Michele Davis: ⭐️ Yes! October 4, 2022 at 7:26am Reply

        • Marianne: Thank you Michele, I loved reading this poem, with its delicate balance of just enough, never too much. October 12, 2022 at 7:29am Reply

  • Vincent V.: I love it, thanks for sharing this Victoria!
    Currently, I’m reading Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s way) by M. Proust. It also makes me sit up and think every couple of pages. October 4, 2022 at 3:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Proust is always a thoughtful read. It’s impossible to rush through his writing. October 4, 2022 at 7:05am Reply

  • Karen A: Beautiful! And thank you for the translation recommendation. October 4, 2022 at 7:36am Reply

    • Karen A: Forgot to add poetry reading , W. Todo Kaneko’s poems are really poignant (for lack of a better word). Poetry Foundation’s Poem a Day had one a while ago from his collection, The Dead Wrestler Elegies, and I ended up buying several of his books to gift. Rereading The Black Sea by Carolyn Eden – interesting, fun and lots of delicious recipes! October 4, 2022 at 7:49am Reply

      • Victoria: Adding more poetry to my reading list. Thank you for the recommendation! October 4, 2022 at 8:35am Reply

    • Victoria: I like translations that include the original, but this one is excellent overall. October 4, 2022 at 8:35am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: May I add another gem? The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse (1986) by Vikram Seth, the author of the epic A Suitable Boy.
    I read it many years ago and was so delighted by the idea of a novel in Onegin stanzas! I honestly cannot remember the details of the novel but I do remember how emotionally soothing it was to read the — what was it? — sonnets? October 4, 2022 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Julie Spence: This is a quote not a poem from the author George Elliot, but I feel it has a kinship to these poetic offerings:

    “Blessed is the influence of one soul meeting another soul” October 4, 2022 at 1:36pm Reply

    • Julie: Ps Typo sorry. George Eliot has one l. October 4, 2022 at 2:49pm Reply

  • Maria: Beautiful conversations here. I am now a 75 year old once-English major, and bits of poetry just rise up from my little toe on my left foot. Right now, thinking of the Spoon River Anthology: life and death, love and loss, war and peace—-people trying to make sense and of course making mistakes as we do. The poems were set to music 50 some years ago. October 4, 2022 at 9:39pm Reply

  • Maria: Spoon River Anthology – Dippold the Optician (English)

    What do you see now?

    Globes of red, yellow, purple.

    Just a moment! And now?

    My father and mother and sisters.

    Yes! And now?

    Knights at arms, beautiful women, kind faces.

    Try this.

    A field of grain – a city.

    Very good! And now?

    A young woman with angels bending over her.

    A heavier lens! And now?

    Many women with bright eyes and open lips.

    Try this.

    Just a goblet on a table.

    Oh I see! Try this lens!

    Just an open space – I see nothing in particular.

    Well, now!

    Pine trees, a lake, a summer sky.

    That’s better. And now?

    A book.

    Read a page for me.

    I can’t. My eyes are carried beyond the page.

    Try this lens.

    Depths of air.

    Excellent! And now?

    Light, just light, making everything below it a toy world.

    Very well, we’ll make the glasses accordingly. October 4, 2022 at 9:42pm Reply

  • Diana: A big thank you Victoria and to all in this de-light- full conversation. November 7, 2022 at 7:46am Reply

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