Rumi's Mathnawi (selections)

Week 6: Middle East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Young Ducks Raised by a Hen

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 400 words.

This story is very similar to Hans Christian Andersen's story of "The Ugly Duckling." In this case, though, the duck is just a duck - living in a world of chickens! Instead of turning into a swan, this is a duck who needs to find his way to the Ocean!

The Young Ducks Raised by a Hen (trans. E.H. Whinfield)

Although a domestic fowl may have taken thee,
Who art a duckling, under her wing and nurtured thee,
Thy mother was a duck of that ocean,
Thy nurse was earthy, and her wing dry land.
The longing for the ocean which fills thy heart, -
That natural lodging of thy soul comes from thy mother.

Thy longing for dry land comes to thee from thy nurse;
Quit thy nurse, for she will lead thee astray.
Leave thy nurse on the dry land and push on,
Enter the ocean of real Being, like the ducks!
Though thy nurse may frighten thee away from water,
Do thou fear not, but haste on into the ocean!

Thou art a duck, and flourishest on land and water,
And dost not, like a domestic fowl, dig up the house.
The noise of thunder makes the head of the thirsty ache;
When he knows not that it unlocks the blessed showers.
His eyes are fixed on the running stream,
Unwitting of the sweetness of the rain from heaven.
He urges the steed of his desire towards the caused,
And perforce remains shut off from the Causer.
Whoso beholds the Causer face to face,
How can he set his heart on things caused on earth?

"The Ocean Duck" (trans. Coleman Barks)

You're a wild Ocean-Duck
that has been raised with chickens!
Your true mother lived on the Ocean,
but your nurse was a domestic land-bird.
Your deepest soul-instincts are toward the Ocean.
Whatever land-moves you have
you learned from your nurse, the hen.
It's time now to join the ducks!
Your nurse will warn you about saltwater,
but don't listen! The Ocean's your home,
not that stinking henhouse.
You are a King, a son of Adam, who can tread water,
as well as the ground. Angels don't walk the earth,
and animals don't swim in the spiritual Ocean.
You're a man or a woman.
You do both. You stumble along, and you soar
in great circles through the sky.
We are waterbirds, my son.
The Ocean knows our language and hears us,
and replies. The sea is our Solomon.
Walk into that, and let the David-Water
make us lovely chain-mail with its ripples.
The Ocean is always around us, but sometimes
through vanity and forgetfulness we get seasick.
As thunder sometimes gives a thirsty man
a headache, when he forgets it's bringing rain.
He keeps hoping for something from the dry creek-bed.
Don't look to secondary causes!

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • who raised the baby duck?
  • where should the duck live?
  • what is the spiritual meaning that Rumi gives to the situation of the duck?

Source: E. H. Whinfield, The Masnavi (1898). Weblink.
Source: Coleman Barks, Delicious Laughter. Maypop Books, 1990.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM