Rumi's Mathnawi (selections)

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

Noah and Canaan (trans. E.H. Whinfield)

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

Yet at the same time that Rumi has an abundant sense of humor, he also tells some absolutely serious stories, like this account of Noah's son Canaan. The story of Noah - Nuh, in Arabic - is found in the Koran, and it is both similar to the Hebrew version of the story, and different from it. In the Koran, Canaan is Noah's son, and he is swimming outside of the ark, too proud to do what his father Noah urges him to do: get in the ark!

Keep silence, that the Spirit may speak to you;
Give up swimming and enter the ark of Noah;
Not like Canaan, when he was swimming,
Who said, "I desire not to enter the ark of Noah passing by."

Noah cried, "Ho! child, come into the ark and rest,
That you be not drowned in the flood, O weak one."

Canaan said, "Nay! I have learned to swim,
I have lit a torch of my own apart from thy torch."

Noah replied, "Make not light of it, for 'tis the flood of destruction,
Swimming with hands and feet avails naught to-day.
The wind of wrath and the storm blow out torches;
Except the torch of God, all are extinguished."

He answered, "Nay! I am going to that high mountain,
For that will save me from all harm."

Noah cried, "Beware, do not so, mountains are now as grass;
Except the Friend none can save thee."

He answered, "Why should I listen to thy advice?
For thou desirest to make me one of thy flock.
Thy speech is by no means pleasing to me,
I am free from thee in this world and the next."

Thus the more good advice Noah gave him,
The more stubborn refusals he returned.
Neither was his father tired of advising Canaan,
Nor did his advice make any impression on Canaan;
While they were yet talking a violent wave
Smote Canaan's head, and he was overwhelmed.

FROM THE KORAN: The Story of Nuh (Noah).

[11.38] And he began to make the ark; and whenever the chiefs from among his people passed by him they laughed at him. He said: If you laugh at us, surely we too laugh at you as you laugh (at us).

[11.39] So shall you know who it is on whom will come a chastisement which will disgrace him, and on whom will lasting chastisement come down.

[11.40] Until when Our command came and water came forth from the valley, We said: Carry in it two of all things, a pair, and your own family-- except those against whom the word has already gone forth, and those who believe. And there believed not with him but a few.

[11.41] And he said: Embark in it, in the name of Allah be its sailing and its anchoring; most surely my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.

[11.42] And it moved on with them amid waves like mountains; and Nuh called out to his son, and he was aloof: O my son! embark with us and be not with the unbelievers.

[11.43] He said: I will betake myself for refuge to a mountain that shall protect me from the water. Nuh said: There is no protector today from Allah's punishment but He Who has mercy; and a wave intervened between them, so he was of the drowned.

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

  • why did Canaan not get into the ark?
  • what did Noah say to Canaan as he was swimming beside the ark?
  • what happened to Canaan in the end?

Source: E. H. Whinfield, The Masnavi (1898). Weblink.
Source: Koran, Surah 11: The Prophet. Weblink.

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