The lament of Rumi’s reed flute

Every Rumi quote is worth pondering over, but there are some which become our ultimate favorites, not just because they sooth our mind but our soul too. The impact it has on our hearts can completely change our approach towards life.There is one such Rumi Quote I have always been in love with, my favorite, which seems ever more mysterious with every read, ‘The Reed’. Yes, the  Reed!  “Listen to the reed and the tale it tells … how it sings of separation.”

Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes

Of all the human emotions we know, it is longing which makes bonds deeper. Our longing and our sadness is part of our sacred self. There is misery, yet a comfort in it because unlike other feelings we completely own this feeling. There is such longing in this couplet that every time I read, it makes me wonder. Suddenly, everything around seems non-existent and life; more mysterious. A river gushes out of heart carrying the grimly gay feelings.

Dad had once said, “You know child, there can be volumes written on this particular couplet. You will absorb yourself into its fragrance when you are mature enough to understand what it is.” And here I’m, sharing with you of what I have understood of the couplet and what it means to me.


Before we would go to couplet, I would like to briefly explain you the few conditions towards understanding poetry (Sufi poetry) and its concepts, in particular; Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Punjabi, as this may help you understanding Rumi/his poems better.

Love is of 2 kinds (as per the Sufi/Spiritual Islamic concept)
1) Ishq-e-Haqeeqi (The real love or the love of God)
2) Ishq-e-Majazi (Love for God’s creation)
The Sufi poetry is “Ishq-e-Haqeeqi”
If the Sufi Saint mentions/gives examples of “Ishq-e-Majaaz”, this too will be linked to the creator, as Love in any form points to the creator of Love (Allah), hence it should not be confused with lust or any of its form.

Poetry Interpretation
1- Poet’s interpretation (What actually the poet means, the most important)
2- Teacher’s interpretation (The one who intellects or explains/teaches as per his/her intellect).
3- Reader’s Interpretation (depends on ones intellect/level of understanding).

Poetry Meaning (2 kinds)
lafzi/Khaarji maaney (word/external meaning)
andruni/baatini maaney (the hidden/internal meaning)

Entering into the Couplet.

With the above few details in mind let us absorb ourselves into the Couplet.
Listen to the reed…….
“Bishnu az ni chun hikayat me kunad
az judaa’i ha shikayat me kunad..”

Word translation/meaning:
Listen to the reed and the tale it tells … how it sings of separation.
Ever since they cut me from the reed bed, my wail has caused men and women to weep.    

Since the couplet is metaphorical, it is important for us to know what each character signifies.

The Characters in the couplet

Reed flute (Nay)- The reed flute symbolizes the soul which is emptied of ego-centered desires and preoccupations, and is filled with a spiritual passion to return to its original nearness to God.The poet compares himself to a flute or considers himself one.
Reed bed- is the place we belonged/belong to (the place where Prophet Adam  lived before being sent to earth/Paradise). It may also mean; ‘to return to God’.
Separation– is being sent away from the “belonged” place, away from the creator. It symbolizes the infinite longing for God.
Flute player– God/Love.


Qualities of Reed Flute (Nay)


  •  the reed [nay]: a flute made by cutting a length of a naturally
    hollow reed cane and adding finger holes.
  • It is not self-created.
  • It is senseless/its existence makes no sense until there are holes (7-holes) carved in it to be played.
  • It is lifeless, until the Flute player breathes air into it.
  • It is empty with no mixing of any other weird sound.
  • It sings when it is played, if not, it is lifeless.

Internal meaning of reed flute (Nay):

  • Man, like reed flute, is hollow and not self-created.
  • Man is then bestowed/given with 7 fine qualities (Sifaat-e-kamaaliya- fine qualities are of Allah.. without which human has no existence.. and the 7 non-existing qualities of human is known as “Sifaat-e-Naqeeza” = imperfect qualities)
  • Man gets a life when we are breathed in by Allah with those 7 fine qualities just like the reed flute creates music when breathed air into it.
  • Here it refers to the soul which is ego-less/self-less, which has no false desires, no ego existing in it, a pure soul.

Now coming to the essence of the couplet, Maulana Rumi had said, “The world is like a reed pipe [sornây], and He blows into every hole of it; every wail it has is certainly from those two lips like sugar. See how He blows into every piece of clay and into every heart; He gives a need and He gives a love which raises up a lament about misfortune.” (Ghazal 532, lines 5664-5665)Such is this lament that it makes all of those weep who hear it. Every tiny little soul that has loved and lost, every lover who has beared the brunt of separation would cry oceans when they hear the laments of the reed flute.

Rumi also said, “We have all been part of Adam and we have heard thosemelodies in Paradise. Although (bodily) water and clay have cast skepticism upon us, something of those (melodies) comes (back) to our memory…. Therefore, the mystical concert has become the food of the lovers (of God) for in it is the image of (heavenly) reunion.”
(Mathnawî IV: 736-737, 742)

Reed flute sings the same melodies when it remembers its origin (the reed bed) and through the laments it cries the agony of separation from its origin, just like how a selfless soul complains about the separation and yet longs for union with its origin.

Every time the selfless sons of Adam remember about the melodies of paradise and the pain of separation, they lament like the reed flute.

These laments are so captivating that it enthralls all its listeners and makes them weep along. Such is the effect of Rumi’s poetry that every reader easily connects to all its emotions and submerges himself deep into its abyss, only to rise as a precious pearl.

Written by Habeeba Sadaf

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