About Nicholson
Created with ImageMapper! ImageMap - turn on images!!!
ABOUT R. A. NICHOLSON AND HIS TRANSLATION
AND COMMENTARY ON THE MASNAVI

Reynold Alleyne Nicholson (1868-1945), was the greatest Rumi
scholar in the English language. He was a professor for many years
at the Cambridge Universtiy, in England. He dedicated his life to
the study of Islamic mysticism and was able to study and translate
major sufi texts in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish. That a
Western "scholar of the first rank" dedicated much of his life to the
study and translation of Rumi's poetry was very fortunate.

His monumental achievement was his work on Rumi's Masnavi
(done in eight volumes, published between 1925-1940). He
produced the first critical Persian edition of Rumi's Masnavi, the
first full translation of it into English, and the first commentary on
the entire work in English. This work has been highly influential in
the field of Rumi studies, world-wide. His critical Persian text has
been re-printed many times in Iran and his commentary has been
so highly respected there, that it has been ranslated into Persian (by
Hasan Lâhûtî, 1995).

Nicholson also produced two volumes which condensed his work
ON the Masnavi and which were aimed at the popular level: "Tales
OD Mystic Meaning" (1931) and "Rumi: Poet and Mystic" (1950).

His earliest translations of selected ghazals from Rumi's Divan
("Selected Poems from the Díváni Shamsi Tabríz," 1898) has been
superceded by A. J. Arberry's translations ("Mystical Poems of
Rumi," 1968; "Mystical Poems of Rumi: Second Selection," 1979),
in that Arberry used a superior edition of the Divan (done by
Foruzanfar). Arberry re-translated all of the ghazals previously
translated Nicholson (his teacher and predecessor at Cambridge
University) based on the superior edition, minus seven ghazals
which were not in the earliest manuscripts of the Divan (and
therefore are no longer considered by scholars to be authentic
Rumi poems (Nicholson's numbers IV, VIII, XII, XVII, XXXI,
XXXIII, and XLIV).

In addition, Nicholson published the first information about Rumi's
"Discourses" (Fî-hi Mâ Fî-hi) in the English language (in a 1924
article in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society).1

Nicholson's work on Rumi has been criticized for over-interpreting
Rumi's Masnavi via the theosophy of Ibnu 'l-`Arabi (whose
teachings Rumi, as well as his spiritual master Shams-i Tabriz,
largely ignored); for deficiencies in understanding Persian idioms
(he believed he would be a "more objective" scholar by never
visiting or living in Middle Eastern countries); for over-prudishly
translating "lewd" words and phrases in the Masnavi into Latin (for
example, in Book IV, line 511: "Materterae si testiculi essent, ea
avunculus esset: this is hypothetical-- 'if there were.'" ["(If) an aunt
[khâla] were to have testicles [khâya], she would be an uncle
[khâlû]-- but this 'if there were' is (only) by supposing
(something)."]); and for choosing a method of translating the
Masnavi that was aimed primarily at helping gradutate students
learn classical Persian (thereby making the translation even more
difficult for the general reader to approach and appreciate).


NOTES

1. Some of the information provided here is from "Rumi-- Past and
Present, East and West: The Life, Teaching and Poetry of Jalal
al-Din Rumi," by Franklin D. Lewis, 2000, pp. 531-533.