The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Craftsmanship and Emptiness” consists of a relatively few lines (lines 1369-1420 of book 5) from Jall al-Dn Rm’s enormous work Mathnawi. The Persian title Mathnawi refers to the verse form used (rhyming couplets) and came to mean an extensive didactic work that could include a variety of tales and other material. Rm’s Mathnawi, left unfinished at his death, includes stories from the Qur’an (Koran) and Islamic tradition, folk stories, and anecdotes. Even though its intent is serious, his Mathnawi is funny and even bawdy at times. Written mostly in Persian, the book also includes passages in Arabic, Turkish, and even Greek. Traditionally, it is referred to as the “Qur’an in Persian,” an indication of its high status. The title “Craftsmanship and Emptiness” is not Rm’s, but was added by the translators. This translation makes no effort to reproduce the rhyming couplet form of the original but instead is rendered in free verse.

Rm is speaking to the reader in this poem; the relation is one of a spiritual teacher instructing a disciple. The poem moves associatively from one topic to another closely related topic. Its several sections illustrate the value of emptiness. Rm begins by reminding his audience of a topic he has spoken of before—emptiness as an opportunity for the craftsman to practice his craft. He lists examples that would be part of the original audience’s everyday experience. In the...

(The entire section is 525 words.)