The Point of the Circle

by Shah Nematollah Vali


Original Language Persian/Farsi

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves
In the eyes of him
Who a circle draws.

When the point
Completed the circle
Its beginning and end
Were one.

When the compass
Did the circle complete
It was wrapped up
And rested its feet.

Without existence
Not-being are we;
We who are Not
And You existence free.

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.
Sweeter than the words of our guide,
Nimatullah knows no other words.

-- from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I like the geometric meditations of this poem.

When I was in high school I loved geometry. Something about the visual, spacial nature of geometry just clicked for me. This poem reminds me of the way I'd get lost in geometrical contemplations on hot afternoons in the classroom...

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves...


In geometry, a point has no dimension. It has no diameter, no depth. It does not really exist in space; it is really only an idea. Yet when you start to move it, its trail creates a line. Move it around another point, you create an arc. Continue describing that arc, and its end will eventually meet its beginning, and form an endless circle.

From nothing, something has taken form. From the point, a circle emerges. It is the existence of the circle that proves the existence of the point. The point is not-being; the circle is being.

Here's another image: A circle encloses a limited area. We can calculate the area with the formula pi * the radius squared. Yet, although the area is limited and specific, you can still fit an infinite number of points within the circle. Since a point does not take up space but can still have a location, its possibilities within the circle are unlimited. Let's expand and meditate on this for a moment. Imagine that you are that point and the circle is the canvas of reality -- your life. Your life has a limited number of years to it, a limited number of places you can go, people you will meet, experiences you will have. Being human, we instinctively rebel against that feeling of limitation. But within the limited area of our personal circle, the possibilities are without limit. So, is our limited life really limited?

These are the sorts of things nerdy teenaged Ivan used to daydream about in geometry class...

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.



Recommended Books: Shah Nematollah Vali

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi





The Point of the