Sep 20 2013

Sa’di – All Adam’s offspring form one family tree

Published by at 9:39 am under Poetry

All Adam’s offspring form one family tree
by Sa’di

English version by Ivan M. Granger

All Adam’s offspring form one family tree,
from the beginning, the same life and spirit and quality.

      When one limb is bent with pain,
      the entire living tree naturally feels the strain.

Thus he indifferent to the agony of another,
cannot be named human alongside his brother.

/ Photo by Isilmetriel /

I discovered the writings of Sa’di several years ago, and I fell in love with his wisdom and wit. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a really good English translation of his work. I’ve had to work, to really dig beneath the rather flat renderings I’ve found in English in order to catch glimpses of the real life shining within his writing. It can feel like linguistic archaeology. Sa’di’s Gulistan, for example, is a delightful collection of tales and wisdom fables, interspersed with pithy poems. The problem is that the English versions I’ve found were either translated during the Victorian era or they are more recent translations that still feel Victorian. To me, these translations come across as rather dusty and pedantic.

But I understand the difficulty. Sa’di’s short verses seem naked without some rhyming scheme and at least a suggestion of meter. This may be my own bias, but modern poetic English, when forced into strong structure and rhyme, often ends up sounding either awkward or archaic or a bit anemic. What’s a poor translator to do?

Today’s selection is my imperfect attempt to find a more satisfying balance with one of Sa’di’s most loved — and loving — verses.

(Other translators’ versions of this famous verse can be found at: You rhymsters and wordsmiths, I’d love to read your versions of Sa’di’s verses.)

Sa'di, Sa'di poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Sa’di

Iran/Persia (1207? – 1291) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Sheikh Muslihu’d-Din, known as Sa’di, was descended from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Sa’di’s father apparently died when he was a boy.

Although Sa’di was born and died in Shiraz, Persia (Iran), during his life he traveled extensively. He is said to have traveled for thirty years throughout the Islamic world. Iran has filled the centuries with some of the world’s finest poets, but Iranians consider Sa’di to be one of the greatest.

Historians often divide his life into three parts. His first twenty-five years were spent studying in various countries, going to university at Baghdad. During the next thirty years he traveled widely, east to India and as far west as Syria. He made his pilgrimage to Mecca fourteen times. Finally, Sa;di returned to Shiraz where he devoted himself to writing and to teaching.

Sa’di was a disciple of the Sufi master Sheikh Shahabud-Din Sahrawardi.

Sa’di’s two best known works are the Bustan (the Garden), composed entirely in verse, and the Gulistan (the Rose Garden), in both prose and verse. He was particularly known for the wry wit he injected into his poems.

Sa’di is probably the first Persian poet to have been translated into European languages. A German version of the Gulistan appeared in 1654.

Sa’di’s tomb can be seen in the town of Shiraz. Lines from Saadi’s poems are still commonly used in conversations by Iranians today.

More poetry by Sa’di

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Sa’di – All Adam’s offspring form one family tree”

  1. jim carlin m d radiologiston 20 Sep 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Occums razor says
    be brief
    when a tree is cut down
    the other trees

  2. marrobon 20 Sep 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Many thanks, Ivan, for the time and energy you put into
    the ‘linguistic archaeology’ . The poem resonates with
    a deeply human compassion. I would perhaps try to make
    the last lines more gender inclusive, allowing for the sensibilities
    of the power/ empowerment of
    language. But that may be stretching poetic liberty.
    I really like the quiet strength of its simplicity.
    And what a great poem to ring in the International
    Day of Peace tomorrow ( Saturday )

  3. shahrzadon 20 Sep 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Dear Ivan

    i am one of your lucky readers, that sometimes is impressed by the poems that you send.
    as an iranian and living in and with the language of many sufi poets.
    recently one of iranian great composers wrote a piece on this poem.
    please watch it and share as much as you want.
    if you need an original file i will send you.
    many warm regards

  4. Ba Khanon 26 Sep 2013 at 1:35 am

    Dear Ivan..
    It is a pleasure to have an interaction in such a way.
    Saidi speaks about what is in one word known as ONENESS.
    Such words as these are only the outcome great spirituality.

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