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The Ebb and Flow of “The Ocean inside a Jug”: The Structure of Book One of Rūmī’s Mathnawī Reconsidered

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Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī’s Mathnawī has long been considered to be a poem without an organizational plan as if produced extemporaneously, despite the fact that its approximately 26,000 verses are divided fairly evenly into six books that follow the same general format. Recent studies (Safavi and Weightman, 2009; Karamustafa, 2010; Williams, 2013) have re-examined the question of the structure of the poem. This article contributes to this discourse by focusing on Rūmī’s own comments about his idiosyncratically frequent departures from his narratives, as well as on a significant passage of the first book of the Mathnawī which both corresponds to Rūmī’s expressed intentions and raises questions about the theory of Safavi and Weightman. It is argued here that Rūmī deliberately prevented the reader from becoming distracted from his immediate message to them, whether through the anticipation of the endings of stories or through any attempt to situate verses within an overall plan. It is proposed that Rūmī would not have wished an organizational plan to be prominent, and this, rather than an esoteric explanation, can better explain the lack of any obvious plan for the poem.

Affiliations: 1: Rutgers UniversityUSA


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