The Chinese and Roman artists
By Jalaledin Rumi (1207-1273)
Translated by James William Redhouse
January 14, 2002
This contest heed, of Chinaman's and Roman's art.
The Chinese urged they had the greater painters' skill;
The Romans pleaded they of art the throne did fill.
The sovereign heard them both: decreed a contest fair;
Results the palm should give the worthiest of the pair.
The parties twain a wordy war waged in debate:
The Romans' show of science did predominate.
The Chinamen then asked to have a house assigned
For their especial use; and one for Rome designed.
Th' allotted houses stood on either side one street;
In one the Chinese, one the Roman artists meet.
The Chinese asked a hundred paints for their art's use:
The sovereign his resources would not them refuse.
Each morning from the treasury, rich colors store
Was served out to the Chinese till they asked no more.
The Romans argued "Color or design is vain:
We simply have to banish soil and filth amain."
They closed their gate. To burnish then they set themselves;
Vast difference there is 'twixt colors and not one.
The colors are as clouds; simplicity's the moon.
Whatever tinge you see embellishing the clouds.
You know comes from the sun, the moon, or stars in crowds.
At length the Chinamen their task had quite fulfilled;
With joy intense their hearts did beat, their bosoms thrilled.
The sovereign came, inspected all their rich designs,
And lost his heart with wonder at their talents' signs.
He then passed to the Romans, that his eyes might see;
The curtains were withdrawn to show whate'er might be.
The Chinese paintings all, their whole designs in full,
Reflected truly were on that high-burnished wall.
Whatever was depicted by the Chinese art
Was reproduced by mirrors, perfect every part.
Those Romans are our mystics, know, my worthy friend;
No art, no learning; study, none: but gain their end.
They polish well their bosoms, burnish bright their hearts,
Remove all stain of lust, of self, pride, hate's deep smarts.
That mirror's purity prefigures their hearts' trust;
With endless images reflections it incrust.
Thanks to John Mohammadi
for searching and forwarding the contents of this page.