Long time ago, possibly in 1994 or 1995, there was a meeting in our Sherbrooke Community Center in Montreal. About fifty-five or sixty distinguished and eminent individuals, men and women, representing different classes of the neighbourhood were attending that meeting. Among them, there were very well known university scholars, businessmen, teachers, radio reporters, TV broadcasters, army officers, governmental figures, journalists, and also many members of various ethnic groups and so on.
The main purpose of the meeting or the first agenda was to discuss the policies by which many members of the community could get effectively involved in helping the needy people in the case of emergency. The Chairman of the Center, a man in his 60s, entered the room; shook hand with everybody, and with a smiling face went behind the podium. In his opening remarks he said: “The widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country finds no manifestation quite bitter as the sight of homeless families, wandering the streets and finding respite in the subways, alleys and shelters of our major cities. Today our nations mood has changed from sadness to impatience. The poor are our neighbours. They are like you and me; they have gone to college, had jobs and been laid off, they have had families and served in the military. But unlike many of us, homeless people have suffered job losses and illnesses they could not prevent; many of them became mentally ill, released into a society they can neither comprehend nor defend themselves against. So, let us hear from you, anyone, how we can help our poor people at most?”
After a second of silence, a young man who looked like to be a college student responded:
“As you all know, the struggle to reduce and to eliminate the evil of poverty constitutes one of the major struggles of our time. Reducing any type of poverty must be a priority. Of course, it is easier said than done. The surest way to do more to help the poor is to continue to communicate with them and find out what is the real cause of their pain? On my way to this meeting, I wrote a poem, which is so relevant to the agenda of our gathering that I like to read it here”. Then he softened his throat and with a sense of satisfaction he began to read the following lines:
All human beings are in truth akin,
All in creation share one origin.
When fate allots a member pangs and pains,
No ease for other members then remains.
If, unperturbed, another’s grief cannot scan,
Thou are not worthy of the name of man.
The guy then stopped reading, stayed still, and looked at the audience to see if he could have impressed anybody. All men and women looked indifferent and some were with a funny smile. He was surprised until the Chairman of the meeting who was a university professor started to talk: “Sir, Although the agenda of this meeting is to discuss how we can help poor people in our community and it seems inappropriate to talk about literature here, I must tell you that the verses you just read were very meaningful and inspiring. But that poem did not belong to you. I am sure most people in this room know that an Iranian poet, Saadi, composed it. The poet is also internationally known and his poem has been engraved in the Headquarters’ Entrance of the UN in New York City”
At the same time, an Iranian scholar who was among the audience stood up and said: “I agree with Mr Chairman, that is a Saadi’s poem. That was not, however, a precise translation of the poem. I quite remember that Jimmy Carter, former US president, in a royal party, which was televised in Tehran in late 70s, also read an accurate translation of the same poem:
"All human beings are members of one frame
since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When time afflicts a limb with pain,
the other limbs cannot at rest remain."
Humiliated and frustrated by what was declared, the young student looked like an orange with all the juice and flesh squeezed out. In embarrassment and to the hope of salvation, he uttered: [Jimmy Carter was wrong. As today, nobody believes him; even his own mom, Lillian Carter, disagrees with him. She once said: "When I look at my children, sometimes I wish I remained virgin"! Besides, I was not invited to that royal party that you were talking about. If I were there, I would have explained to Jimmy Carter that I composed that poem]! And after a pause, he concluded: “What you two gentlemen just said about the poem I read is entirely wrong. It did not contain a grain of truth. The truth is that I wrote the poem first and unfortunately I was robbed by Saadi”!
The audience, those very distinguished people who always control their emotions, started to stare right into the eyes of the guy, and one of them screamed and shouted angrily and aloud, “Are you crazy? Saadi wrote that famous poetry almost seven centuries ago. You were not even born on those days”. The young man did not have any other choice but to act as a stand up comedian! He nodded and said, “Of course. If I were around those days, I would never allow Saadi to rob me and put down his own name on top of this magnificent piece of work”!
There were a few nervous giggles from people in the audience, which followed by a moment of deathlike silence. After a few seconds, the Chairman looked at the bunch of papers on his desk and said, “Let us be serious now, and continue our discussion on the agenda of this meeting; let us see what we really can do for the poor people of our own community” And the discussions went on and on, and on!
1. That very interesting and amazing meeting motivated me to look for the other translations of Saadi’s poem, and to really search for a version that could be both accurate to the message, readable, and understandable. The tastes are different, but the most precise and authentic translation of Saadi’s verses, which I have found may read as follows:
Regardless of color, creed, and shape of our face,
We are all members of one family: The Human Race.
If one member ails and you do not offer a solace,
In the Family of Man, you do not deserve a place: (Translated by Ali A. Parsa)
2. Inspired by the Saadi's verses, the following poem of Human (in Persian: Enssaan) was composed by this author:
بر تارک_ جبین_ خوش_ آن سرای سیب
در آن بنا که خشم و غضب بوده بی نصیب
آنجا که اتحاد_ ملل آرزو کنند
جایی که احترام_ ملل بوده بی رقیب
آنجا که جنگ و صلح_مردم دنیا دهد نظام/ وآنجا که بر حقوق ملل بوده عزتی
آنجا که بر کرانه ی اطلس نشسته است
آنجا که غنچه بهر_ رهایی شکفته است
یکجا نشان ز شاعر_ ایران گرفته است
سعدی بر آن بنا، سخنی نغز سفته است :
باشد خطا که به "انسان" شوی تو نام / گر فارغ از مصائب_ آحاد_ ملتی
The full text of the poem may be viewed online here.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
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