I bought a pot of hyacinths at the grocery store the other day. I love the scent of them. So intense. Breathe in deeply and be instantly transported to heaven. I got some intensely brilliant purple ones. I can never smell them with out thinking of this:
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And of thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
–Moslih Eddin Sa’adi
Translated by Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)
I can’t remember when or why I first read that. But I have loved it for years. Decades even. That old guy got it perfectly right. Simple, clear, straight to the point. I got to wondering just who this Moslih guy was so I looked him up on Wikipedia.
Here is a little bit of what I found:
Sheikh Sa’di (in Persian: سعدی, full name in English: Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif-ibn-Abdullah ) (1184 – 1283/ 1291?) is one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is recognized not only for the quality of his writing, but also for the depth of his social thought.
The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Persia led him to wander abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq . He also refers in his work to travels in India and Central Asia. Saadi is very much like Marco Polo who traveled in the region from 1271 to 1294. There is a difference, however, between the two. While Marco Polo gravitated to the potentates and the good life, Saadi mingled with the ordinary survivors of the Mongol holocaust. He sat in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, learning, honing his sermons, and polishing them into gems illuminating the wisdom and foibles of his people.
I had just assumed he was from the 15 or 16th century, but he was from a whole different time period. Next, I checked out his books. You can too, at
So much of what he has to say is still pertinent today. And I find it amazing that his words of wisdom and introspection come from a land so full of turmoil today. But the strangest thing is, I can’t find the hyacinth verse in either of them!
Oh, well. Go buy yourself some hyacinths and take a deep breath.