The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq – Medieval Sufi Wisdom Text

“This text is of great interest, aside from its literary merits as delightful (but highly encoded) Sufi love poetry, because the author supplied extensive commentary for each poem. This is key to disentangling the Sufi narrative from the exterior form of the work. At this level, rather than a series of love poems to a young woman, this book is actually a philosophical treatise with profound insights.” The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, by Ibn al-Arabi, tr. Reynold A. Nicholson, [1911], at


Source: The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq Index





One of the most prolific of the medieval Sufi writers, al-Arabi wrote over 150 books. Unfortunately, very little of this output was translated, up to the early 20th century. This is Reynold Nicholson’s translation of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, or the ‘Interpreter of Desires,’ the first edition of which was completed in 611 A.H. (1215 A.D.).

The entire edition is available to read at the link above, but to give you a taste, here is the first page

From the Translation & Commentary

1. Would that I were aware whether they knew what heart they possessed!

2. And would that my heart knew what mountain-pass they threaded!

3. Dost thou deem them safe or dost thou deem them dead?

4. Lovers lose their way in love and become entangled.


1. ‘They,’ i.e. the Divine Ideas (###), of which the hearts (of gnostics) are passionately enamoured, and by which the spirits are distraught, and for whose sake the godly workers (###) perform their works of devotion.

‘What heart’: he refers to the perfect Muḥammadan heart, because it is not limited by stations (###), Nevertheless, it is possessed by the Divine Ideas, for they seek it and it seeks them. They cannot know that they possess it, for they belong to its essence, inasmuch as it beholds in them nothing except its own nature.

2. ‘What mountain-pass they threaded,’ i.e. what gnostic’s heart they entered when they vanished from mine. ‘Mountain-pass’ signifies a ‘station’ (###), which is fixed, in contrast to a ‘state’ (###), which is fleeting.

3. The Divine Ideas, quâ Ideas, exist only in the existence of the seer; they are ‘dead’ in so far as the seer is nonexistent.

4. Lovers are perplexed between two opposite things, for the lover wishes to be in accord with the Beloved and also wishes to be united with Him, so that if the Beloved wishes to be separated from the lover, the lover is in a dilemma.