The Gulistan (Persian: گلستان Golestȃn "The Rose Garden") is a landmark of Persian literature, perhaps its single most influential work of prose. Written in 1258 CE, it is one of two major works of the Persian poet Sa'di, considered one of the greatest medieval Persian poets. It is also one of his most popular books, and has proved deeply influential in the West as well as the East. The Gulistan is a collection of poems and stories, just as a rose-garden is a collection of roses. It is widely quoted as a source of wisdom. The well-known aphorism still frequently repeated in the western world, about being sad because one has no shoes until one meets the man who has no feet "whereupon I thanked Providence for its bounty to myself" is from the Gulistan.
The minimalist plots of the Gulistan's stories are expressed with precise language and psychological insight, creating a "poetry of ideas" with the concision of mathematical formulas. The book deals with virtually every major issue faced by mankind, with both optimism and subtle satire. There is much advice for rulers, in this way coming within the mirror for princes genre. But as Eastwick comments in his introduction to the work, there is a common saying in Persian, "Each word of Sa'di has seventy-two meanings", and the stories, alongside their entertainment value and practical and moral dimension, frequently focus on the conduct of dervishes and are said to contain sufi teachings.
Reasons for composition
In his introduction Sa'di describes how a friend persuaded him to go out to a garden on 21 April 1258. There the friend gathered up flowers to take back to town. Sa'di remarked on how quickly the flowers would die, and proposed a flower garden that would last much longer:
Of what use will be a dish of roses to thee?Take a leaf from my rose-garden.A flower endures but five or six daysBut this rose-garden is always delightful.Sa'di continues, "On the same day I happened to write two chapters, namely on polite society and the rules of conversation, in a style acceptable to orators and instructive to letter-writers.". In finishing the book, Sa'di writes that, though his speech is entertaining and amusing, "it is not hidden from the enlightened minds of sahibdils (possessors of heart), who are primarily addressed here, that pearls of healing counsel have been drawn onto strings of expression, and the bitter medicine of advice has been mixed with the honey of wit".
After the introduction, the Gulistan is divided into eight chapters, each consisting of a number of stories and poetry.
They are accompanied by short verses sometimes representing the words of the protagonists, sometimes representing the author's perspective and sometimes, as in the following case, not clearly attributed:
Influence in West
The Gulistan has been significant in the influence of Persian literature on Western culture.
La Fontaine based his "Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol" on a story from Gulistan chapter 2 story 16: A certain pious man in a dream beheld a king in paradise and a devotee in hell. He inquired, "What is the reason of the exaltation of the one, and the cause of the degradation of the other? for I had imagined just the reverse." They said, "That king is now in paradise owing to his friendship for darweshes, and this recluse is in hell through frequenting the presence of kings."
Of what avail is frock, or rosary,Or clouted garment? Keep thyself but freeFrom evil deeds, it will not need for theeTo wear the cap of felt: a darwesh beIn heart, and wear the cap of Tartary.Voltaire was familiar with works of Sa'di, and wrote the preface of Zadig in his name.
He mentions a French translation of the Gulistan, and himself translated a score of verses, either from the original or from some Latin or Dutch translation.
Sir William Jones advised students of Persian to pick an easy chapter of the Gulistan to translate as their first exercise in the language. Thus, selections of the book became the primer for officials of British India at Fort William College and at Haileybury College in England.
In the United States Ralph Waldo Emerson who addressed a poem of his own to Sa'di, provided the preface for Gladwin's translation, writing, "Saadi exhibits perpetual variety of situation and incident ... he finds room on his narrow canvas for the extremes of lot, the play of motives, the rule of destiny, the lessons of morals, and the portraits of great men. He has furnished the originals of a multitude of tales and proverbs which are current in our mouths, and attributed by us to recent writers." Henry David Thoreau quoted from the book in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and in his remarks on philanthropy in Walden
Saʿdi was first introduced to the West in a partial French translation by André du Ryer (1634). Friedrich Ochsenbach based a German translation (1636) on this. Georgius Gentius produced a Latin version accompanied by the Persian text in 1651. Adam Olearius made the first direct German translation.
The Gulistan has been translated into many languages. It has been translated into English a number of times: Stephen Sullivan (London, 1774, selections), James Dumoulin (Calcutta, 1807), Francis Gladwin (Calcutta, 1808, preface by Ralph Waldo Emerson), James Ross (London, 1823), S. Lee (London, 1827), Edward Backhouse Eastwick (Hartford, 1852; republished by Octagon Press, 1979), Johnson (London, 1863), John T. Platts (London, 1867), Edward Henry Whinfield (London, 1880), Edward Rehatsek (Banaras, 1888, in some later editions incorrectly attributed to Sir Richard Burton), Sir Edwin Arnold (London, 1899), Launcelot Alfred Cranmer-Byng (London, 1905), Celwyn E. Hampton (New York, 1913), and Arthur John Arberry (London, 1945, the first two chapters). More recent English translations have been published by Omar Ali-Shah (1997) and by Wheeler M. Thackston (2008).
The Uzbek poet and writer Gafur Gulom translated The Gulistan into the Uzbek language.
United Nations quotation
This well-known verse, part of chapter 1, story 10 of the Gulistan, is displayed in the entrance of the United Nations Hall of Nations:
بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرندچو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرارتو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
U.S. President Barack Obama quoted this in his videotaped Nowruz (New Year's) greeting to the Iranian people in March 2009: "There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: 'The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.'