Ten starving brothers left their home to stand
In Joseph’s presence, in a foreign land,
And begged for some benevolent relief
To ease the torments of their wretched grief.
Now Joseph’s face was veiled; he took a bowl
And struck it hard — a sound as if a soul
Cried out in misery was heard. He said:
“Do you know what this means?” Each shook his head.
“Lord, no one in the world, search far and wide,
Could give this noise a meaning,” they replied.
Then Joseph said: “It speaks to you; it says
You had a brother once, in former days,
More precious than this bowl — he bore the name
Of Joseph; and it says that, to your shame,
His goodness overshadowed all of you.”
Once more he struck the bowl. “It says you threw
This Joseph in a well, then stained his cloak
With wolf’s blood; and it says the smeared rags broke
Poor Jacob’s heart.” He touched the bowl again:
“It says you brought your father needless pain
And sold the lovely Joseph. Is this true?
May God bestow remorse to chasten you !”
These brothers who have come to beg for bread
Stood speechless, faint with apprehensive dread:
When they gave Joseph for the merchant’s gold,
It was themselves, and all the world, they sold —
And when they threw their brother in that well,
They threw themselves in the abyss of hell.
Whoever hears these words and cannot find
How they applied to him is truly blind.
There is no need to scrutinize my tale,
It is your own, when thoughtlessly you fail
To render loyalty its proper due,
How can the light of friendship shine for you?
But, till you’re woken, sleep — too soon you’ll see
Your shameful crimes, your infidelity,
And when you stand a prisoner in that place
They’ll count them one by one before your face;
There, when the bowll is struck, you too will find
That fear dissolves your reason and your mind.
You’re like a lame ant struggling for its soul,
Aimlessly sliding, caught inside this bowl —
Blood fills it, but a voice beyond its rim
Still calls to you — rise now, and fly to Him.’
Farid Ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds