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I have come across several websites that cited the quote: “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” and its variants.
Sadly, the claims of the origin of this quote vary. Some cite it as Chinese, Indian, Jewish, Irish, etc. Usually, it is quoted as anonymous with source unknown.
In her book “EFFECTIVE LIVING,” Lois Smith Murray says on page 154:
Tolstoy wrote, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
In his book “A FOR ARTEMIS,” Sutton Woodfield says on page 44:
Over Goldie’s bed, tacked on the wall, was one of those mottoes you can buy at Woolworths for a bob. This one said, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
However, the most common claim points to the Persian poet Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī (Persian: ابومحمد الدین بن عبدالله شیرازی), better known by his pen-name Saʿdī (Persian: سعدی) or Saadi Shirazi or simply Saadi. Born in Shiraz, Iran, c. 1210, he was one of the major Persian poets and prose writers of the medieval period.
His best-known works are Bustan (The Orchard) completed in 1257 and Gulistan (The Rose Garden) in 1258.
Saʿdī composed his didactic work Gulistan in both prose and verse. It contains many moralizing stories like the fables of the French writer Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95) and personal anecdotes. The text interspersed with a variety of short poems contains aphorisms, advice, and humorous reflections. It demonstrates Saʿdī ‘s profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence.
In Persian lands, his maxims were highly valued and manuscripts of his work were widely copied and illustrated. Saʿdī wrote that he composed Gulistan to teach the rules of conduct in life to both kings and dervishes.
In Chapter III – On the Excellence of Contentment, story 19, Saʿdī wrote:
I never lamented about the vicissitudes of time or complained of the turns of fortune except on the occasion when I was barefooted and unable to procure slippers. But when I entered the great mosque of Kufah with a sore heart and beheld a man without feet I offered thanks to the bounty of God, consoled myself for my want of shoes and recited:
‘A roast fowl is to the sight of a satiated man
Less valuable than a blade of fresh grass on the table
And to him who has no means nor power
A burnt turnip is a roasted fowl.‘
Saʿdī died on December 9, 1291, in Shiraz, Iran.
Modern versions of his story are often cited erroneously as Arabian proverbs, with wordings such as:
“I thought I was abused because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet,”
“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet,“
“I felt sorry because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.“
In the case of Helen Keller the quote “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” derived from Saʿdī ‘s story had been her credo. It helped her overcome self-pity and to be of service to others.
Recently I saw this quote on Facebook that cited the author as William Shakespeare. Facebook is a notorious medium where people post quotes without verifying who said it in the first instance. For example, the recent trend has been to take someone’s quote and add a picture of some dignitary and post it saying it was said so by that dignitary. Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam happens to be one of those favourite dignitaries. So, someone might even post this quote with the picture of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and claim that this was said by him. And some people to keep up with the Joneses will immediately copy the quote and propagate it believing in the false axiom that “whatever is in print must be true.”
- Saadi Shirazi (en.wikipedia.org)
- The Gulistan of Sa’di (1258) Translated by Sir Edwin Arnold (1899) (intratext.com)