I’ve read a lot of topical books lately, so for a palette cleanser, I’m reading Selected Poems by Rumi, the 13th century mystic and Persian poet, translated by Colman Barks, a Professor of English at the University of Georgia, Athens.
“The lover wakes and whirls in a dancing joy, then kneels down in praise”Rumi
Rumi’s poetry is timeless, using nature, faith, God and love as reference points. Opening with poems on the theme of tavernas and drinking, “Whoever brought me here will have to take me home” could be a Country & Western song, or dare I say, a Morrissey lyric. “This drunkenness began in some other tavern. When I get back around to that place, I’ll be completely sober.”
He contemplates the limits of language and poetry in “A Thirsty Fish”, but I don’t know why, because his language is so effective even though he prefers the divine; “I have a thirsty fish in me, that can never find enough of what it’s thirsty for” …. “when I finish a poem, a great silence overcomes me, and I wonder why I ever thought to use language.”
“Quietness” is a comforting call to end one way of life and be reborn in a new one, metaphorically.
“Inside this new love, die. Your way begins on the other side. Become the sky, Take an axe to the prison wall Escape.”Quietness, Rumi
“Spring” is seasonal and makes use of allegorical elements; it’s one of my favourites.
“Again, the violet bows to the lily. Again, the rose is tearing off her gown! The green ones have come up from the other world, tipsy like the breeze up to new foolishness…”Spring, Rumi
Rumi muses on the foolishness of love, and concerns himself with spiritual matters, so in many ways he is aloof to carnal desires.
“I would love to kiss you. The price of kissing is your life. Now my living is running toward my life shouting. What a bargain, let’s buy it.”Rumi
Then there are parable poems. Stories with a moral message, such as “Muhammad and the Huge Eater”, a message about gluttony, and the fabulously titled, “Sexual Urgency, What a Woman’s Laughter Can Do, and the Nature of True Virility” which is a parable about fidelity.
The nature of love
I love the sentiment of “The Vigil” where Rumi prompts us all to pull an all-nighter : “Don’t go to sleep one night. What you want most will come to you then….One night Moses stayed awake and asked, and saw a light in a tree….Muhammad rode his horse through the night sky. The day is for work. The night is for love.”
Warnings for lovers
Ofcourse, you can become drunk on love; in “Each Note” he warns, “Advice doesn’t help lovers! An intellectual doesn’t know what the drunk is feeling! Don’t try to figure out what those lost inside love will do next!” There is a similar feel to “Music Master”
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”Music Master, Rumi
There are some great observations of human nature. Rumi was a spiritual man, but he understood the base nature of mankind’s emotions and actions:
For instance, wanting and needing are two different animals.
“I plot to get what I want and end up in prison. I dig pits to trap others and fall in. I should be suspicious of what I want.”Who Makes These Changes? Rumi
Of course we all face judgement eventually “On Resurrection Day”, when:
“your body testifies against you. Your hand says, “I stole money.” Your lips, “I said meanness.” Your feet, “I went where I shouldn’t.” Your genitals, “Me too.”On Resurrection Day, Rumi
“Like This” is both spiritual and loving, and considers the beauty of love not the carnal nature of it:
“When someone mentions the gracefulness of the night sky, climb up on the roof, and dance and say, Like this? When someone asks what it means to “die for love,” point here. If someone asks how tall I am, frown and measure with your fingers the space between the creases in your forehead. This tall.”Like This, Rumi
Morality and judgment
There are messages of profoundness on the nature of soul and how to rid ourselves of faults; in “Childhood friends” two friends talk candidly, one of them is Joseph from the Bible- the technicolor dream coat Joseph. He gives his friend a gift.
“I brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me….Whoever sees clearly what’s diseased in himself begins to gallop on the way…. put your vileness up to a mirror and weep.”Childhood Friends, Rumi
A parental advisory sticker is needed for “The Importance of Gourdcrafting” about a woman’s amorous encounter with a donkey, although in fairness it’s in a chapter titled “Rough Metaphors.”
By stark contrast, the next chapter features “Jesus on the Lean Donkey” a parable about a sleeping man – a snake sneaks into his mouth. Jesus, witnessing this, forces him to eat rotten apples, and beats him until he’s so full of rotten apples, he vomits up the snake.
The man realising why Jesus beat him, is hugely grateful. Jesus in the poem says
“If I described the enemy that lives inside men, even the most courageous would be paralyzed. No one would go out, or do any work. No one would pray or fast, and all power to change would fade from human beings.”Jesus on the Lean Donkey, Rumi
Connection with the Divine
It was Plato who said that at the touch of love every man becomes a poet. In Rumi’s world, I’d say it was the touch of God.
His philosophy is that we are guardians of our bodies and not to be troubled by emotions, because we are like a “Guest House”, “Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
“I don’t care if you’re dead! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!”Rumi