Readers familiar with the Coleman Barks versions of Rumi’s work think of Rumi as a man who deftly celebrated love’s ecstasies… and he did. To imagine, however, that Rumi wrote verse only to praise wine or kisses, is to forget that he evoked those human delights as metaphors for something transcendental. Rumi was a devout Muslim cleric, and he wrote in celebration of unity with God. Yet even in his day, his personal life caused misunderstanding andscandal.
– Anne Bayliss
What do we know about Shams? He is mentioned only briefly and, often, only as the teacher of Rumi. But Shams, was more than just a wandering dervish or “poor man of God.” A Shafi’i Sunni Muslim, he had traveled restlessly after leaving his hometown of Tabriz, visiting Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo, and other places, working as a tutor, weaver, or day-laborer, and seeking out interesting lectures on Islamic theology as well as philosophy.
Yet, according to Franklin Lewis, author of ‘Rumi, Past and Present, East and West’, Shams was also an accomplished Islamic scholar, and had devised a method for learning the Koran in three months. He was thus both a faqir, a Sufi practicing spiritual poverty, and a faqih, or scholar of Islamic law. Lewis suggested that Shams had “probably spent much of his life…sitting in on the lectures of famous teachers, most of whom he found disappointing in one respect or another.”
In the company of Rumi, Shams wrote, “‘I come for friendship, relief.’” According to some writers, “Shams searched long and hard and found none but Rumi who could tolerate his un-hypocritical and unconventional pursuit of truth.” Shams called Rumi “Mowlana (Master),” and says he would be “‘a fitting shaykh, if he would agree.’”
Lewis, Franklin: Rumi Past and Present, East and West.
from Oneworld (2000) pp. 143-147  Lewis pp. 154-164
New Age “translations of jalaluddin Rumi’s works have become a type of ‘spiritual colonialism.’ We in the West have been bypassing, erasing, and occupying a spiritual landscape that has been lived and breathed and internalized by Muslims from Bosnia and Istanbul to Konya and Iran to Central and South Asia.” Extracting the spiritual from the religious context has deep reverberations. Islam is regularly diagnosed as a “cancer” by people today and we are loathed to think that the greatness of Sufi Poems are based on the Islamic faith.
In the 1800s, colonialist-minded translators found it difficult to reconcile Rumi’s poetry with their preconceptions of Islam as a “desert religion,” whose followers were forsaken with “unusual moral and legal codes.” In the twentieth century, prominent translators, such as R. A. Nicholson, A. J. Arberry, and Annemarie Schimmel, made limited headway into producing versions that stayed more true to the original Persian prose, but these translations have not been the most widely circulated among Western readers.
by R.A. Nicholson
That title is held by Coleman Barks, the American poet and interpreter responsible for re-introducing Rumi’s poetry for English-speaking audiences in recent decades. Barks, who does not speak Persian and is not trained in Islamic literature, has recast earlier translations of Rumi’s works into “fluid, casual American free verse,” according to Christain Science Monitor.
For his part, Coleman Barks sees religion as secondary to the essence of Rumi. “Religion is such a point of contention for the world,” he told me. “I got my truth and you got your truth—this is just absurd. We’re all in this together and I’m trying to open my heart, and Rumi’s poetry helps with that.” One might detect in this philosophy something of Rumi’s own approach to poetry: Rumi often amended texts from the Koran so that they would fit the lyrical rhyme and meter of the Persian verse. But while Rumi’s Persian readers would recognize the tactic, most American readers are unaware of the Islamic blueprint. Some have said, compare reading Rumi without the Koran to reading Milton without the Bible: even if Rumi was heterodox, it’s important to recognize that he was heterodox in a Muslim context—and that Islamic culture, centuries ago, had room for such heterodoxy. Rumi’s works are not just layered with religion; they represent the historical dynamism within Islamic scholarship.
Rumi used the Koran, Hadiths, and religion in an explorative way, often challenging conventional readings. One of Barks’s popular renditions goes like this: “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. / I will meet you there.” The original version makes no mention of “rightdoing” or “wrongdoing.” The words Rumi wrote were iman (“religion”) and kufr (“infidelity”). Imagine, then, a Muslim scholar saying that the basis of faith lies not in religious code but in an elevated space of compassion and love. What we, and perhaps many Muslim clerics, might consider radical today is an interpretation that Rumi put forward more than seven hundred years ago.
Such readings were not entirely unique back then. Rumi’s works reflected a broader push and pull between religious spirituality and institutionalized faith—though with a wit that was unmatched. “Historically speaking, no text has shaped the imagination of Muslims—other than the Koran—as the poetry of Rumi and Hafez,” it is said. This is why Rumi’s voluminous writings, produced at a time when scribes had to copy works by hand, have survived.
“Language isn’t just a means of communication,” the writer and translator Sinan Antoon has said. “It’s a reservoir of memory, tradition, and heritage.” As conduits between two cultures, translators take on an inherently political project. They must figure out how to make, for instance, a thirteenth-century Persian poet comprehensible to a contemporary American audience. But they have a responsibility to remain true to the original work—an act that, in the case of Rumi, would help readers to recognize that a professor of Sharia could also write some of the world’s mostly widely read love poetry.
Jawid Mojaddedi is now in the midst of a years-long project to translate all six books of the “Masnavi.” Three of them” have been published; the fourth is due out this spring. His translations acknowledge the Islamic and Koranic texts in the original by using italics to denote whenever Rumi switches to Arabic. His books are also riddled with footnotes. Reading them requires some effort, and perhaps a desire to see beyond one’s preconceptions. That, after all, is the point of translation: to understand the foreign. As Keshavarz put it, translation is a reminder that “everything has a form, everything has culture and history. A Muslim can be like that, too.”
Have we hi-jacked Rumi and moulded him to our own understanding – Yes indeed, is that a bad thing? No! Indeed no. We have not destroyed the original Rumi and who would want to? We have expanded on his wonderful poetry and by so doing, opened him and his works to an international audience and an entirely new generation. I think we have done good!
Excerpted from Rozina Ali’s recent article The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi
“Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.” Jalaluddin Rumi.
Hot of the press my new YouTube dedicated to all great Teachers of Truth. Like Rumi says, come, come, come whoever you are, come! Life is short and there’s so much to learn about love. So Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come! (I like that. 😉 ) eve
In 1976 the poet Robert Bly handed Coleman Barks a copy of Cambridge don AJ Arberry’s translation of Rumi and said, “These poems need to be released from their cages.” Barks transformed them from stiff academic language into American-style free verse. Since then, Barks’ translations have yielded 22 volumes in 33 years, including The Essential Rumi, A Year with Rumi, Rumi: The Big Red Book and Rumi’s father’s spiritual diary, The Drowned Book, all published by HarperOne. They have sold more than 2m copies worldwide and have been translated into 23 languages.
A new volume is due in autumn. Rumi: Soul-fury and Kindness, the Friendship of Rumi and Shams Tabriz features Barks’ new translations of Rumi’s short poems (rubai), and some work on the Notebooks of Shams Tabriz, sometimes called The Sayings of Shams Tabriz. “Like the Sayings of Jesus (The Gospel of Thomas), they have been hidden away for centuries,” Barks notes, “not in a red urn buried in Egypt, but in the dervish communities and libraries of Turkey and Iran. Over recent years scholars have begun to organise them and translate them into English.”
800 years ahead of the times
“Just now,” Barks says, “I feel there is a strong global movement, an impulse that wants to dissolve the boundaries that religions have put up and end the sectarian violence. It is said that people of all religions came to Rumi’s funeral in 1273. Because, they said, he deepens our faith wherever we are. This is a powerful element in his appeal now.”
“Rumi was an experimental innovator among the Persian poets and he was a Sufi master,” says Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early and medieval Sufism at Rutgers University and an award-winning Rumi translator. “This combination of mystical richness and bold adaptations of poetic forms is the key to his popularity today.”
With the passing of Sathya Sai Baba, the pleasure of remembering those early days has been taken from me, because there is no longer anyone to remember with. Those ashram days are all but over for most of us that visited. It feels like losing my co-rememberer and like losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done, back then, were less real and important to what the day holds for us now. I began the blog with my memories of Sathya Sai Baba, taking notes from my memory and writings to post on to this blog. I eagerly waited for each visit to come around, so I could jot down more experiences and events as they unfolded in his ashram. Mostly, I was lucky enough to have many stories to pass on to others with like-minds and who had shared experiences. Now Sai has gone, I’ve turned to creating YouTubes of Rumi poems, to add to my list of hobbies. Through Rumi poems and my photography, I’m able to create Youtubes that will keep both photos and the poems I love, alive and at my reach.
This is my first You Tube this year. I hope some of you will visit and take a few minutes to watch.
The beauty of the heart
is the lasting beauty:
its lips give to drink
of the water of life.
Truly it is the water,
that which pours,
and the one who drinks.
All three become one when
your talisman is shattered.
That oneness you can’t know
– Rumi, From: Mathnawi II, 716-718
Photos taken today with a lumix Camera on Macro setting – please click to enlarge for details. I am having a lot of difficulty with Word Press technology and especially with photos. I hope whatever you are using, ipad or iphone, lap-top or desk-top, this is okay. 🙂
This being human is 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!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
All photos are my own and taken today while out in the garden. The top photo is of spirea buds, the rest are of crocuses under the Weeping Ash Tree, and along the garden path. Eve
With the constant rain and windy weather this year, I’ve kept my spirits high by creating You Tubes. They are fun to make although not at all an easy process. First to consider is the music. Music is tricky, choose the wrong music and your You Tube will flop. My best tips for people wishing to embark on creating You Tubes is to spend time watching other people’s efforts. Study the images used. Transitions are important, don’t use too many. Text is probably the most difficult, get it wrong, and your You Tube will look amateurish. I have to admit I’m still learning!
For this most recent You Tube, I have again used summer flowers, together with a Rumi Poem. The Music used is from Valdi Sabev – “A Perfect Day.” – I love it. Do hope you will stop by for a few minutes to watch and enjoy. (For this You Tube, I’ve used a newer version of Movie Maker – this proved much more difficult on timing the transitions.)
Rumi for All Seasons
Who is the real Rumi? Was he religious, or a progressive thinker, or a hip spiritualist believing in the occult, or was he a scholar or a professor? The correct answer is all of the above. Due to his incredibly long and prolific creative life he has covered every topic imaginable from erotica to deeply philosophical, hence he has become a projection of the reader’s own mind.
For example Rumi talks about God in some of his poems and then dismisses him in many others. His prime message is that God is found in your own heart. He recited hundreds of poems where he mentions that he would set fire to Ka’ba and any temple or church, because God is not found there. He then encourages the reader to look into his or her own heart instead.
Due to the fact that Rumi recited poetry for about 25 years and 70,000 verses, he has covered every morsel of emotion, thought, idea and topic. Therefore, he can’t be pinned in one saying. Also because of the long duration of his creative expression he changed his mind often. Hence, you have poems where he praises God and then poems where he outright destroys any such concept.
In 800 years of popularity, Rumi has become a mirror projecting what the reader imagines. An orthodox or a religious reader, or a university professor, or a New Age type, or an advanced progressive thinker, all embrace Rumi as one of their own.
Creating videos is hard work but thoroughly enjoyable. I made this one today. It is hot off the press or should I say off the computer. I do hope you spend a few mins. (Two actually,) watching this you tube. Made with all my love, joy and much happiness for the gift of inspiration from those enchanting words of Rumi.
The ecstatic poems of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian poet and Sufi master born 807 years ago in 1207, have sold millions of copies in recent years, making him the most popular poet in the US. Globally, his fans are legion.
“He’s this compelling figure in all cultures,” says Brad Gooch, who is writing a biography of Rumi to follow his critically acclaimed books on Frank O’Hara and Flannery O’Connor. “The map of Rumi’s life covers 2,500 miles,” says Gooch, who has traveled from Rumi’s birthplace in Vakhsh, a small village in what is now Tajikistan, to Samarkand in Uzbekistan, to Iran and to Syria, where Rumi studied at Damascus and Aleppo in his twenties. His final stop was Konya, in Turkey, where Rumi spent the last 50 years of his life. Today Rumi’s tomb draws reverent followers and heads of state each year for a whirling dervish ceremony on 17 December, the anniversary of his death.
The transformative moment in Rumi’s life came in 1244, when he met a wandering mystic known as Shams of Tabriz. “Rumi was 37, a traditional Muslim preacher and scholar, as his father and grandfather had been,” says Gooch. “The two of them have this electric friendship for three years – lover and beloved [or] disciple and sheikh, it’s never clear.” Rumi became a mystic. After three years Shams disappeared – “possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation.” Rumi coped by writing poetry. “Most of the poetry we have comes from age 37 to 67. He wrote 3,000 [love songs] to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and God. He wrote 2,000 rubayat, four-line quatrains. He wrote in couplets a six-volume spiritual epic, The Masnavi.”
During these years, Rumi incorporated poetry, music and dance into religious practice. “Rumi would whirl while he was meditating and while composing poetry, which he dictated,” said Gooch. “That was codified after his death into elegant meditative dance.” Or, as Rumi wrote, in Ghazal 2,351: “I used to recite prayers. Now I recite rhymes and poems and songs.” Centuries after his death, Rumi’s work is recited, chanted, set to music and used as inspiration for novels, poems, music, films, YouTube videos and tweets (Gooch tweets his translations @RumiSecrets). Why does Rumi’s work endure?
The inward eye
“He’s a poet of joy and of love,” says Gooch. “His work comes out of dealing with the separation from Shams and from love and the source of creation, and out of facing death. Rumi’s message cuts through and communicates. I saw a bumper sticker once, with a line from Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
“Rumi is a very mysterious and provocative poet and figure for our time, as we grapple with understanding the Sufi tradition [and] understanding the nature of ecstasy and devotion and the power of poetry,” says the poet Anne Waldman, co-founder with Allen Ginsberg of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, where she is a professor of poetics. “And the homoerotic tradition as well, consummated or not. He is in a long tradition of ecstatic seers from Sappho to Walt Whitman.”