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"Love is, above all, the gift of oneself. "
- Jean Anouilh

Rumi's Poetry: PDF Print E-mail

Rumi's Poetry: The Play and Intersection of Human with Divine


By Seabury Gould


The thirteenth-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi is widely regarded as the greatest mystical poet of any age. Rumi was born in Balkh in present-day Afghanistan in 1207. He and his family fled from the Mongol invasion and eventually settled in present-day Konya, Turkey, where he died at sunset on December 17, 1273. His tomb in Konya is still visited by thousands each month.

“In Rumi we encounter one of the world’s greatest poets. In profundity of thought, inventiveness of image, and triumphant mastery of language, he stands out as the supreme genius of Islamic mysticism.” (Islamic scholar A.J. Arberry).


The poetry of Rumi is rich with with wisdom, humor, humanity, ecstasy, profound insight and inspired passion. The translations by Coleman Barks, the premiere English translator of Rumi, deeply convey the essence of Rumi’s work from bewilderment, emptiness and silence, to flirtation, playfulness and majesty. Rumi spoke his poems and they were written down by scribes. For the most part his poetry can be considered spontaneous improvisation: 


“When someone mentions the gracefulness of the nightsky,  climb up on the roof and dance and say, Like this? ..  When someone quotes the old poetic image  about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,  slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe. Like this?”


Rumi became a sheikh in a dervish learning community and lived a fairly “normal” life as a religious scholar who taught, meditated and helped the poor, until the fall of 1244 when he met a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz. Shams was a man in rags who was in tune with the Infinite. He wore an old black cloak. Shams approached Rumi and threw an extremely valuable book of Rumi’s into the water and told him, “You must now live what you’ve been reading about.” After having met Shams, Rumi’s poetry began.


This meeting was to become the central event in Rumi’s life. There are various versions of their initial profound encounter, but whatever the facts, Shams and Rumi became inseparable and shared a sublime Friendship. “Instead of being connected by a love, they are the living atmosphere of love itself” (Coleman Barks).


Rumi’s use of the term “Shams” refers not only to his master but also to the many aspects of the Beloved, embodied in Shams: “Shams” symbolizes the power of Grace. “Shams is a trumpet note of light that starts the atoms spinning, a wind that comes at dawn  tasting of bread and salt.”


After Shams’ death, Rumi was shattered, and in his grief he began circling a pole in his garden and speaking poetry about the search for divine companionship. His turning (or whirling) was the origin of the moving meditation of the Mevlevi dervishes. The theme of surrender turns up often:


“The beloved is a lion/ We’re the lame deer in his paws/ Consider what choices we have/ Acquiesce when the Friend says, Come into me. Let me show my face.”


The work of the dervish community was to open the heart, to fiercely search for and try to say truth, and to celebrate the glory and difficulty of being in a human incarnation. They used silence, song, poetry, meditation and jokes. They walked together and reverently watched the behavior of animals.


Ya Fattah, “The Opener” is one of the names of God. We can appreciate in Rumi’s poetry streams of consciousness, ecstasy and genius which open us to the play and intersection of human with divine. A Persian friend once said to me that “When you read Rumi’s poetry in the original Persian, it’s so beautiful, it enlightens you!” In this poetry, the secular and the sacred are always mingling, which, depending on one’s perspective, is also the case with life itself.


His ecstatic poetry has been a part of classical and devotional music from Turkey to Pakistan. Often Rumi expresses a deep connection with the power of music, for instance: “Venus touches her lute strings to lure out essence from this poem”,  “Poems are rough notations for the music we are”, and “Let that musician finish this poem!” Taking his words to heart, I have been recording poetry of Rumi with musical accompaniment. The bansuri bamboo flute of north India is the main flute that I play to blend with the poems.


Rumi’s metaphor of a reed cut and then made into a flute, becomes a symbol of a human separated from its source, the Beloved:  “God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.  Each note is a need coming through one of us, a passion, a longing-pain.”


To conclude, here is the ending of Rumi’s masterpiece The Reed Flute’s Song, “..if someone doesn’t want to hear  the song of the reed flute,   it’s best to cut conversations short, say good-bye, and leave.”


Seabury Gould is an eclectic musician, music teacher, singer, multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, and is one of the North Coast Storytellers. He leads kirtan, sacred singing workshops and is bandleader of the local Celtic band Scatter the Mud.

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