Jalaluddin Rumi Book: Essential Rumi
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Amazon.com editorial review
No translator could do greater justice to the gorgeous simplicity of Rumi's poetry than Coleman Barks has done here. These exquisite renderings of the 13th-century Persian mystic's words into American free verse capture all the "inner searching, the delicacy, and simple groundedness" that characterize Rumi's poetry while remaining faithful to the images, tone, and spiritual message of the originals. Barks's introductions to each of the 27 sections (described as "playful palimpsests spread over Rumi's imagination," and "meant to confuse scholars who would divide Rumi's poetry into the accepted categories") are themselves wonderful achievements of a poetic imagination; searching explanations of unfamiliar concepts and funny stories provide colorful background and frame the selections as no dry historical exegesis could.
While Barks's stamp on this collection is clear, it in no way interferes with the poems themselves; Rumi's voice leaps off these pages with an ecstatic energy that leaves readers breathless. There are poems of love, rage, sadness, pleading, and longing; passionate outbursts about the torture of longing for his beloved and the sweet pleasure that comes from their union; amusing stories of sexual exploits or human weakness; and quiet truths about the beauty and variety of human emotion. More than anything, Rumi makes plain the unbridled joy that comes from living life fully, urging us always to put aside our fears and take the risk to do so. As he says: "The way of love is not / a subtle argument. / The door there is devastation. / Birds make great sky-circles / of their freedom. / How do they learn it? / They fall, and falling, / they're given wings."
Stunning poetry, beautifully translated
This is one of the best books of poetry translations I've ever read. Barks has done a tremendous job of rendering Rumi into language that captures the poet's range: oblique to blunt, ethereal to earthy. While I can't comment on the accuracy of the translations, they work beautifully as English poetry -- and that, to me, is the crucial part. To Western readers, Rumi was a misty eminence of literary and religious history, and Barks has brought him to glorious, complex life.
One caution: although Rumi wrote intensely spiritual poetry, some of the "teaching tales" are pretty raunchy (after reading about the maidservant and the donkey, I'll never look at gourds the same way again!). Again, his poetry blends the divine and the human, heavenly love and earthly eroticism. While there are analogues in Western religious poetry (e.g., Teresa of Avila and the English 17th-century poet Richard Crashaw), this may be unsettling for some readers.
The hardbound edition, at least, is well done: the paper has a nice texture, the typography and page design enhance the text, and the cover is attractive (I haven't looked at the paperback). For me, the attractiveness of the book greatly enhanced the experience of reading it.