This book is a wonderful introduction to this very moving spiritual poetry. Rumi has an understanding of God and our relationship with Him that is unlike anything most people have ever experienced. His love and passion come across in this poetry, which has been beautifully translated by Coleman Barks. Mr. Barks has taken great lengths to group these poems into various sections that will allow a reader who is new to Rumi's poetry to see Rumi in a variety of ways. The book is not arranged chronologically or broken down into academic categories, but rather encompass larger topics ranging from bewilderment at God's presence to poems meant to teach. Each poem is carefully crafted to allow the thoughts of this master poet and mystic to shine. This is poetry of the first order. This book is the perfect introduction to Rumi or will complete the collection of any Rumi devotee.
Rumi (as he is known in the West), was known as Jelaluddin Balkhi by the Persians and Afghanis, from where he was born in 1207. Rumi means 'from Roman Anatolia', which is where his family fled to avoid the threat of Mongol armies. Being raised in a theological family, Rumi studied extensively in religion and poetry, until encountering Shams of Tabriz, a wandering mystic, with whom he formed the first of his intense, mystical friendships, so intense that it inspired jealously among Rumi's students and family. Shams eventually disappeared (most likely murdered because of the jealousy); Rumi formed later more mystical friendships, each with a different quality, which seemed essential for Rumi's creative output. Rumi was involved with the mystical tradition that continues to this day of the dervish (whirling dervishes are best known), and used it as a personal practice and as a teaching tool.
This book has a deliberate task: 'The design of this book is meant to confuse scholars who would divide Rumi's poetry into the accepted categories.' Barks and Moyne have endeavoured to put together a unified picture that playfully spans the breadth of Rumi's imagination, without resorting to scholarly pigeon-holes and categorisations.
'All of which makes the point that these poems are not monumental in the Western sense of memorialising moments; they are not discrete entities but a fluid, continuously self-revising, self-interrupting medium.'
Rumi created these poems as part of a constant, growing conversation with a dervish learning community. It flows from esoteric to mundane, from ecstatic to banal, incorporating music and movement at some points, and not at others, with the occasional batch of prose.
'Some go first, and others come long afterward. God blesses both and all in the line, and replaces what has been consumed, and provides for those who work the soil of helpfulness, and blesses Muhammad and Jesus and every other messenger and prophet. Amen, and may the Lord of all created beings bless you.'
From the lofty sentiments...
'There's a strange frenzy in my head,
of birds flying,
each particle circulating on its own.
Is the one I love everywhere?'
...to the simple observations...
'Drunks fear the police,
but the police are drunks too.
People in this town love them both
like different chess pieces.'
Some poems take very mystic frameworks, such as the Sohbet. There is no easy English translation of Sohbet, save that it comes close to meaning 'mystical conversation on mystical subjects'. These poems become mystically Socratic, by a series of questions and answers, very simple on the surface, yet leading down to the depths of meaning.
In the middle of the night
I cried out,
"Who lives in this love
You said, "I do, but I'm not here
alone. Why are these other images
Rumi also has an elegant series called the Solomon Poems, in which King Solomon is the embodiment of luminous divine wisdom, and the Queen of Sheba is the bodily soul. This sets up a dynamic tension that gets played out in the poetry (in extrapolation from the Biblical stories from which they were first derived)
Rumi reminds us that, in the face of love and truth, even the wisdom of Plato and Solomon can go blind, but there is vision in this blindness.
In the conclusion of this volume, Rumi's poetry of The Turn (the dervishes) is presented, as a place of emptiness, where the ego dissolves, and opens a doorway to the divine to enter. The night of Rumi's death in 1273 is considered 'Rumi's Wedding Night', the night he achieved full union with the divine that he had sought so often in poetry and mystical practice.
There is much to be gained in the contemplation of this frequently overlooked poet.