Imagine, for a moment, you are ambling in the streets of an ancient bazaar, sun and dust patterns in the air. Hawker’s calls fill your ears; olives, lemons, tomatoes and pomegranates are being weighed on iron scales by nimble fingers tilting them this way and that; the sharp aroma of sizzling kebabs and stinging hamsi havoc your nostrils; moist helva lies in pans; nans deftly rolled and flattened are blooming in burning tandoors; haggling women’s voices, colorful fabrics being measured, children running along and bumping into you in the midst of play…
This is a routine round… perhaps you are on the way to your place of work, the bazaar a mere bypass, most of it forming a mesh of background cacophony, nothing out of the ordinary. Your thoughts are routine too, perhaps. A student on your mind, a surah of the Koran to teach next, planning a trip to a neighboring town for a niece’s wedding… and then…
A single sound crystallizes... the clear ringing sound of a goldsmith’s hammer, clang clang clang clang… it fills the cup of your ear like wine lulling you into an altered awareness. You and this sound, all else subsides gradually. Somehow, this sound becomes your heartbeat, then the heartbeat of the universe, and it dawns on you it is the divine heartbeat in everything… and so in the midst of an ordinary day you discover the divine in everything and yourself. Rooted to this understanding, nailed to your own center of existence you begin to whirl gradually in divine ecstasy mirroring the dance of egolessness of the stars and the planets. Round and round your own axis you go in abundant joy with an awareness of your belonging to the divine plan of creation. Out of your vision of splendid harmony spirals out a Love taking you with it in its motion. The bazaar and you are one. The planets and you are one. The universe and you are one. God and you are one.
This is what we can imagine happened to Rumi, the first whirling dervish, in the bazaar of 13th century Konya, who birthed the dance that is so fervently imitated nine centuries later in the hope of a glimpse of what that great mystic originally experienced. For Rumi, words too came out of the same divine ecstasy; poetry was the child of a union and a fanah, poetry was the dance for him-a dance of harmony and love that filled volumes and volumes of the Masnavi and Diwan-e-Shams-e Tabrizi- the treasures of which are being unearthed by hundreds of scholars as an ongoing practice in itself. What fuelled this divine poetry? What was Rumi’s vision, so powerful and resounding that his words are embodied divine energy and the very reading quickens your own cells, a sacred mantra potent and life-giving. If harmony is the flour of his poetry, love is the yeast in it, and the poems continue to pour forth in our hearts- the process of fermenting is ongoing eight centuries later:
You may be dark as iron
but keep polishing your heart
until it becomes like a mirror
reflecting images from the unseen…1
Rumi is the poet of poets who effortlessly stitches together numerous literary techniques; whether it is metaphor or personification, hyperbole or narrative there is a seamless crossover from soul to form. In no other poet, does poetry so powerfully become a medium offering its plasticity and potentiality in service of the soul and love. His poetry is a spontaneous torrent that uses every literary device immanent to language itself. Rumi uses words to extinguish words. Words vaporize in the very instant they are uttered. He asks that poetry must finally write the greater poetry of silence.
Then the windows are closed.
Individual grapes become one dark wine.
Be silent as we absorb the spring.
All succeeding quotations and poems are from Coleman Bark’s translations
All spiritual poets seem to have a voluptuous talent fuelled by a sublime energy. Rumi’s poetry- the 25,000 verses of the Mathnawi; the 40,000 verses of Diwan-e-Shams-e Tabrizi; 2,500 odes; 1,600 quatrains is unstoppable. In addition to Fihi Ma Fihi ("In It What's in It") talks and lectures; Majalese Sab'a ("Seven Sessions") seven discourses; Maktubat ("The Letters"), his energy continues to vibrate in the reader’s heart as an overflow from the mind within the mind, the qalb.
Rumi’s poetry is a poetry of return and remembrance, the gathering of the petals into a single flower. He navigates the ineffable within the realm of the perceivable, and never has there been another poet whose feet are so firmly on earth and heart so high in heaven. His poems navigate the two poles of creation/consciousness Words are a living fire ringing with states of consciousness far beyond the concrete manifested world, yet it is in this world that the poetry recognizes the signs or ayat of the ‘one.’ How does one muster the courage to make any critical comments on his poetry unless one whirls with him?
The boundary of his poetry is the cosmos, the vibrating power within it is Love, the vision Harmony. One must enter the choral effusion leaving one’s shoes at the door. Inside, is a dazzling architecture of metaphor, fable, legend, parables, teaching, sermonizing; the sub text is silence. Puns are elaborate, the universe collapsing on itself. Sometimes, the poem is a cup holding divine nectar, at others it is a dam collapsing under the torrential flow of divine inspiration. A poetry of non-being and being, his words are mosque and mosaic. We can quote of Rumi’s poetry what Attar said of Rumi, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.”
Hu, the pronoun of divine presence is the real voice of the poetry. You and I in the poetry often merge, shift and exchange places in a wink of an eye within a poem. Rumi is the lover and the beloved- the one speaking, the one spoken to and the spoken of. He speaks to the one behind the veil, the poems tear down the veil, the poems are the veil. This is the hall of mirrors- reflector, reflected, one looking at reflections lost in a dazzling play of consciousness. He is guest/host. He is Shams/Rumi, teacher/student, lover/beloved, you/I, and I/Hu.
Rumi/Shams/Saladdin/Husam Chelebi, the scribe are interchangeable identities, each one, the doorway into sohbet.
You are an ocean in my chest
where everyone changes places,
One strong brushstroke down
When Adam said, We have done this terrible thing
to ourselves, he did not say God
had any part in it.
Adam, when you confessed
why did you not acknowledge my ultimate control
over all action?
I was afraid,
and I didn’t want to show disrespect.
God replies I have great respect for you as well.
Whoever shows respect gets respect.
If you bring almonds
You will be served the almond cake.
You know the saying, Good people find each other.
Honor your friends and watch what happens.
Now love, help me tell a story
that will show the difference between something
freely done and something compelled.
Think of a hand trembling with palsy.
Now imagine a child’s hand shaking
because you slapped it away from reaching out.
You feel ashamed at having caused the child’s fear.
But does the old man feel guilty for his tremor?
This is silly intellectual quibbling.
What happens with longing and spirit is different.
Illumination comes, and there is no more considering
what follows logically or seems contradictory.
Light dawns, and any talk for proof
Resembles a blind man’s cane at sunrise.
Remember the passage,
We are with you wherever you are.
Come back to that,
When did we ever leave it?
No matter we’re in a prison of forgetting
or enjoying the banquet of wisdom,
we are always inside presence.
Drunkenly asleep, tenderly awake,
clouded with grief, laughing like lightening,
angry at war, quiet with gratitude, we are nothing.
in this many-mooded world of weather
but a single brushstroke down,
speaking of presence.
So the ambassador asks Omar, Why does
spirit come into these muddy bodies?
Now that you have asked a real question,
the answer is contained inside it.
The breathing of your speech is like the soul
entering a body. You feel the value
of making meaningful sounds.
Your incarnation is like a string of words
that makes sense. Don’t squint and frown
trying to distinguish soul from body.
Be grateful that you are constantly flowing
from the source, as language streams from you.
Poetry holds meaning loosely
like a rock in a sling. We let fly.
The rest is out of anyone’s control.
The ambassador heard Omar an merged with majesty.
A buried seedgrain secretly breaks open
and begins to be an ear of corn.
Bread dissolves in the stomach
and starts on its way to consciousness.
Candlewax turns to light.
A great joy breaks free of the self
and joins the morning river of presence.
Read about prophetic states
and let your soul grow restless in confinement.
Stay close to those who have managed to escape.
Don’t do anything to make people applaud.
That shuts the cage door tighter.
In Rumi’s spiritual journey friendship is the doorway of mysticism. The external merging through shared spiritual kinship leads to the internal merging. In mystical conversation sohbet there is oneness. It is said that when Rumi and Shams met a second time after separation they fell to the ground simultaneously obliterating the identity of lover and beloved.
Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!
His poems are splendid edifices of harmony reconciling many into one and one into many. Rumi can well said to be the first metaphysical poet as no two things are separate enough for him to resist yoking, but with Rumi there is never a sense of forced union or incongruity. Instead, his vision renders the universe as it is- one; poetry’s sacred mission is to reveal the interconnectedness. The embrace of his poetry holds the cosmos in its arms. Indeed, his poetry knows what the nightingale feels for the rose. Consider, the array of figures and personifications within just one single poem:
-Physical existence is like a cramped shoe
-We are bent over like embryos
-Soul is a lamb
-Sun moves with its bride, sincerity
-Intelligence is like the jurist who finds the original statute
-Sunlight is like loaves of bread
-A silent messenger is like a horse that keeps a distance when it scents a lion
-Every now and then a horse gallops into the moat- do not hold back what you know of your inmost self – don’t guard the mystery.
It is a poetry of harmony and remembrance of harmony; the poems are the dialogue of love by the lover and beloved. And at some point one must move into a receptivity to become the personal pronoun as well within the poems because the poetry is like a mesmeric chant dissolving the reader’s sense of I. His sohbet with Shams becomes the friend we dissolve into in response.
Love and I talking
Love says, You cannot deny me. Try.
I say, Yes, you appear out of nowhere
Like the bubbles in wine, here, then not.
Love says, Prisoned in the body-jar,
Singing at the banquet.
I say, This ecstasy is dangerous.
Love says, I sip the delicious day,
Until night takes the cup away.
Then I insist night give it back.
The light I see by never changes.
Arabs describe wine with the word mudam,
Which means continual. On and on and on,
Because wine drinkers never get enough.
The water of realization is the wine we mean
Where love is the liquid, your body the flagon.
Grace floods in. The wine’s power
breaks the jar. It’s happening now.
The water of waking becomes the one who pours,
the wine itself, and every presence at the banquet.
No metaphor can hold this truth
that knows how to keep secret
and when to show itself
Rumi, “the most popular poet in America” speaks to us directly, as the human soul unceasingly across centuries has always aspired toward the ‘one.’ He captured this timeless heart song of the soul. He whose epitaph reads: When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men" must have known the living fire of his poetry would “endure.”2 Rumi goes to the source and proclaims: break out in love, all else will be reconciled.
Love’s nationality is separate from all other religions,
The lover’s religion and nationality is the Beloved (God)
1 Rumi’s Little Book of Life, transl. by Maryam Mafi & Azima Melita Kolin, pg.74.
2 Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East searching and praying for someone who could "endure my company". A voice came, "What will you give in return?" "My head!" "The one you seek is Jalal ud-Din of Konya."
Issue 73 (May-Jun 2017)