Jalal al-Din Rumi

Rumi (1207-1273): Odes & Quatrains

While I was familiar with Rumi through the translations of A.J. Arberry and Reynold Nicholson, it was not until Robert Bly's reading of Rumi's poems translated by Coleman Barks that made Rumi's poems alive to me. When attending Bly's Poetry Workshop at Asilomar (1988), he made us memorize three Rumi's Quatrains. Two that I chose are cited below. The line "Let the beauty we love be what we do." from Quatrain #82 is similar to Joseph Campbell's "Follow your bliss" if we wish to lead a joyful and creative life. "Ode #1937: Unmarked Boxes" is one of my favorite Rumi poems. I love the line Tatatumtum tatum tatadum as it reminds me of Native American drumming that raises our awareness to Higher Consciousness. I also love Rumi's humility when he says that he has neither the gold of the sun or the bread, and is only talking about them— of course he does! As an enlightened Sufi master, Rumi is at one with the gold, the light, the Sun— that's why we feel the golden light poured into us when reading his poems. Rumi's mind is empty like that desert receiving the blessings of the stars on a clear night.
(Peter Y. Chou)

Quatrain #82 (circa 1250 A.D.)

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

Quatrain #1246

The minute I heard my first love story
I began searching for you, not knowing
how foolish that was.

True lovers are not out there somewhere,
but in each other all along.

Rubaiyat #178a

In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.

Ode #1937: Unmarked Boxes

Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother's milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.

God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flower bed.
As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open

Part of the self leaves the body when we sleep
and changes shape. You might say, "Last night
I was a cypress tree, a small bed of tulips,
a field of grapevines." Then the phantasm goes away.
You're back in the room.
I don't want to make any one fearful.
Hear what's behind what I say.

Tatatumtum tatum tatadum.
There's the light gold of wheat in the sun
and the gold of bread made from that wheat.
I have neither. I'm only talking about them,

as a town in the desert looks up
at stars on a clear night.

— Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)
     The Essential Rumi,
     translated by Coleman Barks
     with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson
     HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, pp. 36, 106, 122, 272
     Quatrain & Ode #s refer to the numbering in Furuzanfar's edition
     of Kuliyat-e-Shams, 8 vols. (Teheran: Amir Kabir Press, 1957-1966).
     Rubaiyat #: Arberry's translation of Rubaiyat of Jalal al-din Rumi
     (London: Emery Walker, 1949)

A Tribute to Rumi
   (Translations, Biography, Picture Gallery)

Rumi (British Site)
   (Life, Books, Bibliography, Works, Poetry, Events)

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