Sunday, June 12, 2005

priceless poetry

I'm the wind, you're a leaf. How can you not tremble,

Or do just what I ask? I threw a stone,

And broke your pitcher: How can you not be

Worth a hundred precious stones, a hundred seas?

#1958: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: mouse, sun, wind

I was inspired this morning by the recollection of a story in an old French children's book that I read in my childhood, "La Petite Souris". In it, the father of a gifted and very pretty mouse seeks out for her a suitable husband. He wants to find the most powerful being in the world. It seems the sun would fit this bill so he approaches him and offers his daughter's hand in marriage. The sun, however, replies that he is not the most powerful being in the world for yonder cloud can hide his light and is therefore more powerful. The father approaches the cloud who claims that the wind can chase him away so the wind is the more powerful. The wind, in turn, claims that yonder tower is most powerful as it is unmoved by his greatest strength. When the father approaches the tower, it informs him that its days are numbered as its very foundations are being slowly gnawed away by a mouse. Whereupon the father meets this handsome and determined mouse who readily agrees to marry his pretty daughter.

This little story is clearly about power and especially the power of brute force or coercion. The winning power is smaller, more quiet, less inconspicuous. It is the power of the individual who undermines the manmade edifices of belief, the fortresses of faith or ideologies of purpose. We construct our theoretical worlds or models and can so easily become imprisoned inside them.

In Rumi's verse, he takes on the persona of the mighty spirit that can toss the small leaf about, that can demand total subservience. Rumi seems to be speaking from the voice of God, the all-powerful force that can break us open and release our creativity. It was out of hardship and great pain that Rumi's spirit was broken sufficiently so he could pour forth his great wealth of insights. Suffering does seem to be a source of that deepening of soul we call wisdom.

Looked at from the ego's perspective, however, this verse could be an expression of the ego's insistence that the unconscious deliver and serve the ego's ends. Rumi could be highlighting the futility of that kind of attitude, the ego's puzzlement when things don't go according to plan.

In the end, however, I find this verse quite enigmatic. I don't feel I understand it, it isn't readily graspable. It induces a sense of puzzlement and frustration at one's own limited control. It is a priceless piece of poetry.


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