Saturday, December 31, 2005

what good despair?

What good are your cries when her gaze is gone?

What good a faithful heart that's been bloodied?

When heart and soul are burnt in sorrow's pain,

What good are your words that grow life again?

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

Search word: gone

My son is now on his last leg to Honolulu, due to land there in an hour. I love it that you can now track a flight on the internet, receiving regular assurance that yes, the plane did take off and yes, it is due to land. My son is just short of turning 18 and becoming an official adult, so I still feel a mother's fuss over his being alone. He will meet up with friends tomorrow but his first day will be alone and so I will watch over him in my thoughts.

I woke this morning still in a sulky mood, enjoying the peace around the early dawn chorus of the local birds, but not wanting to get up early to take advantage of the relative cool. In another hour or two it will be too hot to do anything much. I felt that, no only has my son gone but so also has my enthusiasm or motivation. The word gone searched out Rumi and found him in a much bleaker mood than usual. He keeps repeating "What good is this? What good is that?" Meaning, value, purpose, these have abandoned him. He stands here in a very lost and alienated mood, as close to despair as Rumi ever gets. He was human after all. He did, nevertheless, create this little gem out of his anguish and it was but one of many that accumulated into a grander work of love. So, despite questioning the value of comforting words in reply to raw cries of pain, he did keep moving on.

Sometimes I feel very confident, motivated, inspired, when facing my daily commentary on a Rumi quatrain. Sometimes I shy away, feeling almost sulky. I will tell myself I'm not up to the task or that Rumi just isn't worth it. It is a commitment to love that sees me through, that keeps me going in my daily discipline. Bob, in a recent comment, has raised the issue of building love rather than just falling in it. There is a very special importance to falling in love for it is as if the hand of destiny is beckoning. However, it is a wasted experience if it is not built on, pursued with a steady passion and devotion. Sometimes one must stay with the process even if it feels like we have fallen out of love, for this might simply be a test of the trueness of our faith.

Rumi's verse today tells me that despair did visit him but that he stayed true to the crazy project set for him by his own destiny. Despair and sulkiness, then, can be embraced as testing moods, to be acknowledged and respected, but not succumbed to.

Friday, December 30, 2005

sweet servitude

If they all leave me, my love, don't go.

Friend, who drinks my sadness up, don't go.

Fill my cup with wine, and your sweet laugh.

Please, good Saghi, who lights the world, don't go.

#1579: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: leave

Today is Departure Day for my son who flies to Hawaii, his first trip to the US of A, and only his second trip abroad. We are both nervous underneath a steady calm as the days leading up to this have passed uneventfully, almost drearily, saving up drama for now. And hopefully no bad dramas will happen there or back.

Rumi is the expert on the drama of departure, on the grief of taking leave. In today's verse his focus is on "good Saghi", the saqi or cupbearer who pours wine out for the guests at a drinking party. This Saghi is a servant, perhaps a slave, and I'm reminded of the last line in Rumi's poem about love's transformations:

Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet.
Through Love all that is copper will be gold.
Through Love all dregs will turn to purest wine.
Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.
Through Love the dead will all become alive.
Through Love the king will turn into a slave!

trans Schimmel

The first five lines go along with common sense, something unfortunate turning into something fine. Except the last. Why would a king want to turn into a slave? Rumi expresses a similar idea in today's verse by saying that everyone else can depart if only this servant will remain. This servant has sweet powers, to light up the world and drive sadness away. A king rules and maintains order in the chaos of nature. This is an inferior kind of functioning as compared to knowing how to serve the world, how to bring joy and comfort to many hearts. This is what the slave of Allah, the true Muslim, does. However, I also detect a reference to Jesus as the servant who lights the world:

John 8:12 (KJV)

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Ah, to serve the world, to bring light and joy and gladness to it, to pour out the wine of divine drunkenness, what could be better than that?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

She who must be laughed at

"I gave you my heart and my faith," I said,

"I showered on you everything I had."

"You?" she said, "Who cares what you do or not?

I shook you up, and this is what I got."

#1294: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: faith

I woke this morning with a loss of faith: in myself, in love, in the world. Yesterday was an oppressively hot and humid day, spent simply enduring it. I'm coming around to the idea of getting an air conditioner which I'd hoped I could avoid. It seems like such a caving in somehow. If humanity survived without it until now, why bring it in? Does it not make us less sensitive to our impact on the environment? Less aware of the creeping effects of global warming? Ideals are clashing with my need for comfort.

Today's quatrain belongs to a class in which Rumi is being teased by a feminine presence, a goddess figure, who treats him like her slave or mere plaything. This is an experience I cannot directly get into. It seems peculiar to the effect that some women have on some men, at least at times. It's true that men have had that effect on me too. They have shaken me up and then seemed to dump me. As a woman, I am bound to see this differently since men do tend to lord it over us most of the time anyway. If I let a male come close and find he throws me about insensitively, then I see it as just more of the same oppression. For a man, used to lording it over women almost as much as over slaves, this is a surprising and necessary contrast, an adjustment of power.

In most of Rumi's verses relating to this goddess figure, there is a humorous tone: he is made to seem the fool but he takes it all lightly. Surely men today might feel more oppressed by the demands of modern feminism and need to laugh at their women's ways as well as at themselves. All nicely summed up in the first two lines of Bob's Like Poem:

I'd rather fall in
laughter before love.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

messengers divine

My soul is stubborn, drunken, and meddling;

My lover's is kind, but weary of waiting.

The messenger I send to her is God.

To me, a message from her is God's own word.

#1092: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: drunk

I returned this morning to the idea of a contrast or opposition between head and heart, this time characterized by the difference between sobriety and drunkenness. Rumi belongs in a tradition of Persian poetry that praises wine and the euphoria that it brings, with commentators divided over the extent to which wine is referred to in a literal sense. Certainly, one can be spirited, vivacious, enthusiastic, lively, animated, etc, without drinking a drop of alcohol. All of these words point to a spirit, an alive-ness, even a god (the Greek theos being inside enthusiasm). Whatever it is, philosophy has always contrasted it with matter which is characterized as dead and dry in itself. A certain materialist bent can make one sober, serious, sensible, rational, reasonable, reliable. In a word: very very boring.

The verse that drunkenness pulled up today is one of the most surprising and heretical that I've come across so far. We must recall the basic Islamic dogma: God (Allah) speaks through angel Gabriel to His messenger (Mohammad) through whom the divine truth is revealed to humanity. A Muslim and his god are separated by two intermediaries with imams often adding their priestly and scholarly authority into the mix. In this verse Rumi is using God as his messenger and accepting a message from his beloved as God's own word. Although such a view is implied in almost every word of Rumi's poetry, it is stated so explicitly here that it is difficult to avoid seeing the heretical implications. Islam has sometimes been tolerant, sometimes intolerant, of its heretics. Surely it was in a tolerant phase while Rumi was writing and thriving.

When Shams disappeared and Rumi went in search of him, he suddenly found enlightenment, realizing that Shams was inside him all along. These quatrains were not simply dedicated to Shams: Rumi claimed that Shams wrote them himself. For me, it is quite evident that Rumi perceived Shams not only as a real and distinct person with whom he had formed a powerful bond of love, but also as a living presence inside his own soul, much as Christians acknowledge Jesus as both a human historical figure and a divine presence, eternally available to humanity. For me, despite the clear Hindu/Buddhist influences on Sufism as the mystical strand of Islam, there is also this strong Christian/humanist strand that Rumi has incorporated from Greek philosophy and Christian theology. The fact that he was trained as a Muslim theologian and teacher, in a long family tradition, and that he remained true to his original faith system, this tells me that he had truly synthesized these three or four traditions (depending on whether Christianity and Neo-Platonism are treated as separate).

The idea that God is identical to human speech, whether vocalized, written or expressed simply in silence, is elaborated in Rumi's Discourse #53, excerpts from which I give below:

Speech is like the sun, all people derive warmth and life from the sun, and the sun is always there. [...]

Though always present - for that sun is subtle, and "He is the All-subtle" - some element of grossness is required for it to become visible and apparent. [...]

Therefore, speech is a subtle sun shining continually, without ceasing, and we need some gross medium in order to see and enjoy it. But, once you can see those rays and that subtlety without any gross medium, then you find wonderful colors and marvelous spectacles in the depths of that sea. Yet what is so amazing about that? For speech is always within you, whether you actually speak or not, even if you have no thought of speaking.


The quotation "He is the All-subtle" comes from the Koran:
That then is God your Lord;
there is no god but He,
the Creator of everything.
So serve Him,
for He is Guardian over everything.
The eyes attain Him not, but He attains the eyes;
He is the All-subtle, the All-aware. (6:102-103)


So, for Rumi, this seems to be the equation:

God (Allah) = Sun (Sol) = Speech = message from Lover to Beloved and back again

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

versions of #1359

You think that I am at my own command?

Or that I breathe one breath, one half a breath, at will?

I'm merely a pen in my writer's hand,

A ball at the mercy of my player's skill.

#1359: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've decided to "do" quatrain #1359 because I've found two other versions besides the one above by Zara Houshmand. The other versions appeared at the Sunlight site and are given below as they appear there:

Do you think I am in control here?
That for a moment, or even half a moment,
I can tell you what's going on?

I am no more than a pen in a writer's hand.
A ball smacked around by a polo stick.

-- Version by Jonathan Star
"Rumi - In the Arms of the Beloved"
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York 1997


Do you think I know what I'm doing?
That for one breath or half-breath
I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it's writing
or the ball can guess where it's going next.

-- Version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
Castle Books, 1997

Where Houshmand stays with the notion of self-control (or will), Star wanders from that to self-awareness (knowing what's going on) and Barks starts with self-awareness and ends with self-belonging, of having responsibility. Houshmand puts both the pen and the ball, paradoxically, under Rumi's control, as "my" writer and "my" player. Star writes of merely "a" writer and "a" polo stick, with no clear connection to Rumi. Barks goes one further and removes writer and player altogether.

I like the Houshmand version better because it readily lends itself to psychological interpretation and it maintains a crucial paradox that is so prevalent and so necessary, I think, in Rumi's writing. A certain amount of our libido or psychic energy is at our disposal, such that "I" can decide what to do with it and pursue a determined goal. Obstacles might arise of my own making and that is a sure sign that other functional centres of my psyche are not enthusiastic about this project that "I" set for myself. It is important, therefore, that "I" stay out of it as much as possible. It should be "my" writer, the writing potential in me, that writes and never the ego. It should be "my" player, the sporting and political potential in me, that engages in life's games.

When the ego is thus divested of its identification with various psychic functions it is left with very little to do. The tinier it gets, the more essential and the truer to its own nature. It's hard to see how one could wrest that kind of sense out of the more aesthetic forms presented by Star and Barks. And yet, I do feel that these two other separate angles on the verse have enriched it and have contributed to the teasing out of meaning. I think this is achieved by a breath of modern fresh air. Barks, especially, writes with an almost post-modern cryptic spin that makes the verses "cool", more alive for the current times.

I've made some hesitant beginnings at studying the Persian language. I'd rather not be quite so helplessly in the hands of translators. However, surely any Persian reader could tell me whether in fact Rumi spoke of "my" writer or did not.

Persian script of #1359 @

I've checked on this and "my" is rendered in Persian simply by adding the "m" consonant to the end of the word the "my" refers to. (This is the left hand end of the word since Persian is read from right to left.) It is clear from the above Persian script for this verse that every line has "my" at the end of it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

a necessary confusion

I'm not me, you're not you, and you're not me;

And yet I'm me, you're you, and you are me.

Beauty of Khotan, I am this because of you:

Confused if I am you, or you are me.

#1976: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm taking up the theme of identity confusion as it is clearly expressed in this quatrain. The reference to Khotan does not carry obvious associations for me. It was an oasis town on the southern silk road connecting Eastern Europe (then Asia Minor) with the East coast of China and even on to Japan. The town was conquered for Islam in about 1000 CE. The beauty referred to in the poem could be any (or even all) of the following: women famed for their surpassing beauty (possibly based on mixed Asian and Caucasian genes), a natural musk fragrance (strongly associated with spirituality), silk and jade (for the fine arts), carpets (of mixed Asian and Middle Eastern design), and Buddhism (spreading via this town from India into China). Given the theme of the verse, I would go for multiple associations at least but perhaps with a focus on the border or boundary quality of Khotan, since it stood at the edge of the known Islamic world and about halfway along the route from East to West.

This verse is of the type that suggests to me that Rumi was not entirely dismissive of the clarity of the Greek intellect. In the first line, identities are dissolved (as mystic ecstasy might require) but in the second recalled (getting back to common sense). The result is a kind of agnosticism or confusion: not knowing which is what. It never comes across as despairing in Rumi. It always comes across, curiously, as a kind of knowing.

I've started to read some Omar Khayyam (mainly through the Whinfield translation) and I am struck by a very different mood in his quatrains. His work is attractive, needless to say, and yet also a little off-putting as a sense of life's futility seems constantly to hover about. Here is a quatrain that I particularly like.


When the great Founder molded me of old,
He mixed much baser metal with my gold;
Better or fairer I can never be
Than I first issued from his heavenly mold.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, trans E.H. Whinfield

Recently, under passion's dance, I included the poem by Rumi which starts with:

Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet.
Through Love all that is copper will be gold.

Here we have a contrast of two personalities, two belief systems. Khayyam seems to reject the idea of the alchemical transmutation of baser metal into gold, while Rumi seems to insist on it. Khayyam may be merely criticizing the fatalism implied in the Koran, a fatalism that seems to leave no room for improvement of character during one's stay in this earthly life. And yet, I do like the way Khayyam puts this. There is a wonderful, peaceful self-acceptance implied in his verse: I am what I am, warts and all. And Rumi, too, is right. To love oneself, warts and all, is precisely to turn all the baser metal into gold.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

all around me

I'm a grape, I roll under trampling feet.

Wherever love pulls me, that's where I roll.

You ask me, 'Why do you roll around me?'

I don't. It's all around me that I roll.

#1155: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: feet

My thoughts have turned to feet this morning, inspired especially by the strange bird-claw feet of the goddess in the images below.

Inanna plaque

Inanna plaque @

Inanna seal

Inanna seal @ © S. Beaulieu

I like the way this goddess spans and governs over both the "above" and the "below", however each of these might be understood. In the ancient story of her descent to the underworld, she is stripped naked, killed and her corpse hung up to rot.

When she entered the first gate,
the shugurra, the crown of the steppe was removed.
When she entered the second gate,
From her neck the small lapis beads were removed.
When she entered the third gate,
From her breast the double strand of beads was removed.
When she entered the fourth gate,
From her chest the breastplate called "Come, man, come!" was removed.
When she entered the fifth gate,
From her wrist the gold ring was removed.
When she entered the sixth gate,
From her hand the lapis measuring rod and line was removed.
When she entered the seventh gate,
From her body the royal robe was removed. ...

Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.
Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt.
She struck her.
Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall....

Then, after three days and three nights, Inanna had not returned,
Ninshubur set up a lament for her by the ruins.
She beat the drum for her in the assembly places.

Inanna had trusted Father Enki, the God of Wisdom, to save her and indeed this is what happened. However, she did have to send a replacement for herself back to the underworld and, for this, she chose her disloyal husband Dumuzi.

A couple of millenia later, Jesus' followers were to be inspired by a similar archetypal tale of sacrificial salvational death following three days later by a resurrection and eventual ascension to heaven, the "great above".

And so here we have Rumi depicted as a humble grape being prepared for winemaking by trampling feet. And here we have the frankest confession I've seen so far that God, the divine She, the Beloved, Shams the Sun, are not really "you" at all but "me". Or perhaps it is truer to say that "God" is just "Us". (Not to be confused with the US which often acts like it is God.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

fallen enemies

He's fallen, King, no need for check and mate.

He's at your feet, so be considerate.

Though drenched in guilt, he needs no punishment.

For God's sake, there's no need to retaliate.

#1415: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: fall

I've been mulling over the story of the descent of Inanna into the underworld and the word fall was the nearest that yielded a Rumi verse. I've noticed here and there among Rumi's poems and stories of his life with Shams that chess was a favoured passtime for him and he sometimes uses metaphors derived from the chessboard.

Today's verse is about mercy shown to an enemy who has fallen in battle. It strongly echoes Jesus' advice:

Matthew 5:43-48 (KJV)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

This is probably the single most difficult teaching of Jesus to swallow, let alone follow: to take an enemy that one despises and to come to respect and even love him. Rumi's second wife was from a Christian background and I'm sure, from the references in his poetry, that Rumi had soaked up a good deal of Christian teaching. The idea of loving an enemy is too far from the Muslim mentality but showing mercy to an enemy who has been subdued, this much at least he could ask.

I've searched the Koran for any link between enemies and love or mercy and have found that Muslims are warned against getting close to a non-Muslim but the possibility that Allah might nevertheless bind the two in friendship and mercy is affirmed. Here are some passages representing these views:

Koran 060.001 (Shakir)

O you who believe! do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Messenger and yourselves because you believe in Allah, your Lord? If you go forth struggling hard in My path and seeking My pleasure, would you manifest love to them? And I know what you conceal and what you manifest; and whoever of you does this, he indeed has gone astray from the straight path.

Koran 060.007 (Shakir)

It may be that Allah will bring about friendship between you and those whom you hold to be your enemies among them; and Allah is Powerful; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Koran 064.014 (Shakir)

O you who believe! surely from among your wives and your children there is an enemy to you; therefore beware of them; and if you pardon and forbear and forgive, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The Christian message is clearly the strongest, and quite unambiguous. It will be interesting to watch, in the coming years, whether and to what an extent it will prevail. I think Rumi's view is a good compromise. It is necessary for the Christian West to subdue the enemy of radical Islam but, once subdued, no further retaliation should be sought and, indeed, a time for mutual understanding might open up. Let's hope so.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Remembering your scent, wherever I saw a flower,

I smelled it and tears began to pour.

Wherever I saw a cypress in the meadow,

I kissed its feet in memory of you.

#1176: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: remember

The idea of remembrance returned to mind this morning as I recalled yesterday's Feynman passage in which remembering is the key to a stable, consistent, enduring pattern of dance in the mind. The word remember stems from memor "mindful", from PIE base *men-/*mon- "think." (See fuller etymology here.) Thinking and remembering are therefore almost synonymous.

(Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is an obvious connection to today's verse but I've not read him myself and cannot comment knowledgeably.)

I went in search of a good picture of a cypress tree and ended up with some interesting associations, best illustrated by one of the most famous paintings of our time.

The associations of some trees are ineffaceable. Though neither in form nor in color has the Cypress any suggestion of grief or gloom to the dweller in northern Europe who may be ignorant of its name and history, the customs and language of ages have, in its own southern climes, indelibly impressed upon it the symbolism of bodily death and spiritual immortality.

The Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is generally a flame-shaped, tapering, cone-like tree, with but a short stem below its branches, which rise erectly and close to the trunk.


Van Gogh: Starry Night @

For Rumi, then, Shams represented the eternal soul, what remains when the body dies. He often referred to Shams as Sun, which is Sol in Latin and the masculine component of the Sol et Luna alchemical pair. Sol and soul have no etymological connection but they resonate together to the ear.

Certainly, the impact we have had on one another, what people remember of us after we die, this is the fullest expression of our individual imprint on life's evolution. This idea is at the very core of the Christian ritual of communion and the key to each of our immortality:

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (KJV)

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

seeing the mad light

Today I'm going for a drunken stroll.

I'll search the town for a rational man,

Pour him a drink from the bowl of my skull,

And turn him into a crazy fool.

#1146: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: stroll

I've become keen to express the dancer in myself in preference to the writer, in an attempt to adjust an imbalance. My normal routine is to start the day with writing but today I went for a walk in the local park and stayed in one place for a while exploring dance motions. (There are quite a few other people there doing solitary dance-like exercises like Tai Chi so I don't feel too kooky.) I was attracted to the idea of a drunken stroll in today's verse.

I also want to explore more and find my own ways of expressing or explaining the word soul. Who better to look at here than the post-Jungian archetypal psychologist, James Hillman? His The Soul's Code is a book I found especially challenging in recent years but it was his Suicide and the Soul that got me started back in the late 70s. With other titles like The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World and Anima: The Anatomy of a Personified Notion, this writer has no hesitation in tackling the soul head on.

This morning I was glancing through my as-yet-unread copy of Hillman's The Force of Character when I came across an item that binds together a few favourite themes. Hillman quotes Nobel Prize-winnning physicist Richard Feynman (from What Do You Care What Other People Think?) as follows:

The thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance.... The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out - there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.

excerpt from The Value of Science

And so it is that soul, science and dance have come together for me today. And still I've made no direct comment on today's quatrain! I can do no better here than collect some famous quotes, beginning with Jung:

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.
-- Jung

Why don't you have a right to say you are Jesus? And why isn't the proper response to that "congratulations"?
-- Thomas Szasz

There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.
-- Aristotle

There is a pleasure sure
In being mad which none but madmen know.
-- John Dryden

Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.
-- Aldous Huxley

Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cleansed? Behold, I show you the Superman. He is this lightning, he is this madness.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Sanity calms, but madness is more interesting.
-- John Russell

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained.
-- Mark Twain


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

soul talk

If I hold you in my heart, you'll wither;

Become a thorn if I hold you in my eyes.

No, I'll make a place for you within my soul instead

So you'll be my love in lives beyond this life.

#1861: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: turn

This morning's thoughts turned on writing and dancing and since Rumi's dance is a turning, I searched out turn. Translator Zara Houshmand's index of first lines is often based on an initial translation which has been supplanted by the one currently listed. This has happened here where turn appeared in an earlier version below. I gather that, in the Persian idiom, "turn into a thought" amounts to "wither", suggesting a deep-rooted cultural aversion to thinking in preference to feeling.

If I hold you in my heart, you'll turn into a thought,
Or a thorn, if I hold you in my eyes.
No, I'll make a place for you within my soul instead
So that you'll be my love in lives beyond this life.

And indeed, Rumi was living in Turkey which neighbours on Greece, home of the intellect, of reasoning, and of democracy. Greece and Turkey, standing for West and East, have long been at loggerheads and perhaps this head/heart split underlies that. My own natural talent lies toward the intellectual side with mathematics being my first passionately followed discipline and Socrates an early hero. It is rare, however, that I feel at all insulted by Rumi's viewpoint. I think he had and I feel he conveys a balanced attitude to head and heart. It shows up here in this verse where he points out the negative consequences of using only heart or head (as in eyes piercing and turning the object of thought into yet another piercing instrument).

Instead, Rumi turns to the idea of the soul as a larger, eternal entity that will survive his earthly death and proclaim his love far beyond it. Modern rationalists and materialists have turned away from this concept since it seems to suggest some ghostly being that invites superstition. However, Rumi's love for Shams (and the greater Beloved embodied in that person) is surely alive, accessible and communicated today to anyone who cares to notice. I feel it deeply, I'm sure, because my own soul can vibrate to the same rhythm, sing to the same song, dance to the same choreography.

Thank God for poets! At any time, in any era, they've never feared to talk about the soul. Or stay silent, if that was the most effective way to get the message across. If the word soul loses its meaning, it's best to set the word aside and find others. However, this should be but a temporary measure until soul can be spoken of again without ridicule or rancour. This is a word I will watch and wait for.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

sol y sombra

Sit for a while in my heart like a mystery; don't go.

Honor my head: rest there like a turban; don't go.

"I come and go," you say, "like the heart's rapid beat."

Don't tease me, sly heart-thief, and please, don't go, my sweet.

#1585: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: heart

Last night I honoured sleeping by banning the cat from my room. She mewed pathetically at my door once or twice but then settled on one of her other favourite places. I don't sleep well when she takes over my bed as she has been doing of late. I slept well and I also slept in, indulging in the sheer pleasure of this kind of wakefulness.

I have been feeling under some pressure of late, with one year ending and another beginning. I want to start up in business with a friend and we are looking around at established businesses to buy. So far, my heart hasn't felt really into any idea proposed. The thought that came up this morning was this: What do I care enough about, what is important enough to me, that I would mortgage my own home, this beloved home I'm so grateful to have found and settled down in, so that I could fund the nurturing of this business or project or mission? One thing I gather about successful business people is that they put their hearts and minds fully into their work. It is that full-on commitment that pays off.

Yesterday, someone asked me about heroic or outstanding Muslims. I began by listing Saladin, Badshah Khan, Rumi (of course), Avicenna, and Ibn Khaldun. My questioner wanted someone more recent, so I added Muhammad Iqbal (although he died back in 1938 compared to Badshah Khan only in 1988). The wikipedia article on him included this classic poem on East and West:

In the West, Intellect is the source of life,
In the East, Love is the basis of life.
Through Love, Intellect grows acquainted with Reality,
And Intellect gives stability to the work of Love,
Arise and lay the foundations of a new world,
By wedding Intellect to Love.

It struck me as a much-needed reminder of the need to wed heart and mind whenever a major enterprise is in question. Rumi's verse is full of references to the heart and to love, he is a good representative of Iqbal's second line point. He very rarely touches on the idea of wedding intellect to love but since wedding is itself an act of love, I think even Iqbal (and myself) would hold love supreme.

All this is a long introduction as to why I searched the Rumi first lines using the word heart, but also seeking a match that linked heart and mind. I really like this resulting quatrain. It does honour mystery but also the clarity that intellect can bring. The shifting presence and absence, the mischievous teasing and playful pleading, all this suggests again to me that interplay of light and shade as when a breeze plays on the leaves of a tree and the flickering shadow moves me to see that it is the heart that brings clarity after all.

For copyright reasons, here are links only to a couple of photographs (by Tony Ryan) that I like because of the play of sunlight and shade in them. Also included is a third photo that nicely depicts a kind of wedding, as well as a link to the gallery that contains these photos and more.


Monday, December 19, 2005

wakeful sleeping

If you want victory, eternity,

Then burn in the fire of love, don't sleep.

You slept a hundred nights, what did you gain?

For God's sake, tonight don't sleep till dawn.

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

Victory caught my eye in this first line. Is it not what we all crave for? Triumph over adversity, victory over our enemies both without and within. Victory, especially, over death, for the awareness of the finitude of our lives is what plagues us most.

Although staying awake all night might be a useful excercise in ascetic practise, I don't think this is what Rumi is recommending here. He is simply asking for an awareness of the wakefulness that characterizes our sleeping or dreaming selves. I think this theme is well elaborated by poet Robert Bly in Iron John. I believe Bly writes a poem first thing every morning while his sleep-consciousness is still a little awake. Devotees of dreams write out what they recollect of the night's events. I currently try to capture my mood and preoccupations with a little longhand writing followed by an attempt at a response to a Rumi verse. If a strong dream has come up, I will write about that but I don't use that as a primary focus.

Sometimes, during times of stress, we can't sleep at night and we might even wake up suddenly at 3am, a time recognised as a deep point. Perhaps we need our lover of the night to join us and give his or her slant on the tiresome times. Perhaps we are taking things too seriously and need a comic, quirky, surreal or just plain crazy spin on things.

As a small connecting thread between yesterday and today, here is a short excerpt from City That Does Not Sleep, a poem by Federico García Lorca, translated by Robert Bly.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

And my favourite passage from Lorca's essay on The Duende.

Naturally, when flight is achieved, all feel its effects: the initiate coming to see at last how style triumphs over inferior matter, and the unenlightened, through the I-don't-know-what of an authentic emotion. Some years ago, in a dancing contest at Jerez de la Frontera, an old lady of eighty, competing against beautiful women and young girls with waists as supple as water, carried off the prize merely by the act of raising her arms, throwing back her head, and stamping the little platform with a blow of her feet; but in the conclave of muses and angels foregathered there - beauties of form and beauties of smile - the dying duende triumphed as it had to, trailing the rusted knife blades of its wings along the ground.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

passion's dance

Listen only to what drunken lovers say,

And loosen passion's ties to mean and low.

Each tribe draws you into its own circle;

The parrot sings of sugar; of ruins, the crow.

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

This morning I woke to Grizzle Grouch, an inner personality that likes to complain that there is nothing to look forward to in life, that this and that is all wrong and no solutions are in sight. I decided to treat him as an honoured guest and listen to what he had to say for himself. A contrasting Optimist inside me then tried to bring some balance, but not too successfully. Sometimes self-hate overwhelms self-love and I can only hope and pray that the tide will turn again. A little distance from both moods goes a long way to assisting in maintaining sanity.

Rumi never complains. He is always happy, even when he is sad. I've been reading a small volume borrowed through the library, Look! This Is Love, Rumi translated by Annemarie Schimmel (with lovely illustrations by Ingrid Schaar). Here is a poem that sums it all up:

Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet.
Through Love all that is copper will be gold.
Through Love all dregs will turn to purest wine.
Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.
Through Love the dead will all become alive.
Through Love the king will turn into a slave!

And so, in my perplexity, I was attracted to today's first line, urging me to listen only to drunken lovers. It seems I woke with the crow in full song and when the parrot tried to sing back, the result was not entirely satisfactory. The two must learn to dance together, and apart, twirling and swirling passionately, until only the unified dancing is in evidence.

Flamenco dancer

Ingrid Shaar: Flamenco dancer, Cristina Hoyos @


Saturday, December 17, 2005

a last word

At times we are hidden, at times revealed;

We are Muslims, Christians, Jews; of any race.

Our hearts are shaped like any human heart,

But every day we wear a different face.

#1325: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Today I must return the book of Rumi verses and stories, Say I Am You, personally lent to me by my local librarian. I found this concentrated Rumi very challenging and there is some sadness in parting from it. I will place here for keeping a favourite piece from the book which is an elaboration of the main idea in today's verse, that our deepest shared humanity expresses itself in so many varied forms, not only among peoples but among moments within the one person that I seem to be. A modern psychologist might refer to conscious and unconscious instead of revealed and hidden but these are intellectual concepts that keep the richness of the hidden out of sight. Jungians like to remind each other: the unconscious is unconcious. No amount of concepts or poetic metaphors can capture it. Rumi envisages it below as being like the sea that no one can speak about. Of course, he never stopped speaking about it! In a sense it's true that all speaking misses the essential point and yet it also points to the central truth, a simple silent core of being. No matter how raw or elegant, how poetic or intellectual, it is always God that speaks through us when we speak to each other. To an atheist I would say: God's silence is but an illusion. To a theist I would say: God's revelation in the Word is also an illusion. Still, I'll leave the last word to Rumi today.

Root, River, Fire, Sea

A man was wandering the marketplace at noon
with a candle in his hand, totally ecstatic.

"Hey," called a shopkeeper. "Is this a joke?
Who are you looking for?" "Someone breathing Huuuuuu,

the divine breath." "Well, there are plenty
to choose from." "But I want one who can be

in anger and desire and still a true human being
in the same moment." "A rare thing! But maybe

you're searching among the branches for what appears
only in the roots." There's a river that turns

these millstones. Human will is an illusion. Those
that are proud of deciding things and carrying out

decisions are the rawest of the raw! Watch the thought-
kettles boiling and then look down at the fire.

God said to Job, "You value your patience well.
Consider now that I gave you that patience."

Don't be absorbed with the waterwheel's motion.
Turn your head and gaze at the river. You say,

"But I'm looking there already." There are several signs
in eyes that see all the way to the ocean. Bewilderment

is one. Those who study foam and flotsam near the edge
have purposes, and they'll explain them at length!

Those who look out to sea become the sea,
and they can't speak about that. On the beach

there's desire-singing and rage-ranting,
the elaborate language-dance of personality,

but in the waves and underneath there's no volition,
no hypocrisy, just love forming and unfolding.

Mathnawi V, 2887-2911


Friday, December 16, 2005

staying awake

When I'm with you, your love keeps me awake.

When I'm not, I can't sleep for weeping.

Good God... I'm up all night both nights, awake,

But what a difference just your presence makes.

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

Search word: wake

I definitely did not want to wake up this morning. It's overcast and my bed felt especially cosy. However, the cat insisted that I get up. She was hungry and would take no kind of no for an answer.

According to a theory I've been developing, the numbering of these Rumi quatrains is not chronological but based on some editor's idea of what is worthy. This verse today is not saying much to me. Here am I awake when I'd rather be asleep and there is Rumi eternally awake and loving it.

I have finally found two verses translated/rendered by both Zara Houshmand and Coleman Barks. The first is #504, which I considered very early in this endeavour under the title "clear and simple". I'll give the Barks version below, followed by the Houshmand version.

Some souls flow like clear water.
They pour into our veins
and feel like wine.

I give into that. I fall flat.
We can sail this boat lying down!

Those who flow like water, clear and simple,
Flow like wine in us, through mind and vein.
I stretched out straight and let myself lie low,
A ship where straight and humble men may go.

In the same book (Say I Am You) I found a match for #185, also dealt with by me under "to rest content".

There's a path from me to you
I'm constantly looking for,

so I try to keep clear and still
as water does with the moon.

My love, there's a path from your heart to mine,
And my heart is aware how to find it;
For my heart now is pool, sweet and clear,
And it serves the moon as her mirror.

Given that these are originally quatrains, I do prefer that they stay that way. However, Barks does render the verses into more elegant forms. I guess that, at the end of the day, it's all good.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

a wrapping

Wrap my secrets within your soul, and hide,

Even from myself, this state of mine.

Wrap me in your soul: face to face with me

Your faith will transform my worst blasphemy.

#1392: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: wrap

I woke this morning feeling wrapped in the arms of my lover, ecstatically content. The nights are a cool refreshment from the warmer summer days and it is freshest just before dawn. All night I had but a single sheet to cover me but then I needed to pull the light cotton blanket over. There's an excruciating delight in needing just a little extra cover like that when most of the day will be spent wanting to shed warmth.

And Rumi is at his most excruciatingly enigmatic here in this quatrain. There is a shadow play here as when a gentle breeze rustles the leaves of a tree and the mottled shadow on the ground below flickers from one form to another. Wrapping, hiding, covering up, these dance a merry dance with open confrontation. When they part and leave the dance floor bare then faith and blasphemy take their turn. What faith must I have faith in? What faith guides me now? The deeper I go into Rumi the scarier it gets. I feel I am being drawn in, converted, from whatever faith I had. I'm being asked to have enough faith to bear with this because that faith will make things right in the end. It is what we fear most, it is what we see as most blasphemous, this is what we need to complete our faith.

Me, I've always been the tactless one, the one with an eye for the missing piece. I see so clearly the hole in people's faith. The one omits God, the other omits this world we live in. The one is too focussed on the future, the other fails to plan. So much wisdom is applicable only to a moment of imbalance and the opposite lies waiting its turn. Look before you leap but he who hesitates is lost. Too many cooks spoil the broth but many hands make light work.

For me, today, Rumi's worst blasphemy is his own native faith. He strips Islam down to its bare essentials, he removes the wrappings of local and historical happenstance. He makes Islam so attractive that he is dangerous. I long to be wrapped, no, I am already rapt. I see this with horror and can't help worry for myself.

But 'twas only yesterday that Rumi asked that I welcome in all guests and so I welcome this welcome horror, I welcome this voice that asks me to tread with care.

And like a wrapping on the first welcoming, I renew my welcome to the person voice in Bob who subtly joins me in my quest and guides me.

Christmas is casting its spell on me, however much I try to ignore it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

a welcoming

My heart, if you can't take the sorrow, go.

The streets are full of homeless lovers; go.

My soul, come now, if you are not afraid.

But if you fear, your work is not here: go.

#1548: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

(The pedant in me can't help but notice translator Zara Houshmand's inconsistent punctuation here but a more laissez-faire attitude will leave it be.)

I've been making an effort to finish reading the book lent to me by the librarian at my local library: Rumi/Moyne/Barks in Say I Am You. A favourite piece beckoned me for attention this morning, like one of the very visitors it speaks of.

The Guest-House

This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Because I also want to honour my regular person-guest here, I chose a quatrain referring to love's sorrow, passion's pain. Just as I am true to Rumi every day, Bob is true to me. A fragile loyalty that could disappear any day, fade like a withered rose petal. All the more reason to welcome its precious fragrance now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

a secret sun

If you are loyal, keeper of secrets,

Don't give the game of those lost hearts away.

It's a game, but its fire is so very real

That it kills the lover at play.

#1913: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: secret

I've been trying to resolve the atheist/theist split lately, trying to figure out how you might create a worldview that accommodates both the absence and the presence of God. Rumi touched on this theme quite a bit and came up with some rich poetic ways to express a resolution. Here, for example, are the last three lines of "Form Is Ecstatic" (as rendered by Coleman Barks in The Soul of Rumi):

Believer, unbeliever, cynic, lover,
all combine in the spirit-form we are,

but no one yet is awake like Shams.

As the last line points out, there is also more to it than simply saying that some men believe and some don't, some are sour and some are sweet. Shams had a presence that went beyond all that. My own guess is that he could spontaneously draw on any of these approaches as the moment suited.

When the word "secret" is used in Sufism or in gnosticism generally, it points to the inner world of man, to our dreams, our hopes and fears, and above all, to our identity, our sense of being a particular being, an "I". This inner world can only be reached through the subjective experience. We cannot observe it like we might a rainbow or a mating ritual, as an objective event "out there". We can only relate to another's experience of a rainbow or of sexual love by recalling our own inner experiences of these, how it seemed or felt to us.

In this verse today, Rumi reminds us of the reality and dangers of the fire of emotion. People experiencing psychosis may dream of or relate an inner experience of a natural catastrophe like a flood or, in this case, a fire. You can easily get your fingers burnt if you play with the fires of passion. Rumi was a teacher of his religion. His discourses show he was a good Muslim and knew his Koran and the life of its prophet well. Some kind of religious framework is advisable when entering into the gardens of love. A full initiate might emerge with no further need of the initial dogmas or with at least a different view of them, but sacred scriptures and rituals can act as shields when the fires get too hot to handle. The alchemists tried to keep their fires at a modest heat, cooking their stews at a simmer. However, accidents can happen and a traditional truth might be useful to fall back on.

At one point, the earlier great mystic Ibn Arabi crossed paths with the boy who would become Rumi and his father. The pair impressed the by now elderly sage who remarked: "There goes a sea followed by an ocean." To my mind, it is an especially beautiful ocean because anyone can dive into it. If a Christian dives in, he will emerge still a Christian; if a Muslim, still a Muslim; if an atheist, still an atheist. However, each and every one will find food for thought, the sweet waters of life, and perhaps even a glint of the shining sun of Shams consciousness.

Monday, December 12, 2005

fleet of both feet

No one solves this problem for me, shows me:

Which way leads to water, which to mud?

Fear fills my heart with blood; the road splits here

And I must choose: Which way will take me home?

#1460: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: problem

Yesterday I discovered the small bird dead in its protective cage. It had finally succumbed to the injuries it incurred from our cat. In its small way it reminded us of the suffering in the world and of the cruelty of nature in the raw. I wasn't so sure we had really helped much. It may have been more merciful to let the cat finish it off rather than let it die "in peace" over a two day span. The cat continued to crouch at the aviary's edge, terrifying it still for it could not understand that it was safe. I think it died of fear in the end.

Yesterday I also read an interesting article by Shunya titled On Early Islam, which contains rich detail on some key figures like Omar Khayyam, Al-Farabi and Ibn Al-Arabi. The chapter on Sufism, The Mystic Tide, gave me some much needed background on the place of mysticism within Islam. It has been a much more popular and accessible current than I had thought and I can see strong similarities with pop music culture of today. The 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death (8dec80) was marked with loving reverence that closely resembles the way great saints are revered among mystic traditions, both Islamic and Hindu.

The mystic path is often contrasted with the rational. Mystics and rationalists tend to view each other with some disgust. Rumi is depicting that conflict here as one between clear water and cloudy mud. Both mystics and rationalists see their way as leading to clarity and the other as leading to confusion. Interestingly too, both rely on (perhaps even hope for) tragic events in the lives of their opponents so that s/he will see the limitations of the path chosen. I would not wholeheartedly classify Rumi as a mystic for its clear to me that he sees both ways. He understands that there is a problem here and, at least in this verse, he doesn't actually commit either way.

To my own mind, the fastest way home is to use both feet, one treading in the style of the rationalist (or pragmatist) and one treading in the style of the mystic (or the romantic idealist). There is plenty of evidence in Rumi's writings that he was fleet of both feet.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

in search of water

I made a journey through the desert of your love

Searching for some hint that you might join me.

I saw in every home I passed along the way

The corpses scattered of those who went before me.

#1854: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: desert

This morning I was attracted by the word desert partly because it's in my pen-name "Arizona" (dry zone) and partly because it is conjured up by a good deal of dry cynicism that I've come across lately. I have a favourite fairy tale that relates to this theme. It is in the Andrew Lang collection, The Pink Fairy Book, and it is called "The Water of Life". In the tale, after some initial adventures, a girl must set out to rescue her three brothers who have fallen under a spell. She must climb a mountain and find the water of life at the summit. At the foot of the mountain she is given advice from a giant she meets there:

‘You must go to that mountain, which is so full of stones that your feet will hardly find a place to tread, and as you climb you will hear a noise as if all the stones in the world were mocking you; but pay no heed to anything you may hear, and, once you gain the top, you have gained everything.’

The girl thanked him for his counsel, and set out for the mountain; and scarcely had she gone a few steps upwards when cries and screams broke forth around her, and she felt as if each stone she trod on was a living thing. But she remembered the words of the giant, and knew not what had befallen her brothers, and kept her face steadily towards the mountain top, which grew nearer and nearer every moment. But as she mounted the clamour increased sevenfold: high above them all rang the voices of her three brothers. But the girl took no heed, and at last her feet stood upon the top.

Then she looked round, and saw, lying in a hollow, the pool of the water of life. And she took the brazen pitcher that she had brought with her, and filled it to the brim. By the side of the pool stood the tree of beauty, with the talking bird on one of its boughs; and she caught the bird, and placed it in a cage, and broke off one of the branches.

[Full story available at]

Below is the H.J. Ford illustration of her initial task completed, coloured in myself using inks. Once her pitcher is full she descends from the mountain and sprinkles a little of the water of life on each stone. This brings them back to life as people who had succumbed to the mocking voices and been overcome by cynicism. Among those thus saved are her three brothers and, of course, she marries a prince in the end ...

The Water of Life
Illustration by H.J. Ford, with coloured ink added.

Islam arose in the desert and its dogma can drain people dry as much as any modern atheistic cynicism. Rumi's verses gave Islamic culture a deep well from which to drink. He is not alone, of course. He is accompanied by other great mystic poets like Ibn Arabi and Hafez and even the wonderful but essentially atheistic Omar Khayyám. Each was inspired by the woman or goddess or muse or inspirational faculty in man that cannot be adequately named or contained by concepts.

Persian Miniature

Persian Miniature
downloaded from wikipedia, source and copyright unknown


Saturday, December 10, 2005

that secret song

Where do you come from, cry of the bowed string,

Full of fire and revolt and sedition?

You're a spy, the heart's desert messenger,

And its secrets are the message [that] you sing.

#1712: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: cry

Yesterday, my son and I did a washload and lost the rinse water down the drain. We usually catch it to feed the thirsty garden because we often have water shortages around here and we are charged high rates for water usage to keep it down. I was distraught over the water loss, much as one might cry over spilt milk, but I'm over it now. Instead, I'm focussing on caring for a small frightened bird that our cat caught yesterday. We've put it in the empty aviary and provided it with water and seeds. It can't fly, one wing being too damaged from the mauling, but it can hop about and it may recover in time.

I've inserted a "that" inside the fourth line of Zara Houshmand's translation because it feels more musically correct that way. I'd probably remove both "and"s in the second line as well. I may be musically inspired today having watched the movie Shine last night, with its amazing score and brilliant playing. Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #3 takes central place and I'm inspired to hear it played well in a proper concert hall.

Rumi's musicality is, of course, something that I can barely access. However, I do like the way Houshmand renders his verse and she sometimes achieves a musicality which must be a fortuitous English resonance to the original Persian. Perhaps, too, there is a resonance inside my soul, a simple resonance to meaning, that somehow invents an appropriate musicality inside me. That is why I explore Rumi through my own writing, so I can listen out for and perhaps hear that secret song.

Friday, December 09, 2005

winter delights

How could one "really rather not" have this?

snow in Central Park

Snow in Central Park, NY. @

... and this?

snow at Monticello

Snow at Monticello, Virginia. @


a solid bridge

I'm not a bee, that flies away from smoke,

Nor a ghost that fades at burning aloes,

Nor a broken bridge, washed off by the flood,

Nor so needy that I balk when beauty sulks.

#1248: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: bee

Last night I had a powerful dream featuring bees which attacked and blinded my brother. It felt like a stunning dream, one which had the potential to explain everything. I still have a good feeling about it.

This verse that the bee found is another of those with a high numbering but a raw feel. There is a defiance expressed here that would make little sense after over one thousand verses. In these lines, Rumi is announcing that he is not a mere insect driven by fear, that he is not a passing threat that can be waved away. He's here to stay. The third line suggests he knew he was forming a bridge and he was confident that his bridge would hold, that it would withstand any torrent of emotion. The last line dismisses the threat of rejection as if it is the least. In this case, it is motivated by selfish, childish considerations and rightly has no power to stop him in his tracks.

The imagery of the bridge is, for me, central to this quatrain. In Rumi's time, the Christian crusades were still a sporadic threat to the region. Today, a renewed gulf has opened up between the Christian and Islamic worldviews. Rumi's worldview, heavily influenced by Hindu/Buddhist mysticism, was nevertheless shaped inside this major spiritual rift between two monotheisms. To my mind, Rumi has a profound and multi-faceted genius, a sharp intelligence combined with aesthetic sensibility and moral strength, that make him more than a mere saint, more than a mere poet, more than a mere thinker. He shines forth as the complete man, the Renaissance man before the Renaissance was even dreamed of. He shows us what any one of us could be. There is no hint of threatened punishment should we fail in any way. He opens a door and invites us in, that's all.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

rancour gone

Will your pain submit to a cure? Never.

Or desire ever leave you? Never.

The seed of patience is sown in the heart,

You say. But will it ever sprout? Never.

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

Search word: pain

I remain haunted by Tuesday's quatrain about sadness and silence. I've been trying to understand what is behind Rumi's spell on me and wondering whether he knew he was casting such a powerful spell.

Those times when I'm silent and still as the earth,
The thunder of my roar is heard across the universe.

The first two lines made perfect sense. Many artists report that their best work arises after a depressive period. These second two lines juxtaposing silence and thunder left me speechless. It has taken two days for some small sense to percolate up into my consciousness. Rumi's writing is peculiar for its total absence of rancour. It comes as a stark contrast to the two monotheistic faiths that surrounded him, Christianity and Islam. Rancour is infused in almost every line of the Koran but finds its fullest expression in the Christians' Book of Revelation (which I pray Jesus had nothing to do with whenever I read bits of it).

Qur'an 2:6-10 (Yusuf Ali)

As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.

Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur).

Of the people there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day;" but they do not (really) believe.

Fain would they deceive Allah and those who believe, but they only deceive themselves, and realise (it) not!

In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves).

Revelation 2:20-23 (KJV)

Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

Despite having been burdened with a great love and a correspondingly great grief, Rumi never hints at resentment. Sometimes there is an almost comic self-pity, there is certainly much crying out in genuine pain as well as ecstatic joy, but there is never ever any hint of ill will toward others, especially toward those responsible for his grief. I think it is this silence, this total absence of rancour, that thunders throughout the universe.

I love Rumi, I love this in him. I embrace him passionately in the fond hope that his disease will be passed on to me, that I will catch it and refuse to be cured of it. My passion is too great for patience: I cannot wait! I cannot wait! Let me be stricken now and suffer all those dire consequences!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

our home in heaven

Your homeland was the heavens, but you thought

That you belonged here, in the world of dust.

In the dust you sketched out your own face,

But left out just one thing--that first, true place.

#1771: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: home

My son is going on a trip to a far away land but he hasn't a place to stay on the first night, so accommodation (hopefully a home away from home) is on my mind. I've also been thinking about dust as a good metaphor for how materialism sees the world. Hard materialism sees us all as dust, our bliss is but a play of chemicals in our dusty brains. A person becomes something easily snuffed out much like a TV set or computer can be switched off and rendered silent. To explain us properly, we do seem to need a concept of soul or spirit, in addition to the ideas around dust.

Below is my favourite artistic conception of the soul's origin in heaven, under the wing of God. It is part of Michelangelo's famous depiction of the moment that God touched Adam to bring him to life. Eve is already in heaven, close to God, and she is ready to join Adam later on the earth. If a woman artist had painted much the same scene within a goddess tradition, I daresay the goddess would be touching Eve and holding Adam ready to join her. The reality is that we hear the voice and view the vision of men far more often than the voice and vision of women.

God with Eve, detail from Michelangelo's Creation of Adam
from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, based on photo @

Just offhand, I can't think of an example of a woman's art that would correspond to this vision of Michelangelo's. However, I will look out for it because I'm sure it's out there somewhere.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

sadness and silence

Sadness to me is the happiest time,

When a shining city rises from the ruins of my drunken mind.

Those times when I'm silent and still as the earth,

The thunder of my roar is heard across the universe.

#1115: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I feel too sad and silent to comment today.

Monday, December 05, 2005

when love is one-way

If you feel no desire for me, then say so.

If you live without love, alone, I want to know.

If your heart holds no place for me, then say so.

Say if it's so, or say no, but tell me the truth.

#1582: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

this version here

If you feel any desire for me, then say so.
If you live without love, alone, I want to know.
If your heart holds a place for me, then say so.
Say if it 's so, or say no, but tell me the truth.

Today's quatrain has an original translation by Zara Houshmand, which she has replaced with a second. I've chosen the original to place up top because it's the one I like better. Either version works but each leans more to one side of the equation that measures the beloved's corresponding longing or indifference.

It's true that when one longs for a particular beloved it comes as a great relief to know, one way or the other, whether s/he reciprocates the feeling. If not, then the magic works only one way. This verse has a fairly high numbering but a fairly raw feel to it, something I've come across before. It suggests to me that the verses are not numbered chronologically but, probably more plausibly, according to some later editor's assessment of the verses' quality. It's a pity because there might have been a coherent story or development revealed in the chronological order. And then again, there might not.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

her musky hair

All my heart speaks, openly or hidden,

Concerns her musky hair, that scent that strays.

My heart is flustered, knowing her wild ways,

And thus perturbed, flings words in disarray.

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

It is a pleasantly chilly morning in anticipation of a hot day. I've opened all the windows to let the chill in since I don't rely on an air-conditioner when the heat hits.

I needed to explore the word musk a little in order to get into today's verse. It has a strong sexual connotation as musk was mainly extracted from a male sexual gland of the musk deer. A chief characteristic of the substance is its ability to spread and penetrate the air around it, so it is used as a base for perfume. According to wikipedia, a "grain of musk will distinctly scent millions of cubic feet of air without any appreciable loss of weight, and its scent is not only more penetrating but more persistent than that of any other known substance."

Musk is a metaphor but it is so real, so earthy, so concretely associated with sexual attraction that it insists on bridging the material and spiritual worlds. Just as the psychic essence of sexual love can be distilled from the total experience, so the material essence can also. The chemist can analyze what musk consists of, can see how this chemical interacts with the hormonal system of the recipient, and how that promotes sexual longing. A scientist can thus understand what happens at the material level. That is not the same as the earthiness of the experience itself. To smell musk in hair and be affected by it, this is the experience that Rumi refers to.

At the same time, musk spreads and penetrates far beyond its point of origin and so Rumi suggests that he is speaking of far more than simple sexual love. He speaks also of any earthy connection between "I" and "you". It could be the connection when I scratch my cat and she purrs back, when I dig the soil and it yields more plentifully, when I open the windows and welcome the night-cooled air. It could be any form of loving touch.

I also know how it feels to be under the spell of this musky hair and blather away almost incoherently. As I read Rumi, I feel close to a friend, a friend who understands.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

teacher and taught

"My eyes?" I asked. She said, "Look for me."

I then asked, "My gut?" "Let it sigh for me."

"And my heart?" I asked. "What's in it?" said she.

I said, "Pain for you." "Then keep it for me."

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

Search word: eye

I'm still intrigued by the eye metaphor, exploring further avenues there. Today's verse also opens up another theme: the contrast between the teacher and the student. Rumi plays this out here in a conversation with a woman, no doubt precisely because women rarely adopted this role. Certainly under Islam but even into current times, women are not leaders in philosophy, theology, religion, even mysticism. There is a gradual turn-around happening but it would not have been evident in Rumi's day, except insofar as he foresaw it.

I was recently pointed to this quote from Immanuel Kant:

Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! "Have courage to use your own reason!"- that is the motto of enlightenment.


We are so imbued today with Enlightenment values, we've lost the ability to do what Rumi did with Shams, give ourselves wholly over to another as teacher and guide. At first it was Shams in the flesh who played that role. By the time of this verse it is an inner Shams, sometimes appearing as a goddess. When seen from outside Rumi was acting independently, he had no apparent teacher. However, in order to maintain a balance in his own psyche, he had to submit to this inner teacher and be guided by her. He was also teaching his students to do the same.

I think he must have been an amazing teacher.

Friday, December 02, 2005

distance dissolving

Look again, and see how much I need you;

Watch the long nights that I lie here awake.

No, I am wrong: the distance between us

Will not let me live to see you again.

#1783: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: see

I've returned to the idea of seeing because I've been seen through by the businessman at the forum (THHuxley starting with "You know, Cutie."). That announcement came just a couple of hours after I announced here the identity of CuteCoot and Arizona. I have an eerie feeling of being watched now, as if by the eye in the woodcut I posted up a couple of days ago. I have a hostile relationship with this businessman: we despise each other, we piss on each other. I have a loving relationship with my saint here: nothing jars, peace reigns. The two, somehow, must be "married". Don't ask me why.

Both, of course, lie within me. My inner saint reaches out to Rumi and embraces a dear brother. We understand each other so very well. My inner businessman chortles with cynical laughter. But he has been assured, in private, that I will give time to his demands. For now, my exclusive lover is Rumi and the businessman must needs wait.

Today's verse is yet another mind-splitting Zen-like apparent conundrum. Where the hell is Shams? Is he at a great distance? Or is he very very close indeed? Does Rumi need him? Or is Shams so much a part of him that "need" seems superfluous? Why would I "need" something that I already have? I can't "live to see you again" if you are ever present, can I?

And yet I know, because I've been there like anyone that has longed for a lover, that the longing is so close, so intimate, that the lost lover does indeed feel present. It is the longing itself that reminds me of that presence. It is my daily reminder. If I didn't suffer this illusion of distance, I would not come to know of the eternal presence where distance evaporates altogether.

Why does all this matter? I don't know, God only knows. Maybe saints, at least, have intimations. Would a businessman even know he didn't know?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

saints and businessmen

This open square does not exist, nor these

Good men and their affairs­ not as you know.

Each one wears the face of a true saint,

But in their hearts there's not a trace of faith.

#1648: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The NaNoWriMo month is over. I managed to reach only 10,000 (of the 50,000 word target set) and even that was with a bit of cheating via copy-and-pasting from non-novel writing. I justify it by saying I'm blurring the distinctions. And indeed, why not? Participating in this "game" may have been motivating. I have written more and better in the last month. It's time, however, to take stock and remember there is a life to lead, a house to keep clean and a garden to tend.

I was attracted by the "open square" of this first line, its apparent presence and non-existence wrapped up inside just six words. As it turns out, it touches on a tricky theme: the contrast between profit-making and god-worshipping. Wherever people seem to profit from god especially, pop spiritualists like Deepak Chopra, an instinct cringes. There is such evident marketing being carried out there. Is it any different when a religious prophet or saint promises heaven to his disciples? How does the prophet profit? It may not be in coin, it may be in fame, it may be in love or simple gratitude. As soon as one hopes to gain something, anything, from a transaction (and every word we exhange is also a transaction) then it is a business dealing.

And yet I have also published a speech, a discourse by Rumi followed by my own one-liner, in which I say that we all speak for God. I inserted it in a moment of silent exasperation inside a very very long thread relating to modern western materialism or "Death by Secularism". It is here (CuteCoot's reply beginning "Well, it's the day after my birthday"), for anyone interested.

My heart tells me that the saint and the businessman must come together and cease scoffing at one another.