Thursday, October 27, 2005

alive and breathing

I know, when my heart steps up to speak,

It soon will be openly disgraced.

Obsessed with the memory of your beauty,

Your face appears with every breath it takes.

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

Search word: step

I'm in a mood to step forth, one step at a time. I find Rumi just stepping up to speak and I believe this must have been an early quatrain, earlier than the number 465 would imply. Unless his later magnum opus, the Mathnavi, is what he is referring to. Here is a passage that speaks to the issue of disclosing what is in one's heart:

When your heart becomes the grave of your secret, that desire of yours will be gained more quickly. The Prophet said that anyone who keeps secret his inmost thought will soon attain the object of his desire. When seeds are buried in the earth, their inward secrets become the flourishing garden.


I have searched the hadith database, under secret and thought or desire, without finding a saying of "the Prophet" to the effect that secret thoughts bear fruit.

This is my own take on all this: The secret thought that Rumi held in his heart was his recognition of the inadequacy of "the Prophet" as a hero for contemplation, admiration and imitation. Clearly, Shams filled this role for Rumi. By expressing his love for Shams in his poetry, Rumi was tacitly announcing the movement of his allegiance out of Islam. This did not make him anti-Islamic or even non-Islamic. It simply carried his consciousness beyond the very divide that Islam creates, the divide between believers and non-believers.

I am a little puzzled by the translation of the last two lines. The way it stands, the "obsessed" should relate to the subject of the following statement, that is, "your face". It is then unclear who is doing the breathing. Logically, it is Rumi who is obsessed with the face and it is he who is breathing. This might amount to yet another of Rumi's Zen-like paradoxes or identifications: Rumi is the face and the face really is present, alive, and breathing.


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