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.


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