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.


At Thursday, 22 December, 2005, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Yes, some people abhor the use of any abstraction in poetry, but it's limiting to cover some important things without using some abstraction.


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