Thursday, February 16, 2006

an ancient secret

God forbid I'd compare the moon to your face

Or the tall cypress to your stature and grace.

Where in the moon are ruby sweet lips to be found?

What cypress sways with the luminous grace of your ways?

#1845: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: moon

I'm subscribed to the Sunlight group's mailing list so that (almost) every morning I receive a new Rumi translation. Today, this one came and it especially delighted me, sending me in search of the moon among Rumi's quatrains.

I've had enough
no more patience left.
I will give away your secret.
My heart is burning in this blazing fire,
drunk with pain.
I've had enough
I will give away your ancient secret.
You can choose to listen or not.

Lost in the grip of my passion,
I heard the Moon say,
"Am I not your friend and companion
why do you want to betray me?"

Startled, I looked at that Beauty,
at my life giver, my soul's music,
the water for my burning heart
and promised
to keep her secret forever.

-- Ghazal (Ode) #1831, translated by Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi ("Rumi: Hidden Music")

This ghazal captures my current mood perfectly. One or two strings have been holding me back but I feel ready now to fly like the wind.

As I see it, today's quatrain neatly captures this "ancient secret" referred to in the ghazal. It brings together the four elements of the central mystery explored by the alchemists from very ancient times (I'd guess going way back even before the ancient Egyptian civilization but certainly since then). The same elements are at play inside the ghazal itself. The elements have different names or forms but the basic structure is the quaternio, that is, not a single simple pair of opposites but two such pairs, making a foursome in all. Let us look more closely at these.

In the quatrain Rumi presents us with an initial pair of opposities, the moon and the cypress tree. If we align these to the male/female pair (arguably the most basic polarity), then the moon is the feminine part and the tree the masculine. Neither element of this pair of opposites, nor even the two combined, is sufficient for comparison to "your face". To each must be added an opposite element. In the case of the moon, the blank circle has added to it "ruby sweet lips". In alchemy, this red colour is often associated with the sun and its power to burn. Staying with the male/female pair, then, these ruby lips symbolize the male inside the female. In a similar way, the upright structure of the cypress tree has phallic resonances that Rumi juxtaposes with the idea of swaying, that flexible feminine grace so well expressed in expert belly dancing. So here we have the female inside the male.

The quaternio can be visualized in any number of ways. Here is an example in which the anima/animus pair crosses with the body/spirit pair. In the centre is the mercurial spirit that binds the elements together.


So now, have I thus revealed the "ancient secret"? No, of course not, not at all, or only very partially. The most that I might have done is hint at the fact that a fourfold structure can be found here and found there as well. The secret is safe with me.


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