Monday, March 20, 2006

primrose eyes

That primrose gazed at me with languishing eyes

Till I was amazed to see her tears flow.

The paint would run dark rivers down her cheeks

If those dark eyes were merely painted so.

#1026: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: eyes

I'm picking up on the image of eyes from yesterday's quatrain. Then, it was Rumi whose eyes were filled with tears; this time, it is the eyes of the feminine beloved.


Primrose @

I've done a little research on the primrose and discovered some complications. The classic primrose is really the "English primrose", shown above, and most common in western and southern Europe. It's hard to say if this is the same primrose that Rumi would have encountered in Anatolia (modern day Turkey). In the Middle East, it is the cyclamen that is more common and it was classified as a primrose until recently. (The online Britannica accepts the primrose classification but the Wikipedia refers to a reclassification.) Like the English primrose, the cyclamen has five petals but they don't open out so obviously to form a flat face-like bloom. I'm guessing that Rumi is referring to a primrose similar to the one above but with dark colouring in the centre, suggestive of an eye. (I've not been able to find a suitable image of this kind of primrose through Google.)

Whether Rumi is referring to a true primrose or to a cyclamen, the clear arrangement of five petals is of interest to a mystic since it has an association with the idea of the quintessential.

quintessence c.1430, in ancient and medieval philosophy, "pure essence, substance of which the heavenly bodies are composed," lit. "fifth essence," from M.Fr. quinte essence (14c.), from M.L. quinta essentia, from L. quinta, fem. of quintus "fifth" + essentia (see essence). Loan-translation of Gk. pempte ousia, the "ether" added by Aristotle to the four known elements (water, earth, fire, air) and said to permeate all things. Its extraction was one of the chief goals of alchemy. Sense of "purest essence" (of a situation, character, etc.) is first recorded 1570; quintessential (n.) is from 1899, in this sense.

source: Online Etymology Dictionary

Rumi further refers to this idea by contrasting the real (essential) with the fake (painted on or merely phenomenal). The primrose flower itself is merely a symbol for the quintessential, not the quintessential itself.

I love it that Rumi's goddess can weep as readily as he himself can. This quatrain is a nice match to yesterday's.


At Tuesday, 21 March, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Just dropping by to say Hi. Hope the cyclone didn't adversely affect you.

At Tuesday, 21 March, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

I'm fine, thanks. The cyclone is thousands of kilometres away, up north in Queensland.


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