Sunday, September 30, 2007


Happy 800th birthday to Rumi. Born in 1207 in Balkh, now part of Afghanistan, Rumi's life, as much as his poetry, offers incredible resonance with the present. He was driven from Balkh by invaders, and lived in exile in Anatolia, where he wrote his masterpiece the Mathnawi, about exile, loss and the spiritual longing for reunion.

800 years on, controversy and division reign online, with his family claiming to run the only true Rumi site, which identifies the poet as Anatolian and embroils him in religious and geneaological disputes., and a surprising number of Rumi bars and restaurants also pop up on Google, however. Perhaps the global location of the eateries is a more profound indication of one of the central tenets of Rumi's work, which goes beyond nationalism, in the spirit of the wandering dervish.

It's a thought that's beautifully expressed in Sally Potter's film YES, which took some of its inspiration - for a story about the relationship between an Irish-American scientist and a Lebanese Armenian doctor, both living in different kinds of exile in London - from Rumi's ecstatic verse. Rumi was a religious poet, a Sufi mystic, but his poems emphasise belief as an opening of the heart in love.

Here's Rumi's vision of a world in which love, rather than the lust for power, rules, in Shahram Shiva's translation:

"This is a gathering of Lovers.
In this gathering
there is no high, no low,
no smart, no ignorant,
no special assembly,
no grand discourse,
no proper schooling required.
There is no master,
no disciple.
This gathering is more like a drunken party,
full of tricksters, fools,
mad men and mad women.
This is a gathering of Lovers."

"There is no high, no low... No proper schooling required." How radical a thought is that, on the eve of the Conservative party conference?


Shelagh said...

A friend introduced me to Rumi a few years ago, and I just fell in love with his work. Funny enough I was reading him a few nights ago, as I tend to do in my sad times. He's like a wave when you're walking across burning sand.

Blogger said...

Yet ANOTHER name that's been in my 'must read' pile for a while. Maybe your post will act as a much-needed nudge.

It always makes me chuckle how poets from the same part of the world as Rumi often ascribe a great deal of value and importance to being drunk!

Delirium's Librarian said...

Drinking is an incredibly important part of poetry, as you can discover at any book launch...

But seriously: Islamic poetry draws on an earlier tradition of Arabic poetry that places a lot of emphasis on sensual pleasures - wine, song, sex, hunting.

Maria Menocal's Ornament of the World is very informative about this syncretic tradition.

Blogger said...

Thanks for the title.

And yes, I totally agree with your point about Islamic poetry.

But then even Islam itself is in many ways a much more sensual religion than Christianity or Judaism, not least in its depiction of Paradise.