The Ecstatic Poems Of Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

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Persian poet and Sufi master Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was born 807 years ago in 1207.  He was born in Vakhsh, a small village in what is now Tajikistan, and studied at Damascus and Aleppo in his twenties, to finally settle in Turkey, where he spent the last 50 years of his life. Today Rumi’s tomb draws reverent followers and heads of state each year to mark the anniversary of his death on 17 December.
In an interview with the BBC, American writer Brad Gooch who wrote Rumi’s biography, ‘Rumi’s Secret -The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love’, revealed that the transformative moment in Rumi’s life came in 1244, when he met a wandering mystic known as Shams of Tabriz. “Rumi was 37, a traditional Muslim preacher and scholar, as his father and grandfather had been,” Gooch said. “The two of them have this electric friendship for three years – lover and beloved [or] disciple and sheikh, it’s never clear.” Rumi became a mystic. After three years Shams disappeared – “possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation.”  Rumi coped by writing poetry. “Most of the poetry we have comes from age 37 to 67. He wrote 3,000 [love songs] to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and God. He wrote 2,000 rubayat, four-line quatrains. He wrote in couplets a six-volume spiritual epic, The Masnavi.”
During these years, Rumi incorporated poetry, music and dance into religious practice. “Rumi would whirl while he was meditating and while composing poetry, which he dictated,” Gooch explained. “That was codified after his death into elegant meditative dance.” Or, as Rumi wrote, in Ghazal 2,351: “I used to recite prayers. Now I recite rhymes and poems and songs.” Centuries after his death, Rumi’s work is recited, chanted, set to music and used as inspiration for novels, poems, music, films, YouTube videos and tweets (Gooch tweets his translations @RumiSecrets).
Why does Rumi’s work endure?
The inward eye
“He’s a poet of joy and of love,” says Gooch. “His work comes out of dealing with the separation from Shams and from love and the source of creation, and out of facing death. Rumi’s message cuts through and communicates. I saw a bumper sticker once, with a line from Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
According to the poet Anne Waldman, co-founder with Allen Ginsberg of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, “Rumi is a very mysterious and provocative poet and figure for our time, as we grapple with understanding the Sufi tradition [and] understanding the nature of ecstasy and devotion and the power of poetry. And the homoerotic tradition as well, consummated or not. He is in a long tradition of ecstatic seers from Sappho to Walt Whitman.”
Coleman Barks, the translator whose work sparked an American Rumi renaissance and made Rumi the best-selling poet in the US, ticks off the reasons Rumi endures: “His startling imaginative freshness. The deep longing that we feel coming through.  His sense of humour.  There’s always a playfulness [mixed] in with the wisdom.”
In 1976 the poet Robert Bly handed Barks a copy of Cambridge don AJ Arberry’s translation of Rumi and said, “These poems need to be released from their cages.” Barks transformed them from stiff academic language into American-style free verse.  Since then, Barks’ translations have yielded 22 volumes in 33 years, including The Essential Rumi, A Year with Rumi, Rumi: The Big Red Book and Rumi’s father’s spiritual diary, The Drowned Book, all published by HarperOne.  They have sold more than 2m copies worldwide and have been translated into 23 languages.
A new volume is due in autumn. Rumi: Soul-fury and Kindness, the Friendship of Rumi and Shams Tabriz features Barks’ new translations of Rumi’s short poems (rubai), and some work on the Notebooks of Shams Tabriz, sometimes called The Sayings of Shams Tabriz.  “Like the Sayings of Jesus (The Gospel of Thomas), they have been hidden away for centuries,” Barks notes, “not in a red urn buried in Egypt, but in the dervish communities and libraries of Turkey and Iran. Over recent years scholars have begun to organise them and translate them into English.”
While Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early and medieval Sufism at Rutgers University and an award-winning Rumi translator expressed, “Rumi was an experimental innovator among the Persian poets and he was a Sufi master.  This combination of mystical richness and bold adaptations of poetic forms is the key to his popularity today.”
Source: Features

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