Rumi Remixed

Would you believe that the 13th century Sufi mystic Jalal-ud-din Rumi is the best-selling poet in the U.S.A today?

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a hundred times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

These days a video featuring Rumi's poems translated and recited by Coleman Barks is trending on Facebook. Coleman Barks does not speak Persian, yet manages to translate Rumi's quatrains into free verse based entirely on English translations by John Moyne, A. J. Arberry, and Reynold Nicholson. Barks' translations are like modern day remixes of Rumi's poems, rather than translations.

I believe that one should enjoy these “creative versions” of Rumi’s verses with an open mind. I am sure the Great Master himself would surely frown upon any narrow-mindedness on part of the reader. While Rumi purists rather compellingly maintain that it is impossible to “translate” spiritual poetry into English without knowing the original language, I feel that this way his message of love reaches millions of souls who would otherwise be ignorant of Rumi.

It is famed about the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that he would happily sing for any one who approached him with the justification that any recording, even if pirated, would help spread the Sufi message of universal peace and love.

I am still concerned, however, about attempts to separate Sufism from Islam. As happens with me all too often, a real scholar expresses the message – one I have to strain to get across – with breathtaking simplicity:

'We cannot steal the fire. We must enter it.'
Kabir Helminski, Sufi and Rumi translator.

Kabir was commenting to Time Magazine on attempts to 'siphon off the insights of Rumi and other Sufi sages without addressing their Islamic context'.

Now for a little taste of the Rumi-Barks method:

Who Says Words With My Mouth?

All day I think about it,
then at night I say it.
Where did I come from,
and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere,
I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness
began in some other tavern.
When I get back around
to that place,
I'll be completely sober.
Meanwhile, I'm like a bird
from another continent,
sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear
who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes?
What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste
one sip of an answer,
I could break out
of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord,
and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here
will have to take me home.
This poetry,
I never know
what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet
and rarely speak at all.

Guest House

Being human is like
a guest house.
Each morning a new arrival.
A joy,
a depression,
a meanness,
some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought,
the shame,
the malice,
meet them at the door
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Click these links for free downloads of Rumi's Masnawi and Fihi-ma-Fihi.

Happy Soul Searching !