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The Eternal Relevance of Rumi: Life and Works of a Beloved Ancient Poet

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, known simply as Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic jurist, and theologian. His poetry has been translated into various languages and has been widely appreciated across different cultures for centuries. The timeless appeal and profound wisdom of Rumi’s work have continued to captivate readers and inspire generations. In this discourse, we will explore Rumi’s life, analyze some of his poems, and discuss the relevance of his poetry in the 21st century.

Rumi: His Life and Times

Rumi was born in 1207 in Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan, to a family of learned theologians (Lewis, 2000). Escaping the Mongol invasion, his family traveled extensively, performing pilgrimage in Mecca, and finally settling in Konya, in modern-day Turkey. This diverse cultural exposure influenced Rumi’s worldview and shaped his poetic expression.

Rumi was introduced to the works of the Persian poet Attar and the mystic Shams Tabrizi, which ignited his spiritual transformation. The intense friendship and spiritual bond he shared with Shams resulted in Rumi’s outpouring of poetry (Chittick, 2005). After Shams’ disappearance, Rumi’s focus shifted to his disciples, particularly Salahuddin Zarkub and Husamuddin Chelebi.

Rumi passed away in 1273, leaving behind a rich and diverse body of work, including the Masnavi, Divan-e Shams Tabrizi, and Fihi Ma Fihi. These works encompass various themes such as love, spirituality, human existence, and the divine (Schimmel, 1992).

The Poetry of Rumi: Themes and Analysis

a. Love

Love is a central theme in Rumi’s poetry, often presented as a force that transcends the boundaries of the physical and the divine. In his poem “In your light,” Rumi explores the concept of love as an all-encompassing force:

“In your light, I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

In this poem, Rumi refers to love as the light that guides him towards understanding and creating poetry. The divine love is manifested in the human experience, offering a glimpse of the beloved (Chittick, 2005).

b. The Human Experience

Rumi’s poetry reflects on the human experience and the journey towards spiritual enlightenment. His poem “The Guest House” serves as a metaphor for the emotions and experiences that pass through one’s life:

“This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.”

Rumi encourages the reader to embrace these experiences as they are, treating each emotion as a guest that has come to teach valuable lessons. This poem emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and acceptance in the journey towards spiritual growth (Barks & Moyne, 1997).

c. The Divine and Spiritual Journey

Rumi’s poetry often centers on the pursuit of the divine, depicting the spiritual journey as a process of self-discovery and unity with the ultimate reality. In “The Reed Flute’s Song,” Rumi uses the metaphor of a reed flute to describe the human soul’s longing for reunion with the divine:

“Listen to the story told by the reed, of being separated. ‘Since I was cut from the reed bed, I have made this crying sound

Anyone apart from someone he loves understands what I say. Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back.'”

In this poem, the reed flute’s lament symbolizes the human soul’s yearning to return to its divine source. The theme of separation and longing for reunion with the divine resonates throughout Rumi’s work and is a key aspect of his spiritual message (Barks & Moyne, 1997).

Ten Phrases to Ponder from Rumi’s Poems

  1. “The Reed Flute’s Song” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“Listen to the story told by the reed, of being separated. ‘Since I was cut from the reed bed, I have made this crying sound.”

  1. “Only Breath” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not from the East or the West, not out of the ocean or up from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all.”

  1. “The Lovers” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“The lovers will drink wine night and day. They will drink until they can tear away the veils of intellect and melt away the layers of shame and modesty.”

  1. “Like This” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say, Like this.”

  1. “Two Kinds of Intelligence” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts from books and from what the teacher says, collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as from the new sciences.”

  1. “Come, Come, Whoever You Are” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“Come, come, whoever you are, Wanderer, worshiper, 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, come again, come.”

  1. “There is a Field” – From “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne (Barks & Moyne, 1997):

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”

  1. “A Moment of Happiness” – From “Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing” translated by Coleman Barks (Barks, 2003):

“A moment of happiness, you and I sitting on the verandah, apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.”

  1. “The Way Wings Should” – From “Rumi: Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the Music and Silence of the Heart” translated by Coleman Barks (Barks, 2007):

“What is praised is one, so the praise is one too, many jugs being poured into a huge basin. All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity.”

  1. “Look This Way” – From “Rumi: Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the Music and Silence of the Heart” translated by Coleman Barks (Barks, 2007):

“Look this way. We are not the place for you to stand. We are the earth walking, feeling its texture.

The ten poems above demonstrate the breadth and depth of Rumi’s poetry, covering themes of love, spirituality, unity, and the human experience. Rumi’s work continues to captivate and inspire readers across generations, transcending cultural and religious boundaries.

Rumi’s Relevance in the 21st Century

Rumi’s poetry continues to captivate readers in the 21st century, offering solace and guidance in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. His work transcends cultural, religious, and linguistic boundaries, speaking to a diverse audience with themes that remain relevant today.

a. Universal Human Experience

Rumi’s exploration of the human experience and the emotions that accompany it resonate with readers across generations. His poetry delves into themes of love, loss, and longing that are universally relatable, offering insights into the human condition (Barks & Moyne, 1997).

b. Spiritual Guidance

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and growing disconnection from traditional religious institutions, Rumi’s work offers an alternative spiritual perspective. His poetry emphasizes the importance of introspection, self-awareness, and connection with the divine, providing a framework for spiritual growth (Chittick, 2005).

c. Interconnectedness and Unity

Rumi’s message of interconnectedness and unity is particularly relevant in the context of the 21st-century global society. His poetry highlights the shared human experience and the potential for harmony between individuals, cultures, and religions. This message of unity is

Conclusion

Rumi’s poetry continues to inspire and captivate readers, offering insights into the human experience and the pursuit of spiritual growth. The timeless themes and profound wisdom embedded in his work speak to a diverse audience, transcending cultural, religious, and linguistic barriers. As the world faces unprecedented challenges in the 21st century, Rumi’s poetry serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of humanity and the potential for love, compassion, and understanding to bridge divides.

References

Barks, C. (2003). Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing. New York: HarperCollins.

Barks, C. (2007). Rumi: Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the Music and Silence of the Heart. New York: HarperCollins.

Barks, C., & Moyne, J. (1997). The Essential Rumi. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Chittick, W. C. (2005). The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. New York: State University of New York Press.

Lewis, F. D. (2000). Rumi: Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings, and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Schimmel, A. (1992). The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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