Mystical Poems of Rumi

March 28, 2010 at 2:08 pm Leave a comment

Mystical Poems of Rumi, trans by A.J. Arberry

Published in 2009 by the University of Chicago Press, Mystical Poems of Rumi presents one of the most recent major collections of Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī’s (popularly known as “Rumi”) poetry not translated by Coleman Barks, who I’ve found a bit pedantic. This new presention of A. J. Arberry’s older translations is a tremendous improvement over the successive lorry loads that Barks manages to churn out; less frivolous divergence from original texts, fewer liberties taken with how the poems are presented, and the book is just a whole helluva lot prettier. The cover is a detail from an ink on parchment drawing of Sadegh Tabrizi, an Iranian artist and expert in the techniques of traditional Persian miniature painting.

These poems were translated primarily by A. J. Arberry and previously published with a larger selection in two volumes. In Arberry’s introduction to the first edition, he writes that his interest in “Oriental” studies began while his Christian faith had been thoroughly shelved, but that it was restored during his work with Sufi and particularly Rumi’s poetry. He also offers a poignant poem of self realization, underscoring Rumi’s profound religious influence on him. I first encountered Sufi poetry when I read Penguin Books’ edition of Hafiz’s The Gift in high school, which thoroughly reinforced my own secular tendencies. However, I tend to see the influence that accentuated Arberry’s faith in God as the same as what helped me finish high school without losing my mind. Hafiz and Rumi and most Sufi poets offer a profoundly personal image of communication with divinity, and divinity is easily imagined as “universal” for someone with the proper turn of mind. The beauty of their poetry is in its communion with a totality of love. Their egalitarianism as individuals is projected through the ease with which “God” can be made to read any number of ways: the ideal of goodness, the annihilation of self, the reality of persistant love, the immediacy of transcendant joy.

Here’s an extract I’m particularly enamored of from the third poem in the collection:

I said, “Show me the ladder, that I may mount up to heaven.” He said, “Your head is the ladder; bring your head down under your feet.”

When you place your feet on your head, you will place your feet on the head of the stars; when you cleave through the air, set your foot on the air, so, and come!

A hundred ways to heaven’s air become manifest to you; you go flying up to heaven every dawning like a prayer.”

Get it here or on, where it has been fabulously discounted. Fabulously.




Entry filed under: Books.

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