Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī was a 13th century Persian poet and mystic whose poems are among the most popular in the modern world. I remember feeling disbelief when I heard that. I hadn't read his work and it blew my mind that poems 700+ years old would resonate so strongly with a modern audience.
Then I read his work and he rather quickly became my favorite too, lol.
My conception of poetry had been primarily linguistic and emotional. I saw poems as arrangements of words that struck emotional chords, like a harpist's fingers plucking the strings, a piano's hammers dancing across the wires. The appeal was a combination of aesthetic quality and emotional resonance.
What I didn't appreciate was that poetry also ignites the soul. Probably because I didn't think a soul was real. Yet when I read Rumi's words, I felt something inside me singing out in reply, with some combination of "yes!" and "oh!" and "whoa!" I now recognize this inner singer as my heart & soul. I give thanks & credit to Rumi for awakening that fire within.
The poems and excerpts below were translated & published by Coleman Barks, presented here without permission. https://www.colemanbarks.com/
An Awkward Comparison
This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.
Say the body is like this lamp.
It has to have a wick and oil. Sleep and food.
If it doesn't get those, it will die,
and it's always burning those up, trying to die.
But where is the sun in this comparison?
It rises, and the lamp's light
mixes with the day.
which is the reality, cannot be understood
with lamp and sun images. The blurring
of a plural into a unity is wrong.
No image can describe
what of our fathers and mothers,
our grandfathers and grandmothers, remains.
Language does not touch the one
who lives in each of us.
Tattooing in Qazwin
In Qazwin, they have a custom of tattooing themselves
for good luck, with a blue ink, on the back
of the hand, the shoulder, wherever.
A certain man there goes to his barber
and asks to be given a powerful, heroic blue lion
on his shoulder blade. "And do it with flair!
I've got Leo ascending. I want plenty of blue."
But as soon as the needle starts pricking,
"What are you doing?"
"Which limb did you start with?"
"I began with the tail."
"Well, leave out the tail. That lion's rump
is in a bad place for me. It cuts off my wind."
The barber continues, and immediately
the man yells out, "Oooooooo! Which part now?"
"Doc, let's do a lion with no ears this time."
shakes his head, and once more the needle,
and once more the wailing,
"Where are you now?"
"I like a lion without a belly."
The master lion-maker
stands for a long time with his fingers in his teeth.
Finally, he throws the needle down.
"No one has ever
been asked to do such a thing! To create a lion
without a tail or a head or a stomach.
God himself could not do it!"
Brother, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
Learn to light the candle. Rise with the sun.
Turn away from the cave of your sleeping.
That way a thorn expands to a rose.
A particular glows with the universal.
What is it to praise?
Make yourself particles.
What is it to know someting of God?
Burn inside that presence. Burn up.
Copper melts in the healing elixir.
So melt your self in the mixture
that sustains existence.
You tighten two hands together,
determined not to give up saying 'I' and 'we.'
This tightening blocks you.