I spent an entirely unsatisfactory fifteen minutes earlier this morning attempting to learn more about the Persian poet, Rumi. The time was unsatisfactory because, for one reason, I was unable to wade through the various Persian and Arabic and other names used by or identified with the man. And I had a bit of a hard time understanding how someone born in 1207 (according to what I read) in either modern-day Tajikistan or Afghanistan made his way to Konya, Turkey, where he died. Those places are almost 1300 miles apart, in a geographic area that is inhospitable, at best. That difficulty notwithstanding, I found my brief exploration interesting and moderately enlightening, if not satisfactory. I learned (re-learned is probably more accurate) that Sufism, the religious path Rumi followed, is “a form of Islamic mysticism that emphasizes introspection and spiritual closeness with God.”

It is the emphasis on introspection that explains the appeals of Rumi’s poetry, I think. At least that is true for me…I think. I wish, though, I could read his poetry in the language used to write it. Translations are, by nature, subjective; so, the words we read in English are interpretations filtered through the mind of someone who has made an attempt to write what the translator thinks Rumi would have written, had he written in English. I have a hard enough time with translations from Spanish; translations from Persian or Arabic or Greek (all languages that found their way into Rumi’s work) are less reliable (again, in my mind). So, the translation thing…perhaps the introspection I value in Rumi’s work (when I encounter it; I cannot recite any of it from memory) is an artifact of a translator’s subjectivity.

During my unsatisfactory attempt to learn more about Rumi, I experienced satisfaction in reading some of his poetry. For example:

“Love isn’t the work of the tender and the gentle;
Love is the work of wrestlers.
The one who becomes a servant of lovers
is really a fortunate sovereign.
Don’t ask anyone about Love; ask Love about Love.
Love is a cloud that scatters pearls.”

There is no point in writing more, for now. I have learned too little and have absorbed the entire lesson.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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