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Poetry Month, Reader’s Den

April in the Reader's Den: The Poetry of Rumi, Persian Mystic

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April 2011 marks the 16th anniversary of National Poetry Month, and we shall embark on this sweet 16 with an appreciation of everyone's favorite Sufi mystical poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, otherwise known as Rumi (1207 - 1273 AD). Born in a remote Persian village in the region now known as Tajikistan, Rumi wrote poems of longing and ecstacy that made sweeping parallels between romantic and spiritual love. He was particularly fascinated with the use of music, dance, and poetry as the means for acheiving communion with the divine. We will discuss the following poem, which is a translation by Coleman Barks. Translated versions of poetry may risk appearing as a phantom interpretation of the author's intentions, parlaying the impression of the translators ideals and values, so understandably some discrepencies may appear from the original text in Persian.

 

 

 

These spiritual window-shoppers, who idly ask,
'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? 'Nowhere.'
What did you have to eat? 'Nothing much.'

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

Mathnawi VI, 831-845

Find collections of Rumi's poems in the catalog.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are some examples of "spiritual window shopping"? What do you think Rumi meant by this phrase?
  2. Rumi says "They handle a hundred items and put them down,
    shadows with no capital. What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping. But these walk into a shop,
    and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
    in that shop."
    Can you relate this metaphor, observed in the early 13th century, to today?
  3. Why do you think Rumi uses the example of starting a huge, foolish project as an anti-dote to "spiritual widowshopping"?
  4. Can you think of any personal projects that you felt were like your Noah's ark?

Please participate and share your thoughts about these questions, or just tell us what you think of this poem.

 

We Are Three

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What an interesting poem that

What an interesting poem that can be written in the 13th century and still feel relevant today. The idea of a huge, foolish project as a foil to "spiritual window-shopping" makes a lot of sense to me. Like by starting a concrete, albeit possibly ill-advised, project maybe you can stay connected. Instead of passing through life without picking anything up a project, even a foolish one, can remind a person that some things are worth "buying."

Hey thanks for getting me

Hey thanks for getting me into Rumi's poetry! I had heard of him but your post is my first actual introduction. Yes I agree that it is very relevant for today.

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