Rumi (1207-1273) was trained in Sufisma mystic tradition within Islamand founded the Sufi order known to us as the Whirling Dervishes, who use dance and music as part of their spiritual devotion. Rumi's poetry has long been popular with contemporary Western audiences because of the way it combines the sacred and the sensual, describing divine love in rapturously human terms.
However, a number of Rumi's English translators over the past century were not speakers of Persian and they based their sometimes very free interpretations on earlier translations. With Western audiences in mind, translators also tended to tone down or leave out elements of Persian culture and of Islam in Rumi's work, and hundreds of the prolific poet's works were never made available to English speakers at all. In this new translation composed almost entirely of untranslated gems from Rumi's vast ouevre Brad Gooch and Maryam Mortaz aim to achieve greater fidelity to the originals while still allowing Rumi's lyric exuberance to shine.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
‘‘Love speaks a hundred different languages,’’ exulted Rumi. He might well have said the same of his own ardently recited and ecstatically translated poems of love, which have found their way around the world like ‘‘a hundred thousand flames’’ – to use a favorite Rumi image – since his death in the Turkish city of Konya in 1321. A Persian-speaking poet, displaced from Central Asia during the Mongol terrors and winding up with his family in the Seljuk Empire in Asia Minor, after years of traveling through such thriving Muslim cities as Baghdad, Damascus, and Aleppo, Rumi expressed a polyglot civilization in poetry that segues easily among Persian, Arabic (especially the Arabic of the Quran), Turkish, and Greek. Over seven centuries he has been translated into dozens of languages and claimed as a ‘‘national’’ poet by Afghans, Iranians, and Turks alike.
The heartbeats of American and English poets and translators have often quickened to Rumi as well, beginning with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who translated an exquisitely mystical poem from the German of Ru¨ckert: ‘‘Of Paradise am I the Peacock, /Who has escaped from his nest.’’ The Cambridge University professor R. A. Nicholson devoted his life to translating Rumi’s six volume spiritual epic, The Masnavi, often while dressed in Sufi robes and a tall round hat. At a poetry workshop in the United States in the 1970s, Robert Bly presented the young poet Coleman Barks with a volume of the decidedly literal translations of another Cambridge scholar, A. J. Arberry. ‘‘These poems need to be released from their cages,’’ said Bly, and the ensuing flutter of free-verse – almost beat – renditions led to Rumi’s status as the ‘‘best-selling poet in America.’’
Yet in the decade since I started seeking writings left behind by Rumi, as I researched my biography of his life and times, Rumi’s Secret, I discovered that wide swathes of the poetry were still lying dormant, mostly unseen and unheard by the English reading public. Crucial to this realization has been my collaborator in the translations in this collection, Maryam Mortaz. An Iranian poet and writer living in New York City, Maryam began as my tutor in her native tongue – Persian, or Farsi – even helping long-distance when I studied in Persian immersion programs at University of Texas at Austin and University of Wisconsin at Madison. As the book expanded so did Maryam’s role, and we jointly translated all the prose and poetry in the biography. When we were stumped by swerves in Rumi’s thought, she would call her friend Qhasem Hasheminejad, a poet, novelist, and scholar in Iran; when I was in Tehran, he visited me in my hotel lobby and fixed me with his wise gaze while edgily wearing a Sufi skullcap in public. (The mystical practices of Sufism are discouraged by conservative and religious leaders, as they were in Rumi’s day.)
Rumi’s Masnavi has been thoroughly translated into English, first by Nicholson in England and now in an ongoing project by Jawid Mojaddedi at Rutgers. Indeed, many current translations of Rumi’s poetry are excerpts from this epic, with titles added. (Rumi never titled any of his poems.) Yet there remain the lyric ghazals, similar to sonnets in length and impact, often with radif, or repeating phrases punctuating line ends. Dizzyingly creative, Rumi wrote more than 3,000 ghazals; of these, only about half have been translated into English directly from Persian. He also wrote about 2,000 robaiyat, the pithy quatrain form made famous in Edward Fitzgerald’s Victorian renditions of Omar Khayyam – an earlier poet whose chill blasts of skepticism likely did not move Rumi. A scholarly translation of all of Rumi’s robaiyat exists, but those in popular circulation number only about 400, leaving the majority of these short haiku-like poems underappreciated.
An obvious question is why so many poems by a celebrated poet have been overlooked. In part it’s an accident of history. Much translation in the past half-century has consisted of standing on the shoulders of Nicholson or Arberry, whose cumulative two-volume edition included about 500 ghazals. Poets have sprung these cages either by infusing them with more spirit or tracing back to the originals in Persian and producing new versions. Yet Arberry, a formidable scholar of Arabic, Persian, and Islamic studies, had his own preferences. We feel he left out some of the poet’s poet works of lilting beauty – lacking any special messages of wisdom – that gave us pleasure. At the other extreme, many popular recent translations avoid references to Islam or allusions to Persian literature and culture that were perhaps judged too foreign or off-putting. I’ve met fans of Rumi – who had his poems read at their wedding – who were surprised to find out he was not a Buddhist.
A number of the poems in the quarry we mined have been understandably bypassed over the years: Rumi repeats himself, and some of his uses of the stock imagery of Persian poetry – stars and moons, nightingales and roses – are fresher than others. A few are impossibly mind-bending as Rumi leads us on travels into the ineffable with only broken language and twisting syntax as our guide. (He broke the rules more than any other classical Persian poet.) We tried to include as many of these puzzles as could be solved, as well as a few favorite poems previously translated by others that we could not resist including. We were transported when we found some of our repeating lines faintly evoking the music of the originals or, most certainly, when we came across gleamingworks thatwere as beautiful or philosophically compelling as anything we had ever read of Rumi’s. Our intention was to find a middle way between academic loyalty and wildly inventive freedom, a medium that might articulate both the personal poems of aching human love, to Rumi’s beloved companion and teacher, Shams of Tabriz, and those of divine love, in his hymns to God that soar like Mohammad’s winged horse Buraq.
Rumi cast himself as a reluctant poet. His attitude was a bit like that of Marianne Moore in her poem ‘‘Poetry,’’ which begins, ‘‘I, too, dislike it.’’ Yet his motives were different. Rumi was a religious leader, composing verses as he whirled himself into trances to annihilate ordinary reality and language in a mystical union with love itself. This urgent and sincere spirit is perhaps responsible for the way the voice of this medieval poet shines through all manner of translations, making him, as a publisher once said to me, ‘‘translation-proof.’’ Persian poets often put their signature, or takhallos, like a tag in last lines. Rumi occasionally used ‘‘Silence’’ as his tag. For him, the most successful poems were failures, breaking apart in silence. ‘‘Rip this poem apart like an old piece of cloth,’’ he wrote, ‘‘To set meaning free from words, wind, and air.’’We hope this collection will provide fresh glimpses into Rumi’s sublime ‘‘world of silence . . . like a bird’s wing.’’
Table of ContentsForeword by Brad Gooch
Where is the grace I saw in your face all night?
All flowers seek refuge in this meadow
Today the line between a stranger and me, I do not know
I have lost myself but am longing to lose myself more
No interpreter for my fire
When your love inflamed my heart
Out of love for you, every strand of my hair turned into lines of poetry
Rise up, rise up, I’m an ocean of poetry
Come back! Out of love for you, I turned into a madman
Sing with love, of the pain of loss, speak
My heart is a pen held in the beloved’s hand
Oh voice of the rabab, where do you come from?
Your speech made me silent
Each moment a vision of him stirs my heart
Once again my heart is catching fire
My face is a hundred times brighter when I see your face
One night, wishing to say hello, I knocked on the door of the heart
The beloved shines like the sun
Who says the eternal one is dead?
O Sunshine, fill the house once again with light
Since I am a servant of the sun, I speak of the sun
Sun, riding atop the sky
I learned about love from your perfection
You were silent and I made you a storyteller
Being lost in being lost is my faith
Lovers carry another world within
Last night I was aching with love for Shams al-Din
The rays of his sunlight are spreading farther
You found the hidden king, he wrote
The beloved came to comfort and console me, secretly
I have not come to the alley of your love to go away
Free from the world of water and clay, step into my clay
To see your face in the early morning is my life
I saw my beauty in your beauty
I awoke at midnight but couldn’t find my heart
Your eyes intensely beautiful, your face a rose
Where did the handsome beloved go?
Longing for you, my heart feels more pain every day
You accept me, but rejection is my fear
You won’t even look at me with a single glance
Young man, what if you fell in love like me?
I try to sit and learn but my anxious heart will never be at peace
Once again you are unkind. Remember
I wish to devote my life to him but I won’t tell you his name
I cure my pain with suffering
I swear to God, I’m not running from the pain of your love
Even if I lose my sight and mind and life, don’t go
My friend, all alone, without a friend, don’t leave me
Since you went away, I am weeping, as you know
I said to the physician, ‘‘Please find a cure.’’
For Majnun’s health
The physician for incurable pain, where is he?
The tulips bloom in dry soil when they see your face
One day as I was passing by the tavern
Without a cup, without wine, we are happy
Love lured me into the alley of the tavern
What better cure than madness?
When hung over, with a headache, longing for love
When day is done, join the wine drinkers, all night
Send me your soul’s wine as a token of your love
Since you are drunk with me, over a hangover, why worry?
Who am I?What am I thinking? Serve the wine!
He makes my soul drunk without wine.Where is he?
Why is night-blind sorrow wrapping about me?
When I fall into the chaos of night
Tonight sleep ran from my eyes and mind
If you can’t find me, ask the dark night
Sleep follows after you to take away logic and intellect
Moon, on such a night be moonlike. Don’t sleep!
Last night a ravishing moon came to me
Water washed away all my poems and songs
The silver-bodied moon poked his head through the sky
The flame of moonlight moves with grace
You are a moon that in the sky cannot be held
O Moon, any night you shine, I throw myself at your feet
If the moon that shines in the night veils himself
The sky has never seen such a moon, not even in its dreams
O you, who rose from my soul, where is your house?
From the fire of love, cold grows warm
I pulled you out of one fire
Lovers are aflame within a hidden fire
Only look for warmth from the burning fire inside you
My turban, my robe, and my head, all three together
Sorrow turned the heart into a scholar
Even if you’re not a scholar, study with me
Within love is the alchemy of sunrise
Love can’t be found in science or knowledge, books or paper
As lover nears lover, their chains break apart
If you’re not in love, you’re allowed, sleep on
Sit with lovers and always seek love
I swear by love even if love is full of baits and traps
Why should a lover fear shame or disgrace?
If there’s no trace of love in his heart
Take these breadcrumbs but my soul will never be broken
Tomorrow I visit the shop of the tailor of lovers
Didn’t I tell you last night, ‘‘Your beautiful face is beyond compare’’
I tested everyone but didn’t find anyone sweeter than you
In all of love has there ever been such a lover as you?
Love, for the longest time, you have been my only friend
Musician, strum the strings of the rabab of my heart
My heart pulled me by my robe to the alley of my friend
Lift up your head, my friend. Behold my pale face
My heart longs for the cries of a clarion trumpet
Looking for you, I return
Jump up! The soul of whirling is rising to its feet
In harmony with your friend, you will never be alone
Everyone is dancing, and, again, the day begins
Wake up, dance for joy. Press yourself against me
Come, come, soul of the soul of the soul of whirling
Last night, without you, was dark and hopeless
I’m your friend, I’m your friend, the friend of your sorrow
How can my soul find peace, my friend? With a touch!
Whirling brings peace to our souls
I am a lover of love, not like every Muslim
At evening prayer when the sun begins to set
You, who have gone on hajj.Where are you?
Congratulations! Here comes the month of fasting!
Today I saw your beauty, blessings upon you
That angelic face is the zenith of both worlds
Don’t let your heart turn, the heart of your beloved knows
Last night I dreamed I was poor
I was a trusted friend of the pilgrims on the road
The scent of the musk of Khotan comes to me
Simorgh takes flight from Mount Qaf again
I’m in love and crazed and driven mad by Damascus
Sometimes you rip my veil, sometimes you sew
On the path of unity, worship or sin
The scent of God comes from every direction
Your glow through the window is our summer
I cry so many cries, my face so pale
Once again my cunning lover found me
What tent did you pitch above the world of eternity?
Without you, I am banished from my life
The day my soul travels to the heavens
If I die, carry me away
When I die and my coffin is carried out
If wheat grows from my soil
What will I do if death comes to take me away?
When you died, your eyes gazed into the world of the spirit
In the book of my life only one page remains
In the clean, pure sea, I dissolved like salt
From a lovely thought, my spirit comes alive
Open your eyes and look. From the body, souls are escaping
From my heart arose the army of the soul
A moon appeared in the dawn sky
Look into the face of the beloved until his hues come alive
Sir, don’t you see this Judgment Day?
Each day, full of joy, seek a new place to live
You’re at peace when you don’t need more or less
Finally you broke away and made your way to the unseen
Caged bird, don’t fly with the bird of paradise!
This happy morning kissed me three times
Fortune made me smile, at last
God gave me wine and gave you vinegar
Whatever you hide from this king, he knows
Because of you, I burn with sorrow, O God
I am a madman and I give birth to madmen
Don’t think! Don’t think!
Yesterday I went to him full of dismay
Traveling from this world, you went away
Sometimes, in my childhood, I was a teacher