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Do You Know Rumi?

“Dance in the middle of the fighting”


Allowing one’s mind to imagine how one thing is like another, a sort of child’s play but with increasing complexity, is one of the joys of writing poetry. That comparison of things, which the writer, and, hopefully, the reader had not put together in any kind of connection before the writing/reading of the poem is what makes a poem’s images fresh and unique.  For example in the following poem, knuckles are compared to animals:

how odd the knuckles look on her hands

after hanging wet clothes in cold air

round red balls like little skinned animals

alive but changed

Poet Ezra Pound defined  “Image” as that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. And he says,  “A poem should not just stay in your mind. It should haunt you.” Finding that perfect image results in the poem’s connection with the reader. Pound calls this the  “ideogrammic method” or the fusion of two images into one.  He says,  “Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy. If it does not fulfill these specifications, it is not what I mean by an Image. “

Now take an intellectual southerner, which in this case  means wit and warmth, a most wonderful combination, and give him the ancient writings of another who exudes humor and wisdom and what do you get?  Ideas and images from a thirteenth-century Islamic poet named Jalluldin Rumi who happens to be the best-selling poet in America today thanks to the translations of American poet Coleman Barks. He began translating Rumi in 1976 after Robert Bly showed Barks some scholarly translations of  Rumi and told him that “These poems need to be released from their cages.” Barks was enticed by the spirituality, humor and wisdom in the poetry of Rumi and began translating Rumi’s work.

Rumi’s love poems are to the Beloved, his mystic friend Shams, but actually refer to God.  Below are two samples of Coleman Barks’ translations of Rumi. For the reader, they work well for whatever love or lover one wishes to imagine or believe in.


The minute I heard my first love story

I started looking for you, not knowing

how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere

they’re in each other all along.

Some Kiss We Want

There is some kiss we want with

our whole lives, the touch of

spirit on the body, Seawater

begs the pearl to break its shell.

And the lily how passionately

it needs some wild darling! At

night, I open the window and ask

the moon to come and press its

face against mine.  Breathe into

me. Close the language-door and

open the love window. The moon

won’t use the door, only the


From the Soul of Rumi

by Coleman Barks

Coleman Barks and Rumi are intimately linked through words and images, but  Rumi, who was born in 1207, has never practiced spirituality like Barks who describes his worship services as, “I go for lattes and I go riding in my 1972 Dodge Convertible. Everything is church, isn’t it?

Coleman Barks was born in 1937 in Tennessee and taught poetry and creative writing for 30 years at the University of Georgia.  He is best known for translating Rumi but writes endearing poems about people and family. When he reads the poems about his grandchildren you can hear the love and joy he has for them in his voice and see the spark and grin on his face. How could anyone not love this man? He also wrote a letter to President Bush before the United States entered the war.  Like Rumi, Coleman has a peaceful soul.  What if we had tried Coleman Barks suggestions to Mr. Bush first. Imagine! How would it have hurt to try? Thousands of dead soldiers, thousands more with head injuries that will not only change their lives but the lives of their families, thousands of Iraqi children who have never known a childhood without war. Statistics show how trauma affects children throughout their adult lives. Not a great way to teach democracy.  From an interview in “Guernica” magazine, Coleman Barks describes Rumi and his thoughts on the divisions we humans choose to make,

“He didn’t like there to be religious boundaries. He said if you think there’s an important difference between being a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Buddhist, then you’re making a division between your heart, what you love with, and the way you act in the world. That was such a wild and extreme thing to say in the 13th century with the Crusades coming across that peninsula. It’s pretty wild to say even now.

We’re all the same species. We all have children. We fall in love. We all have an impulse to praise and to worship. He says it’s all “thing,” it’s all one song that we’re singing. I think Joe Campbell would say that too.

Rumi says that all of the wars and conflicts we have are all about names. It’s such a foolish thing to argue about names, when what we’re doing is all one thing. He says—it’s a beautiful image, it’s sort of a Christian image—that we can quit this argument because there’s a table that’s been set, and it’s waiting for us to come and sit down. That’s what he would do, he’d say, ‘Let’s serve some food.’”

Here is what Colman Barks wrote in his letter to Bush before the war began:

Just This Once

President Bush, before you order air strikes, imagine the first cruise missile as a direct hit on your closest friend.  That might be Laura.

Then twenty-five other family and friends.

There are no survivors.

Now imagine some other way to do it.  Quadruple the inspectors, or put a thousand and one U.N. people in.  Then call for peace activists to volunteer to go to Iraq for two weeks each.  Flood that country with well-meaning tourists, people curious about the land that produced the great saints, Gilani, Hallaj, and Rabia.  Set up hostels near those tombs.

Encourage peace people to spend a bunch of money in shops, to bring rugs home and samovars by the bushel.  Send an Arabic translator with every four peace activists.  The U.S. government will pay for the translators and for building and staffing the hostels, one hostel for every twenty activists and five translators.  The hostels are state of the art, and they belong to the Iraqis at the end of this experiment.

Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, and my friend, Jonathan Granoff at the U.N., will be the core organization team.  No one knows what might come of this.  Maybe nothing, or maybe it would convince some Iraqis and some of the world that we really do not wish to kill anybody, and that we truly are not out to appropriate oil reserves.  We’re working on building a hydrogen vehicle as fast as we can, aren’t we?

Put no limit on the number of activists from all over that might want to hang out and explore Iraq for two weeks.  Is anything left of Babylon?  There could be informal courses for college credit and pickup soccer games every evening at five.  Long leisurely suppers.  The U. S. government furnishes air transportation, that is, hires airliners from the country of origin and back for each peace tourist, who must carry and spend the equivalent of $1001 US inside Iraq.

Keep part of the invasion force nearby as police, but let those who claim to deeply detest war try something else just this once, for one year.  Call our bluff.  If this madman Saddam’s WMD threat is not, somehow, eliminated by next February, you can go in with special ops, and do it that way.

Medical services, transportation inside Iraq, lots of big colorful buses–let the pilgrims paint them!–along with many other ideas that will be thought of later during the course of this innocently, blatantly, foolish project will all also be funded by the U.S. government.  There’s a practice known as sama, a deep listening to poetry and music, with sometimes movement involved.  We could experiment with whole nights of that, staying up until dawn, sleeping in tents during the day.  So instead of war there’s a peace period from March 2003 through February 2004.

It could be as though war had already happened, as it has, and the healing and rebuilding.  Now we’re in the celebration afterward.  I’ll be the first to volunteer for two weeks of wandering winter desert and reading Hallaj, Abdul Qadir Gilani, dear Rabia, and the life-saving 1001 Arabian Nights.

I am Coleman Barks, a retired English professor living in Athens, Georgia, and I don’t really consider this proposal foolish.

Along these same lines of thought from “Guernica” magazine,  Coleman Barks says:

“That wonderful Palestinian girl who put on her bombs and everything and walked into the pizza parlor and decided she didn’t want to do it. She decided she’d just as well have pizza with these folks. She’s one of the heroes, but we’ve got her in prison. She should be “Minister of Tourism” for Israel.”

A common phrase heard today is “Think out of the box.”  First step is recognizing the box we are in. Second step is reading the wisdom and humor of Rumi, and the words of Coleman Bark’s own poetry. And believe as my friend Ed frequently states, “Creativity is the solution.”  We put a man on the moon in 1969, surely …



Posted August 15, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays

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