Rumi’s Poetry: ‘All Religions, All This Singing, One Song’

Coleman Barks is a great translator. His recent essay here is a great read especially in terms of debates on Islamophobia

Rumi: The Big Red Book collects all the work that I have done on The Shams (Rumi’s Divani Shamsi Tabriz, The Works of Shams Tabriz) over the last 34 years. As I put this book together, I felt drawn to revise slightly almost every poem, to relineate and reword. So I hope this is a refreshed collection.

I sent a copy to my friend, Robert Bly. He describes in a letter what I have done with these poems: “You have given them pats on the shirt, set them on some local horse, and given the horse a clap on the rear, and the poems are gone, well almost gone.” He should know. He got me started on this path, when in June of 1976, he handed me a copy of Arberry’s translation of Rumi and said, “These poems need to be released from their cages,” by which he meant they needed to be translated out of their scholarly idiom into the lively American free verse tradition of Whitman. Hence this book. It is not all that I have done the last three decades, but I did spend some time, almost every day, with Rumi’s poetry. I do not regret it. Something about the practice keeps unfolding.

The organization of this book is unique. The odes (ghazals) are divided into 27 sections, each a Name for the Mystery. I avoid, wherever I can, using the word God. It feels so freighted, to me, with doctrine and division and violence. I don’t necessarily recommend this avoidance to anyone else. Eighteen of the Names are taken from my teacher, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen‘s The 99 Beautiful Names of Allah (The Opener, The Gatherer, The Patient, The Kind, The Intricate, Majesty, Light, Peace, The Grateful, The Living, etc). Two of the Names for Mystery are people I have been fortunate enough to meet, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and Osho. Two other Names are also human beings, the Indian saint, Ramana Maharshi, and Shams Tabriz. Three other Names are borrowed. Dissolving the Concept of “God” (I have heard this somewhere, but I don’t remember where), Playing (Plotinus), Tenderness Toward Existence (Galway Kinnell’s phrase) and then there’s the next to last, Everything and Everyone Else. The last Name is one that is implied in every Sufi list of the 99 Names, The Name That Cannot Be Spoken or Written. […]