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Poetry by Rumi

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Jalalu'ddin Rumi, Maulana) was a 13th century Persian poet, musician, and founder of the Mevlevi order / Whirling Dervishes of Sufi tradition. Many of his poems of great beauty and insight work well with the Native American flute.

This page provides a few of his poems. Most translations are by Coleman Barks.

Where Everything is Music

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and if the whole world's harp
should burn up,
there will still be hidden instruments
playing, playing

This singing art
is sea foam.
The graceful movements
come from a pearl
on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift
and the edge of driftwood
along the beach
wanting, wanting

They derive from a slow
and powerful root
that we cannot see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window
in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly
in and out!

-- Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Jalalu'ddin Rumi, Maulana), 13th century Persian poet, founder of Mevlevi order / Whirling Dervishes of Sufi tradition. Tanslation by Coleman Barks.

The Reed Flute's Song

This poem is the opening of the prologue of Book 1 of Mathnawi ([mahs-nah-vee], also spelled Masnavi) by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Jalalu'ddin Rumi, 1207-1273). Rūmī is also known as Maulana, so this is often titled Mathnawi of Maulana.

The Mathnawi is a six-volume epic poem with over 25,000 lines ([Harmless 2008], page 180). It is written in a lyrical, rhythmic, poetic version of Persian, but the poetic style does not translate well into English with the same force and power as the original manuscript. One of the most cited original sources for the Mathnawi is a manuscript dated 1278 CE (677 A.H.) ([Nicholson 1930]). See also [Papan-Matin 2003] and [Amjad 2007].

Many translations of this poem have been made. Here is an early English translation by E. H. Whinfield ([Whinfield 1898]). It was originally published as one long poem with about seven words on each line. This version has been re-arranged to read like a book:

Hearken to the reed flute, how it complains, lamenting its banishment from its home: “Ever since they tore me from my osier bed, my plaintive notes have moved men and women to tears. I burst my breast, striving to give vent to sighs, and to express the pangs of my yearning for my home. He who abides far away from his home is ever longing for the day he shall return. My wailing is heard in every throng, in concert with them that rejoice and them that weep. Each interprets my notes in harmony with his own feelings, but not one fathoms the secrets of my heart. My secrets are not alien from my plaintive notes, yet they are not manifest to the sensual eye and ear. Body is not veiled from soul, neither soul from body, yet no man hath ever seen a soul.” This plaint of the flute is fire, not mere air. Let him who lacks this fire be accounted dead!

'Tis the fire of love that inspires the flute, 'tis the ferment of love that possesses the wine. The flute is the confidant of all unhappy lovers; yes, its strains lay bare my inmost secrets. Who hath seen a poison and an antidote like the flute? Who hath seen a sympathetic consoler like the flute? The flute tells the tale of love's bloodstained path, it recounts the story of Majnun's love toils. None is privy to these feelings save one distracted, as ear inclines to the whispers of the tongue. Through grief my days are as labour and sorrow, my days move on, hand in hand with anguish. Yet, though my days vanish thus, 'tis no matter, do thou abide, O incomparable pure one!

Here is a version of the same Rūmī poem, excerpted from a translation by Coleman Barks and John Moyne in The Essential Rumi ([Barks 2004], pages 17–20). This poem can also be found in [Khan-HI 1993]:

Listen to the story told by the reed,
of being separated.

“Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.

Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.

Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.

At any gathering I am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,

a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden

within the notes. No ears for that.
Body flowing out of spirit,

spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. But it's not given us

to see the soul. The reed flute
is fire, not wind. Be that empty.”

Hear the love fire tangled
in the reed notes, as bewilderment

melts into wine. The reed is a friend
to all who want the fabric torn

and drawn away. The reed is hurt
and salve combining. Intimacy

and longing for intimacy, one
song. A disastrous surrender

and a fine love, together. The one
who secretly hears this is senseless.

A tongue has one customer, the ear.
A sugarcane flute has such effect

because it was able to make sugar
in the reedbed. The sound it makes

is for everyone. Days full of wanting,
let them go by without worrying

that they do. Stay where you are
inside sure a pure, hollow note.

Every thirst gets satisfied except
that of these fish, the mystics,

who swim a vast ocean of grace
still somehow longing for it!

No one lives in that without
being nourished every day.

But if someone doesn't want to hear
the song of the reed flute,

it's best to cut conversation
short, say good-bye, and leave.

A Craftsman Pulled a Reed …

A craftsman pulled a reed from the reedbed,
cut holes in it, and called it a human being.

Since then, it's been wailing a tender agony
of parting, never mentioning the skill
that gave it life as a flute.

-- Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, from Mathnawi, excerpted from a translation by Coleman Barks and John Moyne in The Essential Rumi ([Barks 2004], page 146). This poem can also be found in [Khan-HI 1993].

Take Down a Musical Instrument …

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

-- Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, translation by Coleman Barks.

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