poem index

About this poet

Mowlānā Jalāloddin Balkhi, known in Persia as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī and in the West simply as Rumi, was born on September 30, 1207 C. E. in Balkh Province, Afghanistan, then on the eastern edge of the Persian Empire. Rumi descended from a long line of Islamic jurists, theologians, and mystics, including his father, who was known by followers of Rumi as "Sultan of the Scholars." When Rumi was still a young man, his father led their family more than 2,000 miles west to avoid the invasion of Genghis Khan's armies. They settled in present-day Turkey, where Rumi lived and wrote most of his life.

As a teenager, Rumi was recognized as a great spirit by the poet and teacher Fariduddin Attar, who gave him a copy of his own Ilahinama (The Book of God). When his father died in 1231, Rumi became head of the madrasah, or spiritual learning community. The school reportedly had over ten thousand students, including masons, grocers, weavers, hatmakers, carpenters, tailors, and bookbinders.

Rumi's oldest son, Sultan Velad, managed to save 147 of Rumi's intimate letters, which provide insights about the poet and how he lived. Rumi often involved himself in the lives of his community members, solving disputes and facilitating loans between nobles and students. The letters are described as having lines of poetry scattered throughout.

In 1244, Rumi met Shams Tabriz, a dervish "God-man" who had taken a vow of poverty. Their meeting is considered a central event in Rumi's life. Though accounts of their meeting differ, one story claims that Rumi was teaching by a fountain, and Shams walked up through the crowd of students and pushed Rumi's books into the water, including his father's spiritual diary. "You must now live what you have been reading about," Shams told Rumi. Rumi believed both his real life and his real poetry began when he met Shams. "What I had thought of before as God," Rumi said, "I met today in a human being."

Shams and Rumi were close friends for about four years. Over the course of that time, Shams was repeatedly driven away by Rumi's jealous disciples, including one of Rumi's sons, Ala al-Din. In December of 1248, Shams again disappeared; it is believed that he was either driven away or killed. Rumi left the madrasah in search of his friend, travelling to Damascus and elsewhere. Eventually, Rumi made peace with his loss, returning to his home believing Shams to be a part of him: "His essence speaks through me."

Rumi's mourning for the loss of his friend led to the outpouring of more than 40,000 lyric verses, including odes, eulogies, quatrains, and other styles of Eastern-Islamic poetry. The resulting collection, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi or The Works of Shams Tabriz, is considered one of Rumi's masterpieces and one of the greatest works of Persian literature.

In his introduction to his translation of Rumi's The Shams, Coleman Barks has written: "Rumi is one of the great souls, and one of the great spiritual teachers. He shows us our glory. He wants us to be more alive, to wake up... He wants us to see our beauty, in the mirror and in each other."

For the last twelve years of his life, beginning in 1262, Rumi dictated a single, six-volume poem to his scribe, Husam Chelebi. The resulting masterwork, the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi (Spiritual Verses), consists of sixty-four thousand lines, and is considered Rumi's most personal work of spiritual teaching. Rumi described the Masnavi as "the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion," and the text has come to be regarded by some Sufis as the Persian-language Koran.

In his introduction to an English edition of Spiritual Verses, translator Alan Williams wrote: "Rumi is both a poet and a mystic, but he is a teacher first, trying to communicate what he knows to his audience. Like all good teachers, he trusts that ultimately, when the means to go any further fail him and his voice falls silent, his students will have learnt to understand on their own."

Rumi fell ill and died on December 17, 1273 C. E., in Konya, Turkey. His remains were interred adjacent to his father's, and the Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb) was erected above their final resting place. Now the Mevlâna museum, the site includes a mosque, dance hall, and dervish living quarters. Thousands of visitors, of all faiths, visit his tomb each month, honoring the poet of legendary spiritual understanding.

 

Story II. The Oilman and his Parrot

Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1207 - 1273

An oilman possessed a parrot which used to amuse him with its agreeable prattle, and to watch his shop when he went out. One day, when the parrot was alone in the shop, a cat upset one of the oil-jars. When the oilman returned home he thought that the parrot had done this mischief, and in his anger he smote the parrot such a blow on the head as made all its feathers drop off, and so stunned it that it lost the power of speech for several days. But one day the parrot saw a bald-headed man passing the shop, and recovering its speech, it cried out, "Pray, whose oil-jar did you upset?" The passers-by smiled at the parrot's mistake in confounding baldness with age with the loss of its own feathers due to a blow.

Confusion of saints with hypocrites.
Worldly senses are the ladder of earth,
Spiritual sense are the ladder of heaven.
The health of the former is sought of the leech,
The health of the latter from "The Friend."
The health of the former arises from tending the body,
That of the latter from mortifying the flesh.
The kingly soul lays waste the body,
And after its destruction he builds it anew.
Happy the soul who for love of God
Has lavished family, wealth, and goods!
Has destroyed its house to find the hidden treasure,
And with that treasure has rebuilt it in fairer sort;
Has dammed up the stream and cleansed the channel,
And then turned a fresh stream into the channel;
Has cut its flesh to extract a spear-head,
Causing a fresh skin to grow again over the wound;
Has razed the fort to oust the infidel in possession,
And then rebuilt it with a hundred towers and bulwark
Who can describe the unique work of Grace?
I have been forced to illustrate it by these similes.
Sometimes it presents one appearance, sometimes another.
Yea, the affair of religion is only bewilderment.
Not, such as occurs when one turns one's back on God,
But such as when one is drowned and absorbed in Him.
The latter has his face ever turned to God,
The former's face shows his undisciplined self-will.
Watch the face of each one, regard it well,
It may be by serving thou wilt recognize Truth's face.
As there are many demons with men's faces,
It is wrong to join hands with every one.
When the fowler sounds his decoy whistle,
That the birds may be beguiled by that snare,
The birds hear that call simulating a bird's call,
And, descending from the air, find net and knife.
So vile hypocrites steal the language of Darveshes,
In order to beguile the simple with their trickery.
The works of the righteous are light and heat,
The works of the evil treachery and shamelessness.
They make stuffed lions to scare the simple,
They give the title of Muhammad to false Musailima.
But Musailima retained the name of "Liar,"
And Mohammad that of "Sublimest of beings."
That wine of God (the righteous) yields a perfume of musk;
Other wine (the evil) is reserved for penalties and pains.

From The Masnavi I Ma'navi of Rumi: Complete by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated from Urdu by E.H. Whinfield (1898).

Jalal al-Din Rumi

Jalal al-Din Rumi

When his father died in 1231, Rumi became head of the madrasah, or spiritual learning community. The school reportedly had over ten thousand students

by this poet

poem

A lion took a wolf and a fox with him on a hunting excursion, and succeeded in catching a wild ox, an ibex, and a hare. He then directed the wolf to divide the prey. The wolf proposed to award the ox to the lion, the ibex to himself, and the hare to the fox. The lion was enraged with the wolf because he had

poem
What was said to the rose that made it open was said
to me here in my chest. 

What was told the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them