Jalal Al-Din Muhammad Rumi was an Islamic scholar, poet, faqih (an Islamic jurist), and theologian. He was born in eastern Persia in Balkh but spent most of his life in Konya, which is modern day Turkey. Rumi’s most notable work is the Masnavi, a collection of six books containing rhymed couplets.
My favorite couplet is untitled in the Masnavi and is usually referred to by its first line “Come, come whoever you are.”
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
This couplet is about meeting people where they are. The Islamic world has a history of sociocultural acceptance and that is reflected in this couplet. The choice of the word caravan in the fourth line implies travel and creates an invitation to go on this journey of acceptance.
In the second line, the alliteration of lover and leaving rolls off the tongue not as a sorrowful plea but as knowledge that this person, this lover of leaving has come and gone before and will return. The assonance of the “uh” O sound help each line echo back to the other. The opening “come, come” feels like a grand sweeping gesture. As if speaking to a crowd with open arms “come one, come all”. However, the last “come, come” is a whisper to a returning acquaintance or friend beckoning them into the sitting room for coffee for the thousandth time.
The second couplet I’d like to talk about is titled “Like blood beneath my skin”.
Like blood beneath my skin, within my veins, love came;
Now emptied of myself my friend fills all my frame;
My friend fills out my limbs, my life-he’s all I am
And all that still remains of me in me’s my name.
Each line in this piece, with the exception of the third, is a perfect end rhyme. A perfect rhyme is when two rhyme sounds are exact. In this case, the “a” sound in came, frame and name. End rhyme is exactly what it sounds like, a rhyme at the end of the line. “Am” at the end of the third line is a sight or eye rhyme. These are words that look like they might rhyme but don’t exactly rhyme when said aloud.
The sight rhyme punctuates the phrase “I am” at the end of the third line. Which creates a small point of dissent in the piece saying “in the face of being so full of love all that’s left of me is my name, I still exist, I still am”.
I enjoy “Like blood beneath my skin” because it tells of selfless devotion and surrender to something bigger than ourselves, be it love or God or the world and people around us.
Rumi’s poetry sings with spirituality like a hymn. His work encapsulates the warmth human spirituality possesses in and out of organised religion. Love, in all forms, is something holy in Rumi’s work.
If you’re interested in listening to some of Rumi’s work in Farsi, the Persian language, here is a link to a performance of his work sung and accompanied by music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQQIEUDe6Qo
Puchner, Martin, general editor. Norton Anthology of World Literature Volume B. W.W Norton & Company, 2018.
Rumi, Jalal Al-Din Muhammad. Masnavi Book I. Translated by Idries Shah and E.H Whinfield, Ishk Book Service, 1994.