ONE BIG, FAT REASON WHY WE SHOULD ALL MAKE ROOM TO READ RUMI
What do you think of where you hear the name Rumi? Many think of him as the poet that he is, some think of a spacious area, or “roomy” area because they miss the context, and some do not think of anything because they have never heard of him. Regardless of if you’ve heard about him or not, Rumi is a name definitely worth looking into. This article is my attempt to convince you to read his poetry. Why you may ask? Because Rumi, although very old and very dead, adds some incredible things to our reading experiences and to our lives in general! First, to love a poet, it is always best to know the poet. So here I introduce to you… Rumi.
WHO IS RUMI?
Rumi, short for Mowlānā Jalāloddin Balkhi, was a poet that lived from around 1207-1273, making him..yes, very old and very dead. He was born in the Balkh Province in Afghanistan and came from a long line of Islamic mystics and theologians (“Jalal al-Din Rumi”, Poets.org). Rumi was going to follow in his fathers footsteps, but then was transformed by his friendship with mentor and friend Shams-e-Tabrizi, whom inspired his poetry concerning the fusion of the divine and human soul, something he experienced and wanted to vocalize (The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 381). Rumi, within his life as a poet, would go on to write endless poems detailing this spiritual connection to and love for the divine. Some of his notable works include the Masnavi and the Divan for reference.
So here’s this guy that likes to talk about divine love…so what? Why does it matter, here and now? One big, fat reason Rumi’s poetry, although written in context about specific criteria, is that it has been interpreted widely across many cultures around the world. It seems to be a common thread across many cultures and millions of people, connecting us all by two main ideas, one of which is in his original context and one outside of it: love and spirituality. I will be going into more depth about these two themes and giving examples from Rumi’s poems to cushion my points! Let’s do this!
OUT OF CONTEXT: EVERYONE NEEDS A LITTLE LOVE!
Love is a universal language, and Rumi perfectly embodies this in his poetry. People around the world have read Rumi as a guide to healthy love. So much so, that Rumi is considered to be “the Middle Eastern poet most widely read in the Western world” (381). Rumi’s poems are focused on the love of God and the divine, but his poetic verses about love can be attributed to any context: spiritual love, friendship, romantic relationships, familial love, and even a love of things such as a hobby or pet (seriously, it’s true!) Although these are not the original contexts implied by Rumi himself, the interpretation is one reason I believe that his work is so popular.
In his poem “O Amazing Love”, he very clearly states the impact that love has on us as readers and as human beings. “If you can’t wrap this love / around you like a cloak at midnight, / don’t put on something else, / go back to bed. / Let this love run spinning / through your brain. / It’s what holds everything together, / and it’s the everything too!” (d2L). Rumi is stating here (based on out-of-context interpretation) that love, whatever it may look like (spiritual, romantic, etc), will be experienced in it’s own time and to wait in rest until it comes. A huge factor, especially in Western culture, that appeals to this interpretation is the idea that everyone must have love. Movies are made about it and it’s the primary focus of today’s pop hits (cue Justin Bieber!). The popularity of Rumi, it seems, in the Western world may be attributed to this idea gained from his poetry out of context. We all crave love and his poems share wisdom about this mortal love, regardless of what it looks like! Another example of his attention to love and the decontextualization of love is further into this same poem: “Every day / we come and gather / a hundred blossoms / here to scatter / among you. / Don’t worry, there are / no hidden motives, / just too much / love blooming / to keep for ourselves.” (d2L).
Rumi was a wise man when it came to love, something that people all over are seeking to dive into within their own interpretation of his texts.
IN CONTEXT: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD…LITERALLY!
Being a son of an Islamic scholar and teacher, Rumi had a passionate spiritual life with God, which was the original context for his poetry. Although this can be lost in translation and popular ideas (kind of like what I discussed above), his poetry is beautiful to be read in this original context, whether you are spiritual or not.
Taking the same lines from “O Amazing Love” used above, I am now going to contrast using Rumi’s original context, or the fusion of love and the divine. “If you can’t wrap this love / around you like a cloak at midnight, / don’t put on something else, / go back to bed. / Let this love run spinning / through your brain. / It’s what holds everything together, / and it’s the everything too!” In its original context, Rumi is referring to our pursuit of God’s divine love; if we cannot attain it, he is telling us to remain patient. To keep this love “spinning through your brain” means to hold onto God’s love because everything flows from Him and abides by His love. This paints a beautiful picture of Rumi’s spirituality, even if you aren’t spiritual yourself.
It also lends a great and insightful perspective of how Rumi viewed divinity within his religion: Islam. There is so much social stigma surrounding Muslims; especially in America, they are viewed are terrorists and aliens. Rumi’s poetry is clearly in relation to his Islamic religious affiliation, something that a lot of readers do not know or tend to ignore because of that negative stereotype surrounding Islam. His poetry shows an abundant and beautiful love of and for God and the divine, when most stereotypes within Westernized cultures (again, America is a huge factor in this) assume that Islam is a violent spiritual relationship with the divine. This beauty and serenity is also shown in this line of the poem: “Every day / we come and gather / a hundred blossoms / here to scatter / among you. / Don’t worry, there are / no hidden motives, / just too much / love blooming / to keep for ourselves.” The imagery of the blossoms give a peaceful image of God’s love spreading amongst individuals, with no negative emotions getting in the way.
Rumi was and still is a prolific poet in our world. He uses the themes of love and spirituality to make a connecting thread throughout so many different cultures in our world today. There is a great importance to reading his poems, and other texts, both in its intended context and in our own interpretations, as I demonstrated above. So although he is very old and very dead, his passion has brought passion into the hearts of millions, and I believe that is something to definitely look into as a reader.
“Jalal Al-Din Rumi” . poets.org/poet/jalal-al-din-rumi.
The Norton Anthology of World Literature,4th edition, vol. A. W. Norton & Company, 2020. p. 381.