Sorry I didn’t put up a blog last week! 🙁 I hope you didn’t miss me too much!
I did use some of the extra time to read about this week’s topic: a poet you may have heard of Jalal Al-Din Muhammad Rumi, usually just called Rumi. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick little crash course!
My Norton Anthology ((cited below)) had a one page intro on this cool guy that I’m just going to summarize really quick for ya’ll.
Rumi was born in Persia (today’s Afghanistan) in 1207 but spent most of his life in Konya (Turkey) and his dad was a scholar and religious teacher. They all thought we was going to be just like his dad, but he flipped the script and became a ~powerful mystical poet~ instead.
He met this guy, Shams-e-Tabrizi, who the anthology refers to as his beloved friend. They have all these experiences and learnings together with Shams acting as a type of spiritual mentor.
Rumi’s whole deal is like spirituality and love in all shapes and forms. A lot of his love poems can get pretty spicy, and many are believed to have been addressing Shams.
Okay enough anthology stuff! The next day, we talked about Rumi in my World Lit class. How he is a Sufi Muslim and just values and craves uncontrollable true love. It’s super sweet and makes me want to send love to him every time I think about him.
He believed all love was good and pure and beautiful. Family love, homie love, soulmate love, spiritual love, erotic love. . . Okay, I’m done. So, he had this super strong and wholesome love for Shams. Years of devotion and explicit love for each other. and some of his poems have this homoerotic vibe. So, it’s common to consider Rumi and Sham as boyfriends or something of that relational nature.
BUT! That’s what I wanna talk about today. So, hear me out!
Meme I made:
Okay, I’m all for identifying historical figures’ sexual identity as accurately as one can and not hiding things like homosexuality. I think it’s important and we should stop straight-washing all these cool dead people. But what if Rumi actually really wasn’t gay? I know there’s no true way to know or understand, but there’s certainly different ways to interpret it.
I found this article, “Rumi The Homoerotic Sufi Saint” by Delaney James. ((cited below)) The piece doesn’t leave a lot of room for argument, but I’m going to try.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this article so lemme fill you in some solid points:
- “Homoeroticism in Rumi’s poetry has not gone unknown by scholars in the field”
- “Rumi and Shams’ master-disciple relationship, and the poetry it inspired, challenge the heteronormative thinking surrounding mystical-lover experiences with the divine”
- “Rumi’s poetry about Shams-Tabrizi, on the other hand, is much more longing and loving. Shams is the physical embodiment of God on earth for Rumi since Shams is his spiritual master. Rumi’s poetry reflects his desire and longing for God, which manifests as his adoration for his master”
Back in my class, we talked about how much Rumi believed and valued all love. And that some of his more (maybe even extreme? R-rated? Or at least PG13) intimate love poems could truly just be an expression pure friendship love. (My professor does not mention this in an attempt to erase any form of homoerotic themes, just as a consideration) Which I think is SO beautiful. Any discussion about Rumi also must include his intense desire to be close to his god. This can be achieved whichever way the devotee seems fit: rituals, meditation, dances, and even sexual acts. And tons more. What if Rumi just truly felt as close as he ever had been to God via Shams and their practices? Whatever “their practices” entailed, who knows for sure.
Maybe he got the best of both worlds in finding a real-life true friend that he had this ultimate love for in the same person he also found God and spirituality in?
The aforementioned article had some quotes that allow my argument to slip through the cracks:
- “erotic verses dedicated to the Divine are understood to be a metaphor for the poet’s longing for intimacy with their God”
- “He [Rumi] became more ecstatic in his worship, expressing his love for God not only in a careful attitude of self-renunciation and control, but also through the joy of poetry, music and meditative dance” (who’s to say it stopped there?)
- “Many scholars who focus on sexual acts in a different culture and a different period than the ones in which they are writing are careful to not assign sexual identities to the people they study” (Perhaps certain “spiritual” sexual acts are not directly related to sexuality or to the person?)
While he could have just been a homosexual without a name for it, it’s possible his love for Shams was meaningful and pure as a spiritual guide and beloved friend, and whatever they experienced sexually were acts of love to each other and their God and not out of romance or spousal desires.
Meme I made:
“Multi-layered existence I know not, I know not
The magical artist of time I know not, I know not
Hardship, struggle, confusion, I am taught, I am taught
Congenial moodiness I know not, I know not
My soul is after joy
Entertainers will employ
This joy seeking existence I know not, I know not
This lion in me instills fear
The world is a herd of deer
This lion and herd of deer I know not, I know not
I hear the warning of a friend, “your foes conspire and plot”
Conspiracy, friend and foe I know not, I know not
Earth is wife, sky man, being their child is my lot
This man and wife and this child I know not, I know not
This hidden face, gorgeous lashes
The arched brow, eye that flashes
The moving brow and talking eye I know not, I know not
Powerful arm, the nimble bow,
Put in flight temporal arrow
Bow and arrow and arm and time I know not, I know not
Shams-e Tabrizi, to you I’m brought
With your hardness I am distraught
That shining gem, this hard rock, I know not, I know not.”
Rumi felt Shams was an embodiment of the divine and expressed and acted accordingly. I’m not saying there’s no chance they were lovers, but it’s beautiful to imagine that this type of friendship love can exist so intensely and purely. It doesn’t matter, Rumi found a blissful love and was exploding with happiness. And he was doing right by his own heart and his own spirituality, and that’s maybe all we should care about. He’s just a fun guy. That believes experience of true love, of any kind, is an experience of the divine.
Tell me what ya’ll think! See you guys next week!!
James, D. (2019). Rumi. CrossCurrents, 69(4), 365-383. doi:10.1111/cros.12405
Puchner, Martin, Akbari, Suzanne, Denecke, Wiebke, Fuchs, Barbara, Levine Caroline, Lewis, Pericles, Wilson, Emily, editors. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume B, Fourth Edition. W.W. Norton & Company 2018. (p. 381).