Month: April 2022

Rumi

 

Context

Rumi lived from 1207 to 1273 in modern day Afghanistan and Turkey. He is well known in America today especially for his poetry. It is hard to describe his work without referencing a big influence on him: a fellow holy man and sufi mystic named Shams al-Dīn. The two were extremely close, each inspiring the other. Rumi was so enraptured with Shams that he sometimes neglected his followers. In 1247, Shams went missing and it was later confirmed that he was murdered. Some speculate that Rumi’s family or students had something to do with it, but either way, his influence on Rumi inspired his work for the rest of his life. 

Sufism

According to Britannica, Sufism is the “mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God.” In the early first century, the idea of love of Allah being above a fear of a bad afterlife or hope of a paradise afterlife. Later, the trend of fraternal groups formed in which there would be one leader and a group of followers. This is what Rumi was to his followers: a wise teaher, divinely inspired.

Translation Controversy

In modern times, Rumi’s wisdom has been popular among celebrities according to Rozina Ali in her New Yorker article entitled The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi. With Translations of Rumi, there is controversy over liberties taken with Quranic references and religious language. 

Coleman Barks is an interpreter of Rumi’s writing. He takes already translated Rumi works and interprets them into a version that is easier for an American/Western audience to digest. This requires he remove references to Muslim traditions and termonology and replace them with a generalized equivalent. He defends this by making the poems more universal in understanding, and as Ali says, “But it’s Barks who vastly expanded Rumi’s readership.” If more Americans can relate and understand his poetry, the more people that will appreciate him.

However, the westernization of Rumi detracts from its intent and origin. It dissociates Rumi’s beloved religion from the poetry in favor of an easily grasped general, ambiguous spirituality. The main theme of this is how any love poem, probably inspired by his love either Allah or his friend Shams, is now taken as a romantic love between partners and nothing more. Rumi’s passion for a divine energy beomes nothing more than a generic meaning love peom. Take, for example, his poem:

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!

Without a little dancing,
there is no disappearing.

The love described here has more of a religious connotation to Rumi who would shudder at the idea of it being limited to that of only between lovers. “Although he was a lifelong scholar of the Koran and Islam, he is less frequently described as a Muslim” (Ali).

Conclusion


Being students of the poetry of Rumi means remembering that he is indeed a sufi. His readability is easy enough to be inspirational and beautiful for sure, but keeping his intentions and inspirations in mind make the poems leap from the page and into the heart of the reader as they were intended, finding a love of living energy, as love of a passion for a ceator.

Sources
https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-erasure-of-islam-from-the-poetry-of-rumi
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rumi
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sufism 

 

Vidya

One of three women poets from classical Sanskrit literature from the current nation of India. We only have one short poem to pick from.

Good neighbor wife, I beg you

keep your eye upon my house a moment;

the baby’s father hates to drink,

the tasteless water from the well.

Better I go then, though alone, to the river bank

dark with tamāla trees and thick with canes,

which with their sharp and broken stems

may scratch my breast.

 

Sure they will vidyā! Are they gonna scratch up your butt too? I mean the nerve! just get a divorce! I’m kidding. Maybe divorce wasn’t part of the culture back then but clearly she’s worried about more than just the sharp can stems scratching her breasts. I mean, won’t they be covered up if she’s walking through the wilderness? Won’t it be like her legs or face that get scratched up?

That’s the whole point here. She isn’t going to get water, she is going to get sex. It’s funny how she puts it though. The water no longer tastes good to her husband anymore so she has decided to go to a different well, where the water is refreshing and rejuvenating. Water is not water, water is sex.

It’s wiley of her then to say that the water is no longer good enough for her husband. She is the one who is thirsty; not him. But sure, it’s his fault. I just can;t figure out why she would ask her friend to look after her house for her while she is gone. Maybe to protect the children? Maybe because that is an “in” to get the poem going, so as to say, listen up, more to the reader than to the neighbor she is asking to watch her house.

Vidyā, according to the Norton Anthology, made her poems set in the countryside, alluding to the fact that she may have been more familiar with love there than in village or city. I think this may be true for a lot of people. There is something free and natural about being outside, away from the city, and that’s also a feeling love tends to give; so it makes sense for many reasons then to make a love story in the wilderness. Love is a natural thing.

More power to the woman then; following her heart, through thick and thin (trees and cane) to get to her lover. Maybe her ex-lover at home isn’t treating her right. Maybe she is married in and has kids and can’t leave. What a nightmare that must be. No wonder this s such a gripping yet short love poem. The nerve she has to do what is wrong but what he heart and maybe her loins are telling her is right. It’s a betrayal on her part. I get falling out of love, so guys suck, but she makes no mention of kids, so why not just let the bloke know how you feel and split up instead of scampering around through the forest for some forbidden love.

Forbidden love is sweeter, though. There’s something in our evolving monkey brains that makes us want what we can’t have. It’s the reason diamonds are so expensive. The are extremely difficult to attain. That makes them valuable. Supply and demand; simply having less of something makes it more valuable to us. That goes beyond love into a more mathematical approach but I think the concept remains. When we aren’t allowed to do something, or it is taboo to us, it makes it more fun, especially for those that are into the adrenaline seeking forms of self gratification.

“Hey honey, about those scratches on your breast, why do I see teeth and nail marks?”

“Huh?”

“You heard me lady”

“Oh, the neighbors dog bit and scratched my breast.”

“What a horny little animal. Did he hump your leg too?”

Back to the poem itself, it’s interesting that she specifically uses the phrase, “though alone” even though she is going from one lover to another. I mean, obviously she can’t travel with anybody for this rendevous but I think she means alone in a whole ‘nother kind of way. I think she means she feels alone. It’s on thing to be walking alone, it;s another thing to feel alone in the universe. She has to feel very alone. She is turning her back on someone she loved and I’m sure a community that loves the idea of them together and would reject her given the circumstances to a lover elsewhere that she will only be with for a short time, only to be left walking home alone again. It’s better for her to make this journey then not make the journey at all, in her eyes, maybe using this as a temporary ointment for her feelings of loneliness, but it is said she has to do all of this just to satisfy her heart. Why can’t love just be easy you know? Maybe it’s the difficulty that makes true love worthwhile. Maybe it’s that rarity, just in the case with the diamonds being valuable that somewhat ironically make true love of great value to us. How often do we really feel that? Maybe some more than others. But maybe love isn’t of the same value to someone that loves all the time.

The treacherous and scandalous nature of this poem makes me wonder how she published it. If it was posthumous, then that makes sense, but how could she publish, for lack of a better word, this poem with her current husband around.

“Hey Honey, I read that poem you wrote, is there something you want to tell me?”

“It’s just artistic license, Honey, I don’t mean any of it.”

“The how do you explain all those scratches on your breast?”

“You know how river banks get, Honey, with their sharp tamāla trees and think with canes.”

“Oh, okay. I think you mentioned using those as an excuse in your poem. So just a poem right?”

 

Akam Poetry

Ancient Tamil poetry, Caṅkam, is organized and presented by themes, as either Akam or Puram. “Akam means “interior” and this genre deals with the heart, love, self, the inferiority of experience, home, family, the private and domestic spheres, and intimate emotions.” (Puchner 970).

Each drawing below represents a phase of love from a series of Akam Poems. “The characters in these poems remain nameless, which enhances both the privacy and the universality of the inner world.” ( Puchner 971).

Works Cited:

“Black and White Human Image.” Quora, https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-to-be-a-human-and-humanity. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

“Large Group of People”. https://www.istockphoto.com/photos/large-group-of-people. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

“Tree Timber Swamp” https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRhOsLsbFQKBTZzCzp98XYHy6Ecn1_-NkGYyw&usqp=CAU. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022

Puchner, Martin, et al. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. B, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

 

Puram Poetry

Puram Poetry: An Ancient How-to Guide for life

*The circled area indicates the Tamil region*

Tamil People and Poetry

 When asked to recall ancient Asian literature, most people refer to Chinese, Sanskrit, and Persian literature. While these texts created in their respective cultures are impressive and important in their own right, there is much to be explored when discussing the less well-known, Tamil poetry. The Tamil people are in ethnic group that originated in southern India. A majority of its people still live in the Indian peninsula, while some have emigrated to neighboring countries. Their Ancient culture was predominantly rural, and was mainly based on agriculture, trade, hunting, fishing, and handicrafts (The Norton Anthology of World literature). They lived in small villages, ports, and market towns which were governed by local chieftains and kings. 

Tamil literature housed a variety of universal themes that challenge readers with its complexity. The Norton Anthology of World Literature states that Tamil poetry “invented an aesthetic and a style of poetry able to richly explore the complexities of human nature and culture, of human subjectivity in interaction with its environment, and of the impersonal forces at work in the cosmos” (969). This poetry has been organized into eight anthologies consisting of 2,381 poems authored by 473 poets, a small number of which were women. This body of work is known as cankam poetry; the poets themselves were Pulavars. They were written in academies (called Cankams)  that trained its students in grammar, ethics, rhetoric, and poetics (Norton Anthology of World Literature). Tamil poetry is unique in the way that it is uninfluenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. This distinction helps separate Tamil poetry from its Sanskrit counterparts, which it is often compared to. 

*It is important to note that Tamil Poetry is divided into two different genres, Akam and Puram*

Puram Poetry

Puram, meaning exterior, is one of the two genres of ancient Tamil poetry. True to its name, Puram poetry deals with aspects of the world around us. The Norton Anthology of World Literature states that, “poems within the genre convey an individual’s experience of his or her public world – the shared world of war, social conflict, ethics, and community; of kings, heroes, poets, and ordinary citizens” (970). Narrators of these poems vary in gender and can attest to a variety of experiences. That being said, common characters include supplicating poets, grieving daughters, worried mothers, and concerned citizens. While the Puram genre differs greatly from its Akam counterpart, they both accomplish the difficult task of “bringing love and war, as well as nature and culture, within the ambit of ancient Tamils’ agricultural way of life” (971). 

 Setting and context cannot be overlooked when analyzing these poems. Texts that fall under the Puram category often take place in a city or town. Characters are often based on real people and the issues they face in Tamil society. Discussing authority figures was not off limits; kings and other rulers were often criticized and praised in these works. Philosophy and ethics was a common topic, with the upholding of certain values being enforced through many poems. These topics were often explored through the lens of one person who is undergoing a universal experience. 

The Exterior Landscape

“This World Lives Because”

This world lives

Because

 

Some men

Do not eat alone,

Not even when they get

The sweet ambrosia of the gods;

 

They’ve no anger in them,

They fear evils other men fear

But never sleep over them;

 

Give their lives for honor,

Will not touch a gift of whole worlds

If tainted;

 

There’s no faintness in their hearts

And they do not strive

For themselves

 

Because such men are,

This world is.

This poem illustrates the importance of gratefulness and humility. A message of thanksgiving, this text explains the sacrifices that certain men make in order to take care of their people. The setting is this world, but it can also be applied to the smaller context of one’s village as well. The phrase “this world is”, seems to give off a feeling of consistency and tranquility. The world is not changing, it simply is. While there is conflict in daily life, they appear to have faith that their way of life will continue. Despite only consisting of two lines each, the opening and closing words of this poem hold great significance.

Enclosed by two couplets, the body stanzas detail what it takes to keep the peace. The first of these stanzas claim that these men “do not eat alone” (982). The pleasures of this world may tempt them, but they will always prioritize others. Themes of selflessness and community begin to arise. The importance of choice emerges in the second main stanza. Beginning with a bold statement “they’ve no anger in them”, the following lines emphasize that these “great” men are no different than anybody else. They fear the same fears as everyone else, but acknowledge the futility of worrying about what has yet to happen. The lack of anger these men feel may be attributed to their sentimentality; they choose to understand instead of react. It is a choice to do what is difficult, yet necessary. On the flip side, it is also a choice to take the easy way out and rely on these “great” men.  The following two stanzas discuss their humility and rare selflessness. 

This poem seems to have two goals: to encourage this kind of behavior and to remind us to be grateful for those who choose this lifestyle. The exterior world of the Tamil people depended on men’s strength as warriors and protectors of their village. Accomplishing such a difficult task deserves some recognition. “This World Lives Because” may have been written centuries ago, but its sentiment still rings true today. With the hectic world we live in, it can be hard to remember that good people exist. The communities we inhabit, no matter how big or how small, are held together by the glue that is humanity.

Puram poetry delves into countless topics of the outside world. Its relevance extends into the modern era, with each poem offering wisdom on how to behave and maneuver the world in which we live. I encourage anyone reading this to take a few minutes out of their day to explore the world of Tamil poetry; you might find it to be a reflection of yourself.

Works Cited:

Puchner, Martin, et al. “Classical Tamil Lyric.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Fourth ed.,          B, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 2018, pp. 969–983.