Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NPM: Rumi the Sufi, the Sufi of Whitman

Howdy. This time our bi-nightly National Poetry Month tour takes us to 13th Century Persia, where we glance at a piece by the Sufi bard Rumi that I copied out of a friend's collected edition a while back.

I often look at Rumi (1207 - 1273) like a poppier, chick-friendly, Iranian version of Walt Whitman. All the stuff of his that I've read revolves around the same cluster of themes -- mysticism, god, love, being drunk, these things as metaphors for one another -- but he's a lot of fun to read and tends toward concision much more than our dear old Walt. (Of course, Walt's whole point was to chant and enumerate multitudes, but we're veering off topic.) What say we have a look at Rumi?

One, One, One

by Rumi (translated by Andrew Harvey)

The lamps are different,
But the Light is the same.
So many garish lamps in the dying brain's lamp shop,
Forget about them.
Concentrate on essence, concentrate on Light.
In lucid bliss, calmly smoking off its own holy fire,
The Light streams toward you from all things,
All people, all possible permutations of good, evil, thought, passion.
The lamps are different,
But the Light is the same.
One matter, one energy, one Light, one Light-mind,
Endlessly emanating all things.
One turning and burning diamond,
One, one, one.
Ground yourself, strip yourself down,
To blind loving silence.
Stay there, until you see
You are gazing at the Light
With its own ageless eyes.

Of course, Rumi and Whitman share more in common than a tireless optimism and a reliance on a few different chords. Whitman's concept of the Soul is a lot like the Sufist idea of the Divine Unity, a fact that was not lost on Walt himself:

A Persian Lesson
by Walt Whitman

For his o'erarching and last lesson the greybeard sufi,
In the fresh scent of the morning in the open air,
On the slope of a teeming Persian rose-garden,
Under an ancient chestnut-tree wide spreading its branches,
Spoke to the young priests and students.

"Finally my children, to envelop each word, each part of the rest,
Allah is all, all, all — immanent in every life and object,
May-be at many and many-a-more removes — yet Allah, Allah, Allah is there.

"Has the estray wander'd far? Is the reason-why strangely hidden?
Would you sound below the restless ocean of the entire world?
Would you know the dissatisfaction? the urge and spur of every life;
The something never still'd — never entirely gone? the invisible need
of every seed?

"It is the central urge in every atom,
(Often unconscious, often evil, downfallen,)
To return to its divine source and origin, however distant,
Latent the same in subject and in object, without one exception."

Hmm. As long as we're back to Whitman, let's allow him to respond to our insinuations of his being a blabbermouth with a quickie but goodie:

To Old Age
By Walt Whitman

I see in you the estuary that enlarges and spreads itself grandly as it pours in the great Sea.

Check back on Thursday, when we'll have a look at another Persian poet who might just be the anti-Rumi. And on Friday, we'll see what Whitman's 20th Century reincarnation has to say about old age.

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