On this last day of June, we'll turn the blog over to the 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, via the 21st-century mystic, dear friend of the blog and Franklin professor of English emeritus Coleman Barks:
Being Woven – Communal Practice
On Being Woven
There’s a game that’s remembered in Iran called moshaereh, which means ‘being in company with poetry.’ One person says a line from Rumi, then the next person must begin a Rumi line with the word the first person’s ended with. And so on for hours, I’m told, before television deadened the psyche, a family or a group of friends might continue. Rumi was not the only poet used. It might be Hafiz, or Attar, or others. Poetry wove together the fabric of community and kept it lively. We have nothing comparable, except perhaps the nights of trading poems back and forth that sometimes happen in gatherings.
In December of 1273 when Rumi died, representatives of every major religion came to his funeral. In the midst of the crusades and violent sectarian conflict he said.
‘I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see one altar.’
And he made it clear in other places that someone who considers religion or nation an important human category is in danger of severing the heart from its ability to act compassionately. This is a radical idea now, but Rumi held the conviction in the thirteenth century with such deep gentleness that its truth was recognized.
Of Being Woven, by Rumi, translated into the tradition of American free verse by Coleman Barks:
“The way is full of genuine sacrifice.
The thickets blocking your path are anything
that keeps you from that, any fear that you may be broken
into bits like a glass bottle.
This road demands courage and stamina, yet it’s full of
Who are these companions?
They are rungs in your ladder. Use them!
With company you quicken your ascent.
You may be happy enough going along, but with others
you’ll get farther, and faster.
Someone who goes cheerfully by himself to the customs
house to pay his traveler’s tax will go even more
lightheartedly when friends are with him.
Every prophet sought out companions.
A wall standing alone is useless, but put three or four walls
together, and they’ll support a roof and keep grain dry
When ink joins with a pen, then the blank paper can say
Rushes and reeds must be woven to be useful as a mat. If
they weren’t interlaced; the wind would blow them away.
Like that, God paired up creatures, and gave them
This is how the fowler and the bird were arguing
about hermitic living and Islam.
It’s a prolonged debate.
Husam shorten their controversy.
Make the Mathnawi more nimble and less lumbering.
Agile sounds are more appealing to the heart’s ear.