Monday, April 19, 2010

Poem 1246 - Rumi


The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.

---Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

Trust me, featuring a five line poem in my blog is not me being lazy or taking a day off, especially when the poem is laced with emotion as this gem from Rumi, by way of Coleman Barks, certainly is. Coleman Barks is a unique figure in the world of poetry. He has devoted most of his writing life to translating Rumi, an ancient Persian mystic and master teacher. You might find it interesting to know that many of Rumi's "poems" are lines that he spoke in his teachings. That's probably why you can't read a Rumi poem without finding a lesson. With some poets that is a recipe for disaster, but in Coleman Barks' careful and caring hands Rumi appears fresh and fulfilled in his reincarnation in the English language.

What is it about this tiny poem that makes it one of my favorites? Well, there is something to be said for poems that you can memorize. Stored away in the brain, a poem can come in handy in a variety of situations: wedding toast, moment of reflection, perhaps in a stressful situation when you need to gain back your nerves. Yes, it's far easier to memorize a five line poem than the Odyssey, but a poem's length is not directly relative to its impact upon the reader. This poem, #1246, contains the intensity, sweetness and brevity of a Hershey Kiss. For a guy who gave up chocolate for Lent this year, let me tell you how powerful a single Hershey Kiss can be! This poem is all about love, as are so many of the poems this blog has looked at over the years. Still, this poem displays a tone that is calm, yet in complete control of love. Is this strange to anyone else? Along with its polar opposite of hate, love is a perennially unbridled and energetic force. With this poem Rumi seems to have tamed love, but how did he do it?

"The minute I heard my first love story," is an initial line that invites us to join Rumi in his past with a situation we all share and know well. Reading that line, we think of our own introduction to love stories and happily ever afters. They provide us with a set of rules and practices that must be followed in order to secure a lasting, lifelong love. Without question, we accept this quest for love as a path natural as life itself. In hearing his first love story, Rumi "started looking for you." Of course he did, this is exactly what the love story requires and expects, but the next part of the line is surprising: "not knowing / how blind that was." In a quick twist Rumi goes from a naive love-sick boy to a mature love-ready man. He doesn't share the road that led him to this transformation, but he does provide the truth that he acquired along the way: "Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. / They're in each other all along." This idea radiates with a beauty and confidence all its own. The ability to love another is inside each of us developing with time and experience and it flows forth when an opportunity to love presents itself. Coincidentally, the features you will love in another are already in your own character. When someone mentions "sparks" in a romance it is often an indescribable, yet overwhelming rush of feelings. Sparks come from the answers Rumi and Barks deliver in the final two lines of this joyous poem. They are inside us and inside the person we love. They are not easily, if ever, lost. As you remember the origins of love, take this poem with you in memory, it will serve you well.


Gayathry said...

I think the ability to love someone is the manifestation of how one loves onesself. I'm a new reader of Rumi and have read few of his works - but always amazed. The combination of the innocence and the rational, or as you say, the mature, is beautiful.

Matthew A Kaberline said...

Thank you Gayathry! What insightful commentary about the ability to love. Rumi packs so much into a line or two. At first it annoyed me that most of his "poems" are four lines at most, but now I see why. He delivers so much for his readers to consider in such contained and concise lines that they possess an overwhelmingly powerful quality. Do you have any favorite Rumi poems that I should be checking out?

Gayathry said...

Hi Matthew, the one I have is one of his longer ones, but I really like it ("I was dead" but don't be thrown off by the title:)).

i was dead
i came alive
i was tears
i became laughter

all because of love
when it arrived
my temporal life
from then on
changed to eternal

love said to me
you are not
crazy enough
you don’t
fit this house

i went and
became crazy
crazy enough
to be in chains

love said
you are not
intoxicated enough
you don’t
fit the group

i went and
got drunk
drunk enough
to overflow
with light-headedness

love said
you are still
too clever
filled with
imagination and skepticism

i went and
became gullible
and in fright
pulled away
from it all

love said
you are a candle
attracting everyone
gathering every one
around you

i am no more
a candle spreading light
i gather no more crowds
and like smoke
i am all scattered now

love said
you are a teacher
you are a head
and for everyone
you are a leader

i am no more
not a teacher
not a leader
just a servant
to your wishes
love said

you already have
your own wings
i will not give you
more feathers

and then my heart
pulled itself apart
and filled to the brim
with a new light
overflowed with fresh life

now even the heavens
are thankful that
because of love
i have become
the giver of light

Anonymous said...

I am trying to find the persian translation of this poem "1246". the translation that I have found is different from the english version. maybe you can help me to find the original one

Matthew A Kaberline said...

Gayathry, I'm sorry it took me so long to reply, but I sincerely enjoyed the poem you shared. It was a beautiful allegory showing how the accumulation of experiences shapes our life and informs our heart/soul. ..Anon, I'm sorry, no luck finding the Persian translation on my end.