Rumi — Poet and Mystic

Letha Olson Reineman

The greatest of Persian poets, Jalalu'l Din Rumi, gives to us some of the best of Sufi thought, which must have flowed forth from the fountain of God-Wisdom. Gems of truth are hidden in homely analogies of everyday life. Some of the subtleties and delicate shades of meaning are rather hard to comprehend, clothed as they are in an oriental imagery. Often they are of exquisite and unearthly beauty, like snatches of sweet music heard at night.

The themes in Rumi's poetry* are derived from a long succession of Sufi thinkers, and are embodied in three great collections of perhaps some 2500 mystical odes. They are sublime in content and rich and varied in expression. The Mathnawi is instructional in character, the Diwan and the Ruba'iyat more personal and emotional in appeal. All are spiritually inspirational to a high degree.

* Rumi — Poet and Mystic (1207-1273). Selections from his Writings. Translated from the Persian by Reynold A. Nicholson. George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., London, England. 190 pp. 1950.

It is a Sufi belief that music originates from the music of the spheres, and brings us memories of past experiences, as it is associated with the pre-existence of the soul. It is an expression of the voice of God, and the "echoing of the anthems of the heavenly hosts throughout eternity." The strains of the lute are heard throughout, man's feeble expression, tying one to earth and its strange mixture of sadness and beauty.

Hearken to this Reed forlorn,
Breathing, ever since 'twas torn
From its rushy bed, a strain
Of impassioned love and pain. — i
'Tis said, the pipe and lute that charm our ears
Derive their melody from rolling spheres;

*     *     *

Our memory, though dull and sad, retains
Some echo still of those unearthly strains. — ii

God in nature, the growth of the ascending spirit Godwards through all the kingdoms of nature, the unity of all that is, the power of love, and the striving to become at one with God, are used over and over again as subject matter for the poems. A few quotations will best illustrate this:

O good friend thou art not a single 'thou';
Thou art the sky and the deep sea.
Thy mighty, infinite 'Thou' is the ocean
Wherein myriads of 'thous' are sunken.

*     *     *

We are flute, our music is all Thine;
We are the mountain echoing only Thee.

*     *     *

Thy wind invisible sweeps us through the world.

*     *     *

Love is the boundless ocean in which the heavens
    are but a flake of foam:
Know that all the wheeling heavens are turned by
    waves of Love: were it not for Love the
    world would be frozen.

Then this sublime thought in "Children of Light":

Beyond the stars are Stars in which there is no combust nor sinister aspect,
Stars moving in other Heavens, not the seven heavens known to all,
Stars immanent in the radiance of the Light of God, neither joined to each other nor separate.

It is a doctrinal belief that "God hath not created in the earth or in the lofty heaven anything more occult than the spirit of man." The symbolism of the wine and cup are much used, and so often misunderstood. There can be no doubt of the spiritual meaning: "Well done, O sovereign Wine and Peerless Cup." These thoughts are universal, as expressed in lines from the poems, and are a part of the doctrine:

Religions are many, God is one.
The lamps are different, but the Light is the same: it comes from Beyond. — civ

And this from "The Shepherd's Prayer":

I have bestowed on every one a particular mode of worship, I have given every one a peculiar form of expression.

*     *     *

I look not at the tongue and speech, I look at the spirit and the inward feeling. — cvi

Self-discipline and self-conquest are stressed as a means of soul development rather than asceticism which cuts off all temptations by which strength and courage are developed. In many ancient philosophies there is a recondite teaching in regard to nourishing the gods. The idea may not be quite the same, but doesn't this bring to mind some of our own inner speculations?

From the pure star-bright souls replenishment is ever coming to the stars of heaven.
Outwardly we are ruled by these stars, but our inward nature has become the ruler of the skies. — lxxv

And continuing, curiously with the Hermetic axiom, "as above so below":

Therefore while in form thou art the microcosm, in reality thou art the macrocosm.

These poignant lines are from "The Mystic Way":

Our speech and action is the outer journey,
Our inner journey is above the sky
The body travels on its dusty way;
The spirit walks, like Jesus, on the sea. — xxxvii

It is the author's hope that a true brotherhood of man will be brought about by mutual understanding and appreciation of the thought and religious experience of others. If we can see that our aims and purposes are the same, and the diversity of human expression opens new vistas and broader visions, richness and inspiration will be added to our own interpretations. Wars and strife will cease when we realize that we are all sons of God living in a Spiritual Universe.

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)

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