While Europe was immersed in what we now describe as The Dark Ages, Arabic and Islamic cultures were blooming, and among the many flowers that grew are some of the most profound and beautiful poems in the world. Here today, in the Maroon Poetry Corner, we have a small selection from some of my favourite poets, Rumi, Kabir, and Lalla, as an example the poetry of the Sufi mystics. Sufism is a branch of mysticism in the Islamic tradition. There is a lot of dancing and music and poetry involved - creative expression in honour of the divine.
Once upon a time, I arrived to stay at a friend's house and found her in the middle of an acute psychotic break/manic episode. As you can image, we were up all night. I swear I tried everything short of shooting her with a tranquiliser dart to get her to go down. It was indeed fortunate that I had selected my copy of The Soul is Here for its Own Joy - Sacred Poems from Many Cultures, edited by Robert Bly as a travelling companion that day. Somewhere in the wee hours I discovered that if I read poems like these to her, she would lay still and keep quiet. A miracle right there, in front of my very eyes.
You can click on the names of the poets if you want to read more.
My poems resemble the bread of Egypt - one night
Passes over it, and you can't eat it any more.
So gobble them down now, while they're still fresh,
Before the dust of the world settles on them.
Where a poem belongs is here, in the warmth of the chest;
Out in the world it dies of cold.
You've seen a fish - put him on dry land,
He quivers for a few minutes, and then is still.
And even if you eat my poems while they're still fresh,
You still have to bring forward many images yourself.
Actually, friend, what you're eating is your own imagination.
These poems are not just some old sayings and saws.
The Mill, The Stone and The Water
All our desire is a grain of wheat.
Our whole personality is the milling-building.
But this mill grinds without knowing about it.
The mill stone is your heavy body.
What makes the stone turn is your thought-river.
The stone says: I don't know why we do all this, but the river has knowledge!
If you ask the river, it says,
I don't know why I flow.
All I know is that a human opened the gate!
And if you ask the person, he says:
All I know, oh gobbler of bread, is that if this stone
Stops going around, there'll be no bread for your bread-soup!
All this grinding goes on, and no one has any knowledge!
So just be quiet, and one day turn
To God, and say: "What is this about bread-making?"
The Spinning Wheel
The woman who is separated from her lover spins at the spinning wheel.
The Bagdad of the body rises with its towers and gates.
Inside it palace of intelligence has been built.
The wheel of ecstatic love turns around in the sky,
and the spinning seat is made of the sapphires of work and study.
The woman weaves threads that are subtle,
and the intensity of her praise makes them fine!
Kabir says: I am that woman.
I am weaving the linen of night and day.
When my Lover comes and I feel his feet,
the gift I will have for him is tears.
The Clay Jug
Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains, and the maker of canyons and pine mountains!
All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars.
The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.
And the music from the strings that no one touches, and the source of all water.
If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
Friends, listen: the God whom I love is inside.
Your way of knowing
Your way of knowing is a private herb garden.
Enclose it with a hedge of meditation,
and self-discipline, and helpfulness to others.
Then everything you've done before
will be brought as a sacrifice
to the mother goddess.
And each day, as you eat the herbs,
the garden grows more bare and empty.
- translated by Coleman Barks.