Monday, June 11, 2007

I am ready to drink every flame

In this post, Sunlight offers Ghazal (Ode) 543, in a
poetic version by Coleman Barks and a literal translation by
A. J. Arberry:

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When I press my hand to my chest,
it is Your Chest.

And now You're scratching my head!

Sometimes you put me in the herd
with Your other camels.

Sometimes You place me at the front of the troops
as the commander. Sometimes You wet me
with Your mouth like You do Your seal-ring
just before You plant Your power.

Sometimes You round me
into a simple door-knocker.

You take blood and make sperm.
You take sperm and create an animal.
You use the animal to evolve Intelligence.
Life keeps leading to more Life.

You drive me away gently
as a flute-song does a dove
from the eaves.

With the same song
You call me back.

You push me out on many journeys;
then You anchor me with no motion at all.

I am water. I am the thorn
that catches someone's clothing.

I don't care about marvelous sights!
I only want to be in Your Presence.

There's nothing to believe.
Only when I quit believing in myself
did I come into This Beauty.

I saw Your Blade and burned my shield!
I flew on six hundred pairs of wings like Gabriel.
But now that I'm Here, what do I need wings for?

Day and night I guarded the pearl of my soul.
Now in this Ocean of pearling currents,
I've lost track of which was mine.

There is no way to describe You.
Say the end of this so strongly
that I will ride up over
my own commotion.

-- Version by Coleman Barks
from a translation by A.J. Arberry
"Like This"
Maypop, 1990

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My Beloved leaves me not so much as to scratch my own
head; it is the body of my Beloved that presses me in its breast.
Now He draws me in His train like a string of camels, anon
the King places me in front like the commander of His troops.
Anon He sucks me like a seal-ring, to plant His seal
through me; anon He makes me into a ring and fastens me on
His door.
He takes blood and makes sperm, He takes sperm and
fashions a creature; He slays the creature and fashions Reason,
He makes manifest the resurrection.*
Now He drives me away with a reed like a dove from the
house, anon with a hundred entreaties He calls me to His presence.
Now He carries me like a ship on a voyage over the sea,
anon He halts me and ties me to His own anchor.
Now He makes me water for the sake of the seeker after
purity, anon He makes me a thorn in the path of His luckless
The eternal eight paradises did not become the prospect of
that King; how happy is this heart of mine, which He makes
His prospect!*
Not by the attestation of faith did I become a believer in
that Beauty of the Soul; only then did I become a believer in
It when I became an unbeliever in myself.
Whoever joined His ranks became secure from destruction
by Him; I saw the sword in His hand, I burned that shield of
I was like-pinioned with Gabriel, I had six hundred wings;
now that I have reached Him, what shall I do with my wings?
Many days and nights I was guardian of the pearl of my
soul; now in the current of the ocean of pearls I am indifferent
to my own pearl.
How long will you essay to describe Him? For He comes not
within description; make enough, that I may ride over my

-- Translation by A. J. Arberry
"Mystical Poems of Rumi 1"
The University of Chicago Press, 1968

* See Koran 23: 12-14
* Muhammad in his Ascension disregarded the wonders of the
heavens, seeking only the Presence of God. For another interpretation
of the Eight Paradises, see Nicholson on Math. I: 3498.

The media:

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