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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




THE ESSENTIAL RUMI by Jelalludin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, A. J. Arberry ($7.98, hardcover, 302 pages, Book Sales; ISBN: 078580871X)

Rumi's World: The Life and Work of the Great Sufi Poet by Annemarie Schimmel (Shambhala) is the recent reprint edition of Schimmel's superb introduction to the life and poetry of the great Sufi mystic.

THE GLANCE: Songs of Soul-Meeting by Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks ($18.00, hardcover, 176 pages, Viking Press; ISBN: 0670887552)

Before Robert Bly handed Coleman Barks earlier translations of Rumi's poems and told him, "These poems need to be released from their cages," Rumi's work was available only in dry, academic versions. Now, more than 400,000 copies of Barks' Rumi books, which include THE ESSENTIAL RUMI and The Illuminated Rumi, have been sold around the world, a testament not only to this 13th century poet's enduring popularity, but also to Barks' deft handling of Rurni's intense spiritual and personal language.

The late 20'century's preoccupations with spirituality and poetry are beautifully interwoven in Barks' latest translation of Rumi, THE GLANCE: Songs of Soul-Meeting is a collection of Rumi's poems of spiritual connection  made between two lover of God and of the mystical experience that occurs in the meeting of the eyes between lovers lost in the profound mysteries of the Divine, between  two men as one soul, intense friends within the unity of the Divine. Rumi experienced this connection with Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish and student of the sacred (although Rumi explains that "even friend and beloved are wrong words for this ... A pure silent look is better.") His universal poetry emerged from this great love and friendship.

For more than 700 years Rumi's work has spoken to that part of us that seeks a deep, real connection with the mystical. His poetry is unlike any other; it is fiercely personal and depicts the gritty details of life. At the same time, his words are astoundingly spiritual. As Barks comments in his introduction, "The realm of the glance is beyond touch, and somehow within touch too. The friendship of Rurm and Shams goes past wantings, past ideas of gender, beyond the old love categories, beyond the synapse of the garden balcony scene, and beyond mind. It can only be experienced in the place where all connect."

THE GLANCE is a hauntingly lyrical collection of poems that celebrate the bond between two soulmates, delving into the mysteries of human desire, love and ecstasy and producing a new love lyric for our timcone of longing, connection and wholeness.

The CD version features 13 of Rumi's poems read by Barks and accompanied by original music, for, as Barks says in his introduction, "These poems were to be heard with music ... In Persian the poems can be sung as well as read. And music is often a metaphor for what connects human beings in the ocean of consciousness."

About the author: Coleman Barks was bom and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was educated at the University of North Carolina and at the University of California at Berkeley. He taught poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia for 30 years. Coleman Barks is the author of numerous Rumi translations and has been a student of Stifism since 1977. His work with Rumi was the subject of a segment in Bill Moyers 'Language o Life' series on PBS (1995), and he is a featured poet and translator in Bill Moyers' poetry special, "Fooling with Words" (1999). The father of two grown children and the grandfather of three, Coleman Barks lives in Athens, Georgia.
RUMI: One-Handed Basket Weaving: Poems on the Theme of Work by Jalal Al-Din Rumi, selected and translated by Coleman Barks ($9.00, paperback, 136 pages, Maypop; ISBN: 0961891637)

RUMI: SAY I AM YOU: Poetry Interspersed With Stories of Rumi and Shams  by Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks ($12.00, paperback, 128 pages, Maypop; ISBN: 1884237002

BIRDSONG: Fifty-Three Short Poems  by Jalauddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks ($9.00, tradepaper; 69 pages, Maypop books ISBN: 0-9618916-7-X)

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Din ar-Rumi (1207-73), the Persian mystic and poet, was born in what is now Afghanistan. Rumi was influenced early by Islamic mysticism, usually called Sufism, in his family, and an ecstatic element permeates his lyrical and didactic poetry even in the most banal translations. Rumi's family migrated to Persia to escape the pillaging Mongols and settled eventually in what is now western Turkey. In 1244 Rumi met Shams ad-Din, a dervish from Tabriz. Their friendship, marked by ecstatic hours in divine converse, caused some consternation amongst the more pedestrian of Rumi's admirers, including one of his own sons. Shams ad-Din disappeared, being either killed by some jealous disciples or for some other unexplained reason in 1247. Rumi composed nearly 30,000 verses of grief at this loss. The collection of poetry and stories, RUMI: SAY I AM YOU, celebrates this puzzling relationship between these two men. Their love was so powerful that it transformed Rumi from an ordinary man of his time to a man and poet for all time. One of the great universal geniuses of literature. Later spiritual friendships again inspired his poetry, notably his masterpiece, the epic poem Masnavi-ye Manavi (Spiritual Couplets), which has had an immense influence on Islamic literature and thought. After Rumi's death, his followers organized the Sufi order the Mevlevi, known in the West as the whirling, or dancing dervishes. Thackston provides a new translation of the discourses of Rumi, capturing his religious teaching in a conversational way that at times approaches the intensity of his exquisite poetry. In Rumi's poems there is always a mystery as to who the "you" he addresses are. It could be a human lover, God, another part of himself, or a combination of all three. There has been a veritable small industry translating tiny sections of Rumi's vast literary output. Barks is the most notable and prolific in America to popularize the poems of this major figure in world literature. His translations have often served for public recitation of the great mystic and lover of God. In RUMI: One-Handed Basket Weaving the theme of love and work are seen as interchangeable. The stories and tales in these poems are universal in the challenge they provide to us. BIRDSONG stresses the pithy wit and contemplative dimension of the poet. Barks has a genus for bringing the wisdom of Rumi into our common tongue with in no way debasing the great saint.

LIGHT UPON LIGHT: Inspirations From Rumi Translated by Andrew Harvey, Photography by Eryk Hanut  ($20.00, cloth; 247 pages; 35 b&w photos, North Atlantic Books ISBN:1556432062)

Harvey's previous book, The Way of Passion (see below) (1994) has reintroduced the great Sufi poet to a whole new generation of his admirers. His earlier renditions of Rumi's verse have received critical praise. This volume is a more impassioned selection or interpretation of Rumi's poetry. Unlike the ever popular Coleman Barks renditions, that lull us into feeling we know what Rumi means easily, Harvey takes the way of higher passion, of a diction that exalts rather than lulls. It is a beautifully produced volume. The photos by his husband offer oblique testimony to the subtlety. The volume is suitable for gift-giving. One qualm I have is that Harvey does not offer us his sources, where from Rumi he drew his inspiration. This leads me to believe that we have highly reworked verses and meditations that reflect Harvey's mystic vision a little more than the Great Persian Sufi's. Once this is recognized the work stands on its own merits.

The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi by Andrew Harvey ($20.00, cloth; Frog, Ltd., (North Atlantic Books P.O. Box 12327, Berkeley, CA 9470; 319 pages,  ISBN:188331920X)

Dialogues with a Modern Mystic by Andrew Harvey and Mark Matousek ($12.00, tradepaper; 274 pages, Quest Books; ISBN:0-8356-0704-6

Harvey's impressions of the spiritual life have become a continuing source of the homogenization of contemporary American spirituality. This autobiographical work is likely to be well treasured by the enlightenment minded. Harvey has a vivid way of making the great mystic-poet Rumi sing to contemporary audiences. His translations are some of the most faithful interpretations of the poet currently being sold. The poetry of Rumi has a breath and range as vast as Shakespeare's and as mystical as Meister Eckhart's. It will always find a ready audience in lovers and romantics. On the other hand Harvey's opinions probably are of a more fleeting nature. They maybe useful to those novices to spirituality who want a basic understanding that social withdrawal a necessary condition for the contemplative life.

Poetry and Mysticism in Islam: The Heritage of Rumi Edited by Amin Banani, Richard Hovannisian, and George Sabagh ($69.95, hardcover; 204 pages, Cambridge University Press, ISBN:052145476X)

This eleventh recipient of honor of the Giorgio Della Vida biennial Conference was Annemarie Schimmel, in recognition of here lifetime of endeavor to have the mysticism and poetry of Rumi appreciated in the West. The essays in this little volume feature original contributions by some of the best Islamicists in the USA. William Chittick's, Margaret Mills', and Victoria Holbrook's essays especially comprise important historical interpretations of the poet and his heritage.


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