I finished Rumi: Bridge to the Soul translated by Coleman Barks last night. What a lovely little book this is too. Not only the poetry was good, but the introduction by Barks was good too. I learned some things about Rumi and about Iran.
In his introduction, Barks tells the story of Rumi’s funeral in 1273. There were representatives there from every religion. When asked why they had all come they replied, “He [Rumi] deepens us wherever we are.” Barks explains that Rumi’s inclusiveness is a result of his meeting Shams Tabriz who became his teacher and is often mentioned in Rumi’s poetry. Barks writes
Shams operated beyond form and doctrine. He once said that if the Kaaba were suddenly lifted up out of the world, we would see that each person is really bowing (five times a day) to every other person. In other words, if the icons of religions could dissolve, we would be left with the radiance of each other, the one honoring the other as the same glory. Friendship. Namaste.
Barks suggests that because of his inclusiveness, Rumi can be seen as a bridge between religions, and his poetry a bridge for the heart, helping us move from the place we are to another place that is even better.
In 2006 Barks and his friend the poet Robert Bly traveled to Tehran where they were honored at Tehran University. Barks received an honorary Ph.D for his work translating Rumi (Iranians are apparently thrilled that Americans like Rumi so much) and Bly received a plaque of commendation for his own poetry. The two traveled around Tehran and to several other Iranian cities and Barks notes how kind everyone they met was. He was very surprised that no one expressed any kind of resentment or anger against the United States.
Barks then cautiously explains, he is worried about getting it wrong, that Iran’s democratically elected president decided in 1951 that he was tired of Britain being in charge of most of the oil fields in Iran. So he made a move to nationalize the oil industry so Iran would control all of its oil fields. Churchill and Truman and then Eisenhower and the CIA and the British M16 conspired to arrange a coup. The coup was a success, the Shah came to power, 50% of Iran’s oil profit went to Britain, 40% to the United States and 10% to Iran. And Iran has never had a democratic government since. I feel like such a dumb American that I never knew all these details.
The only good thing is that Iran has shared with us their poet Rumi. And maybe Rumi, this wonderful bridge, can do something to bridge the chasm that divides our countries. Here is a little Rumi for thought from the poem “The Creation Word”:
The life gift is given
and then taken away.
It is not for us to know why, or how.
Grace comes with the creation word, Be.
The gate opens without hesitating.
Between the push of buh
and the smooth launch of ee,
there is an infinite moment
when everything happens.