Rumi-nations on Mystical
Verses of Godly Devotion Become Popular Language of Love
Los Angeles Times
Saturday, June 20, 1998; Page C02
Jelaluddin Rumi deserves to be the envy of every
poet. His latest book,
"The Essential Rumi" (Harper San Francisco), sold 110,000
copies in three
years, and he has a couple of dozen others that are doing well.
None of it
was his idea. He's been dead for more than 700 years.
He seemed to surface from nowhere in 1994, when
Publishers Weekly announced
that Rumi was the bestselling poet in America. Since then, the remote
continues to rise.
Born in 13th-century Persia, raised Muslim in the
mystical Sufi tradition,
he founded a group of whirling dervishes who spun their way into
a state of
ecstasy, and wrote some of the most romantic love poetry of all
I am your lover
Come to my side
I will open
the gate to your love
Before he died in 1273, he predicted that his works
would cross all
boundaries. That was before anyone knew Coleman Barks. Barks, a
with the voice of a blues singer and the build of a mountain man,
poetry at the University of Georgia and has published 14 books of
translations in 14 years, six of them by his own Maypop Press.
He doesn't read Persian, Rumi's language. Instead,
he turns scholarly
English translations into what he describes as American free verse,
expansive as Walt Whitman, precise as Emily Dickinson.
At poetry workshops, on tour with a jazz ensemble,
in bookstores, on audio
and videotape, Barks has been reciting Rumi, his way. Two summers
Moyers vaulted Barks and his muse to the big stage when he featured
his PBS series on poetry, "Language of Life."
This spring, another whirlwind has Rumi stealing
heat from Hollywood
celebrities who read his verses on a compact disc, charging the
air of a
New York fashion show and haunting the libretto of a spare and ethereal
For the CD "Love Poems of Rumi" (Rasa
Records), Barks, Goldie Hawn, Madonna
and Rosa Parks -- the Rosa Parks -- read steamy, giddy, punch-drunk
Because of your love
I have lost my sobriety
I am intoxicated
by the madness of love
Deepak Chopra breathes Rumi's metaphors from the
oasis -- "I am your flower
garden and your water, too" -- into Donna Karan's fall fashion
playing on video in her boutiques. Cloud-color satins, storm-color
cashmeres, glimpses of shoulders and shinbones, and Rumi.
"I don't think of Rumi's poetry as religious,"
says Karan's company
president and spokeswoman, Patty Cohen. "It's all about love."
Barks says the verses go beyond limits, and he quotes
his muse: "Love is
the religion and the universe is the book." But composer Philip
put Rumi's poems to music for his new score, "Monsters of Grace,"
back to the artist's intention.
"Rumi was absolutely writing to Allah,"
he says. "People who have seen the
opera get that right away. They understand divine, ordinary, and
of the two."
The poet's thought that all of creation comes from
God helps explain the
poetry's mysterious power. "One quality of Rumi is to continually
the reader with the object of the poem," says Glass.
At one time, Rumi was an imam, a Muslim prayer leader,
as well as an expert
in Islamic law. He had a teacher, Shams of Tabriz, with whom he
six uninterrupted months. Whether it was a mystical friendship or
else is not certain.
"It is in the Eastern tradition that a student
and master bind together in
spiritual unity," says Mohammad Haghi, a medical doctor with
a doctorate in
the history of science who lectures across the country. "Sufis
language of human love to express a divine relationship. It is only
past 15 years that the other question has even come up."
While romance and mystery surround his name, something
else explains the
furthest reaches of his fame. Robert Phipps of Burbank, Calif.,
his fifties, wrote his first poem after hearing his first Rumi verses
1995. Now he has memorized them and is likely to recite one at any
You dance inside my chest,
Where no one sees you
but sometimes I do, and that
sight becomes this art.
Phipps tries describing Rumi's appeal: "This
brilliant man had the same
questions and difficulties we have." He lets Rumi finish the
I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!
Fariba Enteshari, who emigrated from Iran as a teenager
and later studied
German language and culture at the University of Southern California,
organizes Rumi study groups and seminars. She works at Immaculate
College Center, but keeps up with Rumi groups that meet in the Los
area. One group studies the "Mathnawi," a six-volume poem
Enteshari is also part of a group led by Haghi,
who comes to L.A. from
Berkeley for meetings.
All of the gatherings are in Persian, but Enteshari
plans to branch out
with a conference in English soon.
"In modern societies we get cut off from our
roots, not only as immigrants
but as women, as minorities and others," Enteshari said. "Rumi
tells us to
look inside and find ourselves. He is the healer of our time."
When she began to study his work four years ago,
she was happy to find a
couple of collections of Rumi on the bookstore shelf. This spring,
poetry reading at Borders in Westwood, Calif., 39 titles were in
From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it.
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