Mystic Poet

June 12, 2009 by  
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When I come across a line in Rumi’s poetry that points directly to belief in the existence of a deity – e.g. “death is a bridge that leads the lover to the Beloved”, I find myself wondering whether it is even possible to approach and appreciate the work of this mystic poet from a non-theistic perspective. After all Rumi’s work is a catalogue of his encounters with a god that he recognizes everywhere in his surroundings. The essence of this work is a description of joy in the presence of divine love, of the mystical rapport and union with a divinity that is omnipresent and accessible in the natural world.

Rumi is not espousing a theological position (though we may ascribe one to his utterances) so much as reporting on his experience of mystical love. He is primarily a mystic and a visionary poet, not a philosopher or an academic theologian. As such he has shed conventions of religious tradition; he sees and speaks from a vantage that lies outside their domain. As Annemarie Schimmel has written, “Prayer was the center of his life – not the prayer that is performed with lips and limbs only, but a prayer that means true union with the Divine Beloved.”

I have prayed so much that I myself turned into prayer –

Everyone who sees me begs a prayer from me. (D903)

“This couplet” continues Ms. Schimmel, “may represent the truest self-portrait of the great mystic.”

As an elder in the Sufi order ( and a teacher in his community, Rumi’s writings undoubtedly served an educative purpose. “The parables and metaphors in Rumi’s work, which often seem to be intertwined, lead the seeker to the living reality” (Schimmel). Through his art Rumi reveals the living heart of his own experience; it is an offering and an opening to a view of a world that is suffused with divine love.

In Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman has written –

Argue not concerning God, … re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your soul…

Theological questions regarding Rumi’s work may be raised and debated. But at the heart of his poetic vision lies the endeavor to illuminate and convey an experience of the love that he witnessed coursing through the world.

Coleman Barks has described Rumi’s work as “…The impulse to praise and recognize every being and every moment as sacred…” speading not from the exclusive perspective of a particular spiritual tradition – but rather “from the clear bead at the center”.

For Barks, mystical poetry “is a way to open the heart, as a Sufi master, or any enlightened being, is a door to the radiant depth of the self.”