March Books 20) The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Banks with John Moyne
This is a selection of poetry translated from the original Persian of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, known as Mowlānā in Persian and Rūmī in the English-speaking world, whose followers founded the Mawlawī Sufi order, better known as the Whirling Dervishes, after his death. The poetry is expressive and profound, but also fairly easy to digest. Rūmī's basic philosophy is that one can find a path to the ineffable through meditation on love - his best one-liner is that "Love is the astrolabe that sights into the mysteries of God". Unlike the Christian monastic tradition, he stresses the importance of human contact (though I noted that while he writes a lot about both friendship and romantic love, he has less to say about parenthood). He includes a number of Sufist parables, in a style which I was familiar with from my encounter with the Bektashi in the Balkans (founded at about the same time and in roughly the same place, and also Sufist in orientation), though Rūmī is both more profound and more basic (the parable of the maidservant, the donkey, and the importance of taking essential preliminary measures will linger in my mind for a while).
I was slightly concerned while reading it that the translator, Coleman Barks, might have taken considerable liberties with the original text. I have no way of knowing, but I am reassured by the appendix which includes reference to each of the original poems, and also, unusually for a poetry book, several curry recipes.
Anyway, a fascinating insight into a different tradition of spirituality.