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#2122 - Saturday, April 23, 2005 - Editor: Gloria


It's the birthday of poet and translator Coleman Barks, (books by this author) born in Chattanooga, Tennessee (1937). He's famous for his translations of poems by the 13th-century Sufi mystic, Rumi. His collection, The Essential Rumi, came out in 1995.

The New Rule


It's the old rule that drunks have to argue
and get into fights.
The lover is just as bad. he falls into a hole.
But down in that hole he finds something shining,
worth more than any amount of money or power.

Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing,
falling up into the bowl of sky.
The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.

Here's the new rule: break the wineglass,
and fall toward the glassblower's breath.


Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
Your covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you've died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.

"I used to want buyers for my words.
Now I wish someone would buy me away from words.

I've made a lot of charmingly profound images,
scenes with Abraham, and Abraham's father, Azar,
who was also famous for icons.

I'm so tired of what I've been doing.

Then one image without form came,
and I quit.

Look for someone else to tend the shop.
I'm out of the image-making business.

Finally I know the freedom
of madness.

A random image arrives. I scream,
"Get out!" It disintegrates.

Only love.
Only the holder the flag fits into,
and wind. No flag. "





Translating Ecstasy:
Coleman Barks on Rumi with a Side of Curry

by Margaret Doyle

Coleman Barks, preeminent translator of the 13th-century mystic poet Rumi, squirms audibly at the suggestion that he may be a prophet. He says only, "I can write and recognize poetry when I hear it." He describes a prophet as "someone through whom some revelation can come — and anyone can. I have met people who have more of the light of God in them than us normal people, but I’m not one of them."

Barks continues to describe himself: "I’m a tremendous doubter." Further, he says that his greatest inspiration has been his encounters with a holy man, first in a dream, and then in Philadelphia; that his practice of communal spiritual worship features going for lattés and driving his convertible; that he is most authentically himself when writing poetry or playing with his grandchildren; and that his idea of a perfect day is one spent working outdoors and working with words. Coleman Barks may participate in a conference diagonally across America from where he lives, but he says, "There’s something always in me that’s waiting until all this public stuff is over so that I can get back home to that place of writing and working in the dirt."

The message Barks conveys is of Rumi’s ecstatic poetry, which, as Barks said to Bill Moyers, PBS journalist, is "trying to get us to feel the vastness of our true identity ... like the sense you might get walking into a cathedral ... what Jesus referred to when he said, ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ "

Barks gave a precise definition of ecstasy in that Moyers interview: "each moment [is] solid and actual, yet numinous, shot through with divine light and guidance." He also gave a telling anecdotal definition of ecstasy when I asked him more recently to define it: "I was with my granddaughter, going around the yard lifting up stones to see what was there — there’s always something good, something interesting — and a woman walking by on the street just turned her head and said, ‘You’re going to spoil her.’ This universe is just so incredible that we’re all spoiled, and it’s okay. Rumi said, ‘The eye is meant to see things; the soul is here for its own joy.’ "

Rumi’s poetry and Barks’ lifework express ecstasy with an openness, whimsy, and practicality that make the everyday resonate with the sacred; that make the everyday holy. So how does one train to be a poet in the ecstatic form? Barks taught his students, "You may as well tell as much truth as you know in poetry, because nobody makes any money off it ... and then I turned out to be a liar!" referring to the royalties he receives from his translations of Rumi. [...]

Jalal Al-Din Rumi, born in 1207, was the founder of the Sufism, an openhearted exploration of unity. Rumi fled from Mongol-ridden Afghanistan to come to Turkey, where he lived and taught until his death in 1273. Rumi’s words offer an all-encompassing spirituality relevant to our times: being present in the moment, finding the holiness in laughter.

Coleman Barks describes his own practice of spirituality, his worship services: "I go for lattés and I go riding in my ’72 Dodge convertible. Everything is church, isn’t it? I love to sing old hymns ... I used to go to old singings in the mountains of North Carolina.

"I wouldn’t say I was anything: I am everything! Why not a Hindu? I love the dancing Shiva. Surely St. Francis and Buddha Dharma would get along fine. They wouldn’t have an argument. They would laugh a lot, and laughter’s pretty holy to me. I think it’s right at the core of where you lose your boundaries — and some absorption in work that you love. I like to work with stone. I buy these big pallets of stone and they just disappear.

"Rumi was without boundaries. He would say that love is the religion and the universe is the book, that experience as we’re living it is the sacred text that we study, so that puts us all in the same God club."

Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, said, "If Rumi is the most-read poet in America today, Coleman Barks is in good part responsible. His ear for the truly divine madness in Rumi’s poetry is truly remarkable." What qualifies Barks to translate Rumi? Barks observes, "I’ve always had this contact with the ecstatic part of myself. I’ve always felt lucky, like this life is really fortunate for me. It seems a lot of grace has come to me.

"Sometimes in April, when the sun was going down [with] that gold light, I would just lie on the floor and hug myself. I grew up in a family where that was okay, and anybody could break into song at any moment, or dance, or whatever, and that’s a great help to the ecstatic vision."

Barks claims his greatest inspiration came to him first in a dream on May 2, 1977 ("my only holy day") when a Sufi holy man came to Barks and expressed his love, and Barks expressed his love in return and saw the entire scene as "drenched with the dew of love." Later, Barks was introduced to this person in real life and spent many hours learning from him.

"That felt like the beginning, although I’d already started working on the [Rumi] poems. I don’t know that I’d believe it in anybody else, but I can’t not believe it when it happens to me! He taught me things in dreams like taking tiny, tiny little sips; he said, ‘You want wisdom too quickly.’ "

entire article:

from Ode 1823


This is how it always is
when I finish a poem.

A great silence comes over me,
and I wonder why I ever thought
to use language.


Rumi, trans. Barks




Ode 1373


I was dead, then alive.
Weeping, then laughing.

The power of love came into me,
and I became fierce like a lion,
then tender like the evening star.

He said, ‘You’re not mad enough.
You don’t belong in this house.’

I went wild and had to be tied up.
He said, ‘Still not wild enough
to stay with us!’

I broke through another layer
into joyfulness.

He said, ‘Its not enough.’
I died.

He said, ‘You are a clever little man,
full of fantasy and doubting.’

I plucked out my feathers and became a fool.
He said, ‘Now you are the candle
for this assembly.’

But I’m no candle. Look!
I’m scattered smoke

He said, ‘You are the Sheikh, the guide.’
But I’m not a teacher. I have no power.

He said, ‘You already have wings.
I cannot give you wings.’

But I wanted his wings.
I felt like some flightless chicken.

Then new events said to me,
‘Don’t move. A sublime generosity is
coming towards you.’

And old love said, ‘Stay with me.’

I said, ‘I will.’

You are the fountain of the sun’s light.
I am a willow shadow on the ground.
You make my raggedness silky.

The soul at dawn is like darkened water
that slowly begins to say Thank you, thank you.

Then at sunset, again, Venus gradually
Changes into the moon and then the whole nightsky.

This comes of smiling back
at your smile.

The chess master says nothing,
other than moving the silent chess piece.

That I am part of the ploys
of this game makes me
amazingly happy.



From: Rumi – Like This
Versions by: Coleman Barks




Ode 3079



We've come again to that knee of seacoast

no ocean can reach.

Tie together all human intellects.

They won't stretch to here.

The sky bares its neck so beautifully,

but gets no kiss. Only a taste.

This is the food that everyone wants,

wandering the wilderness, "Please give us

Your manna and quail."

We're here again with the Beloved.

This air, a shout. These meadowsounds,

an astonishing myth.

We've come into the Presence of the One

who was never apart from us.

When the waterbag is filling, you know

the Water-carrier's here!

The bag leans lovingly against Your shoulder.

"Without You I have no knowledge,

no way to touch anyone."

When someone chews sugarcane,

he's wanting this Sweetness.

Inside this globe the soul roars like thunder.

And now Silence, my strict tutor.

I won't try to talk about Shams.

Language cannot touch that Presence.




From: Rumi – Like This
Versions by:
Coleman Barks best bio




If you meet the Buddha on the road....





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