Richard's Reviews > The Essential Rumi

The Essential Rumi by Jalaluddin Rumi
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's review
Mar 28, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: iran, poetry

I imagine that many will wonder why my opinion of this book is so low. The answer, mainly, is that Barks is not really translating Rumi here; instead he is improvising, creating his own versions of what he thinks Rumi is about, which often results in a deracinated version of Rumi's original work. My own experience in talking to Iranians, and others, who know Rumi's work in the original, often by heart, is that it is often impossible to find, using one of Barks' poems, the original from which Barks ostensibly was working. Barks' poetry may be beautiful to you--though, frankly, I don't like it very much--but it's important to know that reading him does not give one real insight into Rumi and/or his times, Sufism, Iranian culture, Iranian literature and so on.
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02/06 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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message 1: by Cem Dylan (new) - added it

Cem Dylan Maybe you may want to see the Whirling Dervishes ceremonies in Anatolia. :-)

message 2: by Cantubury (new)

Cantubury the people who live in Iran are actually Persians, the government is Iranian. It is an advanced indo-European culture dating back 2500 years

message 3: by Shawn (new)

Shawn Jalali Hi dear Richard, I am iranian, I read rumi in Farsi and I totally agree with you. Barks put lots of his own interpretations into rumis poems.
But unfortunately you can not translate rumi. I think the most beautiful part of rumis is the rhythm. becase he was mostly in a state of trans when he was writing these regards

Richard Thanks, Shawn!

message 5: by Sabine (new) - added it

Sabine Kapasi after reading your comment and giving it a second thought i do agree with you make a very convincing point..barks' work though doesn't exactly contradict the Sufi ideologies that Rumi personified but they are not about Sufism at all. they are beautiful...but they are not Rumi...there you totally correct.

Richard Hi Sabine,

Thanks for commenting.

Kelly Is there a translator you recommend? I am curious to compare now that I've read your comment.

Hira Thanks,
Now I really want to know which translator is good who had done justice to Rumi's work

Furhan My thoughts exactly. I would recommend Jawid Mojaddedi's translation for a better insight into Rumi's Masnavi.

message 10: by Bita (new)

Bita Enayati I wish there was a forum to read and exchange opinions on what we think Rumi is telling us. I can read Farsi too but I prefer to discuss in English.

Richard For translations of Rumi's ghazals, try looking up Iraj Anvar. I don't have his titles handy, but if you google his name and Rumi you should find them.

message 12: by Brandon (new)

Brandon I appreciate your comments but if you are going to rate this book so low, perhaps you could include some books you do find which capture Rumi's true meanings. If that is possible of course

message 13: by Clint (new)

Clint Hanson I personally can understand the criticism that Coleman is adding something that might not be there in the original, but really, i love Coleman's translations. And there is a reason Rumi has become so popular in the west, and it is largely because of Coleman. I think most people who disagree with Coleman's work are more Traditional Islamic minded. My preference between Coleman's translations and the others is that Coleman is way more poetic in the english language, and personally I think captures Rumi's true spirit, which broke away from traditional religious thought at the time, and was more about love, beauty, compassion, as well as connection with the divine.

Richard Actually, Clint, Rumi was a Muslim cleric, very much steeped in the traditional religious thought of his time. There's nothing wrong with liking Barks' translations. It's just important to remember they are more Barks than Rumi.

message 15: by Clint (new)

Clint Hanson Thanks Richard for making that point, but from what I have read he was trained in the traditional way in the Islamic faith, but later identified with Sufism, which is the mystic side of Islam. Mainstream Muslim's then and now would consider sufism not the true way to practice the Muslim faith. Add to that the fact that Rumi himself challenged and changed the way Sufism was practiced as well, says a a lot about his views. This is why when I see people who translate his work who are perhaps biased in the transitional faith, have a very different interpolation of his work, then a sufi biased translation. I personally believe Rumi's work speaks of a faith that is outside both transitions. He even was quoted as saying that his faith included all religions. That he agreed with Christians, Jews, etc. His ideas often talk about a personal relational ship with god that is beyond any religious faith. He used the word Allah, but to me this is the same as someone in the west would us God, not necessarily the same way christians might. His work spoke of finding god not through scripture, but by experience, pain, love, etc. He also used many many symbolic references to Allah/God that were not traditional to the Muslim faith. So this is why I prefer Coleman Barks translations, because for me, which is a personal thing, it seems to reflect my view of what Rumi was trying to say. If you were a poet in Persia at that time, you would have to be very careful with coming out directly with ideas that might go against the mainstream way of practicing the Islamic faith at the time. Truly I have no way to know what Rumi really felt, or believed, but personally Coleman's translations capture what I would like to believe. No one knows what Rumi really felt or thought, so criticism of Coleman's work I find tends to be a little biased, and I think it is important to remember this, both ways. And thus it is ultimately a preference thing, and not a right or wrong thing, as some seem to want to paint. So yes, I agree, but the way I look at it, Coleman should get more credit for all the many many uses of his translations that are quoted everywhere in our culture right now. I think Coleman is an underrated poet... even if much of his work is remixing... ;) I do think Coleman is truly trying to capture Rumi as he understands him though.... Namaste

Richard Clint, You are of course entitled to believe what you want and if Barks' s work speaks to that then it is certainly not my place to argue. But what you have written shows a common ignorance of Sufism and it's relationship to traditional Islam, even within the context of Sufi practice. I'm just saying you should not make the mistake of thinking that you are talking about something that has historical or even spiritual accuracy.

message 17: by Clint (last edited Jul 06, 2014 07:52PM) (new)

Clint Hanson Ignorant, hmm. Well, I can only by my own experience with the people who I have spoken to who practice Sufism here in my city, and with the maybe 50 or so pieces I have read relating to the differences between sufism and Muslim practices, but I should just take your word for it without any specifics mentioned. Could you be specific with regards to what I might have said that is inaccurate please. Otherwise please refrain from using language clearly meant to discredit. I actually care, and actually have tried to understand how people of the Muslim faith might see Sufism, and Rumi. Hardly an uninformed opinion. Yes not first hand, but, I have actually tried to really understand, because I am general interested in spiritual practices from many faiths.

Richard I wasn't trying to discredit you with the use of the term ignorant; nor did i mean any disrespect; I was just using it purely descriptively. I have read a great deal about Sufism as well, but as I am now on my phone and without access to specific references, I will say simply this: the idea that Rumi might have held other religions to be equal to Islam, which I hope I did not inaccurately infer from one of your posts above, is pretty far fetched, according to the scholarship I have read. The contemporary reading of those passages in which he seems to do so projects our own notions of different paths to the same god, to put it a little simplistically, back onto him. This does not mean those passages were not, in their own way, radical for their time for expressing a kind of tolerance, but they did not mean then what many people take them to mean now. And with that, perhaps it will be better if we just agree to disagree.

message 19: by Jenna (new) - added it

Jenna Gallo Is there a more authentic translation that you know of?

Richard Jenna,

If you want translations of the ghazals--the lyric poetry--google the name Iraj Anvar. There are also some translations by Franklin Lewis and another name to check out is Helminsky (I think I've spelled that correctly; I am away from my books and can't check right now). If you want translation so of the Masnavi, the one published recently by Oxford University Press--I think someone mentioned it upthread--is supposed to be very good.

message 21: by Pua (new)

Pua Thank you for sharing. I still love the book either way, but this is good to know.

message 22: by Pua (new)

Pua Thank you for sharing. I still love the book either way, but this is good to know.

message 23: by precaf (new) - added it

precaf This book was given to me by an Iranian couple who tell me it's a pretty good translation of Rumi. Which Iranians shall we believe?

message 24: by Yassir (new) - added it

Yassir Islam Notwithstanding the points made, something is always lost in translation. With Rumi in particular , I think it's less about being literal to the word, a lot less, and true to the intention. . I've never found that the so-called mainstream of Islam, or any religion leave lunch space for imagination or mystery, so what they think is irrelevant to me. Sufism, or any mystical path is not to be read, but to be lived. Rumi's words are there to awaken us and draw in into the mystery of the divine.

message 25: by Yassir (new) - added it

Yassir Islam Sorry, "much space" :)

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