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Say Nothing: Poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi in Persian and English

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Translations of Rumi’s poetry have been enthusiastically received by the English-speaking world. He speaks directly to the heart, allowing readers to feel that they know him intimately. And yet, the full flavor of his lightness and humor, his wordplay, and his Islamic references has often gone untranslated. Rumi’s poetry is direct and immediate, but it’s also measured, subtle, and nuanced in a way that earlier translations have seldom conveyed. It was, above all, a spoken poetry. Say Nothing captures the rich and varied tones of a mature voice that retains its youthful capacity for exaltation and revelation. This fully annotated, bilingual (Persian and English) edition contains both short quatrains and longer ghazals, alternating forms that reflect the shifts in Rumi’s moods and inspirations. Along with poems of ecstatic flight and equally ecstatic mourning, there are moments of terse commentary, challenging dialogs, and confrontational questioning. Extensive notes allow readers to delve more deeply into the multiple meanings of Rumi's words.

120 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2008

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874 books14.1k followers
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī - also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, Mevlânâ/Mawlānā (مولانا, "our master"), Mevlevî/Mawlawī (مولوی, "my master") and more popularly simply as Rumi - was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi mystic who lived in Konya, a city of Ottoman Empire (Today's Turkey). His poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages, and he has been described as the most popular poet and the best-selling poet in the United States.

His poetry has influenced Persian literature, but also Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Azerbaijani, Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu, as well as the literature of some other Turkic, Iranian, and Indo-Aryan languages including Chagatai, Pashto, and Bengali.

Due to quarrels between different dynasties in Khorāṣān, opposition to the Khwarizmid Shahs who were considered devious by his father, Bahā ud-Dīn Wālad or fear of the impending Mongol cataclysm, his father decided to migrate westwards, eventually settling in the Anatolian city Konya, where he lived most of his life, composed one of the crowning glories of Persian literature, and profoundly affected the culture of the area.

When his father died, Rumi, aged 25, inherited his position as the head of an Islamic school. One of Baha' ud-Din's students, Sayyed Burhan ud-Din Muhaqqiq Termazi, continued to train Rumi in the Shariah as well as the Tariqa, especially that of Rumi's father. For nine years, Rumi practised Sufism as a disciple of Burhan ud-Din until the latter died in 1240 or 1241. Rumi's public life then began: he became an Islamic Jurist, issuing fatwas and giving sermons in the mosques of Konya. He also served as a Molvi (Islamic teacher) and taught his adherents in the madrassa. During this period, Rumi also travelled to Damascus and is said to have spent four years there.

It was his meeting with the dervish Shams-e Tabrizi on 15 November 1244 that completely changed his life. From an accomplished teacher and jurist, Rumi was transformed into an ascetic.

On the night of 5 December 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door. He went out, never to be seen again. Rumi's love for, and his bereavement at the death of, Shams found their expression in an outpouring of lyric poems, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. He himself went out searching for Shams and journeyed again to Damascus.

Rumi found another companion in Salaḥ ud-Din-e Zarkub, a goldsmith. After Salah ud-Din's death, Rumi's scribe and favourite student, Hussam-e Chalabi, assumed the role of Rumi's companion. Hussam implored Rumi to write more. Rumi spent the next 12 years of his life in Anatolia dictating the six volumes of this masterwork, the Masnavi, to Hussam.

In December 1273, Rumi fell ill and died on the 17th of December in Konya.

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Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 reviews
Profile Image for Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore.
29 reviews34 followers
November 13, 2009
OK, in my lifelong search for the closest approximations in English to Rumi's poetry and spirit, after reading Nicholson's translation of The Mathnawi of Rumi in the very late 60s in Berkeley, and this so many years and experiences and travels later, including a visit to Konya where Rumi is buried, and imbibing the poems of my shayhkh, Muhammad ibn al-Habib, may Allah be pleased with him, in his presence in Morocco, this little book for me packs the strongest whallop. The introductions are themselves condensed critiques of present-day misrepresentations of Rumi, and loving entrees into his spirit. And the poems are both swiftly and flowingly translated from the original Farsi (which is printed en face throughout the book) and don't shy away from the theological accuracy and depth of Mawlana. I would recommend this book to everyone who might then wander down the many other paths forged by the various drunks who have been intoxicated by Rumi in their lives... and deal with his work with varying fidelities and widely varying results.
Profile Image for Sandra.
622 reviews14 followers
July 16, 2017
If you Google "Rumi" -- well, if you Google "Rumi" right now you'll quickly find out that Beyonce's new baby is named Rumi -- but if you look for Rumi on Amazon.com, you'll see that the first four of five books of Rumi's poetry are Coleman Barks's versions.

I've had Barks's "translation" of the poems for a long time, but I've never been comfortable with them. The guy doesn't read Persian; therefore, calling him a translator is an error. And his renditions use very modern language, metaphor, and concepts; one writer describes his renditions as
. . . a Rumi that has come to symbolize the individual beholden to no particular tradition, a man who seeks love before God or faith . . . an essentialized version of Rumi, made for the tastes of a mainstream audience looking for a quick spiritual fix. The result is a New Age poet, devoid of Islam, the 13th century, or the themes and images of the golden age of classical Persian poetry" (https://ajammc.com/2015/03/09/rumi-fo...).
What are we to do, you ask? It's Iraj Anvar and Anne Twitty to the rescue!

I found this book in the children's poetry section; I was looking for haiku, and saw this small volume. I looked at it a little more closely, and it sure didn't look like a children's book; it's a selection of both the ghazals (longer, ecstatic love-of-the-beloved poems; the closest thing in my experience would be the Song of Solomon in the Bible) and the rubiyat, the "epigrammatic quatrains" as one of the introductions calls them -- four-line mini-poems. There are three introductions and then a selection of the poems themselves, Persian (Farsi) on the left side and English on the right. Turns out that the library call number is 891.5511 J26s -- undoubtedly, someone saw the "J" and thought it belonged in the "juvenile" section.

What a wonderful book -- I'm grateful it was incorrectly shelved! The three introductions are lovely (they are "Songs and Interrogations: Rumi's Dialogues with God," "A Guest in the House of Rumi: Doorways to Translation," and "A Journey through Love and Wisdom") and really very helpful in preparing the reader for the poems themselves. Then after the poems there are endnotes (along with the numbers of the poems in the original Persian Divan, so you can find the original or, presumably, other translations); these endnotes are also very helpful. The translators did not have to make up modern metaphors. Sometimes they are looser than others in their translations -- but because of the endnotes, we often get the literal translation for comparison, and always an explanation of historical, cultural, religious, or literary references that the Western reader might not (probably wouldn't) know.

So I never, not once, had the feeling: "Hey! Rumi never wrote that! I wonder what he really did write!" as I have always felt when looking over Coleman Barks's stuff.

I won't say more; I just suggest that if you're interested in Rumi, skip Barks and find this book or another that respects the reader enough to give it to us straight, with some helpful pointers.

Here's one I liked a lot (it's D1725 in the original):

I am your Friend. Didn't I tell you not to go there?
In this deadly illusion, I am the only source of life.

Though you leave my side for a thousand years, in a rage,
in the end you'll come back, for I am the ultimate End.

Didn't I tell you not to be fooled by the forms of this world?
I am the Image Maker; I have made you a pavilion of delight.

Didn't I tell you that you are a fish and I am the sea?
Don't go toward the dry, I am your Sea of Purity.

Didn't I tell you not to fly into the trap like a bird?
Come, I'll strengthen your wings and you'll fly out.

Didn't I tell you that bandits would steal your heart's fire?
I am the heat, the heartbeat and the fire that warm you.

Didn't I tell you they'd implant their foul qualities in you,
force you to forget me, your Source of Purity?

Didn't I tell you not to ask where your directions come from ?
I am the Creator who is beyond directions.

If your heart is a lantern, then find the way home.
And if you find my qualities in you, remember: I am your Lord.
[literally, "If you have the attributes of God, know that I am your Lord"]
Profile Image for Joanne Rixon.
Author 10 books3 followers
April 19, 2020
The translations are quite good and I love the bilingual format! I read a lot of modern English language poetry, sometimes with a little influence from other languages. But poetry in translation from hundreds of years ago is a whole different beast, and it took me a little to get into the nature of Rumi's poetry, which is a bit zen in its contradictions.

Maybe that's not surprising for a mystic.

Once I got the rhythm of it, I quite liked the book. It probably helped that I was reading it slowly, alongside a history of Rumi and the whirling dervishes; I'm missing a lot of cultural context as a WASP-raised American, and poetry is all about implication and word play and context.

The book alternates quatrains with ghazals, which is an interesting artistic choice that, like the mirrored pages in each language, works very well. Overall, I think I like the quatrains a bit more than the ghazals. They feel more modern, so maybe that's just my comfort zone showing.

I'm also super curious now to read a sociological history of the homoerotic in Rumi's work, because, like.

Here's one of my favorite poems:

We are from above and up we will go.
We come from the sea, we'll go to the sea.

We're from there, not from here.
We are from nowhere, to nowhere we'll go.

Like Noah's ark in the flood
we must move without legs.

Like a wave, we grow out of ourselves.
When we want to feast our eyes, we withdraw.

The way to God is narrow as the eye of a needle.
We slip through alone like a single thread.

Remember home and companions
knowing that we leave them behind.

You have read: "We return to Him,"
so you know where it is we are going.

Our star isn't found in the turning wheel.
We're bound to venture past the Pleiades.

O words, stop. Don't come with me--
I'm leaving even my self behind.

O mountain of self-existence, stay out of our way.
We're on our way to Mount Qaf and the Anqa.

Profile Image for naz.
90 reviews12 followers
March 1, 2022
The English translation was done well and helped me comprehend the persian version with minimal struggle (oh it’s annoying to look up a word and not understand the definition either!)

And once I was over the struggle, the verses invoked the same beautiful sensation as I remember from my days in middle school.

Good old times, good old vibes.
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