Traveling over the centuries have been the works of Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273). He is especially accepted by Muslims for his spiritual insights. However, non-Muslims have enjoyed the poetry of this theologian and Sufi mystic. For such work to still have poetic merit, there must be something within the works that is relevant to the time in which it is read. Otherwise, the poetry would be seen as archaic, which is generally dismissed as readers want to directly relate to the poetry they read.
An interesting note about Jalauddin Rumi is that his name seems to change dependent on the territory in which his works are being read. This should not be seen as uncommon. Moses’s father was known as Jethro and Amram. It is especially essential to this poet to understand such. Rumi in some countries is the translation of Roman. Being as the Roman conquered a great portion of the ancient world, these countries do not associate the word Rumi with Jalauddin, but rather use a different name for the poet altogether.
Understanding interpreter boundaries
The poems of Rumi (otherwise known as Mawlana/Molana in a great potion of the Eastern Hemisphere) were originally written in the Persian language. This being the case, a reader of an English translation of his work should understand that there are some interpreter boundaries which limit the overall meaning of the poetic work. Certain words or phrases have strong connotations in the original languages, but lose the cultural impact when translated. Such can be seen in any text which is transcribed over various cultures and customs.
Spiritual and Observational Poetry
Whether one is looking to the poetic works of Jalaluddin Rumi for spiritual inspiration or for pure enjoyment, one will note that there is an overall dominance of nature and spirituality. The work which relates to nature is generally observational, meaning that the poet places himself within the poem but at a distance to the subject matter. The use of the word “I” makes these poems deeply personal, while at the same time offers the reader an opportunity to place him or herself within the work as that “I” character. An example of such a poem would be Birdsong.
Birdsong brings relief
to my longing
I’m just as ecstatic as they are,
but with nothing to say!
Please universal soul, practice
some song or something through me!
Note that there is both the spiritual and the observational natural aspect to this poem. From the spiritual side of things, one can see that the writer wants to be able to express his ecstatic feelings of the universe and life, but has not yet (or so he states) found his muse in which to do so. The natural observation would be that of a bird singing and the joy that the writer has in listening to the song of the bird.
Odes and Emotions
There are several Odes which have been written by Rumi. These are spiritual in scope and reflect upon the mystery of God. In most of these poems there is a definitive conclusion that although man may seek God and have some understanding of his presence, one can never fully grasp the magnificence of God.
When looking at the content of his poems, one will also note that there is simplicity to the titles and the construction. Emotions are not veiled with a fancy title or metaphor. Rather, love is titled Love and such other emotions are labeled the same.
A spiritual poet who did not give titles to God
Very peculiar to the spiritual poetry genre, is the lack of the use of God’s name within the title and in the most part in the works. The one title You Personify God’s Message which has God in the title does not really address God, but rather addresses his message. There are a few conclusions that one can make from this apparent deliberate restraint.
The first conclusion that one can draw is that Jalaluddin Rumi did not use God’s name in his poems because he wanted the reader to be able to associate his teachings with whatever spiritual force or deity that he or she worshiped. Going back to the poem You Personify God’s Message, one can see that there is the presence of “you become the god you serve” found within the text. Although this may not have been the intention, one can surely make such a tie with his work.
The second analysis of his restraint would be more to the spiritual practices of that time. As a spiritual leader and a theologian, I am sure that Rumi held to the belief that God’s name was something sacred. Therefore, restraint from using his name in his poems was an act of honor and respect. He did not want to use the name in vanity.
Poems of contemplation
Regardless of the view one takes upon the overall drive behind his works, the poems of Rumi have spanned over the course of the years because they are applicable to anyone. Though short in length, they should not be overlooked as simple. Each poem contains deep truths that when contemplated can lead the reader to a higher enjoyment and understanding of the past, as well as provide theology to guide that reader in the future.