Poets Online Archive
April 2007

The first Rumi poem(s) we looked at for this prompt were grouped under the title "Spring Giddiness"by American translator Coleman Barks.

It's an appropriate poem to this month and full of giddy surprises like "Now my loving is running toward my life shouting. What a bargain, let's buy it" - that almost sounds to me like "bad translation" - the kind where the words get jumbled in some funny lost-in-translation way. But other lines sound like literal translation of something from a world we don't really know anything about: "Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?"

I can't judge the translation and I don't want to judge it. I simply want to hear the words - preferably sung. I have heard Coleman Barks read and sing them at several Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festivals, so I've been spoiled.

The second model is a group of quatrains. In Persian it would be rubaiyat (meaning 'four' or "quatrains" in the Persian language the singular being ruba'i or rubai). In their true form the rhyme scheme would be AABA (lines lines 1, 2 and 4 rhyming). Barks has not attempted to maintain the rhyme here.

This verse form is best known to English speakers for Edward FitzGerald's translation of the collection of Persian verses known as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

For this month of spring (and also being National Poetry Month), we will take first that oft-used prompt of seasonal change and mix it with the rubaiyat. Write about any change of season, use the rhyming quatrains of the rubaiyat (and any number of quatrains you choose), and try to capture some of the joy for life that Rumi's poetry embodies. 

Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi is better known known to the English-speaking world as simply Rumi. It's rather surprising to many poetry readers that this 13th century Persian poet and theologian is now the best-selling poet in America. He was born in Balkh, Persia (now part of Afghanistan) and died in Konya (now Turkey). He wrote his poetry in Persian.

After Rumi's death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Order of dervishes, better known as the Whirling Dervishes of Sufism. Through a turning movement, body posturing, mental focus, and sound, the dervish achieves ecstasy through union with God. Once a secret society, today the Mevlevi tour the world allowing audiences to witness the ceremony of their sacred dances and music.

Rumi's poetry is often divided into the quatrains (rubaiyat) and odes (ghazals) of the Divan, the six books of the Mathnavi, the discourses, the letters, and the lesser known Six Sermons.

2007 was declared as the "International Rumi Year" by UNESCO in March 2006. This is intended for the commemoration of Rumi's 800th birthday anniversary and will be celebrated all over the world.

Born in what is now Afghanistan, the poet Jalaluddin Rumi was reviled by the Taliban because of his poems about love, sex, nature, loss, longing and other subjects that the now-deposed regime considered risque or even raunchy.

Translator, Coleman Barks, takes on the task of making a 13th-century Persian mystic's words sing in American free verse. I wonder how true they are to the originals. I suspect closer to the spirit than the letter. It seems that he embraces Rumi's joy in living life fully, putting aside our fears and taking the risk to do both.

He taught poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia for thirty years. He is the author of numerous Rumi translations including The Essential Rumi and The Illuminated Rumi. Barks has been a student of Sufism since 1977. His work with Rumi was the subject of an hour-long segment in Bill Movers' Language of Life series on PBS.

There's more about this prompt and others on the Poets Online Blog.



Watch the buds open with trepidation
Afraid to sing out their elation
Time will not let them hide for long
Their beauteous and wondrous creation.

Bloom they must and spread with pride
Lay out each thick petal wide
Let the sun caress and kiss
The front and back and every side.

And then the bees hover with delight
At this lush and heady sight
They must drink deep of nature’s mead
So onto each flower do alight.

Thus, my dear, with Spring in air
I see your lashes sweep cheeks so fair
The blush that rose did not surprise
The confusion of your wind- blown hair.

Come lie with me in woods so deep
A flask of wine where I do keep,
And when we like two lovers kiss
Mad ecstasy will not let us sleep.

With Spring its joy I need to share
I cannot think of daily care
Fair lady, woods and wine so balmy,
Passion is all I need as prayer.

Abha Iyengar


Clasped hand-in-hand,
the two lovers descend
to the gap intertwining
where one begins and one ends.

As nature’s floor- vividly green-
convinces the trees to flourish and be seen.
Reach out to the blustery skies swelling grey,
as barriers shatter, in the between.

Where the rushes of seas,
the thrashing of trees,
and winds of incredible force
rage forth, then recede.

After the vicious twisting and turning subsides,
and the remnants of yesterday’s coldness resides
only in memories and chill-ridden dreams,
a fulsome calm emerges that filled the divides.

The stir is remarkably violent, but slow,
and the changes from deadness to vibrancy show
the stunning endeavor of life to create,
and in the aftermath, sigh soft and low.

JR Shaw


A cloud of snowflakes, weightless as breeze,
wavers in swirls, sifts through the stiff trees,
dissolves in dogwood blossom. It’s spring,
they say, when the petal’s edged with freeze

and the prints of ghosts, like dew on grass
in first light, walk the pond’s mirror glass.
Dead leaves hide among the leafing green,
proof of how many spent seasons pass.

So let’s walk out early, you and I,
jacket-less, bare-headed under sky,
faces upturned as if expecting spring
and darkened by each shadow passing by.

Taylor Graham

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