Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sufi Poems: Two

Today's verse is from a poem by Rumi that actually inspired me to start these Sufi poetry posts. It's a well known verse often translated as "Ali in Battle."

Learn from Ali how to fight
without your Ego participating.

God's Lion did nothing
that did not originate
from his deep center.

Once in battle he got the best of a certain knight
and quickly drew his sword. The man,
helpless on the ground, spat
in Ali's face. Ali dropped his sword,
relaxed, and helped the man to his feet.

"Why have you spared me?
How has lightning contracted back
into its cloud? Speak, my prince,
so that my soul can begin to stir
in me like an embryo."

Ali was quiet then finally answered,
"I am God's Lion, not the lion of passion.
The sun is my lord. I have no longing
except for the One.

When a wind of personal reaction comes,
I do not go along with it.

There are many winds full of anger,
and lust and greed. They move the rubbish
around, but the solid mountain of our true nature
stays where it's always been.

There's nothing now
except the divine qualities.
Come through the opening into me.

Your impudence was better than any reverence,
because in this moment I am you and you are me.

I give you this opened heart as God gives gifts:
the poison of your spit has become
the honey of friendship."

This has always been one of my favorite Rumi poems because of the clarity. He is always reminding the reader to let go of the ego, to seek the unity of the divine. In this case he explains through Ali how to act like a noble human being. "There is nothing now/except the divine qualities" is especially interesting, because it is a reminder that even Ali could slip away into ego, if he ceased the constant remembrance of the real.

As in many traditions, to be a darvish you must act from a place of balance, from a center. It is not possible to be in the moment and yet easily stirred by the events around you; being in the moment is grounding. When Ali was challenged to respond with ego, he responded with his divine qualities.

I think Rumi inspires people of many faiths precisely because he takes these moments and creates a poem that ties the specific cultural moment to the universal truth of the statement. A Muslim can read about Ali, and move from a place of piety and justice into the center. A Christian sees the mercy and forgiveness in the lines and finds a balance of his own. All of my years in Japan make me drawn to Rumi's use of "deep center" to describe the remembrance of the divine. And as a darvish, I understand the chivalric aspects of Ali's actions, which Rumi phrases so well.

Rumi begins the poem with the most important element: Learn from this. This is something which will point you on the path to understanding the universe. He ends it with the understanding that it is a gift, an offering to anyone willing to hear it. One of the most beautiful components of his poetry is the elegance with which he can make a profound point about the nature of truth. This is a gift to you, learn from it.


jeff said...

contract bones
list can lower
can ali stay
sword linking
hearts breadth
home again white
for waves in
what and how
you know

jeff said...

i read this today and i couldn't help but understand it in terms of understanding poetry as a spiritual practice. which would seem ridiculous, i guess, save that he bases his concept of nothingness on heidegger... and, what, with me having read corbin's commentary on heideggarian nothingness and its relationship with "nothingness" at the heart of sufism, buddhism, taosim, etc. ....

"Dizziness can come upon one; its does not simply occur. Or rather, in it, nothing occurs. It is the pure suspension of occurrence: a caesura or a syncope. This is what 'drawing a blank' means. What is suspended, arrested, tipped suddenly into strangeness, is the presence of the present (the being-present of the present). And what then occurs without occurring (for it is what by definition cannot occur) is -- without being -- nothingness, the "nothing-of-being" (ne-ens). Dizziness is an experience of nothingness, of what is, as Heidegger says, 'properly' non-occurrence, nothingness. Nothing in it is 'lived', as in all experience, because all experience is the experience of nothingness: the experience of dizziness here, as much as the anguish Heidegger describes, or as much as laughter in Bataille. Or the lightening recognition of love. As much as all the infinitely paradoxical, 'impossible' experiences of death, of disappearance in the present. [...]

"To say this another way: there is no 'poetic experience' in the sense of a 'lived moment' or a poetic 'state'. If such a thing exists, or thinks it does -- for after all it is the power, or impotence, of literature to believe and make others believe this -- it cannot give rise to a poem. To a story, yes, or to a discourse, whether in verse or prose. To 'liturature', perhaps, at least in the sense we understand it today. But not to a poem. A poem has nothing to recount, nothing to say; what it recounts and says is that from which it wrenches away as a poem. [...]

"But the poem's 'wanting-not-to-say' does not want not to say. A poem wants to say; indeed, it is nothing but pure wanting-to-say. But pure wanting-to-say nothing, nothingness, that against which and through which there is presence, what is. And because nothingness is inaccessible to wanting, the poem's wanting collapses as such (a poem is always involuntary, like anguish, love, and even self-chosen death); then nothing lets itself be said, the thing itself, and lets itself be said in and by the man who goes to it despite himself, receives it as what cannot be received, and submits to it. He accepts it, trembling that it should refuse; such a strange, fleeting, elusive 'being' as the meaning of what is."

--philippe lacoue-labarthe, poetry as experience, pgs 19-20