top of page

The Essential Rumi

Rumi is quoted everywhere. My guess would be Einstein, Ghandi, then Rumi. Some might see him as the pumpkin spice latte of poetry.

Part of this is because much of his poetry is pithy, able to fit on the side of a mug or neatly inside a square instagram format. You would be doing yourself a disservice to dismiss this great soul's body of work if you didn't take some time do deeply drink in what he is offering.

His words have layers and layers of meaning that unfold as my own awakening has deepened. I've been reading him over twenty years. Specifically this edition and translation (Translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne).

Rumi was a Sufi mystic. Like other Sufis he followed a form of mystical Islam that sought a personal and direct experience of God. Rumi has a personal and emotional relationship with the Divine. His work has been described as ecstatic and magical. An argument can be made for the tantric currents of his work. He fearlessly sees God in all aspects of reality, in the nitty gritty of human life. Rumi scales the spiritual heights and digs deep into the mud of human experience.

I'll start with a little history of Rumi quoted from the introduction of this book and then share with you some of my favorite quotes. You can skip to the quotes section here.

Persians and Afhanis call Rumi "Jelaluddin Balkhi." He was born September 30, 1207, in Balkh, Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian empire. The name Rumi means "From Roman Anatolia." He was not known by that name, of course, until after his family, fleeing the threat of the invading Mongol armies, emigrated to Konya, Turkey, sometime between 1215 and 1220. His father, Bahauddin Walad, was a theologian and jurist and a mystic of uncertain lineage. Bahauddin Walad's Maarif, a collection of notes, diary like remarks, sermons, and strange accounts of visionary experiences, has shocked most of the conventional scholars who have died to understand them. He shows a startlingly sensual freedom in stating his union with God. Rumi was instructed in his father's secret inner life by a former student of his father, Burhanuddin Mahaqqiq. Burn and Rumi also studied Sanai and Attar. At his father's death Rumi took over the position of sheikh in the dervish learning community in Konya. His life seems to have been a fairly normal one for a religious scholar - teaching, meditating, helping the poor-until in the late fall of 1244 when he met a stranger who put a question to him. That stranger was the wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz, who had traveled throughout the Middle East searching and praying for someone who could "endure my company." A voice came, "What will you give in return?" "My head!" "The one you seek is Jelaluddin of Konya."

Although Rumi permeates the consciousness in short quotes, his lengthier poems offer lyrical tales interwoven with poetic imagery. This particular edition has 27 chapters, categorizing Rumi's work by theme. This is much more helpful for a reader than the academic categorization by time or form (quatrain, odes, letters, etc.) Each section has a brief thematic introduction by the authors. Section six for example tackles the phenomenon of desire: Controlling the Desire-Body: How Did you Kill Your Rooster, Husam?

The first poem in this section spans seven pages and tells the tale of a beautiful concubine, a Caliph of Egypt, and his disloyal captain. Interwoven into the story of this love triangle is a relishing of each turn of events as a kernel of mystic wisdom. Rumi has a refreshing take on lust and sexuality. He does not condone it, but presents it as an unfinished journey into a perfected love. He deftly compares the physical virility of the captain to the Caliph as a virile prophet "in ending the cycle of sowing lust and reaping secrecy and vengeance."

When the captain sees her, he falls in love

like the Caliph. Don't laugh at this.

This loving is also part of infinite love,

without which the world does not evolve.

Objects move from inorganic to vegetation

to selves endowed with spirit through the urgency

of every love that wants to come to perfection.

And some shorter poems to enjoy:

The sun is love. The lover,

a speck circling the sun.

A Spring wind moves to dance

any branch that isn't dead.


I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I've been knocking from the inside!


Do you think I know what I'm doing?

That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?

As much as a pen knows what its writing,

or the ball can guess where it's going next.


I hope you enjoyed this walk through Rumi's body of work and the Coleman Barks translation. These words continue to feel like an old friend whenever I read them.

With love,


46 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page