This Heavenly Wine: Poems from the Divan-e Jami
By Nooreddin Abdurrahman Ibn-e Ahmad-e Jami.
Renditions by Vraje Abramian
Publisher: Prescott AZ: Hohm Press, 2006.
ISBN 1-890772-56-9 (PBK)
Jami (1414–1492) is popularly known as “the seal of the poets” or “the final poet,” because he is recognized as the last of a long line of great Persian-speaking Sufi poets who, over a period of 500 years, produced some of the most beautiful poetry the world has known.
Jami spent the early part of his life obtaining a rich and varied education. Leaving his home in Jam (in present-day Iran), he studied first in Herat (in what is now Afghanistan) excelling in logic, languages, and the sciences. When he was about twenty, he moved to Samarkand (in present-day Uzbekistan) to complete his studies. By his late thirties he was one of the most learned men of his time.
It was apparently the unrequited love of a woman that opened his heart to a greater kind of love. While he was still nursing a broken heart, he had a dream in which a luminous figure appeared and said, “Brother, go find a beloved who cannot abandon you.” After this episode Jami returned to Herat and sought out the company of Sufis. At the age of forty, he met Sa’id al-Din Kashqari, a master in the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. Recognizing him as the luminous figure from his dream, Jami knew he had found the beloved who could not abandon him.
His initiation closed a circle begun when Jami was five years old. His father had taken him as a little boy to see an earlier Naqshbandi master who was passing through Jam. Even at the age of sixty-five, sixty years after this brief encounter, Jami commented that he still felt the joy from that meeting and believed that all of his spiritual wealth stemmed from the influence of that master’s glance.
Jami wrote many works during his lifetime, including a treatise on Sufism and a collection of biographies of over 600 Sufis. His major works in poetic form present epic versions of classic love stories, including those of Majnun and Leila, Yusuf and Zulaikha, and Salaman and Absal. The poems in this volume are drawn from Divan-e Jami.
Readers may be familiar with the work of the translator, Vraje Abramian, from his renderings of the poems of Abu Sa’id in Nobody, Son of Nobody, reviewed in an earlier Spiritual Link. In his introduction to This Heavenly Wine Abramian describes the challenges of translating from the Persian (Farsi) language:
Persian poetry by Sufi mystics often combines multi-layered content with awe-inspiringly polished form. It also draws on, and is informed by, a collective consciousness at least one thousand years old, and one … saturated by Sufi cosmology, and its many-layered manifestations.
Since English speakers largely lack knowledge of that complex world, Abramian has focused on rendering the message of Jami’s words, rather than attempting a direct translation. He has grouped his renditions of eighty-eight of Jami’s poems into the following seven sections: My One and Only; Of One’s True Friend; Of You and Me; The Divine Music; Of Love; Of Wine and the Tavern; and Jami, the Man, the Poet, the Mystic.
In his renditions, Abramian uses very little punctuation. Its absence forces the reader to slow down, allowing the poems to sink in more deeply, stirring the heart. As Jami writes:
all you who read these lines
read them with your heart and not your head
for not his head but Jami’s heart has brought them forth
Jami speaks in vivid images – by turns bold, shocking, transcendent, funny, and paradoxical. For example, Jami presents his view of the world using one image, grim and disturbing:
this world and all in it is a rotting corpse
and the worldly are here for their piece of flesh
and then he turns to another image to suggest how we should spend our time in this world:
when the dawn comes be of the early risers
during the day keep aloof
better be as lowly as the dust on the road
despised and rejected by everyone
Similarly Jami vividly portrays the miracle that the Lord dwells in his entirety in the miniature human form:
heaven and earth are unable to contain
a speck of your glory
but this tight human chest You have chosen as your territory
and yet He pervades everywhere, though we do not see Him:
there isn’t a particle in creation
that doesn’t carry your Light
yesterday I was asking others for a sign of You
today there isn’t a sign that isn’t of You
Jami also betrays a marvellous sense of humour:
do not become attached to what life gives you here
for in time you will give it to someone
to hold your hand
or to some dog
to let go of your foot
In the section entitled The Divine Music, Jami speaks of the inner music and its power. He says that he needs no musicians or bards because he hears “the Celestial Song of Love’s Sweet Captivity”:
though the entire creation is filled with this Melody
the unawake can hear It not
glory, glory, glory to the Musician to whose Tune
every ecstatic particle in creation dances accordingly
The most common subject of Jami’s poetry in this collection is love and its mysteries. Jami speaks of its wonder, pain, frustration, anguish, and joy. He is alternately drunk with love and bleeding from its torments. Having been drawn far along the path of love, he speaks knowingly of its many facets, of its agony and its bliss. He writes:
The ascetic’s lips are parched and the Sufi’s eyes are flooded
woe to those caught in this Love for it burns both the wet and the dry
But he is completely clear that he would not trade his condition for anything.
how beautiful it is to be snared by this Beauty
glory be to the bird who is caught in Love’s trap
A magnificent image illustrates the power and endurance of love:
I am all tears and anticipation now
and though your company I am denied in this affliction
when this is done and I am no more
my dust will blow only in your direction
This book, when approached with an open heart and unhurried pace, yields countless fresh insights into the mysterious world of Lover and Beloved. It gives Jami the opportunity to tell us, in many different ways:
you are Love’s creation
look nowhere else for sustenance
turn to Love
Book reviews express the opinions of the reviewers and not of the publisher.