The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication
Translation and commentary by Nevit O. Ergin and Will Johnson
Publisher: Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2006.
ISBN: 978-1-59477-115-6 (PBK)
Fifty years ago Nevit Ergin, a Turkish surgeon, set out on a monumental task: to translate into English the entire Divan-i Kebir (also known as Divan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz) by Jalal-ud-Din Rumi. The Divan-i Kebir is the collection of all the recorded poems by Rumi outside of the Masnavi, comprising 44,829 verses and 1,700 quatrains.
The original manuscript of the Divan is in Persian, but Ergin worked from the edition and Turkish translation of the work by Abdulbaki Gopinarli. The Turkish Ministry of Culture agreed to fund Ergin’s project, and twenty-two volumes of Ergin’s translations were published one by one over three decades. Apparently, many of the popular English renditions of Rumi’s poems by writers who do not read Persian or Turkish have relied heavily on these volumes.
Golpinarli’s edition is arranged into twenty-three volumes according to poetic meter, not theme or chronology. The twenty-third volume ended up containing odds and ends, ninety-seven poems that did not fit anywhere else or were otherwise problematic, including for religious reasons. When it came time for Ergin to produce this volume, the Ministry withdrew its funding. Ergin expresses his warm gratitude to the Turkish government for its prior support. Paradoxically, he also thanks them for refusing the final volume, because he then had “to find cooperation elsewhere,” resulting in The Forbidden Rumi. In it Ergin collaborates with Will Johnson, of whom he writes, “I’m grateful for the wonderful job he has done. Rumi’s divine wine tastes better when it comes from Will’s glass.”
The volume comprises three sections. The first, “Songs to Shams; Songs to God,” has thirty-five poems. In the first poem of this set, “He Took Me Under His Arm,” Rumi writes:
I was dead, but came back to life.
I was the cry, but I became the smile.
Love came and turned me
into everlasting glory.
In another poem titled “Split Wide Open” Rumi addresses his Master, Shams, whose name means ‘sun’:
You are the essence of the Sun.
I’m only the shadow of the willow tree.
When you shine down upon my head,
I get shorter, melt, and disappear.
In one poem Rumi speaks of the pain of his separation from Shams:
our union lasted only a moment,
but our separation can be counted in years.
I watched in stunned silence
as you loaded your camel.
Suddenly night came.
Pitch darkness swallowed me
as I was separated from your sun-face.
The second group of verses, “Songs of Advice; Songs of Admonition,” contains fifty-five poems. Here Rumi addresses the wayfarer on the spiritual path, giving advice on staying focused and searching within oneself:
Don’t go off sightseeing.
The real journey is right here.
The great excursion starts
from exactly where you are.
You are the world.
You have everything you need.
You are the secret.
You are the wide opened.
He offers encouragement to the seeker to keep up the effort in spiritual discipline:
Don’t let the distance we must walk bother you.
When we reach our destination,
there’ll be a wedding celebration,
and Union will embrace you.
The wind of joy and pleasure blows
at the very beginning of this road.
It gives strength and sustenance
to the travellers.
Above all, he urges the seeker to grow in love:
Choose love. Choose love.
Without this beautiful love,
life is nothing but a burden.
The third section, “Songs of Heresy,” contains seven poems, including the following verse which might be challenging to the orthodoxy, not only of Islam, but also of several other religions:
I became Jesus to that moon.
I rose up and passed through the skies.
I am the drunk Moses.
God himself lives inside this patched cloak…
When Muhammad sees me drunk, my face pale,
he kisses my eyes, then I prostrate before him.
I am today’s Muhammad,
but not Muhammad of the past.
I am the phoenix of the time,
not some small hungry bird.
I am the sultan of today, not yesterday’s man.
Rumi welcomes everyone to the spiritual path, regardless of religion:
The fly of the soul has fallen into
this buttermilk forever.
Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian:
All are welcome here.
Ergin notes that “Reading these last poems of the Divan is like walking through a minefield. One never knows which poem will blow the heart and mind. This kind of explosive experience is true for the Divan as a whole, but even more so for these last poems.”
In the concluding paragraph of this book, Ergin writes, “Mevlana is like an immense ocean. There is something here for everyone, and his relevance to our time is greater now than ever…. His message is simple and clear to those who listen: ‘Come to me,’ he says, ‘I’ll save you from yourself.’”
For those who would like to read the rest of the Divan, the twenty-two- volume set is available, though quite expensive. In addition to Forbidden Rumi, Ergin and Johnson collaborated on three other books that may be more accessible: Crazy As We Are, Magnificent One, and Ruba’is of Rumi: Insane with Love.
Book reviews express the opinions of the reviewers and not of the publisher.