Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Charlize Villaseñor: Rumi, Hafez, and Idyllic Poetry

Rumi is an important Persian poet whose works are still revered in Persian-speaking regions today. Though his works may not be as popular as the works of a poet such as Hafez, whose work the class had to memorize this week, it is still widespread and read throughout the world. Like many other poets, Rumi’s work has been used in art, typically in calligraphy or to write the lyrics of traditional music and opera. Another concept that the class analyzed this period was Idyll poetry and its how it differs from other poetic genres of this time, in addition to poetry by Rumi and Hafez. Idyll poetry as a poetic genre, Rumi’s work as stand alone poetry, music, and Hafez’s work in memorization and calligraphy will be the primary focus of this paper.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi, otherwise known by the mononym Rumi, was born in the 13th century and was a Sufi mystic which highly influenced his work. Sufi teachings emphasize the idea of taking things from everyday life and redirecting them back to God, hence the large amount of poetry that was used to revere God and give a better understanding of how to serve God and appreciate things as divine. Most of Rumi’s poetry follows the themes of love or divine reverence and often looks down upon idol-ism. According to Rumi, love is a strong component in our daily lives and helps maintain a connection to God and the divine. This love can be between two individuals, the love one has for God’s creation, and the love one has for things that are good, such as God. For example, Poem XLIII (43) is about the weaknesses and shortcomings of man, especially when he does not revere God. These shortcomings can be personal, or between man and God, as is referenced when Rumi writes: “You failed to go on the pilgrimage because of your ass’s nature, not because you have no ass.” Rumi labels this shortcoming, likely referring to pilgrimage to Mecca, as man’s fault. He has been given what he needs (an ass) to make his journey, but the ass’s nature prevents this. This compares to the notion that one’s pride can get in the way of a relationship with God. As this issue is man’s fault, it can also only be solved by man in order to help repair his relationship to God. These shortcomings cannot be hidden from God as he is described later in the poem as omnipotent and all knowing, so the only possible solution is to love God enough to overcome these shortcomings.

As Rumi’s poetic themes are heavily based in both romantic love for the beloved and reverential love toward God, these are also the main themes found in music based on adaptations of his poetry. Traditional music as well as opera both take inspiration from Rumi and help establish a modern connection to his works. Through music, people often feel a deeper connection to lyrics which is important as poetry is often used in conjunction with verses from the Quran to teach people the importance of certain ideas such as how to treat others and love. Idyll poetry is an important way to reach a wider audience, primarily those who may not understand other genres of poetry. This is because Idyll poetry is shepherdic in a sense and uses language that is more accessible. The themes are often about love or other easily understood notions and use words and syntax that are less elevated. Even if an individual is not highly educated, he can understand Idyll poetry better than most other genres because of its simplicity. The Idyll poems I read were not too long and were primarily about reverence toward the divine and general life lessons such as understanding one’s sense of self. These Idyll poems have likely also been put to music to increase outreach. As poems tend to have a rhythm in their cadence, the use of music also helps individuals memorize lines of poetry which is an important aspect in the culture surrounding Persian poetry. 

Though the class did not memorize lines of poetry by Rumi or in Idyll poetry, lines by Hafez were memorized in place of this. Surprisingly, I found Hafez’s work to be more difficult to memorize than previous poems. Though in the past, many of the lines of poetry have had some similar words (such as the word for God), which allowed me to better memorize these lines, there were limited similarities between the lines of Hafez’s poetry that was to be memorized and past lines. The mention of love and the word forever were the extent of familiar words in these lines by Hafez, but I found the meaning of these lines to be more meaningful than previous lines. I have also had to recently memorize conversations for my Japanese class which I found to be a bit easier even though the lines are longer and often contain several sentences that are also in a foreign language. I believe this might be because I know Japanese slightly better and can remember the meaning of each word and the grammatical structure that is used. This differs from my memorization of lines of poetry as I often know the overall translation of the lines, but do not know the meaning of individual words and they haven’t been memorized as words in my vocabulary. Another way to see this, could possibly be that needing to memorize lines in one class has helped me memorize lines in another class that I have a stronger connection to, especially as I have not had to memorize lines of poetry, music, or conversation, in years. 

As my experiences in memorizing lines of poetry have changed, I find that my experiences in practicing calligraphy have also developed over the term. When given the chance to use chalk instead of pen, I initially considered calligraphy to be easier done with chalk, but the more calligraphy I do, the more I find the pen easier to use than chalk. Additionally, looking at samples of various arabic and persian fonts in class helped me understand stylistic variations in certain characters and how calligraphy has changed over the centuries. The more I write, the more I find that my characters become very standardized. The lines that are meant to be straight, have become straighter; the lines that are meant to be more bowl shaped, have become rounder. I used to have to practice a line over and over on scratch paper and critique it before I deemed it good enough to be written on blank paper. I also find that as I write more, I find it easier to see my mistakes and fix them as I know more now what each character should look like. My progression in calligraphy may not always be much, but I feel that I get a bit better with each line I write. 

Idyll poetry and the work of Rumi and Hafez have helped me improve my knowledge of Persian Poetry as well as my calligraphic and memorization skills. The teachings of Rumi and Hafez through their poetry, as well as the accessibility of Idyllic poetry have improved my knowledge of poetic themes as well as general wisdoms of life. Though Idyllic poetry has a different style than other genres, I’ve grown to see its utility and importance as a genre of poetry.

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