Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

FYSP Response Paper 5, Maara Ensmann

Whenever I have come across poetry by Rumi in different genres of Persian poetry the poems always bring up fascinating ideas and I enjoyed the imagery he uses. As a result, I was excited to get to read more poetry from Rumi. I was particularly excited about getting to read Rumi’s quatrain poems, since I had not had exposure to quatrains yet. The quatrain that I like best of all out of Rumi’s quatrains was the second one.

“Thou who lovest, like a crow,

Winter’s chill and winter’s snow,

Ever exiled from the vale’s

Roses red, and nightingales:

Take this moment to thy heart!

When the moment shall depart,

Long thou ‘It seek it as it flies

With a hundred lamps and eyes.”(2)

The theme of the first four lines is that if one is distant and closes themselves off from others they will never experience love. The theme of the next four lines is to live in the moment because it will soon be gone and if you do not have a memory of it you will be chasing after the moment forever never reaching it. Together the poem is about what one should not do when trying to find love, as well as, while in love. It would be interesting to see if quatrains could be adapted into an opera. This is because I thought the opera we watched of Rumi’s poems was beautiful, especially how the words sounded when they were sung in an operatic way.

My calligraphy has improved since I started, though I do feel that the improvement rate has decreased from the beginning. This is because at the beginning I had to learn much more basic and broad skills, such as, how to write to right to left, how to hold the pen, and how the letters looked. Whereas now improving my calligraphy is a matter of ending letters in the correct manner, getting my letter proportion, and letter curvature correct. I found it interesting to learn about the different scripts of calligraphy(1). When writing there is a definite difference between the standard Persian font and the Nastaliq script, I have found that I enjoy writing in Nastaliq more than standard. This might be because the first script I practiced with was Nastaliq. Also with the standard font, I find that I struggle with making the letters look graceful. Recently, I have returned to practicing individual letters prior to writing the final version of my line and it has helped me a fair deal. The past few calligraphy practices I have been writing on graph paper and on graph paper, the sharpie ink bleeds a fair amount. This causes me to not be able to get as thin of a line as I want. I do still prefer writing in chalk to writing with the pen because the chalk allows my wrist movements greater control of the lines I make.  Finally, I have noticed that everyone tends to think that everyone else’s calligraphy looks amazing. In comparison, they believe their own work to be bad. The reason this is the case for me is that all I see of mine are the mistakes I made, but with others, I see all the good things with their piece.

My experience with memorizing lines of Hafez is that they are slightly harder to learn, but that this is part of what knowing a line of Hafez is so meaningful. The main reason that the lines of Hafez were more difficult to memorize is that there is less rhyme and it was harder to create a rhythm for saying the lines. The rhyming at the end of lines helps me to create connections between lines, though in Hafez’s lines there were a few words that rhymed that I used as guideposts for my memorization. As a result of having a greater struggle with memorizing the lines, I gained a deeper appreciation for the wisdom and power the lines contained.

I find Idyll poetry fascinating, specifically how a large number of metaphoric meaning gets put into simpler terms. I also enjoy that idyll poems are a part of a greater whole. It is interesting to see how a poem can take on different and new meanings depending on whether or not they have other related poems surrounding them. The best description I could come up with for the connection between the poems is that they are acts of a play. Although, I would over analyze lines for deeper meaning and this ended up confusing me slightly while reading Idyll poetry. I figured out to first discover what the obvious meaning of the poem is and then to branch off from that to figure out deeper meanings. An aspect that I found helpful while reading Idyll poetry is that there is a standard storytelling aspect to the poems. This storytelling can be found in epic and didactic poetry. How storytelling helps to increase a reader’s understanding is by providing a concrete example that the reader can then expand to and associate with greater metaphorical meanings included in a poem. A particular Idyll poem I enjoyed for its use of a comedic more grounded story to help convey a multitude of meanings is the Simple Arab by Jami.

“‘How,’ quoth he; ‘amid so many

Waking know Myself again?’

So, to make the matter certain,

Strung a gourd about his ankle,”(2)

One of the meanings this poem conveys that the things humans use to differentiate themselves from others tend to be odd and simple. How the poem shows this is through having the one thing the main character used to say that they are different from others is a gourd. This could be applied to clothing, ethnicity, and speech that people use to create differences between humans. Another meaning is that basing one’s identity upon one entity should not be done. The reason provided for this is that when the gourd gets put on another person, the simple Arab becomes greatly confused about who they are. The idea of having a strong sense of self is important, but to also not have a large amount of weight put on any one thing.


1. Mahallati, Jafar. “Class Discussions.” Lecture, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, September 2019.2. “A. J. Arberry(Ed.): Persian Poems, an Anthology of Verse Translations. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, Ltd.New York: E. P. Dutton and Co. Inc. 1954, 6s.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 17, no. 2 (1955): 115-146, 181–223.

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