Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Anna Francis: Oral Culture and Poetry Response 5

Anna Francis
Professor Mahallati
FYSP 181
21 November 2019

Anna Francis: Oral Culture and Poetry Response 5

Rumi is a 13th century Sufi poet whose works are infused with love for the Beloved, life long lessons, and wisdom about identity. Poem XXXL, appearing in the “Divani Shamsi Tabriz,” takes on a form of renunciation from worldly identities and replaces them with an all-consuming devotion to God. Rumi writes, “I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabar, nor Moslem. I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea… I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell… My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless; tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved” (Rumi 79). Different religions approach the conception of God in different, unique ways. Polytheistic religions, such as Greek, worship multiple gods that govern separate aspects of human life and nature. However, Rumi suggests that above all the varying beliefs of God’s identity, there is only one God. He is saying that if he doesn’t belong to God, then he belongs to no one and nowhere.
A particular passage that stands out in the poem “The Song of the Reed” reads, “Hear, how yon reed in sadly pleasing tales departed bliss and present woe bewails!… Feel what I sing, and bleed when I lament… Yet ears are slow, and carnal eyes are blind. Free through each mortal form the spirits roll, but sight avails not. Can we see the soul?” (Arberry 118). A reed has multiple meanings, one of which is a thin strip of material that vibrates in order to produce sound. A reed may also refer to a weak, vulnerable person who can be easily swayed. “Feel what I sing, and bleed when I lament” can either refer to the reed as a metaphor for song or the innermost feelings of a weak person. In the line, “Free through each mortal form the spirits roll, but sight avails not. Can we see the soul?” Rumi discusses the boundaries of the human soul as it exists both in the physical and spiritual world. In the physical world, spirits roll through each mortal body, however the human senses are too weak to detect them. This relates to Rumi’s usage of the word “reed” to describe a person who is weak and vulnerable. The soul also exists in the spiritual world in the way that it lives on after death.
In the poem, “The Parrot of Baghdad,” Rumi teaches that taking something at face value will prevent one from understanding deeper meanings. The story goes that there was a clever, well spoken parrot who lived in a druggist shop in Baghdad. Passerbyers would stop by the shop in amazement of the parrot’s vocal abilities. One day, a cat chasing a mouse frightened the parrot, causing it to fly to the highest shelf in the shop and accidentally knock over its owner’s bottle of rose oil. The furious owner impulsively acted on his anger and swatted down the parrot with a pipe, causing the parrot’s feathers to fall out and it to grow bald. As a result, the parrot grew mute to the point where it could only stare vacantly into the distance. The owner tried to make it speak by praying, but failed time after time, “for Heaven refused to meddle in the affair” (Arberry 12). One day, an old bald man in a Dervish cloak arrived to the shop. Upon seeing him, the parrot chuckled for the first time and said “Hollo, old boy! Have you upset your master’s scent?” (Ibid). Rather than considering the man’s background and identity, the parrot takes the man’s appearance at face value and instantly assumes the reason for his baldness. Here, Rumi suggests that believing that the way things appear is the way that they are is harmful. Nobody benefits from believing what meets the eye. However, if we approach all areas of life by looking for hidden meanings, we can then learn to appreciate the heterogenous pool of identities and unique ideas in the world.
Memorization has always been a weakness of mine, especially when it comes to memorizing terms for upcoming exams. However, I have had a more positive experience with memorizing lines of Persian poetry for two reasons. First of all, I have adapted the strategy of continuously writing down the words on paper while saying them aloud as I go. This gives me a sense of how the words feel and sound in my mouth. I then focus on memorizing one line after another without writing them down to test me memory. Secondly, the lines of poetry that we have memorized, especially Hafez, carry a strong rhythm that helps with memorization. It feels as though I am memorizing lines to a song.
The music and opera informed by Hafez’s poems employ a recitative style of singing. The range in vocals and dynamic levels give life to Hafez’s mystical form of love for the divine. It allows Hafez to express himself not only through words, but through sound and feeling.
Calligraphy also grants Hafez the agency to express his wisdom. My calligraphy journey can be described as a very constructive experience in which I am constantly receiving helpful feedback on my work. I am constantly playing with different font styles impressed by images and videos of calligraphy works. Calligraphy practice in class allows me to focus on each letter and dabble in different techniques of using chalk.
From peaceful scenery to action-filled journeys, idyll poetry allows viewers to visualize the poem as it unfolds before them. In Nezami’s poem titled “The Death of Qais,” Nezami includes sensory details, including sound, sight, and touch. His poem reads, “His loud lament rang through the echoing forest. Now he threads the mazes of the shadowy wood, which spreads perpetual gloom, and now emerges where nor bower nor grove obstructs the fiery air; climbs to the mountain’s brow, o’er hill and plain, urged quicker onwards by his burning brain, across the desert’s arid boundary hie” (Arberry 156). The loud sound of Qais’ yell echoing through the vast forest gives readers a sense of space. The mazes of the shadowy wood illustrate the density of the forest. The desert’s arid boundary brings to light the dryness and emptiness in which the character finds themself.

Works Cited

Arberry, A.J., editor. Persian Poems: An Anthology of Verse Translations. Yassavoli
Publications, 2005.
Rumi, and Reynold A. Nicholson. Divani Shamsi Tabriz. The Rainbow Bridge, 1973.

I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment. Anna Francis

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