Tag Archives: Poems

“The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Sept. 30, 1207 – Dec. 17, 1273), better known as Rumi, was a Persian born Sufi Muslim teacher, religious leader, poet, and Islamic scholar. Since the day that they were written, Rumi’s poems have been enjoyed by countless people in multiple languages. In recent decades, his poems have enjoyed a renaissance in America with Rumi becoming “one of the best-selling poets in the United States.”[1]

As a Sufi Muslim, Rumi was follower of “Islam’s immensely complex and infinitely diverse mystical tradition.”[2] Though rooted in the core beliefs of Islam, Sufism is a “medley of divergent philosophical and religions trends”[3] with concepts borrowed from Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions. This background allowed Rumi to become “dissolver of boundaries” with poems that speak to the heart of humanity regardless of religious affiliation. This mystical belief in the connection of all of humanity can be seen most clearly in Rumi’s statement that he saw “one altar” and not three when he went “into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church.”[4]

Rumi’s poems are characterized by his usage of “anything human beings do, no matter how scandalous or cruel or silly, as a lens to examine soul growth.”[5] This style, though effective at one level, also tends to drive away some readers due to the crude and unrefined nature of the poems. I, for one, fall into this latter group as I did not find Rumi’s poems to be enlightening, enriching, or beneficial. Rather I found them to confusing and unhelpful in stimulating personal spiritual formation. Part of this, I readily admit, may be due to my personal preference and enjoyment of prose over and above that of poetry of any nature.

There were two poems of Rumi’s that I did find of interest. The first being the “Chickpea to Cook” in which the chickpea learns from the cook that flavor comes through the heat of the stove.[6] Coleman Barks, the poem’s translator, elaborates on this poem stating that the chickpea is the disciple who listens to and obeys their teacher (i.e. the cook).[7] Though this may be the official scholarly interpretation of the poem, my heart understood the poem along the lines of personal hardship. Spiritual growth, wisdom, and maturity rarely come when life is at its best; rather these things are born out of a heart that allows God to refine us like gold in the melting pot (e.g. Malachi 3:3, James 1:2-4, Isaiah 48:10).

The “Elephant in the Dark” was the second Rumi poem that stood out to me.[8] This poem tells the story of three men who look at an elephant in a dark room. Each one only sees and feels a portion of the elephant and, therefore, comes to an incomplete understanding of the animal. This is most likely one of Rumi’s most famous poem, though he is not always given credit for it. Hence while I have heard multiple variations of this poem over the years, I did not know its author. As such, finding the true author of the poem was like finding a coin in a rain-soaked field, a pleasant surprise that makes the trudge through the mud bearable.

In conclusion, I found the poems of Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī as translated by Coleman Barks in the book The Essential Rumi interesting though uninspiring. However, I am sure lovers of poetry will most likely disagree with this conclusion as seen by the lasting international fame of Rumi. To each their own.



[1] Azadeh Moaveni, “How Did Rumi Become One of Our Best-Selling Poets?”, The New York Times (New York City, NY), January 20, 2017, accessed February 19, 2018, .

[2] Reza Aslan, No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (New York: Random House, 2005), 198.

[3] Reza Aslan, No god But God, 199.

[4] Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks (New York: HarperOne, 2004), 246.

[5] Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, The Essential Rumi, 173.

[6] Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, The Essential Rumi, 132-133.

[7] Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, The Essential Rumi, 132.

[8] Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, The Essential Rumi, 152.

The Man And His Shadow

I ran across the below poem by Paulo Coelho today and was overwhelmed by its message. May it bless you all as much as it blessed me.

“The Man And His Shadow” by Paulo Coelho

Illustration by Ken Crane

Many years ago, there lived a man who was capable of loving and forgiving everyone he came across. Because of this, God sent an angel to talk to him.

‘God asked me to come and visit you and tell you that he wishes to reward you for your goodness,’ said the angel. ‘You may have any gift you wish for. Would you like the gift of healing?’

‘Certainly not,’ said the man. ‘I would prefer God to choose those who should be healed.’

‘And what about leading sinners back to the path of Truth?’

‘That’s a job for angels like you. I don’t want to be venerated by anyone or to serve as a permanent example.’

‘Look, I can’t go back to Heaven without having given you a miracle. If you don’t choose, I’ll have to choose one for you.’

The man thought for a moment and then said:

‘All right, I would like good to be done through me, but without anyone noticing, not even me, in case I should commit the sin of vanity.’

So the angel arranged for the man’s shadow to have the power of healing, but only when the sun was shining on the man’s face. In this way, wherever he went, the sick were healed, the earth grew fertile again, and sad people rediscovered happiness.

The man traveled the Earth for many years, oblivious of the miracles he was working because when he was facing the sun, his shadow was always behind him. In this way, he was able to live and die unaware of his own holiness.