Rumi 1: Coleman Barks renders ‘The Great Red Book’

More than 700 years after his death, the poet Rumi reportedly ranks as the world’s most popular English-language poet. Of course, that’s a huge claim and it’s almost impossible to prove because of the ever-expanding number of books containing his verse. Amazon lists far more than 100 books of Rumi’s work in English. No one has definitive data on total Rumi sales.

One thing is clear: Coleman Barks is the leading English-language interpreter of Rumi’s work for our era. A poet himself, Barks renders Rumi’s 13th-century verse into contempoary poetry. That’s not just ReadTheSpirit’s judgment. More than half a million copies of Barks’ Rumi books reportedly have been sold.

This week, we’re bringing you three stories on Rumi to celebrate a landmark in Coleman Barks’ long career—and a major gift to the many men and women in the English-speaking world who love Rumi’s work. HarperOne is releasing the 512-page masterwork, Rumi: The Big Red Book: The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love and Friendship

Part 2 in this series is an interview with Coleman Barks about the enduring global appeal of Rumi and his many decades of work in adapting Rumi’s poetry for modern readers.

Coleman Barks on the Spiritual Grandeur of Rumi

In the Introduction to “The Big Red Book,” Coleman Barks writes in part:

“Rumi is one of the great souls, and one of the great spiritual teachers. He shows us our glory. He wants us to be more alive, to wake up. … He wants us to see our beauty, in the mirror and in each other.

“Rumi’s message can be stated in many ways. It is the core of the core of every religin. It is the longing in a human being to live in unlimited freedom and joy, to move inside beauty, that most profound need of the human soul to flow with the namelessness that animates, lxuriates, burns, and transpires through form, enlivening what is as steam, mist, torrent, saliva, blood, ocean, cloud, coffee, wine, butterfly, tiger, hummingbird, energy, and delight.

“I feel blessed to have spent much of the second half of my life working on the poetry of Rumi. I am 73 now in 2010. I began when I was 39 in 1976 at Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference in Ely, Minnesota.”

Coleman Barks Renders Rumi’s “God in the Stew”

In the opening section of “The Big Red Book,” Barks offers this contemporary-English rendering of a passage from Rumi about … well, judge for yourself what it is about …

“God in the Stew”

Is there a human mouth that does not give out soul sound?
Is there love, a drawing together of any kind,
that is not sacred?

Every natural dog sniffs God in the stew.

The lion’s paw trembles like the rose petal.
He senses the ultimate spear coming.

In the shepherd’s majesty wolves and lambs tease each other.
Look inside your mind. Do you hear the crowd gathering?
Help coming, every second.

Still you cover your eyes with mud.
Watch the horned owl. Wash your face.

Anyone who steps into an orchard
walks inside the orchard keeper.

Milions of love-tents bloom on the plain.
A star in your chest says, None of this is outside you.

Close your lips and let the maker of mouths talk,
the one who says things.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2, an interview with Coleman Barks about his work, the gifts of Rumi and “The Big Red Book.”

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