with along with Rumi, the Persian poet.
This year, the poet Rumi will be featured. I'm blessed to read his “The Grave Is a Veil,” which considers the human beyond life. The impulse to imagine beyond the physical is perhaps the essence of mystic poetry. It isn’t about knowing but believing there is something to know. One of Rumi's metaphors is that existence is like the sun: just because it can’t be seen after what we call “setting,” the sun goes on; dawn will be a “reunion,” Rumi tells us. Rumi uses The Old Testament story of Joseph being cast into the well as an example of negation of the self that leads to a fuller understanding of the total self. Although the poem is in translation, the evocation of “nowhere air,” still startles me with its certainty.
On that fatal day when my casket rolls along,
don't think my heart is in this world.
Don't cry, don't wail in anguish,
don't fall into a hole the demons have dug.
That surely would be sad.
When you see my procession, don't say I'm gone.
It will be my reunion.
As you see that lowering down,
think of rising.
What harm is in the setting moon or sun?
What seems a setting to you is a dawning.
Though it may seem a prison,
this vault releases the soul.
Unless a seed enters the earth it doesn't grow.
Why are you doubting this human seed?
Unless the bucket goes down,
it won't come up full.
Why should the Joseph of the spirit resent the well?
Close your mouth here and open it beyond,
and in the nowhere air it will be your song.
This year Rumi will share the reading with the Pakistani poet Faiz. Although Faiz is often thought of as a political prisoner (imprisoned for allegedly plotting against the Pakistan government although charges were later dropped). As a communist, Faiz subscribed not to Islam but to humanism, which might seem antithetical to mysticism. What’s the connection between Rumi and Faiz?
The poet who organizes the reading (Shadab Hasmi—author of The Baker of Tarifa) says that mysticism is often about the glory of ordinary things. In Neruda it is the marvel of socks or onions praised in his odes. In The New Testament it is Jesus’ parables of simple things--loaves, water, mustard seeds--that become imbued with something ineffable. The notion that humanists do not perceive or allow for the ineffable because their belief system is not based on a theism seems to set up a false dichotomy. Although there are many things written about his personal life and the balance between Marxism and Sufism, I'll let Faiz speak through his art albeit in translation. In his poem "Before You Came," Faiz addresses one who changes physical reality by imbuing it with an unbearable vision of an essence beyond the corporeal:
Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of night,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.
Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold where we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.
And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.
Don't leave now that you're here--
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.
The reading is free and begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday April 3rd at The Cole Library just east of I-5 on Carlsbad Village Drive.