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The Mystic Poetry of Rumi Read by Tilda Swinton


Revered for eight centuries, Rumi reaches another international rediscovery.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi master, was born in Vakhsh, a small town in what is now Tajikistan, in 1207. After 37 years of his life were passed in the traditional practice of Islam, in1244he met the mystic, Shams of Tabriz. It was to prove a transformative moment.

The friendship – often described as a thinly veiled homoerotic relationship – was never less than a celebration of fraternal love. It flourished for three years until Shams disappeared under circumstances that have never been fully understood.

But from that event on, Rumi began writing poetry. He became one of the most prolific prophets of his time, and of all time. Scholars claim that Rumi wrote at least 3,000 love poems to Shams, to the prophet Muhammad and to God. Then there are 2,000 rubaiyat, the traditional Persian verse form, and a spiritual epic in six volumes known as Masnavi.

As a mystic teacher, Rumi is credited with introducing dance and movement to Sufi meditation, as well as with providing a new loving spirit (largely incomparable with the Western courtly love of the same period), and a feeling of communion with God and the world. Legend has it that when Rumi died, his funeral was attended by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike.

Coleman Barks, a modern translator, came across the poetry of Rumi thanks to his friend, the poet, Robert Bly. When reading the standard translations of A. J. Arberry, Barks proposed “bringing the poems out of the cages”of the ossified academic language. He chose to privilege instead their “startling imaginative freshness. The deep longing that we feel coming through. His sense of humour. There’s always a playfulness [mixed] in with the wisdom.”

Translations of Rumi published by HarperCollins have sold two million copies and have been further translated into 23 languages. Some compare the importance of the work with that of Shakespeare and considered historically, the work is the second most important book in Islam, after only the Qur’an itself.

Celebrities from Madonna to Tilda Swinton have lent their voices to the poetry of Rumi. This recording offers a reading of the poem “Like This” in Swinton voice. The translation is by Barks.


“Like This” 

If anyone asks you[Salto de ajuste de texto]how the perfect satisfaction

of all our sexual wanting

will look, lift your face

and say, 

Like this. 

When someone mentions the gracefulness

of the nightsky, climb up on the roof

and dance and say, 

Like this. 

If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,

or what “God’s fragrance” means,

lean your head toward him or her.

Keep your face there close. 

Like this. 

When someone quotes the old poetic image

about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,

slowly loosen knot by knot the strings

of your robe. 

Like this. 

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don’t try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips. 

Like this. Like this. 

When someone asks what it means

to “die for love,” point


If someone asks how tall I am, frown

and measure with your fingers the space

between the creases on your forehead. 

This tall. 

The soul sometimes leaves the body, the returns.

When someone doesn’t believe that,

walk back into my house. 

Like this. 

When lovers moan,

they’re telling our story. 

Like this. 

I am a sky where spirits live.

Stare into this deepening blue,

while the breeze says a secret. 

Like this. 

When someone asks what there is to do,

light the candle in his hand. 

Like this. 

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob? 


How did Jacob’s sight return? 


A little wind cleans the eyes. 

Like this. 

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,

he’ll put just his head around the edge

of the door to surprise us 

Like this. 

From ‘The Essential Rumi’, Translations

by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

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