Rumi, the Sufi ‘poet,’ who cared nothing for poetry

We all think of Rumi as a poet and a teacher, and many of us know of his affiliation with Sufism, but likely few of us think of him as an immigrant, a son, a father. His spiritual legacy has transcended virtually all borders—including national, linguistic, religious, and cultural ones—evidenced by the fact he is reputed to be the best-selling poet in the English-speaking world.

Chase F. Robinson frames his examination of Rumi’s life and influence in a section of the book ‘Disruption & Integration, 1250–1525’, a period commonly called the Pax Mongolica, as it was dominated by Mongol conquests and expansion depicted in the map below.

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Map of the Islamic World in 1500 from Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives.

Robinson leads you succinctly through his travels and education; most interestingly, he questions what Rumi would think of his massive rebirth and renown as a poet to modern-day English-reading consumers, and in part finds this answer:

Rumi bristled at the expectations of his thronging followers in the city of Konya (southwest Anatolia), lamenting that he was unable to satisfy their appetite for his wisdom:

It is a habit with me, that I do not desire that any heart should be distressed through me. During the session a great multitude thrust themselves upon me, and some of my friends fend them off. That is not pleasing to me, and I have said a hundred times, ‘Say nothing to any man on my account; I am well content with that.’ I am affectionate to such a degree that when these friends come to me, for fear that they may be wearied I speak poetry so that they may be occupied with that. Otherwise, what have I do to with poetry? By God, I care nothing for poetry, and there is nothing worse in my eyes than that. It has become incumbent upon me, as when a man plunges his hand into tripe and washes it out for the sake of a guest’s appetite, because the guest’s appetite is for tripe.

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Detail of an illustration: an 18th-century miniature of the supposed first encounter of Rumi (on the mule) with Shams of Tabriz, a meeting that would redirect the poet’s life.

Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives is an illuminating text in multiple senses of the word. It both creates a vivid picture of life in many arenas of the pre-modern Muslim world, and brings those worlds to life with lively and historically-significant illustrations.

Follow along in future weeks as we delve into other famous figures profiled in the book. Also, please read our previous post featured on the UC Press blog.

To get a copy of Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives, visit your local bookstore, or purchase online at IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (to save 30% on ucpress.edu, enter discount code 16M4197 at checkout).

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