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Rumiyat: A Guide to Reading Rumi


By Dr. Rasoul Sorkhabi


Following my article “Rumi is the Answer to All Our Problems” published on Payvand Online (2 March 2007), several readers have asked me to introduce some reading materials about the poetry, thought and life of Moulânâ Jalâluddin Rumi, the great Persian Sufi poet of the thirteenth century and currently one of the best-read poets in North America. There are, of course, numerous books in this field, and these books come in various levels and categories. Selecting a few books from the vast Rumi genre of literature (what I call Rumiyât in this article) is a difficult and subjective task. Nonetheless, here I introduce some books based on my own limited experience and readings and which I think are useful for the general public. (“Rumiyât” is a plural Persian word meaning “all that pertains to Rumi.”)


Rumi’s Poetry in the Original Persian


Rumi was one of the most prolific poets in the Persian language. His poems are collected into two books.


(1) Diwân Shams Tabrizi (also called Diwân Kabir or Kulliyât Shams Tabrizi) includes Rumi’s lyric odes (ghazal) (about 3300 poems) and quatrains (rubâi’yât) (nearly 2000 quatrains), totaling over 45,000 lines of poetry. (Diwân means “poetry book’; Kulliyât means “collected works”; Kabir means “great”; and Shams Tabrizi is the name of Rumi’s spiritual master who drew him to the world of mysticism and poetry.) The authoritative printed version of Rumi’s Diwân is the one edited by the late Badi al-Zamân Foruzân-far (1900-1970), professor of literature at University of Tehran. He published it in ten volumes with glossary and indices (University of Tehran Press, 1336-1346/1957-1967); a second edition was brought out by the Amir Kabir Press in Tehran (1355/1977). Since then, several publishers in Tehran have printed single-volume or two-volume editions of the Diwân based on Foruzân-far’s edition; so any of will be useful to have. Gozideh Ghazaliyât Shams is a popular selection of Rumi’s odes by Dr. Mohammad Reza Shafiee Kadkeni (first published in 1352/1973 in Tehran and reprinted several times).


(2) Masnawi Ma’nawi (“Spiritual Couplets”) is a six-volume book of stories and parables narrated in poetry which Rumi narrated during the last decade of his life to his disciple and spiritual friend Husâm Chelebi. This work has over 25,000 lines or couplets. The former professor of Persian literature at Cambridge University, Reynold Nicholas (1868-1945) devoted over three decades of his life to produce a critical edition, English translation and commentary of Rumi’s Masnawi, which was published in eight volumes (London: Luzac, 1925-1940). A single-volume Persian print of the Masnawi based on Nicholson’s edition was published by the Amir Kabir Press (1336/1977) and has been reprinted numerous times; this volume suffices for most purposes if your knowledge of Persian literature is sufficiently strong. Nearly a dozen scholars have written commentaries on the Masnawi in Persian, Turkish and English; here I single out two recent publications in Persian: Shar’he Jâme Masnawi Ma’nawi by Karim Zamâni in six volumes (Tehran: Ettela’ât Press, 1372-1377/1993-1998), and Masnawi in seven volumes edited by Mohammad Este’lâmi (Tehran: Zovvâr, 1389/1990, second edition), which is actually a new edited version based on the oldest manuscript of the Masnawi at the Konya Museum. 



Rumi’s Poetry in English Translations


This category fills many books on the shelves of bookstores in North America and other English speaking countries. However, some of these books are not original translations from the Persian but re-translations, renditions, and inspired versions of Rumi’s poems. Although it is impossible to precisely translate poetry from one language into another, I recommend two beautiful anthologies of Rumi’s poems: (1) Coleman Barks’ best-seller The Essential Rumi (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995) and (2) Kabir Helminski’s The Rumi Collection (Threshold Books, 1998); both contain many good translations. Arthur Arberry’s Mystical Poems of Rumi, First Selection, Poems 1-200 (The University of Chicago Press, 1968) and Mystical Poems of Rumi, Second Selection, Poems 201-400 (Westview Press, 1979) are prose translations from Rumi’s Diwân Shams Tabrizi. Dr. Evit Ergin has retranslated the Diwân Kabir from a Turkish translation (by the late Abdolbâki Golpinârli) into English in 23 volumes, and has thus done a great service to Rumi’s fans (see his website at the Society for Understanding of Mevlana). Books by Shahram Shiva and Nader Khalili (both original translators from the Persian) also offer good selections from Rumi’s Diwân.


If you are particularly interested in Rumi’s parables and stories, you may find these books useful: (1) Tales from the Masnavi (tales 1-100) and More Tales from Masnavi (tales 101-200) by Arthur J. Arberry (London: Goerge Allen & Unwin, 1961 and 1963) are easy-to-read English prose; (2) The Illustrated Rumi (HarperSanFransisco, 2000) is a coffee-table book and contains many inspiring stories; and (3) Rumi: Spiritual Verses is a new translation of the first book of the Masnawi by Allan Williams (Penguin Classics, 2005). Of course, the scholarly, masterful and complete translation of the Masnawi with commentaries by Nicholson (8 volumes, London, 1925-1940) is indispensable to the Rumi scholars, and useful for the serious Rumi readers who do not mind the English literary style of a century ago.  



General Books about Rumi: Introductory Level


In the English language, pick up any of these books: (1) I Am Wind You Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi by Annemarie Schimmel (Shambhala Press, 1992) (Reprinted as Rumi’s World, 2001); (2) The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi by Afzal Iqbal (Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1965, sixth impression, 1991); (3) The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi: Illustrated Edition by William Chittick (World Wisdom, 2005). (All these books have also been translated into Persian.)


If you can read Persian, you have sufficient Rumiyât for the rest of your life. Dr. Abdol Hossein Zarrin-kub’s Pelle Pelle Ta Molagât-e Khoda (“Step by Step toward Meeting God”) (Tehran: Elmi, 1373/1994, reprinted over a dozen times) is an excellent introduction to Rumi’s life, and Bâ Pir-e Balkh (“Accompanying the Master of Balkh”) by Muhammad Jafar Mosaffâ (Tehran, 1380/1991, second edition) offers enlightening commentaries on several stories from the Masnawi through a psychological lens and modern outlook.


General Books about Rumi: Advanced Level


In the English language, I recommend three books: (1) The Triumphant Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi by Annemarie Schimmel (State University of New York Press, 1993); (2) The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi by William Chittick (State University of New York Press, 1983); and (3) Rumi: Past and Present, East and West by Franklin Lewis (Oxford: OneWorld, 2000). (These books are also available in Persian translations.)


For Persian readers, Badi al-Zamân Foruzân-far’s scholarly analysis of Rumi’s biography, Zendegâni-e Moulânâ Jalâluddin Muhammad (Tehran: Zovvâr, 1333/1954, reprinted several times), and for Turkish readers, Albolbâki Golpinârli’s Mevlana Celaloddin: Hayati, Felsefesi, Esserlerinden Secmeler (Istanbul, 1951, 1985) (translated into Persian by his Iranian student Dr. Towfig Sob’hâni) provide research accounts yet to be available in English.


I could go on and on; Rumiyât is a rich genre. But I hope you will pick up one or more books from the list introduced here. Enjoy Rumi’s poetry; it is a vast and deep spiritual ocean. Happy reading!


About Author: Dr. Rasoul Sorkhabi, a native of Iran and a Research Professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, coordinates the Rumi Poetry Club in Utah. He is working on an original translation and anthology of Rumi’s poetry. Contact: Copyright: Rasoul Sorkhabi (2007)


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