American Poet Presents Works by Persian Mystic Rumi

– Good evening. As the Chair of the Shea
Lectureship committee, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the 2017 Francis X. Shea Memorial Lecture. Our poetry reading and
lecture this evening, is sponsored by the Francis
X. Shea Endowment Fund, and co-sponsored by the
School of Arts and Letters and the Braegelman Program
for Catholic studies here at the college. Thanks to Dr. Tammy
Ostrander, Dean of the School of Arts and Letters, Doctor Kevin Vaughan, Director of the Braegelman Program, for their generous support. The Shea Lecture was
established at Saint Scholastica nearly 40 years ago, by the family of the late Francis X. Shea,
former President of the college, to invite theologians,
novelists, poets, and playwrights to explore the integration
of ideas from diverse fields, especially theology,
religion, and literature. So, just one announcement
before President Geary introduces our distinguished speaker. We will have a reception
afterwards in the foyer, and you’re all invited to join us there. So now it is my honor to
call on Dr. Collette Gaery, President of the College,
to introduce our speaker. (audience applauding) – Thank you, Dr. Campbell. I’m very pleased to
introduce tonight’s speaker, Dr, Coleman Barks. Dr. Barks received his BA and PhD, from the University of North Carolina, and his MA from the University
of California at Berkeley. He taught American Literature,
and Creative Writing for 34 years, and has
published eight volumes of his own poetry. He is now Professor Ameritus of English at the University of
Georgia, in Athens, Georgia. Since 1977, he has collaborated
with various scholars of the Persian language,
to bring over into American free verse, the poetry of the 13th Century Mystic Jalaluddin Rumi. This work has resulted in 21 volumes, including the best
selling, Essential Rumi. It has also led to two
appearances on Bill Moyer’s PBS specials, and inclusion
in the prestigious Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. The Rumi translations have sold over a million and a half copies. In 2010, Harper One published,
Rumi, The Big Red Book, which contains all of the work on Rumi that Dr. Barks has done. And in addition, Harper One has published Soul, Fury, and Kindness,
Friendship of Rumi and Shams Tabriz. Dr. Barks has also
published, Just Being There, Rumi and Human Friendship,
a 3D set of recordings, with Grammy Award winning
cellist, David Darling. In 2004, Dr. Barks received
the Juliet Hollister Award for his work in the interfaith area. In 2005, the United
States State Department sent him to Afghanistan,
as the first visiting speaker there in 25 years. In 2006, he was awarded
an honorary doctorate, by the University of Tehran. And in 2009, he was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame. So please join me in
welcoming Dr. Coleman Barks, and his accompanist, David
Whetstone, and Marcus Wise. (audience applauding) (mystical music) – The poetry tonight was
written by Jalaluddin Rumi. In the 13th Century, as part
of the work he was doing with the Dervish learning community about the size of this hall. The work was the work
of opening the heart, whatever that mystery is,
we know it when we feel it. And hopefully we will be able to feel it by listening to some of
the images of his poetry. When he died, in 1273, December 17th, people of all religions
came to his funeral. Not just Muslims, but Christian, Jew, and Hindu, and Buddhist, and Shamanist. When they were asked why did
they come to Rumi’s funeral, he said… They said… He was through talking. (audience laughing) They said, he deepens
us, in wherever we are. So, all religions find him useful. And that’s still the case, I think. It seems to be. And… So his poetry is meant to
break down the barriers between religions, to
blur the distinctions, the differences that we feel. And you will hear that
in many of his poems. Here’s a poem that… It’s about the core of
longing in every human being. Nobody knows what that longing is for. It’s probably really not for real estate, or one’s own radio program. In this astonishing poem, Rumi says that “the longing is
for the longing itself. “The longing is for the longing itself.” I don’t know that I understand that. But I’m about to. “One night, when man was crying,
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah, “His lips grew sweet with the praising, “until a cynic said, “So, I have heard you calling
out, but have you ever “gotten any response? ” I have heard you calling
out, Allah, Allah, but have you ever gotten any response? “The man had no answer for that. “He quit praising and fell
into a confused sleep. “Where he dreamed he saw
Khidr, the guide of souls, “in a thick, green foliage, “Why did you stop praising? “Why did you stop praising “Because I’ve never heard anything back. “This longing you express
is the return message. “The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union. “Your pure sadness that
wants help, your pure “sadness that wants
help, is the secret cup. “Listen to the moan of
a dog for its master. “That whining is the connection. “That whining is the connection. “There are love dogs no
one knows the names of. “Give your life to be one of them.” One night a man was crying, one night a woman was crying, Allah,
Allah, Allah, Allah. (chanting in a foreign language) In some Sufi circles, they say there are three ways of approaching
the divine mystery. The first is prayer. And a step up from that is meditation. The deep centering. And a step up from that, is conversation. They might’ve talked
about many other things, as a way of approaching the divine. Walking. Looking up words in the dictionary. Playing a musical instrument. The tabla, yes. Laughing, that’s one of the great ways. And neglected ways, but
his learning community was a hilarious place. They loved to tell jokes. And I’ve got some of ’em
if you want, for later. Fixing food certainly is one
way of approaching the divine. Working in the garden. What else? Maybe it’s anything that human beings do. That’s what the Sufi say, actually. Anything that humans beings do can be used as a lens to look into the nature of God. So here’s a point about conversation. And the importance of
that inner outer exchange, which sometimes they call Sohbet, S-O-H-B-E-T. I went to Turkey. And in the back of a lot of Turkish houses there are what calls a Sohbet house. And it’s just an oblong,
I mean rectangular room with a bench all the way around. And you sit in there and you talk. Not about anything in particular. But almost like a Quaker meeting idea. So you just, the exchange is the reason that building is there. Here is a poem about the
nature of that exchange. And it’s importance. (mystic music) It’s crucial, because what
comes of the conversation that he’s talking about here, is the eloquence and the strength and the generosity, and the modesty, and the handsomeness on what they call the opening of the heart. Whenever they wanted to call Mystics of all traditions into their meetings, they would simply put
a rose above the door. Isn’t that great? “What was said to the
rose, that made it open, “was said to me, here in my chest. “What was told the cypress
that made it strong “and straight, what was
whispered the jasmine “so it is what it is, “whatever made sugarcane sweet, “whatever was said to the
inhabitants of the town of Chigil “in Turkestan that makes them so handsome, “whatever lets the
pomegranate flower blush “like a human face, “that is being said to me now. “I blush. “Whatever put eloquence in
language, that’s happening here.” Whatever put eloquence in
language, that’s happening here. Just in the middle of the poem he says, you wanna know what eloquence is? I’m doing it now. “The great warehouse doors open “I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane, “in love with the one to
whom every that belongs. “What was said to the
rose, that made it open, “was said to me, here in my chest. “What was whispered the jasmines “What was told the cypress, that made it “strong and straight. “Whatever makes the
pomegranate flower blush “like a human face. “Whatever makes the inhabitants
of the town of Chigil, “in Turkistan so handsome. “Whatever put eloquence in
language, that’s happening here. “The great warehouse doors
open, and I fill with gratitude. “Chewing a piece of sugarcane.” Whenever you get to the sugar cane parts, you’ve got to sing. That’s just a rule that I made. (audience laughing) “Whatever was said to the
inhabitants of the town of Chigil. “I fill with silence. “In love with the one to
whom every that belongs. “What was said to the
rose that made it open, “was said to me in my chest.” This is a sequence of,
this is my directing wand. This is a… Do these actually grow here
in this cold weather now? (audience laughing) We’ve had ’em in the south,
of course, for months. “Tonight we’re here, with
a thousand hidden Mystics. “Concealed, and absolutely
obvious, like the soul. “Self-evident.” Tonight this may be true. “Tonight we are here with
a thousand hidden Mystics. “Concealed and absolutely
obvious like the soul. “Self evident.” I’ve always thought that, that the soul is just self-evident. If you look, here we are, all connected. “Musicians, soul knowers, everybody “keep looking, we need more
of these invisible dancers.” He saw a lot of invisible dancers. And he became one. He was the first whirling
dervish, you know. Started turning one
afternoon on the streets of Konya, Turkey. He heard of music in the
Goldbeaters’ hammers, and he tried then, to become in harmony with the molecules and the galaxies. And so he started turning. And they said he turned for 36 hours. I don’t know. That’s the story anyway. And then he fell, but
he said I didn’t fall. Today, I love these
little short quatrains. “Today like every other day, we wake up “empty and frightened. “Don’t open the door to the
study and begin reading. “Take down a musical instrument. “Let the beauty we love, be what we do. “Let the beauty we love, be what we do. “There are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground.” See what he did with
five times prayer, then? There are hundreds of ways to do it. You can’t do it wrong. “Today, like every other day, we wake up “empty and frightened. “We wake up confused. “And bored. “Don’t open the door to the study, “and begin reading. “Take down a musical instrument. “Let the beauty we love, be what we do. “There are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground. “There is a light seed grain inside. “You fill it with yourself, or it dies. “There is a light seed grain inside. “You fill it with yourself, or it dies. “I’m caught in this curling energy. “Your hair. “Whoever is calm and sensible, is insane.” (audience laughing) Take that. Normal in Vincent Peale. If you’re calm and sensible,
then you’re insane. It’s just not appropriate to be that way. In the midst of 400 billion galaxies. And all this beauty. “Imagining is like feeling
around in a dark lane. “Or washing your eyes with blood. “You are the truth from foot to brow now, “what else would you like to know? “You are the truth from foot to brow now. “What else would you like to know? “You’re not gonna learn it from books. “Do not presume the earth
around you, this world. “Do not think all this is unconscious. “It is rather like a rabbit,
awake with eyes half closed. “It is like a pot of water,
when a thousand tiny bubbles “begin to come up to tell the
cook, it is about to boil. “It is rather like a pot
of water, when a thousand “tiny bubbles begin to
come up to tell the cook “it is about to boil.” There’s a word for that, isn’t it? Cuisine. Look, the chef’s know. But I’ve forgotten it. Somebody in this room knows it. “I am so small, I can barely be seen. “How can this great love be inside me?” That’s his big question. “How can this great love be inside me?” And then he answers it. “Look at your eyes, they’re small, “but they see enormous things.” That’s called a metaphor. (laughs) (audience laughing) Is it? “Your eyes are small, but they
can take in the night sky. “That’s how this great
love can be inside you, “in the same way that your
eyes can contain the night. “This moment, this love,
comes to rest in me. “Many beings in one being. “In one wheat grain, a
thousand sheaf stacks. “Inside the needles eye,
a turning night of stars.” These are gorgeous images. “Inside the needles eye,
the turning night of stars. “As long as I am alive, this is who I am, “and what I do. “My peace, my resting place. “What I want, and its satisfaction, truth. “By this, I mean, this day,
I cannot say, this love. “By this, I mean this day,
I cannot say, this love. “This being that is after me, “that I am after. “Quarry chasing quarry. “By this, I mean this day,
I cannot say, this love. “This being that is after me, “that I am after. “Quarry chasing quarry.” Keep going. (mystic music) “Find your place and close your eyes, “so your heart can start to see. “Find your place and close your eyes, “so your heart can start to see. “When you give up being self-absorbed, “your being becomes a great community.” I think we could just read
that a hundred more times. “When you give up being self-absorbed.” I’ve never tried that myself. “When you give up being self-absorbed, “your being becomes a great community.” I think he’s talking about the way that we produce elders, true elders. “Find your place and close your eyes, “so your heart can start to see. “Find your place and close your eyes, “so your heart can start to see. “When you give up feeling self-absorbed, “you being becomes a great community.” When it’s call, what? Keep doing it. Here’s another image, or another adjective, that we
might attach to the mystery. “When it’s cold and raining,
you are more beautiful. “And the snow brings me
even closer to your lips. “The inner secret that
which was never born. “You are that freshness,
and I am with you now. “I can’t explain the
goings or the comings. “You enter suddenly,
and I am nowhere again, “inside the majesty. “The inner secret that
which was never born. “You are that freshness. “And I’m with you now. “I can’t explain the
goings or the comings. “You enter suddenly,
and I am nowhere again, “inside the majesty.” That pronoun, you. One of the most beautiful
in the language isn’t it? It’s one of the great
mysteries for the inner outer. “Not Christian, or Jew, or Muslim, “not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. “Not any religion, or cultural system. “I’m not from the east or the west, “not out of the ocean,
or up from the ground, “not natural or ethereal, “not composed of elements at all. “I do not exist, I am not an entity, “in this world or the
next, did not descend “from Adam and Eve, or any origin story, “my place is the placeless. “A trace of the traceless. “Neither body or soul. “I belong to the beloved. “I’ve seen the two worlds as one, “and that one call to, and know, “first, last, outer, inner, only. “That breath, breathing, human being. “Neither body or soul, “I belong to the beloved.” That’s that you he’s talking about. “I’ve seen the two worlds as one, “and that one call to me, know, “first, last, outer, inner, only. “That breath, breathing human being.” Here’s another image that he explores, about the nature of the psyche. He says that it’s like a guesthouse. “We are not the emotions
and the compulsions “that visit the guesthouse. “We are the emptiness of
the guesthouse itself, “and the host.” So when jealousy comes
up the walk, and you say, it’s important to honor every visitor to the guesthouse of the psyche. When jealously comes, you
say, I thought you were dead. Where have you been? Stage fright comes, and he said, it’s been kind of dull around here without you. When ecstatic love comes
up the walk, my pleasure. Road rage comes. You know road rage? You say, have you ever thought of becoming a professional driver? (audience laughing) A sentimental sense of
oneness with everything comes to visit, I knew your mother. That’s kinda mean. Cynical doubt of anything spiritual comes into the room, and you say, bro, how about that game last night? Unbelievable. But that’s my riff one. Rumi’s poem. Here’s the poem. And actually, Chris Martin
of Coldplay likes this poem, and he likes it so much,
he put me reading it, as the seventh track of his seventh album, called A Headful of Dreams. So that’s about as
famous as Rumi has gotten in a long time. “This being human is a guesthouse. “Every morning, a new arrival. “A joy, a depression, a meanness. “Some momentary awareness comes as “an unexpected visitor. “Welcome and entertain them all, “even they are a crowd of sorrows “who violently sweep your house “empty of its furniture. “Still, treat each guest honorably. “You might be clearing
out for some new delight. “The dark thought, the shame, the malice. “Meet them at the door laughing, “and invite them in. “Be grateful for whoever comes, “because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. “Be grateful for whoever comes, “because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.” Rumi, in the world of religions, is the one who, with his
friend, Shams Tabriz, brought in friendship as a way, as a way of being. When they met in 1244,
there are several stories about them meeting. One of them is, Rumi was
teaching there in Konya, by a fountain. And he as reading from his
father’s spiritual diary, the mahareef, and Shams came up and pushed his way through the students, and pushed the book into the fountain. And Rumi says, what are you doing? Shams reached in and got the book, and lifted it up and
said, we can pull it out, it’ll be dry. Text is always dry. (audience laughing) You don’t learn anything from books. That’s what Shams keeps saying. Give up this reading books. It’s better to have a friend. It’s better to walk out and do something. Just go outdoors. My mother used to say,
just go outdoors and play. Don’t read books. That’s a subversive thing
to say in a university. (audience laughing) I’m through teaching. (audience laughing) Here’s some Shams in little bits and fragments of Shams. They’re in the book called, Soul Fury. My latest book. And you have to start
this book on page 135. That’s because that’s where
the Shams fragments start. And when you go to Konya
to visit Rumi’s tomb, as thousands do every year, you have to go to Shams’ tomb first. You have to honor the friend first. Don’t just leave it
silent here, let’s let go. (drummer speaks off microphone) Oh, yeah, yeah, okay. I’ll just keep talking.
(mystical music) Reading some Shams. You’ll get the idea that
Shams is a very different kind of person than Rumi. He’s sort of fierce, and ornery. I like him.
(audience laughing) He’s a, well you’ll see. “Everybody is in love with
this word bravo, bravo, “They spend their lives trying to hear it “called out to them, bravo, bravo. “Crowing comes from the rooster. “Morning comes from God.” Isn’t that good? “Crowing comes from the rooster. “Morning comes from God.” I love this. “How we are together, God
has given me this friendship. “I was so bored with myself.” Isn’t it refreshing to
hear a Mystic say that? (audience laughing) Saint Francis never said that. “I was so bored with myself. “I wanted someone to talk with. “As a prayer rug points, turns to point, “someone to turn my face to. “Do you understand what
I’m saying about boredom? “You do. “I have a friend now, who
understands what I’m saying. “God is not all gentleness. “There must be both harshness,
severe clarity, and kindness. “God is not all gentleness. “There must be both harshness,
severe clarity, and kindness. “Without both, you’re
just whimsical, imaginary, “and stupid, shallow, capricious.” Don’t you like him? Rumi says, “My sense of Shams is deepened. “He is looking for God
in someone like me.” “Rumi has it wrong. “I’m looking inside God, for him.” “What frees you, is not words, “but rather someone’s
presence, their actual being. “That is the scripture you must attend to. “The power I am hoping to
give, does not come into you, “by following a line
of words across a page. “A real lineage comes down through “personal interaction with others. “If you feel some
hesitation, some fear about “eating something, or going
somewhere, or doing something, “don’t eat it, don’t
go there, don’t do it. “If sometimes I put on clothes
that are torn and dirty, “that is intentional, a decision I make. “I swear to God, I’m not
able to really know Rumi. “There is no false modesty or deception “in my saying this. “Every day I learn things
about his state and actions “that were not there yesterday. “He is so alive and in motion,
that I can’t unknown him. “He has a beautiful face and presence, “and he speaks eloquent words. “But do not be satisfied with those. “There is something beyond
the form and the words, “beyond his face, and the poetry. “Try to seek that from him. “God is depth. “And you, you fool, are also deep. “That same depth is in you. “Don’t worry about
terminology, preexistence, “the original face, spirit, soul. “Search within yourself. “The great mystery is there. “Everyone talks about
agnosticism and dervishes. “Those are just words. “I want someone with a pulse. “A living friend. “I want someone with a pulse. “A living friend. “I’m unable to know
Rumi, because his words “are like a blindfold. “I cannot see through them to his eyes, “and know who he is. “His poetry’s like that. “A great joke really. “Hilarious, a mask, a
new kind of conjuring. “Let me say this clearly. “Hypocrisy makes you ecstatic. “Drunken with the presence you feel. “Truth makes you sad, discouraged, empty.” No Mystic has ever said that, either. “Let me say this clearly. “Hypocrisy makes you ecstatic. “Drunken with the presence you feel. “Truth makes you sad, discouraged, empty. “Real growing does not come from books, “but rather from walking
out and doing things. “Rumi is very subtle in his understanding “of what is real and what is not. “So in his presence, it
is best to tell jokes.” (laughs) “We have been talking here
about love, love, love. “We must talk instead,
about what we fear.” We have a treat tonight, actually. Poet Laureate of Rhode Island is here. My friend, Lisa Starr. And she has agreed, where are you, Lisa? There you are. To read a few, she’s one
of the most strongest, and natural poets I know of. Yeah, come on up. (audience applauding) (Lisa whispering off microphone) I’m just gonna stand behind you. – Oh, goody. So this is easy, right? He’s got you in this trance. You came to hear Rumi, and now you get the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island. So I’ll just start with
the secret of my success, which is, you move to a
state that’s about this big, and it’s pretty easy to rise to the top. (audience laughing)
Coleman was talking about Sohbet a little bit earlier. Try to think of me as sorbet. I’ll just say a few poems,
and we’ll give the guys a little break, and then we’ll
hear some more from them. Here’s a poem about faith. There’s really no halfway with faith. You can’t be a little
bit faithful, you know? And one of the things I wrangle with, and maybe you all do
too, since you’re still here in bodies, is how is
it we can be so faithful, and know we’re loved beyond measure, and then lose that faith? So here’s a poem that
came after one of those dark periods of losing my own. It’s called, What it Takes. All it takes is one blue rowboat, tied to a buoy, and it’s reflection, and this moment, for me to
go remembering everything. Then a murmur, the sound of water lapping, the breeze snapping,
and the ways the leaves resist letting go, or don’t. The wheels of a bicycle, soaring downhill with some gravity-glad rider, all of it, all of it, complicit. What I’m talking about,
is the sheer, shimmering faith of the rope, that
connect the boat to the buoy. And the hands that tied the knot. And the fathers who teach
their sons and daughters these simple things I see all day. And sometimes not at all. Moments like this become miracle, oracle. And I know in my deepest heart of hearts, that the whole world, this one, is just my own face in the mirror, and I know that I am the boat,
and the buoy, and the rope. And like faith, that holy smoke, I am brilliant, and bobbing, and blue. Here’s a newer poem. It’s about divine friendship. In this case, it’s about
the divine friendship between my friend Coleman Barks, and our friend, Mary Oliver. So this poem was in, Mary was one of your featured speakers I think
about eight years ago, you said, Bill. So this poem was written
a couple months ago, when Coleman and I last visited Mary. It doesn’t have a title
yet, but it does have an epigraph by A. A. Milne. And the epigraph is,
“‘We’ll be friends forever “‘won’t we Pooh?’, asked Piglet.” “‘Longer than that.’, Pooh answered.” Bear with me while I try
to describe Mary’s arm, tucked into Coleman’s. The two of them taking such
small and concentrated steps, due to the fragility, and the neuropathy, or is it just the grace of God? Her arm in his, their
slow and steady footsteps to the car, from the restaurant. His low murmur, her unbridled laugh. Easy now. The three of us walked behind them. My daughter said, they’re adorable. My friend said, I can’t take it. I said, Pooh and Piglet. And so they seemed, big old gentle bear, tiny fierce friend,
bundled in pink beside him. Bolstered by each ever, for
whatever wind comes next. The three of us watched as
they inched toward the car, Mary’s head resting lightly
against his arm, holding hers. We watched love take careful
steps, and we followed. Way, way, way, longer than forever. Easy now. (audience applauding) Two more. Two more. This is kind of a strange poem. It’s one of those poems
that make people wonder, what is poetry anyway? It was written in a
workshop, in a writing series that I ran on Block Island,
which is a small island off the coast of Rhode Island, where I spent the last
30 years of my life. And a workshop run by a great
friend and teacher of mine and David’s, and Marcus’,
and Jan’s, and Coleman, Jen Lighty, in a workshop,
asked us to consider, in her teaching, there are
seven sacred directions. In many aboriginal cultures,
they may honor four. Jen had us consider seven. And she asked us, she dared
us, to actually consider the fact that we’re a
big part of the equation. That we might matter as much to the sky and the Earth as they matter to us. So she asked us to
consider these directions, and she asked to spend a long time, thinking of the questions we would ask, if we really thought they
could listen and answer. So bear with me, there’s
a bunch of questions, and then the answers come. I question the seven sacred
directions and they answer. Air, who taught you to
touch my hair that way? Which chest of which
bird is your favorite? Why so moody? Fire, could you control
yourself if you had to? You do know I’m not afraid to look you in the eye, don’t you? Are you ever sorry when the barn collapses on the bleeding cows? Do you have a lover? Water, is it’s not true
that I’m your daughter, will you lie to me? Which do you like better,
the calm, or the storm? Earth, do you feel my embrace? Do you ever wanna just
throw your hands up, and walk away from it all? Do you plan your reaction,
or do they just happen? Above, do you really
listen to our prayers, and our songs? Are you ever lonely? Do you weep more when
we make peace or war? Below, who taught you your patience? Are there moments when
we all dance together? Within, why this fist around my belly? Can’t you do something
about all this sorrow? Answers. Because you are my daughter, you shouldn’t have had to ask. For every question, one blade of grass, for every sorrow, one
golden shaft of wheat. For your loneliness, I
give you children laughing. Have you seen me blow and
ripple through the tall grass? It’s like that with your hair. As for the cows, I’m sorry for their fear, but one day you’ll understand that even their pain is necessary. Walk away from all this green, never. And about my lover, none of your business. (audience laughing) And one more thing, dear one, sometimes you are afraid
to look me in the eye, and then, and only then, do I feel lonely. And I’ll finish up with one short poem. It’s April, it’s National Poetry Month. So this is a poem written
when my kids were real young. Maybe three and four. And I was herding them off to school like one of those mothers
that shouldn’t have been allowed to have children. You know, threatening them that this might be the day that they didn’t have lunches, and we’re late and the car won’t start, and as we’re racing out of the house, we found a bird that had hit the window, and that can go either way. Here’s how it went for us. And I will say that, I
think it was the first time that I was aware of them
being aware of spirit, whatever spirit might be. Prayer in April. Can there still be any doubt, when just this morning,
right as we clamored off to school, in the driveway, the bird. That startled baby bird. He was so frightened, he’d lost his voice. His little feathered
head became more yellow with his quivering. We three took turns holding him. The complicity of our awe
is what strikes me now, and I hope I’ll always remember it. How we dropped to our knees, how we took turns cradling him, how for a moment, when he flew, we lost our voices too. Thank you all so much for listening. (audience applauding) – Thank you, Lisa. It’s dangerous to have her come in. She just steals the audience. (muttering)
(mystical music) I said that laughing was
so important to a spirit, and here’s some Nasruddin jokes. Nasruddin is a Middle
Eastern trickster figure. He, well you’ll see. Nasruddin is sitting in the sanctuary. He has his feet up on the altar. The priest comes in and says, Nasruddin, take your foot down off the alter. This is a sacred place. Nasruddin says, where shall I put them? (audience laughing) Nasruddin puts a for
sale sign on his donkey, and takes it to the market. The first interested customer comes up, and the donkey tries to kick him. The second customer comes
up and the donkey bites him. The third comes up and he butts him. A bystander who has seen it all says, Nasruddin, you’re never going to be able to sell that donkey. He says oh, he’s not really for sale. I just want people to see
what I have to put up with. (audience laughing) Nasruddin has been seeing a
psychiatrist for several weeks, finally the doctor says, Nasruddin, I have a diagnosis, kleptomania. Nasruddin says, is there
something I can take for that? (audience laughing) (sitar strumming) Nasruddin takes a tuna
fish sandwich to work for lunch every day. And every day he takes
one bite, and says yuck, and throws it away. Coworker says, Nasruddin,
why don’t you have your wife fix some other kind of sandwich? He says, oh my friend, it’s not so simple. I’m not married. I fix these for myself. (audience laughing) I like that one. Nasruddin, here’s an actuary statistic of how most automobile accidents happen within a mile of your own house. So he moves. (audience laughing) Nasruddin and his son walk into town, leading a donkey. The townspeople say, look
at Nasruddin and his son. They do not know the
proper use of a donkey. The next day, Nasruddin and
his son come through town. The boy is riding the donkey,
and Nasruddin is leading. Look at that, say the people. Nasruddin does not know the
dignity proper to fatherhood. Next day, Nasruddin and his
son, Nasruddin is riding. Big shot Nasruddin said the townspeople, The next day, Nasruddin and his son come back through town,
carrying the donkey. (audience laughing) Nasruddin is living on an
uninhabited tropical island. He’s marooned there. I won’t go into how that happened. He’s just there. He lives there year with plenty of food, small game, fish, berries, and fruit. And he adapts to the fact
that he may never be found. He lives his life happily, alone. A ship comes and finds him. And as they’re moving
away, he and the captain are sitting on the deck and
looking back at the island. And there sit three building on the beach, what are those three buildings? Well the one on the left is where I lived, and the one in the center
is the church I went to. What’s that other one? That’s the church I used to go to. (audience laughing) Sorry, I told that wrong. But it doesn’t anyhow. Last Nasruddin joke. Nasruddin buys a prize
rooster and takes it home. The rooster begins to service the hens in his barnyard, and then
moves on to the ducks, and the geese, and the sheep, and the dog, and the cow. Nasruddin is furious. He says, I did not pay
such an exorbitant price for you to make chaos of my farm. And besides, if you don’t
quit this relentless sexual activity, you’re
going to kill yourself. Nasruddin is furious. But the rooster pays no attention. The next day, Nasruddin
looks out the window and sees the rooster,
flat on his back, dead. A buzzard is circling down. Nasruddin goes out to lecture the corpse one last time. I told you, I told you, the corpse, I mean the rooster, opens one eye. He says shh. When you’re romancing a buzzard, you have to play it their way. (audience laughing) Now, we shall end with
some Mystical poetry. (audience laughing) (mystical music) We can do that. This is a poem that was
spoken at the end of a night they had stayed up telling
jokes, and making poems, and saying those remembrance of God, that the Sufi’s called Dhikr. And… So this is about a state of awareness that they’re in. That he says is not just
a state of awareness, but the source of the universe. (mystical music) A little dawn music. “This we have now, is not imagination. “This is not grief or joy, “not a judging state,
or elation, or sadness. “Those come and go. “This is the presence that doesn’t. “It’s dawn Husam, “here in the splendor of coral, “inside the friend, “in the simple truth of what Hallaj said. “What else could human beings want? “When grapes turn to wine “they’re wanting this. “When the night sky pours by, “it’s really a crowd of beggars, “and they all want some of this. “This that we are now “created the body, cell by cell, “like bees building a honeycomb. “The universe and the human body “grew from this, not this “from the human body and the universe. “This we have now, is not imagination, “this is not grief or joy, “not a judging state,
or elation, or sadness. “Those come and go. “This is the presence that doesn’t. “That’s dawn, Husam. “What else could human beings want? “What else could human beings want?” Thank you, for the
quality of your listening. I really appreciate it. David Whetstone, and Marcus Wise. (audience applauding) – Dr. Barks will take a few questions. There are mics on both sides. So just come down to the mic, and make sure you speak into the mic so we can hear you. – Might not be Dr. Barks,
but it was somebody up here. I think that Dr. Part has worn off. (audience laughing) Any question here? Yeah. Not yet. What? – [Woman At Microphone]
I was wondering about your knowledge of Persian,
and how you worked, is that (murmurs) over the years– – No, I didn’t hear Rumi’s
name until I was 39, which was way too late
to learn a language. For me, especially. But I’m sort of lazy. So I’ve just worked with English scholars, and I don’t work with the Farsi at all. – Do you sometimes listen to his poetry? – I do sometimes do that. It’s hypnotizing, it’s beautiful. But I don’t know the language. People have said, there may be something fraudulent about all of
this, but I don’t know. But anyway, you’ll have
to decide that yourself. (audience laughing) – Thank you. – Okay, that’s not much of an answer then. Oh, Robert Bly, of course, told me to do this. – [Woman At Microphone]
Dr. Barks, I was wondering if I may ask if you
have had the opportunity to dance Zikr, or do other practices with some of the Mevlevis,
when you’ve visited. – I haven’t, I’ve just seen them do it. To dance, you said?
– Mm-hmm, do the turn? – I’ve never done it. I mean, I’ve tried to do the turn, but I get dizzy. (audience laughing) I fall down. – [Woman At Microphone] Thank you. – I love to do the Zikr. (chanting in foreign language) – Dr. Barks, could you take a minute, and let us know how you got
into Rumi in the first place? Intrigued in Rumi poetry? – Yeah, we’ll I’ve told
that story a lot of course, but I say it has three strands to it. One, I’ll tell them quickly. First, is Robert Bly. Early June of ’76, he handed me a book at one of these conferences, called The Great Mother of Conference, and The New Father. And he handed me a book of translations, A. J. Arberry of Rumi. And he said, these need to
be released from the cages. So he meant that they
needed to be rephrased out of the translationese of scholars, into something more like the
American free verse tradition of Whitman and Galway Kinnell. And so, I’ve been trying
to do that for 40 years. And I don’t get tired of it. Maybe the simple mind, something. But it just keeps unfolding for me. And the second strand
was that I had a dream, on May 2nd, 1977, of
sleeping out in my back yard, and seeing a ball of light, rose off of Williams Island, right there
in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And there was a man sitting inside, with a white thing on his head. And he raised his head
and said I love you, and I said, I love you, too. And the whole landscape filled with dew, as it was natural to do
in that time of night. But the dew, somehow, I
knew the dew was love. So then anyway, and then I met that man a year and a half later. He was Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, and he told me to do this Rumi work, and he is the only credential that I have for
being able to do it at all. Because I’ve sat in his room with Andrew, and helped him cook the food, and just listened to him talk. So, and then the third unbelievable thing, is that when I was about
six, seven years old, I was a geography freak. I just poured over the
1943 Rand McNally Atlas. And until I had memorized,
unaware of having done it, all the capitals of all
the countries in the world. And so I grew up on the
campus of a boys’ school in Chattanooga, and my
father was Headmaster. And we would go over to
the dining hall for dinner, people would call out names of countries, ’cause they knew this smart alec kid had all the countries
memorized, and the capitals. So I would call back the capital. They would say Uruguay,
and I would say Montevideo. They would say, Bhutan,
and I would say Thimphu. And I never missed. And so finally, the
Latin teacher went down in his classroom, and found a country that didn’t seem to have a
capital on his map anyway. So he called that across the quadramen, and he said Cappadocia. And he said that the
look on my face named me, when I went through the
perfect computer of my mind, and could not find a capital for it. So from then on he called me Cappadocia. A strange name. But there are still people in Chattanooga that call me Cappadocia. Which almost rhymes, doesn’t it? Cappadocia and Chattanooga. So, I almost fell down when I realized the capital of Cappadocia
is the largest town there. Iconium, or Konya. Where Rumi lived, and is buried. So, sometimes the universe
just plays a little joke. Maybe you’ll get this, maybe you won’t. (audience laughs) You were named for your
ignorance, you know? That’s what you don’t know. I still don’t know the
capital of Cappadocia. Yeah. What you got? – So pleased that you’re here. I noticed that your one
poem, I’m just so fond of Community of the
Spirit, that I went online recently to read it in my connotation, and fact there was new words to it, so you have updated it. And I just wondered,
(murmurs) by new words. – I put new words to that? I didn’t think I had. – Saw some new words online. – Well, people change them around, but I haven’t done it. I’ll stick by the one that’s
in the book like this. – Yeah, yeah. I’m familiar with the one
in the Essential Rumi. – Yeah, that’s the one I like. – That’s the book I’m familiar with.
(audience laughing) – People do what I’ve been doing, just change the words around. That’s fine. They can do that all they want. (audience laughing) Oh, thanks so much for coming. (audience applauding) Bill, thank you Bill.

8 Replies to “American Poet Presents Works by Persian Mystic Rumi

  1. This poetry is Scripture, read live like this it is Living Scripture, more alive than any book. It is encouraging that Rumi is considered America's most popular poet. We will recover our country from the Oligarchs. It would help if you expressed your faith in whatever way you feel moved to do so. Be more active. Live in the Rumi Room! If you care to, check out the Rumi Room on Facebook and say hello while you're there.

  2. Persian mystic? He just wrote in Persian. Rumi is describing himself as a Turkish and even he gave his sons Turkish names. His writings has nothing to do with being Persian or Turkish though. He was a good Muslim. That's what matters.

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