THE INDEPENDENT PRESS REVIEW
The flowering of Rumi translations in English is remarkable. Arberry’s 1968 Mystical Poems lists nine books in its bibliography, all scholarly works. All the translations on our checklist, besides the Arberry and Nicholson reprints, were published after 1980. Robert Bly did some of the first of these translations and began the project of re-interpreting Rumi. I first read Rumi in Nicholson’s translation, and I got the flavor of his gnosis, no matter that the language is Victorian. The scholars’ introductions are worth reading. They make no great claims for their English poetry: “These versions, being in the vast majority the first renderings into a western language (and the modern Turkish translation has been fully consulted), and intended primarily for non-specialists, have been made as literal as possible, with a minimal concession to readability.” (Arberry, Introduction). On the other hand, the introductions by the contemporary translators speak more directly to the interests of ‘90’s readers, more acquainted with spiritual practice and esoteric traditions.
The translations of Bly and Barks convey ideas and emotions with the immediacy of contemporary verse. In exchange for literal meanings they provide colloquial and intuitive equivalents for Rumi’s “crazy wisdom” utterances. The Helminski’s and Nevit Ergin have a different sound, and they may have a greater claim to being initiates of Sufism. The latest books from Threshold are a valuable contribution since they carry the words of Rumi into another genre, the popular “day book” or book of inspirational aphorisms. Kabir Helminski’s books on attention and other Sufi practices will be of interest to some Rumi readers. For readers with a special interest in the Persian language background—writers, teachers, actresses, musicians, ministers, spiritual seekers, for example—the presentation of Shiva’s book is a breakthrough. On each page is the Persian calligraphy, a transliteration of the sound of the Persian, a literal translation, and Shiva’s rendering of a quatrain into English. This format invites the reader to savor the translation process and participate in it, as well as to appreciate the English version. Peter Lamborn Wilson’s opening essay is a jewel on the magic and mystery of the translation process itself, and its relation to the esoteric secrets that keep themselves. This beautiful book was runner-up for a Ben Franklin Award at ABA ’96 in the religion field, and the recognition is deserved.
The annotated list that follows is not exhaustive, by any means. It does represent most of the small press editions of Rumi currently in print for the literary and lay readers, not the scholar. We did not have time to collect and assess Rumi recordings—we’ve cited a few poetry tapes that came in. For Rumi recordings, contact the same presses that are producing the books, and consult the catalogs of small press distributors such as Bookpeople, New Leaf Distributing, and Samuel Weiser, Inc.
Older Translations and Commentaries
Mystical Poems of Rumi. Tr. by Arthur J. Arberry. 1974, paper, 202 p., $10.95, U. of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0-226-73151-0. 200 poems presented as “a careful selection from the first 1,500 odes and lyrics. They thus represent a planned selection, my purpose being to include poems of various styles and degrees of difficulty.”
Mystical Poems of Rumi Two; Second Selection, Tr. by Arberry, 1991, paper, 208 pp., $10.95, U. of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0-226-73152-9.
Teachings of Rumi: The Masnavi: Abridged & translated by E.H. Whinfield, Intro. by Idries Shah. 1994, paper, 350 pp., $15.00, ISHK Book Service (Octagon Press), ISBN: 0-86304-067-5. This is seemingly a facsimile reprint of a scholarly translation, perfect for anyone who wishes to read the verses of Rumi in the context of his teaching stories—and as the master arranged the material for students. Shah’s brief but personal and illuminating introduction addresses issues of the transmission of this teaching in the modern world. He who has ears, let him hear….
Rumi: Poet and Mystic. Tr. by Reynold A. Nicholson. 1995, paper, 190 pp., $10.95, OneWorld Publications (dist. by Element Books USA), ISBN: 1-85168-096-9. Reprint of 1950 publication, the classic English translation of Rumi and source for many of the recent versions. Includes the scholar’s chapters on Rumi’s period, life, and thought.
The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi, by Andrew Harvey. 1994, hardcover, 319 pp., $20.00, Frog Ltd./North Atlantic Books, ISBN: 1-883319-20-X. Eleven chapters “adapted from an extraordinary series of lectures given by Andrew Harvey at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in Spring 1993,” this collection is a must for avid Rumi readers and students of mysticism. Harvey covers a great deal of ground from a perspective not only contemporary but steeped in mystical practice. “A brilliantly clear, ecstatic book. With all these generous and direct words, Andrew Harvey somehow takes you into the silence at the center of sacred art. Amazingly naked and beyond definition.”—Coleman Barks.
Maypop books, Translations by Coleman Barks
Birdsong: Fifty-three Short Poems by Rumi. 1993, paper, 64 pp., $9.00, ISBN: 0-9618916-7-X. Reworked quatrains from Arberry’s translations in short free-verse form. The poems are aphoristic, some even feel like the haiku of Zen initiates.
Delicious Laughter: Rambunctious Teaching Stories from the Mathnawi of Jelaluddin Rumi. 1990, paper, 146 pp., $7.50, ISBN: 0-9618916-1-0.
Like This: 43 Odes. 1990, paper, 64 pp., $7.50, ISBN: 0-9618916-2-9.
One-Handed Basket Weaving: Poems on the Theme of Work from the Mathnawi. 1992, paper, 133 pp., $9.00, ISBN: 0-9618916-3-7. Thematic collection of substantial pieces, for the serious Rumi fan or spiritual seeker. Barks writes of his own spiritual teacher, Sri Lankan Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, in an Afterword.
Say I Am You: Poetry Interspersed with Stories of Rumi & Shams. 1994, paper, 128 pp., $12.00, ISBN: 1-884237-00-7.
We Are Three. 1987, paper, 96 pp., $7.50, ISBN: 0-9618916-0-2. A range of poems from Mathnawi and Divan.
The Essential Rumi. Tr. by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. 1995, hardcover, 336 pp., $12.00, ISBN: 0-06-250958-6. Equivalent of a “Portable Rumi” compendium of Barks’ translations, grouped under 27 loose thematic sections. The largest single (non-scholarly) collection available—not comparable to the slim collections either in book aesthetic or easy access to the poetry. It is an impressive artifact of Barks’ own spiritual path: “These poems were created, not in packets and batches of art, but as part of a constant, practical, and mysterious discourse Rumi was having with a dervish learning community…Poetry and music and movement were parts of that communal and secretly individual work of opening hearts and exploring the mystery of union with the divine. The form of this collection means to honor the variety and simultaneity of that mystical union.”
Crazy As We Are. Tr. by Nevit O. Ergin. 1992, paper, 80 pp., $9.95, ISBN: 0-934252-30-0. 128 quatrains from the second book of the Divan, with an excellent introduction on the historical context and life of Rumi. Ergin also appends a short bibliography of the scholarly works.
In Praise of Rumi. No authors listed, Intro. by Regina Sara Ryan. 1989, paper, 78 pp., $8.00, ISBN: 0-934252-23-8. “Selected works of some lesser-known Sufi poets…,” not to be confused with translations of Rumi. Strongly in the tradition of devotional and gnostic songs, this collection is dedicated to Yogi Ramsuratkumar, the spiritual guide of Lee Lozowick, author, recording artist, and contemporary master in his own right.
Rending the Veil: Literal & Poetic Translations of Rumi. Tr. by Shahram T. Shiva, Preface by Peter Lamborn Wilson. 1995, hardcover, 280 pp., $27.95, HOHM Press, ISBN: 0-934252-46-7. A beautiful volume, ideal for readers interested in the look and sound of the Persian. Sets a new standard for bilingual presentation of Rumi’s quatrains, of which about 100 are selected here.
North Atlantic Books
Light Upon Light: Inspirations from Rumi, by Andrew Harvey. 35 b & w photos by Eryk Hanut. 1996, hardcover, 247 pp., $25.00, ISBN: 1-55643-206-2. Another great gift book, with selections from all over Rumi’s opus arranged as a course of meditative and transformative readings. Companion book to the author’s The Way of Passion, the presentation is enhanced by crisp, simple photos mainly of natural subjects. “In this selection, I have especially emphasized an aspect of Rumi’s work which I believe is crucial to us now—its fierce and humble rigor.”—Introduction.
Love’s Glory: Re-creations of Rumi by Andrew Harvey. 1996, paper, 122 pp., $10.95, ISBN: 1-55643-225-9. 108 quatrains, one per page, in an attractive 5” X 7 ¼” paperback format.
Daylight; A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance. Tr. by Camille and Kabir Helminski. 1990, hardcover, 210 pp., $19.00, ISBN: 0-939660-35-0. 365 selections from Mathnawi, typeset with generous use of white space in a handsome hardcover. Aphorisms and short poems on full range of Rumi’s concerns.
Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion: Poems & Teaching Stories from the Mathnawi. Tr. by Coleman Barks. 1991, trade paper, 100 pp., $9.00, ISBN: 0-9939660-37-7. Longer pieces in verse, focusing on surrender and annihilation of the ego.
Jewels of Remembrance: A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance Containing 365 Selections From the Wisdom of Rumi. Selected and tr. by Camille and Kabir Helminski. 1996, hardcover, ISBN: 0-939660-50-4. Second book of this type, equally aesthetic. Both day books have fine introductory pieces by both Helminski’s.
Love Is a Stranger: Selected Lyric Poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi. Tr. by Kabir Helminski. 1993, paper, 96 pp., $9.00, 0-939660-32-6.
Open Secret: Versions of Rumi. Tr. by John Moyne and Coleman Barks. 1984, paper, 96 pp., $9.00, ISBN: 0-939660-06-7. Quatrains, odes, and poems based on Nicholson and Arberry. No overlap with Unseen Rain. This was one of the earliest of the contemporary collections of Rumi to be widely distributed. Some readers still find it the best introductory collection.
The Ruins of the Heart. Tr. by Kabir Helminski. 1981, paper, 56 pp., $6.00, ISBN: 0-939660-03-2.
This Longing: Poetry, Teaching Stories, and Letters of Rumi. Tr. by Coleman Barks and John Moyne. 1988, paper, 127 pp., $10.00, ISBN: 0-939660-29-6. Another strong selection from the Mathnawi, with letters from Rumi to family members and associates.
Unseen Rain: Quatrains of Rumi. Tr. by Coleman Barks & John Moyne. 1986, paper, 96 pp., $8.00, ISBN: 0-939660-16-4. 83 quatrains from the Divan, a sweet collection for sampling or soaking.
Look! This is Love: Poems of Rumi Tr. by Annemarie Schimmel. 1996, paper, $10.00, Shambhala, ISBN: 0-57062-224-8. Not obtained for review. This is an important addition since the translator is one of the premier Rumi scholars in the world.
Magnificent One: Selected New Verses from Divan-I Kebir. Tr. by Nevit O. Ergin. 1993, paper, 112 pp., $10.95, Larson Publications, ISBN: 0-943914-63-9.
Night & Sleep: Rumi versions by Coleman Barks & Robert Bly. 1981, paper, 48 pp., $6.00, Yellow Moon Press, ISBN: 0-938756-02-8. Early collaborative collection by the two poets, with Bly using older translations, and Barks, translations by Moyne. 18 poems in total, printed oddly in italic type, matched with an interesting set of drawings-photos-collages by artist/psychologist Rita Shumaker.
These Branching Moments: Forty Odes. Tr. by Coleman Barks & John Moyne. 1988, paper, 52 pp., $6.95, Copper Beach, ISBN: 0-914278-50-9.
When Grapes Turn to Wine. Tr. by Robert Bly 1986, paper, 24 pp., $6.00, Yellow Moon, ISBN: 0-938756-16-8. A dozen poems in a chapbook (8” X 5”, saddle-stitched), with two Persian drawings from the Fogg Museum collection. This is a reprint of “the 1983 letterpress edition by Firefly Press.”
©1996 Gateways Books and Tapes