April 15, 2007

Rubaiyat and Rumi

A public radio program that I always enjoy listening to, Speaking of Faith, did a program on Rumi last month thoat inspired me to move up a prompt I wanted to use about Rumi to April.

If you are interested in how mystic and poet Rumi has shaped Muslims around the world and more about the mystical tradition of Sufism, you should listen to it. You can (free) download an mp3 audio file of the program or listen to it now using RealAudio or, better yet, subscribe to the podcast of this program. The program is far more than about "religion" and the archive has programs on Einstein, the environment, politics and other issues with the thread of faith running through them. End of endorsement.

On the Poets Online main site, we looked at some Rumi poems that are grouped under the title (given to them by American translator Coleman Barks) of "Spring Giddiness."

I thought that was appropriate to April (which is also National Poetry Month here in America).

I mentioned that I'm no qualified judge of the translation, but I suspect them to be in the spirit (rather than to the word) of the originals. I have heard Coleman Barks read and sing them at several Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festivals, so in some strange way I hear Rumi as having a Tennessee accent.

Some of those model poems are quatrains. In Persian it would be rubaiyat (meaning 'four' or "quatrains" in the Persian language the singular being ruba'i or rubai). In their true form the rhyme scheme would be AABA (lines lines 1, 2 and 4 rhyming) but Barks has not attempted to maintain the rhyme in those translations.

That is a verse form best known (to English speakers) for Edward FitzGerald's translation of the collection of Persian verses known as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Here's a sample quatrain:

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

In longer poems built in that rubaiyat rhyme scheme, sometimes it is extended so that the unrhymed line of a stanza becomes the rhyme for the following stanza. Then we have AABA BBCB CCDC etc. This is called "interlocking rubaiyat". You might even create a full circle by linking the unrhymed line of the final stanza back to the first stanza.

If this all sounds very foreign to you, look at the interlocking rubaiyat in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. (Here's a look at that poem in Frost's own handwritten manuscript. )

Our writing prompt this month starts with the uncommon theme of seasonal change and adds the rubaiyat form. Select any change of season, and use the rhyming quatrains of the rubaiyat (any number of quatrains you choose).

It would good if your poem could capture some of the joy that Rumi's poetry sings too.

There are many editions of this best-selling poet available. My suggestion for a starting place is either The Essential Rumi or The Illuminated Rumi both translated by Barks.

If you want to read more of Rumi online, a search will provide many other websites of his poetry - here's one to get started with 4 new translations by Coleman Barks.


  1. It's great to see a non-American/English poet on your site.

    I wonder about the translations given - which seem very "loose" How do those who read Rumi in the original feel about these translations?

  2. I can't say but the Coleman Barks translations have been well reviewed.

  3. Nice article. I collect to read in Leisure times. Here in Bangladesh, I translated Rumi in Bengali.
    Thanks all with this website


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