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Gifts of the Poets: Eugene B. Redmond and Coleman Barks (part 2 of 2)

“Some say you are thorn; others, jasmine.
Some say you have no belief; others, that you are devout.
Pay no attention to such opinions. You are a lover.”
--from the poem “Shams’s Air” (Rumi The Big Red Book, translated by Coleman Barks)

Book collection of original poetry by famed Rumi translator Coleman Barks.
Book collection of original poetry by famed Rumi translator Coleman Barks.University of Georgia Press

Few poets are as well known for devoting decades of their life’s creative energies to the promotion and preservation of another author’s work as Coleman Barks is for his labors on behalf of poetry by the great Sufi teacher Jalal al-Din Rumi. Like Eugene B. Redmond, Barks was already a published poet in his own right before tackling the task of re-introducing North Americans to Rumi’s vast literary output.

A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, it is easy to detect the region’s earthy influence on Barks’ recitals of his Rumi “versions” and to some this combination might seem incongruent. To others, it represents a flawless demonstration of the poetry’s enduring power to transcend boundaries of geography, culture, and timelines. It also speaks to the beautiful creative mystery of how Barks is able to adapt rough and literal translations of Rumi’s writings from their original Persian into mesmerizing American free verse.

Barks’ extraordinary undertaking began in the mid-1970s when another acclaimed American poet, Robert Bly, suggested he revise translations previously provided by Arthur J. Arberry and Reynold A. Nicholson. Since then, he has produced numerous volumes of frequently-cited verse by Rumi, including The Essential Rumi and The Big Red Book. He has also, as previously indicated, lent the rich tones of his voice to many recordings, videos, and live recitals of the poems.

In Honor of a Legacy

The author’s original compositions, such as those featured in Winter Sky: New and Selected Poems 1968-2008, and Hummingbird Sleep: Poems, 2009-2011, are also fully deserving of sustained attention. However, in honor of Barks’ devotion to re-presenting the literary and spiritual legacy of Jalal al-Din Rumi to contemporary poetry lovers, the following is from The Essential Rumi:

A Community of the Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.

Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,
if you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.
Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd's love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders.
Don't accept consolations.

Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover's mouth in yours.

You moan, "She left me." "He left me."
Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

There's a strange frenzy in my head,
of birds flying,
each particle circulating on its own.
Is the one I love everywhere?

Drunks fear the police,
but the police are drunk too.

People in this town love them both
like different chess pieces.

--Rumi as translated by Coleman Barks

Celebrating National Poetry Month 2014