Built to Bend – A Poem by Jala al-Din Rumi and One in Response by Me (Richard Osler)


Sufi Mystic Poet, Jal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)

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.
There are hundred’s of ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273) from The Big Red Book, trans. Coleman Barks (with John Moyne, Nevrit Ergin, A.J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson), HarperOne, 2011

I know how popular he is: the great Sufi mystic poet Jal al-Din Rumi. And most of us have come to him through the versions or translations of American poet Coleman Barks. And I know that scholars can get quite touchy over how true Coleman’s versions or translations are to the original. That is a discussion for a another blog post.

But today I want to share one of Coleman’s wonderful version of Rumi regardless of how well known it is or not or how true to the original. This poem has long been a favorite of mine. And I used it in a poetry therapy session on Wednesday and Thursday. This idea that we can get out of our heads and make our music in the world. And I am inspired by the idea that we join what we love to what we do. And that there are hundreds of ways of saying I am here, truly all of me here, on this earth!

And now I continue to break a tradition of this poetry blog by sharing another poem I wrote this week. A good week for poems! I wrote this yesterday without any sense of what it might be. The first line came to me and I thought, ok, let’s go. I was not expecting Rumi to join me. Thank you Jala al-Din and Coleman!

After Reading a Poem by Rumi

Too many dogs barking.
The light on the thistles
too soft. Why did I wake
this morning and think
a cup of coffee was enough
to make the day bend
to my wishes? The purple tops
of the thistles won’t move in spite
of all the exhales I can muster.
Yesterday’s east wind forced
genuflection after genuflection.
When will I remember I am
the one built to bend? Rumi says
there are a hundred ways to kneel
and kiss the earth. Could it be
my words this morning – nothing
but knees asking me to kneel.

Richard Osler, unpublished, 2018