Friday, April 20, 2007

Finding mercy

"He who needs mercy finds it," says Jalal Al-Din Rumi, a 13th century poet, jurist, and theologian. Born in an area now Afghanistan, Rumi is considered one of the greatest Sufist poets, whose works such as the Mathnawi continue to influence the Persian culture (Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan) as well as the world through multiple translations.

In the Masnavi, Rumi addressed the challenges of life: faith, hope, love, doubt, mercy, evil, reason, truth and so on. In my translation (EH Whinfield, 1898), Pain and Mercy sit side-by side: Pain first, Mercy second. Rumi originally had Mercy before Pain. However, I think Whinfield's reorganization did not detract from Rumi's original intent. Instead, I believe it shows in great relief a key concept Rumi wanted his reader to absorb. Rumi wrote:

Pain is a treasure, for it contains mercies;
The kernel is soft when the rind is scraped off.

I feel keenly my own fallibility, and thus I feel compassion when another falls.
For from abasement proceeds exaltation

But how do we find the hope and love, the exaltation in the midst of pain, without anesthesizing?
Consort with grief and put up with sadness,
Seek long life in your own death!

Consort with grief. Put up with sadness.

how long
can i lament
with this depressed
heart and soul

how long
can i remain
a sad autumn
ever since my grief
has shed my leaves

the entire space
of my soul
is burning in agony

how long can i
hide the flames
wanting to rise
out of this fire

how long can one suffer
the pain of hatred
of another human
a friend behaving like an enemy

with a broken heart
how much more
can i take the message
from body to soul

i believe in love
i swear by love
believe me my love

how long
like a prisoner of grief
can i beg for mercy

you know i'm not
a piece of rock or steel
but hearing my story
even water will become
as tense as a stone

if i can only recount
the story of my life
right out of my body
flames will grow

Translated by Nader Khalili, "Rumi, Fountain of Fire"

This poem puts a lump of hot coal in my chest every time I read it. How long can I suffer the pain of hatred of another human? How long, like a prisoner of grief, can I beg for mercy? How long can I hide the flames wanting to rise?

The anguish from tragedy, the sense of vulnerability can so easily breed contempt, anger, fury. It can also breed a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Recount the story of my life and flames will grow right out of my body.

Consort with grief. Put up with sadness. Pain is a treasure, for it contains mercies.

"He who needs mercy finds it. Doing kindness is the game and quarry of good men..." Wrote Rumi in his poem, Mercy, Masnavi, Book 2: 8.

I believe in love, I swear by love.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


slouching mom said...

Wow. This is good stuff, Julie.

Aliki2006 said...

Thanks so much for sharing the poem--aand the post--compelling, gut-wrenchingly beautiful...

Catherine said...

Sometimes things are too ironic to be coincidence. Like, I was JUST reading about Rumi and Rumi's primary translater here in North American and wanting to read more. Then suddenly, your post. I was even thinking about posting a little Rumi. Hmm....

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Lovely post.......I would JUST LOVE to sit down with you and have a discussion about life...preferably over a cocktail! :)

kaliroz said...


Julie, I adore him. And his wisdom.

I'm trying to let the flames explode out ... not always successful but I try.

I adore you, too. Really, I do. I'm very thankful to know you.

jen said...

i heart Rumi. i fell in love w/ J in large part because he's read me Rumi late at night.

K said...

How long?

Until we get it right.

What is the alternative?

Julie Pippert said...

SM, isn't it? Rumi is amazing. Same sphere of talent as Shakespeare, IMO.


Aliki, you're welcome. The poems are indeed very gut-wrenchingly beautiful...I'm glad you found this collection of them so.


Catherine, that's fantastic! I agree, it's funny sometimes how things all come together. I often think of posting Rumi...then this occasion, well, I couldn't post anything ese.


Queen, anytime lady-o. Id enjoy it. It'd be an awesome conversation, and may I say I do love the cocktails. :)


Roz, thank you, sweetie. You know I think it's an honor to know you. I've been thinking of your projects and wondering how they are going.

Rumi astounds me sometimes. That poem is like my soul in words sometimes.


Jen, well now, he already sounded like the fabulous keeper for you, Jen, but kudos to the boy! Now that's romance! (And OMG PLEASE FORGIVE me but I can't help but think of Alice's books and boys post and snicker just a smidgey, wondering, just a little, even while I know better with J. Still, that'd be quite the book in pocket for the romance, if you know what I mean.)


K, we must always get it wrong to some degree, right? Because we can never be perfect, and we have free will. The alternative is to know right, and although we miss it sometimes, to realize that we did, acknowledge and take responsibility, and strive to do better...instead of digging in defenses and looking for someone, somewhere else to blame. We've already forgotten why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, you know?