The Middle Ages saw an extraordinary flowering of Persian poetry. Though translations began appearing in Europe in the nineteenth century, these remarkable poets--Omar Khayyam, Rumi, Saadi, Sanai, Attar, Hafiz, and Jami--are still being discovered in the West.
The great medieval Persian poets owe much to the mystical Sufi tradition within Islam, which understands life as a journey in search of enlightenment, and, like their European contemporaries, they combine religious and secular themes. While celebrating the beauty of the world in poems about love, wine, and poetry itself, or telling humorous anecdotes of everyday life, they use these subjects to symbolize deeper concerns with wisdom, mortality, salvation, and the quest for God.
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Peter Washington is the editor of many of the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, including Love Poems, and is the author of Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"The True Sufi"
by Rumi (translated by R. A. Nicholson)
What makes the Sufi? Purity of heart;
Not the patched mantle and the lust perverse
Of those vile earth-bound men who steal his name.
He in all dregs discerns the essence pure:
In hardship ease, in tribulation joy.
The phantom sentries, who with batons drawn
Guard Beauty's palace-gate and curtained bower,
Give way before him, unafraid he passes,
And showing the King's arrow, enters in.
"Where Is My Ruined Life?"
By Hafiz (translated by Gertrude Bell)
Where is my ruined life, and where the fame
Of noble deeds?
Look on my long-drawn road, and whence it came,
And where it leads!
Can drunkenness be linked to piety
And good repute?
Where is the preacher's holy monody,
Where is the lute?
From monkish cell and lying garb released,
Oh heart of mine,
Where is the Tavern fane, the Tavern priest,
Where is the wine?
Past days of meeting, let the memory
Of you be sweet!
Where are those glances fled, and where for me
His friend's bright face warms not the enemy
When love is done-
Where is the extinguished lamp that made night day
Where is the sun?
Balm to mine eyes the dust, my head I bow
Upon thy stair.
Where shall I go, where from thy presence? Thou
Look not upon the dimple of her chin,
Danger lurks there!
Where wilt thou hide, oh trembling heart, fleeing, in
Such mad haste--where?
To steadfastness and patience, friend, ask not
If Hafiz keep--
Patience and steadfastness I have forgot,
And where is sleep?
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