Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mouse and the Camel - Rumi

This is my first post for the Summer Poetry Challenge, hosted by Bookeywookey. I read poetry very rarely, and don't profess to any great insights on the poetry I have selected. This challenge did appeal to me as a possible kick-start to reintroduce poetry into my life, a genre that is neglected by many.
My choice of poems prior to the 1900's is 'The Mouse and the Camel' by Rumi, originally found in Rumi's most well known work, Masnavi.

About Rumi: Rumi, was born on September 30, 1207 as Jelaluddin Balkhi in Balkh, Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian empire. Between 1215 and 1220, he and his family fled the threat of invading Mongols and emigrated to Konya Turkey; it was sometime after this that he became known as Rumi (meaning from Roman Anatolia). His father was a theologian and mystic, and after his death Rumi took over the role of sheikh in Konya's dervish community. After meeting a wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz, Rumi became enveloped in a world of mystical conversation. Sham became one of the most profound influences in Rumi's life. Near the end of his life, Rumi focused on his greatest achievement, Masnavi. After twelve years of work on this masterpiece, Rumi died in 1273.

The Mouse and the Camel begins in a style that reminds me of Aesop's fables.

A mouse caught hold of a camel’s lead rope
in his two forelegs and walked off with it,
imitating the camel drivers.

The camel went along,
letting the mouse feel heroic.

“Enjoy yourself,”
he thought. “I have something to teach you, presently.”

The came to the edge of a great river.
The mouse was dumbfounded.

“What are you waiting for?
Step forward into the river. You are my leader.
Don’t stop here.”

”I’m afraid of being drowned.”

The camel walked into the water. “It’s only
just above the knee.”

Your knee! Your knee
is a hundred times over my head!”

Well, maybe you shouldn’t
be leading a camel. Stay with those like yourself.
A mouse has nothing really to say to a camel.”

“Would you help me get across?”

“Get up on my hump. I am made to take hundreds like you across.”

You are not a prophet, but go humbly on the way of the prophets,
and you can arrive where they are. Don’t try to steer the boat.
Don’t open a shop by yourself. Listen. Keep silent.
You are not God’s mouthpiece. Try to be an ear,
and if you do speak, ask for explanations.

There is the boastful animal, the mouse, who is taught a lesson by another animal, the camel. In essence, the mouse bit off more than it could chew, confusing luck or coincidence--catching the camel's harness--with achievement. The camel reminds the mouse that imitating those more powerful than you can lead to great problems down the road. It strikes me as a warning against spiritual pride that still resonates today.
The source of your arrogance and anger is your lust
and the rootedness of that is in your habits.

Someone who makes a habit of eating clay
gets mad when you try to keep him from it.
Being a leader can also be a poisonous habit,
so that when someone questions your authority,
you think, "He's trying to take over."
You may respond courteously, but inside you rage.

Always check your inner state
with the lord of your heart.
Copper doesn't know it's copper,
until it's changed to gold.

Your loving doesn't know its majesty,
until it knows its helplessness.

These gifts from the Friend, a robe
of skin and veins, a teacher within,
wear them and become a school,
with a greater sheikh nearby.
In these stanzas Rumi continues with the moral of the story. I feel in these lines he is speaking directly to those who are spiritual leaders, the sheikhs and imams of his time. He reminds the reader that many spiritual leaders become so entrenched in their habit of authority, that they become deaf to sound advice, responding with jealousy, anger, and pride. I really love the last two lines, 'become a school, with a greater sheikh nearby.' I took that to mean that one should share your knowledge, but do not boast, and always continue to seek the wisdom of others with an open mind.

There is one stanza I continue to go back to, with the feeling that I should know what Rumi is saying, yet I don't. 'Always check your inner state with the lord of your heart. Copper doesn't know it's copper, until it's changed to gold.' What do you think this means?


Pour of Tor said...

I absolutely love Rumi's poetry, and ten years ago I was reading quite a lot of it, but that has sadly fallen off in recent years. So I was very glad to read your post - what a lovely start to the day!

Nyssaneala said...

@pour of tor - Thanks! So far, I have loved all of the poems I have read by him. Some day, I will get through the whole book I own. I'm thinking it will be fun to read more in a few short months, when I won't have as much reading time (and with frequent distractions of diaper changes, feedings, play time, etc!)

Ted said...

Thanks for introducing me to Rumi's poetry - great post!
I couldn't find any email contact info, so I'm passing along a helpful hint from Dewey here for all the poetry challenge participants in case it will be helpful:

I wanted to share a handy tool with you and the other participants before people start posting. Sometimes a poem is formatted in a particular way that would be hard to recreate in a blog post: unusual indentations, concrete poems. etc. You can see what I mean here where one of the poems I chose is shown with all its indentations.You can use the preserve tag before your posting of the poem as you have copied it in its original structure. Just copy the poem, past it, and put the preserve tag around it. The preserve tag is just pre (with the usual html/xtml brackets around it >< (those only backwards). After the poem, use /pre in the same brackets. This will display the poem exactly as it should look. If anyone has any questions about this, feel free to email me at dewpie at gmail dot com.

Lotus Reads said...

You have chosen one of my most favorite poets for this wonderful challenge. I always say, A Rumi a day keeps the doctor away. His moral stories are amazing and his love poems are just out of this world. I am looking to read more Sufi poets, any suggestions?

Nyssaneala said...

@lotus - I will be reading Omar Khayyam later this week. However, I'm not sure if he was a Sufi?

I had read a few of his love poems, and I agree with you, they are great. This was the first moral that I have read, and I enjoyed it just as much.a

Nyssaneala said...

@ted - Thanks for passing on the tip! I tried it out, and it somewhat worked, but the indented lines went off the page, so I took it back off. :(

Eva said...

I love Rumi! Hadn't read his moral stuff before, though.

I'm not sure what that stanza you shared at the end means. However, if I had to guess, I'd say it's something like-until you evolve to the next level (of consciousness/emotions/whatever), you won't realise that you were at a lower stage before. Does that make sense? So, until copper becomes gold, it has nothing to compare its state to. Once it is gold, it can easily see that its copper state was inferior. I could be entirely off the mark though!

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Anonymous said...

Copper doesn't turn to copper, until it turns to gold --

It is in the growing awareness of our darkness (mechanical behaviours, bad habits, things that keep you from divine union) that we are purified.