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
The Mouse and the Camel begins in a style that reminds me of Aesop's fables.
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.
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.
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.
The source of your arrogance and anger is your lustIn 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.
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.
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?