While Jalalu'ddin Rumi may or may not be, as the bookjacket declares, the best-selling poet in America today, he is undoubtedly the best-selling 13th-century Sufi poet in America today. A local Barnes and Noble will typically carry no fewer than three different compilations of his work, and there are videos, CDs, and a horde of literary admirers, from Robert Bly to Deepak Chopra. This new volume, translated by Phillip Dunn, Manuela Dunn Mascetti, and R.A. Nicholson, includes a selection of poems embedded within prose renditions of Rumi's fables and garnished with full color reproductions of Islamic and Persian art works.
Rumi's poetry, originating in medieval Islamic mysticism, urges us to look beyond the veil of surface appearances in search of deeper spiritual truth. It touches on traditional mystic themes like the oneness of all being, the transience of desire, and the futility of purposive action ("God works for the lazy" is something of a refrain). In Rumi's idiosyncratic style, picaresque narrative suddenly blooms into abstruse metaphysical verse:
"OK, OK," cried the thief,
'I agree there is free will.
There is free will, there is free will,
Please God there is free will."Unfortunately, the translations here are flowery and bland, and the editors have left out Rumi's earthier poems--like the one about the handmaiden and the donkey, in which two widely disparate beings become one.
While this is a handsome coffee-table book with illustrations, some you will no doubt linger over, readers would do better to seek out Coleman Barks' more compelling translations in "The Essential Rumi."