Introduced by Michael Schmidt
Illustrated by Marian Bantjes
Coleman Barks’s sparkling translations of the writings of 13th-century poet and mystic Rumi; perfectly complemented by Marian Bantjes’s spectacular binding and intricate Islamic-inspired patterning.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, known as Rumi, is celebrated across the Islamic world as a visionary thinker, his verses revered as masterpieces of Persian literature. Nearly 750 years after Rumi’s death, Coleman Barks’s vibrant translations have also achieved the unlikely feat of making him the best-selling poet in the USA.
Shortly after his birth in present-day Afghanistan in 1207, Rumi’s family were forced to flee Mongol invaders, eventually settling in Konya, in modern-day Turkey. It was there in 1244 that he encountered the eccentric Sufi dervish, Shams of Tabriz. Their intense spiritual friendship was shattered by Shams’s sudden departure – or possibly his murder – a devastating loss which changed the course of Rumi’s life, transforming him from orthodox Islamic scholar to radical ecstatic poet.
Over the next 30 years, he produced prodigious outpourings of verse and prose, addressing readers with rare directness. Rumi’s voice is by turns confrontational and playful, lyrical and abrupt, and his range is extraordinary: the pleasures and pains of love; the highs and lows of human behaviour; the everyday and the other-worldly; the path to the tavern and the path to God. Rumi’s universal truths might come from a religious text about the prophet Muhammad, a tender love poem, or an obscene folktale about an easily aroused masseur. With his inclusive vision of the world and his tolerance, wisdom and humour, this 13th-century mystic continues to speak to 21st-century readers with startling immediacy.
Coleman Barks first encountered Rumi’s poems in 1976, when a fellow author showed him academic translations with the suggestion that ‘these poems need to be released from their cages’. Barks responded by producing what he calls ‘playful palimpsests’ – epigrammatic free-verse translations that allow Rumi’s distinctive voice to bridge vast gaps of culture, geography, language and time. Barks’s ‘Selected Poems’ capture Rumi’s spirit without imprisoning it.
This beautiful edition features a spectacular binding designed by Marian Bantjes. Her intricate Islamic-inspired geometric patterns also frame every page of text, evoking the music and whirling dances associated with Rumi’s poems, and encouraging us to lose ourselves in his words.
Jelaluddin Muhammad balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born in Balkh in what is now Afghanistan in 1207. The Mongol invasions of Central Asia caused him and his family to flee their homeland and travel extensively throughout the Muslim world. Finally settling in Konya, Anatolia, Rumi succeeded his father as a religious scholar. While in Konya, he met the wandering Dervish, Shamsi Tabrizi (more commonly referred to as Shams). Rumi and Shams became inseparable, sometimes spending days locked in spiritual discussion. The sudden disappearance of Shams—and the ensuing sense of loss felt by Rumi—led to an outpouring of poetry as he traveled in search of his friend. Rumi’s best-known work is his Mathnawi, a six-volume collection containing twenty-five thousand verses. He died in 1273
Coleman Barks was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and educated at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Berkeley. He taught poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia for thirty years. He is the author of numerous Rumi translations and has been a student of Sufism since 1977. His work on Rumi was the subject of an hour-long segment in Bill Moyers’s Language of Life series on PBS, and he is a featured poet and translator in Bill Moyers’s poetry special, ‘Fooling with Words’. Barks lives in Athens, Georgia
Michael Schmidt is a literary historian, author of Lives of the Poets (1998), The First Poets (2004), and The Novel: A Biography (2014). Schmidt was born in Mexico in 1947; he studied at Harvard and at Wadham College, Oxford, before settling in England. Among his many publications are the Los Angeles Times award-winning novel, The Colonist (1981), about a boy’s childhood in Mexico, and the poetry collection The Love of Strangers (1989) which won the Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. He is the Publisher at Carcanet Press Limited, a poet and critic, and he edits the magazine PN Review.
Marian Bantjes is a designer, typographer, writer, and illustrator. In 1994 she co-founded the graphic design studio, Digitopolis. She left in 2003 to become a full-time artist, designer, and letterer. Many of her artistic pieces have become permanent installations at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. Her 2010 book, I Wonder, which explored the intimate relation between the word and the image, was shortlisted for the British Design of the Year Award. In the same year she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Emily Carr University in Vancouver.
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