“Universe in You” Offers Fresh Look at Rumi

6 August, 2015

Orig­i­nal trans­la­tions from a native Far­si speak­er offer new win­dow onto the mys­ti­cal poet­ry of Rumi. 

Fred Beshid


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As the best­selling poet in Amer­i­ca, Rumi (Jalaaled­din Moham­mad Balkhi) requires no intro­duc­tion. His uni­ver­sal pop­u­lar­i­ty has led to his being fre­quent­ly quot­ed and, unfor­tu­nate­ly, often mis­quot­ed. As a result, I often won­der about the authen­tic­i­ty of Rumi quotes I see. The ubiq­ui­ty of the thir­teenth-cen­tu­ry mys­ti­cal poet with­in cur­rent west­ern cul­ture has been cred­it­ed to the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Cole­man Barks’ trans­la­tions. But when read­ing Barks’ trans­la­tions I have always won­dered about their accu­ra­cy, since Barks nei­ther reads nor speaks Far­si. When I learned that his so-called trans­la­tions are actu­al­ly inter­pre­ta­tions of oth­er trans­la­tions, I was dis­ap­point­ed. What I longed for was a trans­la­tion by a native Far­si speak­er who was also famil­iar with Rumi’s mys­ti­cal philosophy.

For­tu­nate­ly, such a book now exists: Omid Ara­bi­an’s The Uni­verse in You: An Inner Jour­ney Guid­ed by Rumi. Ara­bi­an is unique­ly qual­i­fied to trans­late Rumi’s poet­ry, for not only is he flu­ent in both Far­si and Eng­lish, but he also con­ducts cours­es in the phi­los­o­phy of Rumi. For this col­lec­tion Ara­bi­an has select­ed 34 poems from the Divan‑e Shams‑e Tabrizi, Rumi’s cel­e­brat­ed mas­ter­work. The trans­lat­ed poems appear side-by-side with the orig­i­nal Far­si ver­sions, giv­ing this trans­la­tion a rare sense of authenticity. 

Ara­bi­an has dili­gent­ly and skil­ful­ly trans­lat­ed Rumi’s vers­es, pay­ing close atten­tion not only to the lit­er­al mean­ing of the vers­es but also to their spir­i­tu­al intent. As the book’s title sug­gests, Rumi’s poet­ry can be a pow­er­ful tool with which to explore the inner uni­verse and our place in the world. Ara­bi­an states in his intro­duc­tion, “Read­ers are invit­ed to delve into this col­lec­tion with an open heart, and use Rumi’s mys­ti­cal poems as vehi­cles for their own inquiry into the great meta­phys­i­cal ques­tions of exis­tence – the who, what, when, where & why of the self and the uni­verse.” Here is a verse that illus­trates this intent: 

Day and night I sought you,

speak­ing your name,

prais­ing you;

and when I opened my eyes,

I saw

that even the seeker

is you. 

I rec­om­mend this new trans­la­tion to fans of Rumi and new­com­ers alike. Ara­bi­an has suc­ceed­ed in remov­ing the lan­guage bar­ri­er between Eng­lish speak­ers and the mys­ti­cal world of Rumi, and has pre­sent­ed us with an invi­ta­tion to delve into the over­ar­ch­ing mys­ter­ies of our uni­verse. In this era of relent­less celebri­ty gos­sip, vio­lent video games and real­ty TV, it’s inspir­ing to find seek­ers like Ara­bi­an still con­tem­plat­ing the big questions. 

Fred Beshid is an Amer­i­can-Iran­ian nov­el­ist, film­mak­er and artist. He is the cre­ator of the Muse­um of Fred, an online muse­um fea­tur­ing thrift store paint­ings. His nov­el, Hero Piz­za, is avail­able at Amazon.com