Zara Houshmand, Moon and Sun

4 June, 2023

Writer, editor and literary translator Zara Houshmand shares a selection from her recent translations of Rumi in Moon and Sun.



Moon and Sun by Rumi trans zara houshmand
Moon and Sun from Amrevan.

The rubaiyat, or quatrains, in Moon and Sun were composed by Jalal al-Din Mohammad Balkhi, known as Rumi, a 13th century Muslim theologian and Sufi mystic, and one of the greatest poets of the Persian language. They are a selection from almost 2,000 such quatrains that, along with many longer ghazals, comprise the Divan-E-Shams. These poems poured out during a period of Rumi’s life when he was intensely affected by his relationship with his spiritual mentor and soulmate, Shams al-Din Tabrizi.

Legend describes Shams — whose name means “sun” — as a wandering dervish, unschooled, an ugly man but charismatic. His own words, only recently made accessible in English, present a much subtler picture. He was an accomplished scholar who hid his learning, an iconoclast, and a fearsome enemy of all hypocrisy. He traveled widely in search of great spiritual teachers of his time, but kept his distance from the dervish schools that would normally have accommodated such a traveler. He refused to beg, and instead earned a meager living at temporary jobs as he traveled.

His relationship with Rumi also defied categories, blurring the traditional roles of master and disciple. Rumi held the belief that at any one time, a single saint living in the world serves as an axis mundi, a center around which all spiritual energy revolves. He believed that in Shams he had found this saint. It is clear from Sham’s own teachings that he likewise saw Rumi as a saint, though one who had something to learn from him.

The synergy of their friendship was a mutually fueled fire of the spirit.

(Excerpted from the Introduction to Moon and Sun, A Selection of the Rubaiyat of Molana Jalal Al-Din, Rumi.)


Zara Houshmand is an Iranian American writer who was raised in the Philippines and received her BA in English Literature from London University. Her books include Running Toward Mystery: The Adventure of an Unconventional Life with Tenzin Priyadarshi (2020) and A Mirror Garden (A. A. Knopf, 2007), co-authored with Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Her poetry has been published in the anthologies Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been (University of Arkansas Press, 2006) and A World Between (George Braziller, 1999) and in journals including Caesura, Persian Book Review, West Coast Line, Di-verse-city, and Texas Observer. Her play The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be was produced at the Burbage Theatre in Los Angeles (1986). Her translations from the Persian received the first commissioning grant from the National Theatre Translation Fund, and have been published in numerous journals and anthologies including Literature from the Axis of Evil (New Press, 2006), Words Without Borders (Anchor, 2007) and Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature (Arcade, 2006). As editor for the Mind and Life Institute, she has been responsible for a series of books representing a longterm dialogue between Buddhism and Western science. She has also pioneered the development of virtual reality as an art form; her installation Beyond Manzanar (with Tamiko Thiel), now in the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, has been widely discussed in works on new media and critical theory. A writer, editor, and literary translator whose work crosses boundaries and cultural divides, she lives in the mountains of California.

AfghanistanIranian poetryMolanapoetryRumiTurkey


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