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Sufism and poetry from Islam
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Michael Shepherd

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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 12:58 pm    Post subject: Sufism and poetry from Islam Reply with quote

Most people know about Rumi, the Sufi poet who has become so popular in the US (and at Glastonbury..) that he was recently described as 'America's Poet Laureate'. And some know him as the founder of the Mevlevi school of 'whirling dervishes'. He is now accepted by Muslim clerics as a true Muslim.

This poetic space has been added in the spirit of 'faith in faith' for occasional verses from, or inspired by, Islam.

First, an anonymous prayer-poem from an Islamic site :

"O Allah, make my love for You
the most beloved thing to me,
and my fear for You
the most fearful thing to me,
and remove from me all worldly needs and wants
by instilling a passion for meeting You,
and when You have given the people of the world
the pleasures of their world,
make the coolness of my eyes (pleasure)
in worshipping You."

Last edited by Michael Shepherd on Tue Sep 30, 2008 12:31 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 1:11 pm    Post subject: Poetry from Islam Reply with quote

Two sonnets from the Quran

From Sura 29

Remembering as first and foremost, Allah,
Who knows of all your actions in His name,
Be courteous to all Children of the Book; for
Arab, Christian, Jew, this Book's the same :
They share with you, God's spoken revelation;
Whose God and your God are but ever One;
In Adam, Abraham, Moses, all one nation;
And unto Him all men, as one, return.
He gives the infidels their painful burden,
The faithful and the good He will reward,
For life on earth is but a sport and pass-time;
The true life lives, with mercy, in the Lord.
Surender to the one God, in His name :
His heaven and earth for all men is the same.

From Sura 55

The Lord, the Merciful, has taught you this :
Created you; and gave you gift of speech;
Made order in the world; made plants and trees;
Which blessing of the Lord would you deny ?
He made the heavens; set balance in all things,
Through laws which followed, keep you close to Him,
And watches over you afresh each day;
Which blessing of the Lord would you deny ?
The earth, its fruits and grain and scented herbs;
Salt water in the sea, yet fresh for you;
The good rewarded and the bad destroyed;
And, though you die, His majesty abides:
Compassion, mercy, glory, majesty --
Which blessing of the Lord would you deny ?
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 15, 2008 1:53 pm    Post subject: poetry from Islam Reply with quote

Layla and Majnun are the eternal lovers depicted in Islamic poetry, duality yearning for transcendence in immortal love. And poets use, too,
the device of a conversation with The Beloved -- a conversation where it can become sublimely uncertain as to which is the Seeker, and which the Sought !

When the desert breeze blew
in the direction of Majnun’s tribal camp
Layla stood there hoping that
the wind rippling through her silken robe
would carry the scent of her love to Majnun

while Majnun stood there hoping
that the breeze would carry
from her forbidden encampment
the scent of Layla’s love
to meet his own and merge

When the north wind blows cold
with snow to blanket the shivering earth,
when the biting eastern wind
comes with the rising sun
that sparkles on the morning frost,
when the warm, scented southern breeze
comes with the sunlight bringing the earth to life,
when the gentle breeze from the west
blows briefly as the evening sun departs,

may I know you, My Beloved,
to be that fierce wind, that gentle breeze,
standing where they arise,
blessing me with silent air,
blowing my spirit towards that place
where there is no ‘to’; no ‘from’; and no ‘away’


Last edited by Michael Shepherd on Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:45 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2008 10:02 am    Post subject: poetry from Islam Reply with quote

I find Rumi, the Sufi philosopher-poet, often called one of the 'mystics of Islam', a wonderful inspiration to 'open up' my own writing emotionally. His claimless, light touch dances over the worlds physical, mental and causal like a wand, leaving one's heart equally light, and joyful; yet behind this rests an ardent intensity of yearning for that transcendence which sees the All as the One.

I've written a number of poems from Rumi's inspiration (though he might not recognise that !); and if I post them on this thread, it is an acknowledgement of what I personally owe to his example, and that of the Islamic tradition in poetry. So I trust that any Muslims reading these, will forgive my presumption.

If you wish to savour the breathtaking, incomparable Rumi for yourself, the American poet Coleman Barks has produced several books of his own translations and adaptations of Rumi. I promise you joy...

In the steps of Rumi : 14 :

My Beloved said,

I will create you,
I shall name you;

I will show you happiness; then
I shall show you sorrow;

I will show you sorrow; then
I shall show you happiness;

and in the one, you shall know
the more about the other;

I will show you rest; and
I shall show you restlessness;

and in experiencing one,
you shall know more of the other;

I will show you all that is old; and
I shall surprise you with all that seems new;

I will show you the Unchanging and Eternal, and
I shall show you the changing and the impermanent;

and when you have tasted both of these
you will know more of Me;

I will have you taste the One;
I shall have you taste the many;

and when you have tasted both of these
you shall know more of Me;

I shall show you every opposite that you or I can name,
for I am, all opposites;

and when you have known all opposites
you will know Me beyond all opposites;

I will show you love, and
I shall show you lack of love;

and knowing these, you will become
all the more the loving; and

although you will forget My love for you,
I shall never cease to love myself in you; and

although you will deny your love for Me, or that I exist,
I shall never cease to love myself in you;

but as lovers do, I shall tease you; for
so lovers show each other their true heart;

and thus you will know, as lovers do,
that you are Me and I am you;

I will show to you My smile of love;
I shall speak to you My love’s message.

And if you ask more of Me than all these,
I will show you glory upon glory;

and if you ask yet more of Me than this,
I shall brush you with an angel’s wing

and pour out the honey of My love for you
and show you, dazzled by My world, how you are yet Myself.


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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Into which of these threads shall we place Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), born of a Christian family in the Lebanon, who wrote in Arabic and lived much of his life in the USA ? His poetry unites all faiths.

His book 'The Prophet' was permanently on the shelves of the tiny bookshop at Suffolk Street in the early days of the School. Here's one from that work :

Prayer (from The Prophet)

Then a priestess said, Speak to us of Prayer.
And he answered, saying:
You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.

For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?
And if it is your comfort to pour your darkness into space, it is for your delight to pour forth the dawning of your heart.
And if you cannot but weep when your soul summons you to prayer, she should spur you again and yet again, though weeping, until you shall come laughing.
When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.
Therefore let your visit to that temple invisible be for naught but ecstasy and sweet communion.
For if you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking you shall not receive:
And if you should enter into it to humble yourself you shall not be lifted:
Or even if you should enter into it to beg for the good of others you shall not be heard.
It is enough that you enter the temple invisible.

I cannot teach you how to pray in words.
God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips.
And I cannot teach you the prayer of the seas and the forests and the mountains.
But you who are born of the mountains and the forests and the seas can find their prayer in your heart,
And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,
"Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth.
It is thy desire in us that desireth.
It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights, which are thine, into days which are thine also.
We cannot ask thee for aught, for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us:
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all."

Kahlil Gibran
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sufism is the glory of Islam -- oh that its voice were heard more often in political discussion and debate...

It uses faith to transcend faith : it could be called Advaita in poetry..

John Baldock -- known to a number of you for his guided tours of Chartres Cathedral -- has turned his attention to Sufism in two distinguished books in the same series as Brian Hodgkinson's 'Vedanta' -- on Sufism and on the poet Rumi; with further books in the pipeline.

Since Sufi poets were renowned and sought for their speaking of their own verse, much remained an oral tradition and their very fame has ensured that volumes of poems attributed to them can have many poems by others fostered on them (the foremost example being Kabir, with several such talented foster-children to further claims that he was a Muslim or a Hindu at heart, dualist or non-dualist, bhaktin or jnanin...).

So we have to read their translations into English with an open heart but a cautious mind...

Of these transcendent poets, the current celebrated American translator-devotee-remodellers are Coleman Barks for Rumi; Daniel Ladinsky for Hafiz; and Robert Bly for Kabir. All are recommended reading for Advaitins and Vedantins and all philosophers !

And this post is also an excuse for commending to open minds, this July 15, 2008, the currently airing 'Sharirah in New York' daily TV hour at midnight on Channel 4 : no conclusions, but a revelatory human document about young and older Muslims coping with their faith in today's world.. a memorable contribution. Recommended likewise to Advaitins and Vedantins and all philosophers !
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John Kelly

Joined: 28 Feb 2008
Posts: 127
Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2008 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael, thank you for reminding me of the pearls upon the shelf,
gathering dust ,
the particles now dance in sunlight, shaken by your bell....

From Discourses of A.J.Arberry.

A certain creature inhabiting cornfields on account of its extreme smallness is invisable: but when it makes a sound, then people see it by means of the sound. That is, men are utterly immersed in the cornfield of this world, and your essence, because it is extremely subtle, is invisable. So speak, that they may recognise you.

When you wish to go to a certain place, first your heart goes and sees and informs itself of the conditions prevailing there: then your heart returns and draws your body along. Now all these other men are as bodies in relation to the saints and the prophets, who are the heart of this world. First they journeyed to the other world, coming out of their human attributes, the flesh and the skin. They surveyed the depths and heights of that world and this and traversed all the stages, so that it became known to them how one must proceed on that way. Then they came back and summoned mankind, saying, "Come to that original world! For this world is a ruin and a perishing abode, and we have discovered a delightful place, of which we tell you."

Hence it is realised that the heart in all circumstances is attached to the heart's beloved, and has no need to traverse the stages, no need to fear highwaymen, no need of the mule's packsaddle. It is the wretched body which is fettered to these things.

I said to my heart, "How is it,
My heart, that in foolishness
You are barred from the service
Of Him whose name you bless?"

My heart replied, "You do wrong
To misread me in this way,
I am constant in His service
You are the one astray."

Jalal al-Din Rumi
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The reputation of the poet-philosopher Omar Khayyam ('tentmaker'), c.1048 - c.1122, has benefitted, and suffered, from the 19th century poetic translation of his 'Rubaiyat' by Edward Fitzgerald. 'Received opinion' has long been that Fitzgerald's assessment of Omar as a tipsy toper was denigrating to the point of insulting, and that Fitzgerald's interpretation was fanciful and inaccurate..

However recent scholarship has corrected this view. Fitzgerald -- already a considerable Persian scholar in his own right -- does seem to have been equivocal, or changed his mind, about Omar the man; but his translation is considered to be a faithful, fairful and sensitive rendering of considerably more than half of Omar's verses; Fitzgerald's other verses assessed as either compressions of several of Omar's verses, or summations of the spirit of the poem, with a few verses interpolated for appropriateness from Sufi master poets such as Attar and Hafiz.

In 1930, Paramahansa Yogananda (he of the 'Autobiography of a Yogi') experienced an illumination of the deeper spiritual significance of Omar's works, as being close to Advaita (of which it is now believed Omar had some knowledge, living as he did in what is now north-eastern Iran). And whilst having Persian translators at hand to disclose the literal translation, Yogananda chose to use Fitzgerald's translation for its inner understanding, as a basis for his exposition and commentary.

John Kelly has drawn my attention to this work, now adorned with beautiful illustrations and some revealing background information and two pages of Yogananda's eulogy to Love, and published as recently as 1994; and I would pass on his commendation to readers of this Forum -- calling as it does, to that 'music of a distant drum' which draws all of us on 'this batter'd caravanserai'...

[Watkins Books have copies at £13.99 +£2.00 pp First Class]

Apart from its own intrinsic interest, it is worth working through Yogananda's explanations for the light they shed on the metaphorical vocabulary of all the Sufi poets -- poets who are not only the glory of Islam, but the poets of the most profound world spirituality, and who are becoming more and more read across the world in new 'transmogrifications' -- as I listed in a previous post.

And access to the Sufi poets is a golden key worth carrying: as the 'nightingale' of their and our intuition, sings to the yearning red-blooded rose of our deepest soul...
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Cheryl ALbrecht

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Posts: 99
Location: Brisbane, Australia

PostPosted: Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:59 pm    Post subject: Conference of the Birds revisited Reply with quote

Conference of the Birds

This is the translation of Edward FitzGerald

Once more they ventured from the Dust to raise
Their Eyes -- up to the Throne -- into the Blaze,
And in the Centre of the Glory there
Beheld the Figure of -- Themselves -- as 'twere
Transfigured -- looking to Themselves, beheld
The Figure on the Throne en-miracled,
Until their Eyes themselves and That between
Did hesitate which Seer was, which Seen;
They That, That They: Another, yet the Same;
Dividual, yet One: from whom there came
A Voice of awful Answer, scarce discern'd,
From which to Aspiration whose return'd
They scarcely knew; as when some Man apart
Answers aloud the Question in his Heart:
'The Sun of my Perfection is a Glass
Wherein from Seeing into Being pass.
All who, reflecting as reflected see
Themselves in Me, and Me in them; not Me,
But all of Me that a contracted Eye
Is comprehensive of Infinity;
Nor yet Themselves: no Selves, but of The All
Fractions, from which they split and wither fall.
As Water lifted from the Deep, again
Falls back in individual Drops of Rain,
Then melts into the Universal Main.
All you have been, and seen, and done, and thought.
Not You but I, have seen and been and wrought:
I was the Sin that from Myself rebell'd;
I the Remorse that tow'rd Myself compell'd;
I was the Tajidar who led the Track;
I was the little Briar that pull'd you back:
Sin and Contrition - Retribution owed,
And cancell'd - Pilgrim, Pilgrimage, and the Road
Was but Myself toward Myself; and Your
Arrival but Myself at my own Door;
Who in your Fraction of Myself behold
Myself within the Mirror Myself hold
To see Myself in, and each part of Me
That sees himself, though drown'd, shall ever see.
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return, and back into you Sun subside.

Last edited by Cheryl ALbrecht on Sun Sep 20, 2009 5:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I' ll climb cliffs
and descend to the innermost pit,
and sew the edge of desert to desert,
and split the sea
and every gorge,
and sail in mountainous ascent,

until the word forever makes sense to me.


Samuel Ha-Nagid (993-1055)
(from his paraphrases of the Psalms)
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Cheryl ALbrecht

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Location: Brisbane, Australia

PostPosted: Thu Dec 03, 2009 10:26 am    Post subject: another from 'Conference of the Birds' Reply with quote


What generous love his wisdom here displays!
His part is mercy, ours is endless praise:
His Wisdom’s like a crow’s wing in the night -
He sends a child out with a taper’s light,
And then a wind that quenches this thin flame.
The child will suffer words of scathing blame,
But in that narrow darkness he will find
The thousand ways in which his Lord is kind
If all were pure of iniquity
God could not show his generosity;
The end of Wisdom is for God to show -
Perpetually - his love to those below
One drop of God’s great wisdom will be yours.
A sea of mercy with unchartered shores;
My child, the seven heavens, day and night
For your sake wage their old unwearied fight;
For your sake angels pray - your love and hate
Reflected back are hell’s or heaven’s gate.
The angels have bowed down to you and drowned
Your soul in Being, past all plummet’s sound –
Do not despise yourself – your soul is All,
Your body but a fleeting particle
This all will clarify and in it’s light
Each particle will shine, distinctly bright –
As flesh remains an agent of the soul
Your soul’s an agent of the sacred Whole
But ‘part’ and ‘whole’ must disappear at last
The Way is one, and number is surpassed.
A hundred thousand clouds above you press
Their rain is pure unending happiness.
And when the desert blooms with flowers, their scent
And beauty minister to your content
The prayers of all the angels, all they do
All their obedience, God bestows on you.

Farid ud-Din Attar
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Cheryl ALbrecht

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Posts: 99
Location: Brisbane, Australia

PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 10:22 am    Post subject: As Ripeness Comes Reply with quote

What souls desire arrives.
We are standing up to our necks
in the sacred pool. Majesty is here.

The grains of the earth take in something
they do not understand.

Where did this come from?
It comes from where your longing comes.

From which direction?
As ripeness comes to fruit.

This answer lights a candle
in the chest of anyone who hears.

Most people only look for the way when they are hurt.
Pain is a fine path to the unknowable.

But today is different.
Today the quality we call splendour
puts on human clothes, walks through the door,
closes it behind, and sits down with us
in this companionship.

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Cheryl ALbrecht

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Location: Brisbane, Australia

PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2010 6:28 am    Post subject: And a poet said Speak to us of beauty Reply with quote

On Beauty
Kahlil Gibran

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle.
Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."
And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."

The tired and the weary say, "Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.
Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."
But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."

At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."
And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say,
"We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."

In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."
And in the summer heat the reapers say,
"We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves,
and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."
All these things have you said of beauty,
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
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Cheryl ALbrecht

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Posts: 99
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:57 am    Post subject: Flutes For Dancing Reply with quote

Flutes For Dancing


It's lucky to hear the flutes for dancing
coming down the road. The ground is glowing.
The table set in the yard.

We will drink all this wine tonight
because it is Spring. It is.
It's a growing sea. We're clouds
over the sea,
or flecks of matter
in the ocean when the ocean seems lit from within.
I know I'm drunk when I start this ocean talk.

Would you like to see the moon split
in half in one throw?
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Cheryl ALbrecht

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:19 am    Post subject: Speak to us of Work Reply with quote

When you work you are a flute through whose heart
the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent,
when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse
and a labour of misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a
part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you
when that dream was born,

And in keeping youself with labour you are in
truth loving life,

And to love life through labour is to be intimate
with life’s inmost secret.

(Kahlil Gibran ‘The Prophet’)
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