Intimacy and Longing for Intimacy, One Song

Fatemeh KeshavarzProfessor of Persian and Comparative literature in the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Washington University in St. Louis, from "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi,"On Being

On one level, you have to get on the road. You have to get started. You know, just like the earth that, you know, have to plow the earth, you have to get moving. On another level, time and again, he reminds us that the destination is the journey itself. So there isn't a point where you say, "OK, I'm here, I've reached, I'm done, I'm perfect. I don't need to do anything anymore." In the incompleteness of that, the need to move forward is inherent in that incompleteness, in the process of going forward, that you make yourself better and better and you, in a way, never reach. So the separation is the powerful force that keeps you going. If you ever felt that, "I have arrived, I've reached, this is it," then you wouldn't go any further.

...I think one idea or major concept that the Sufi tradition and Rumi in particular have to contribute to our current culture is value in perplexity, the fact that not knowing is a source of learning, something that propels us forward into finding out. Longing, perplexity, these are all very valuable things. We want to unravel things and get answers and be done, but as far as he's concerned, it's a continual process. We can't be done, and that's good.

Reed Bunting

Song of the Reed
by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, excerpted from Coleman Barks' translation in The Essential Rumi 

Listen to the story told by the reed, 
of being separated. 

"Since I was cut from the reedbed, 
I have made this crying sound. 

Anyone apart from someone he loves 
understands what I say. 

Anyone pulled from a source 
longs to go back. 

At any gathering I am there, 
mingling in the laughing and grieving, 

a friend to each, but few 
will hear the secrets hidden 

within the notes. No ears for that. 
Body flowing out of spirit, 

spirit up from body: no concealing 
that mixing. But it's not given us 

to see the soul. The reed flute 
is fire, not wind. Be that empty." 

Hear the love fire tangled 
in the reed notes, as bewilderment 

melts into wine. The reed is a friend 
to all who want the fabric torn 

and drawn away. The reed is hurt 
and salve combining. Intimacy
and longing for intimacy, one 
song. A disastrous surrender 

and a fine love, together. The one 
who secretly hears this is senseless. 

A tongue has one customer, the ear. 
A sugarcane flute has such effect 

because it was able to make sugar 
in the reedbed. The sound it makes 

is for everyone. Days full of wanting, 
let them go by without worrying 

that they do. Stay where you are 
inside such a pure, hollow note. 

Every thirst gets satisfied except 
that of these fish, the mystics, 

who swim a vast ocean of grace 
still somehow longing for it! 

No one lives in that without 
being nourished every day. 

But if someone doesn't want to hear 
the song of the reed flute, 

it's best to cut conversation 
short, say good-bye, and leave.