I spent the bulk of my college years studying and writing poetry. I know, not the most marketable skills I could have cultivated*, but I was in love with poetry. And college was the first time/place I could explore poetry with the kind of fervor I felt it required. I mean, there was a whole class on Romantic literature (and a whole section of it on the poets!). While my small liberal arts college didn’t offer courses exclusively on particular types of poetry or specific poets, I still got my fair share. And I loved it.
Which is why my current reaction to the thought of reading poetry kind of puzzles me.
Rumi Probably Never Did the Dishes
A few weeks ago I finally dipped into The Essential Rumi by respected translator Coleman Barks, which my husband had given me for Christmas last year. It’s a beautiful paperback volume that includes a good introduction and brief history of Rumi’s life.
I was reading about how, “at the time of his father’s death, Rumi took over the position of sheikh in the dervish learning community in Konya. His life seems to have been a fairly normal one for a religious scholar—teaching, meditating, helping the poor—until tin the late fall of 1244 when he met a stranger who put a question to him.”
Read the book if you want to know more, but the point is that this was the beginning of Rumi’s mystical experiences and his dedication to/obsession with poetry, prayer, whirling (as you do when you’re a dervish), and two men, one after the other, with whom he had a “mystical friendship” or something. Then, I read this line, “Rumi sent his son Sultan Velad to Syria to bring his friend back to Konya.”
And all I could think about as I turned to the first pages of Rumi’s enchanting poetry, words that have in the past left me in actual tears, was “Where is his wife while he’s doing all this mystical whirling poetry bullshit?” He clearly has one who is, because it’s the 13th century, raising his kids and making his meals and whatnot while he’s off having “mystical” friendships. Utter nonsense.
I know it was the 13th century and the woman’s place was decidedly in the home. I’m totally judging him by today’s standards. And I know I don’t have all the facts. Maybe Mrs. Rumi loved supporting her whirling husband and his mystical experiences. Maybe they were greatly respected as a family because of Rumi’s position in the community. Maybe they had servants to do the washing up.**
I also know that I’m projecting in a big way, but I kid you not, this kind of thinking is making reading poetry hard these days. Could it be because I’m all grown up now?
Who’s Got the Time?
As a functional adult in this society, I don’t always have immediate access to my emotions. They flare up and then get pushed aside as I tend to more urgent needs like grocery shopping and freelance assignments. It takes work to get to them and when I do it’s often not pretty.
I guess that’s why I read poetry in the first place. Poetry inches into all those crevices into which my built-up emotions get squished out of necessity. It forces them out into the light where I can see them.
I need Rumi and other poets who can shed light on the human experience so that I can see myself reflected in their words, so I can know more about who I am.
The problem is that I’m not always willing to go down that dark alley. And besides, who has the time?
Lately, I struggle every time a poet tries to remind me of the wonder of the natural world, or highlights the beauty and turmoil of deep, meaningful relationships. My reaction tends to be somewhere along the lines of, “Oh you’re in awe? How nice for you.”
Call me jaded. I just don’t have much patience for awe and wonder these days. Thanks to poetry and the people I love and nature (despite the low-key snowmageddon outside rn), awe and wonder do manage to creep in enough to remind me that life isn’t always about the grocery shopping. So that’s good.
I don’t know that I have a conclusion to these thoughts other than to say that I’m grateful that other people (like Rumi) are or have been able to dedicate their lives to poetry (or any other art form) that makes us feel something. It helps when I’ve had enough of the dishes. On the other hand, the dishes don’t require an emotional investment and at the end, there’s a satisfying job well done.***
In the end, who’s to say whether it’s better to be Rumi or Mrs. Rumi? (Yeah, I know. I’m still projecting…)
*I made a late decision to include a minor in education, which I finished except for the student teaching because I realized after two weeks that I didn’t want to spend my days with teenagers. Teenagers are the worst. (Except for mine. He’s awesome.)
**If you know more about Rumi than I do and feel compelled to defend him, please do. This isn’t really a criticism of Rumi the man anyway. It’s really just a device for talking about how poetry affects me in general. Thanks for understanding.
***I say this as if the dishes are ever actually done…hahahahahahaha