This new translation from a native Farsi speaker offers a new window into the mystical poetry of Rumi.
Reviewed by Fred Beshid
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: The Universe in You: An Inner Journey Guided by Rumi by Omid Arabian. Arabian is uniquely qualified to translate Rumi’s poetry: 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 skillfully 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,
and when I opened my eyes,
that even the seeker
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