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How does the man often described as "the most popular poet in the United States" fare in a Jungian therapist's novel about his life?



“The lovers crawl in and out of your alley,

They bathe in drips of blood; and not finding you, they give up and leave.

I am forever stationed at your door like the earth,

While others come and go like the wind.”

––Jalalludin Rumi




I first fell in love with the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi some 18 years ago when the unparalleled lyrical grace, philosophical brilliance, and spiritual daring of his work took me completely by surprise. The impact of its soulful beauty and the depth of its profound humanity were so intense that they prompted me to spontaneously compose poetry without being aware I had done so––until later reading the compositions in my notebook and wondering how they had gotten there. Writing without realizing I had been writing was no small matter to me, so I wrote Coleman Barks, one of the renowned translators of Rumi’s work, to ask what he thought about it.


Barks was kind enough to call me and said he was aware of many instances where people with a deep passion for Rumi’s poetry found themselves spontaneously composing, reciting, or singing poetry. That knowledge, coming from the man whose translations helped make Rumi a bestselling poet in the United States, made me feel better about my own experience and forever defined the sense of blessed enchantment that I’ve come to associate with all things related to Rumi. Consequently, I couldn’t help expecting and yearning for some semblance of that enchantment as I read the novel A MOTH TO THE FLAME, THE LIFE OF THE SUFI POET RUMI, by Ph.D. Connie Zweig.      


From the first page to the last, there is much to admire in Zweig’s amazing recreation of the places, people, and events that shaped the life and work of Rumi. The author skillfully brings to life the everyday colors, activities, and diverse religious customs of the Middle East in the thirteenth century. She also––having been for 30 years a student of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism––proves more than a little adept at describing various states of psychological and spiritual consciousness.

A Moth to the Flame begins as Rumi’s father, the spiritual leader Bahaoddin Velad, is dying. The future author of the massive and now classic book of world literature, the Mathnawi, is left to face life alone in Konya, where threats of war and invasion increase daily. As Rumi takes on the mantle of leadership and enters into marriage and fatherhood, Zweig exercises her privilege as author to make readers privy to his thoughts and most intimate moments. Those who prefer their spiritual heroes presented in their basic humanity may nod approvingly at the portrayal of Rumi’s consummation of his two marriages while those who empower the grace of their own spirituality with that gleaned from his may feel differently. In one sense, these brief scenes––in which Rumi experiences both disappointment and erotic intoxication––appear crucial to illustrating the contrast between the nature of carnal desire and the elevated spiritual consciousness towards which Rumi was evolving. In another, they do not, and become even more questionable when the sexual focus is place on his wife Kira’s fantasies regarding her mystically preoccupied husband.        


It is difficult sometimes to determine whether A Moth to the Flame is intended as a celebration of Rumi’s life, as a feminist critique of it, or simply a balanced account presented in the form of fiction. Much of the book’s substance is a matter of historical record while much of it is a matter of interpretation of that record. By nearly every account, the Rumi now famed for his boundless defense and espousal of life as a manifestation of divine love, would be unknown to the world had it not been for a spiritual transformation triggered by his meeting, and subsequent friendship with, the wandering dervish known as Shams of Tabriz. That fact is a dominant theme in A Moth to the Flame as well. But it is often difficult to understand exactly why or how this is so when the overwhelming impression of both Rumi and Shams in these pages is that of two men whose esoteric obsessions caused devastating––even fatal––psychological harm to those who loved them, particularly the women in their lives.


Consequently, we note with stunned sorrow the forced marriage of Rumi’s young daughter Kimiya to the much older Shams; and the painful desire-filled loneliness that Rumi’s wife Kira suffers while her husband engages, seemingly to the exclusion of everything else, in sacred conversations with Shams. Readers even find themselves empathizing with Rumi’s son Aloeddin’s stinging sense of rejection when his relationship with his father appears to be obliterated by the presence of Shams in their lives. Eventually that rejection leads to Shams’ murder.

As plausible as these scenarios may be, they leave the reader wondering about the majesty of that Shams who was described as “one of the poles of the age,” and who was not only resented and feared as he is in A Moth to the Flame, but who was adored for his love and knowledge of God. Likewise, the novel gives us a true enough account of Shams’ initial departure from Konya after first meeting Rumi, but says nothing of the legendary celebration, in which people in the streets spontaneously recited and sang poetry, upon his return. We learn instead about guards who are executed because they lied about having killed Shams. The degree to which Zweig’s work as a Jungian therapist and an explorer of “the shadow side of spiritual and religious life” influenced the substance of her narrative is worth readers’ consideration.


Possibly the most inspiring scene in A Moth to the Flame comes at the end when once again Mongols and crusaders threaten to conquer Konya. Rumi, after a lifetime of devotion and sacrifice, experiences this revelation: “I am a lover of God, and those who follow me, Muslims, Christians, or Jews, we are a nation of lovers. Our religions divide us, but our yearning for God, our himma, unites us, whether we are Muslims longing to join Allah, Christians longing to be embraced by Christ, or Jews yearning for the Messiah.” He  decides to “make jihad in my own way,” which means standing, like Moses, rooted unshakably in his faith and watching as Divinity literally fights and wins his battles for him.


One does not need to be a U.N. ambassador or professor of religious studies to note the importance of Rumi’s understanding and application of the concept of jihad. For him, it meant battling the “nafs,” or weaker worldly qualities within oneself in order to achieve a greater sense of unity and co-creativity with Divinity as opposed to launching a supposed “holy war” against those who do not share one’s religious beliefs. Achieving this divine union relegated all else to secondary importance. This point is significant not only for those duped into believing that blowing up their selves and others is the ultimate act of faith. It is also important for those readers who, following the destruction of September 11, 2001, needlessly questioned their passion for writings by Rumi. Among the stronger aspects of Zweig’s novel is its demonstration that Rumi’s literary and spiritual voice is one that champions unity through love over domination through coercion.     


Despite any criticisms offered above, just as it states on the book’s back cover, A Moth to the Flame is clearly presented “in the tradition of Siddhartha and The Last Temptation of Christ” as “a mythic story of the human soul.” This distinction is necessary because while the book is categorized as fiction, the subtitle reads “The Life of the Sufi Poet Rumi,” which could lead some to interpret it as historical biography. The more accomplished volume along those lines remains Franklin D. Lewis’ “Rumi, Past and Present, East and West, the Life, Teachings and Poetry of  Jalâl al-Din Rumi.” Nevertheless, A Moth to the Flame does contain a very useful appendix timeline of events pertaining to Rumi’s life. Moreover, translations of Rumi’s poetry by Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva, utilized throughout, help make the novel as a whole an exceptional work of literary art well worth reading and cherishing.


By Aberjhani

Creative Thinkers International

© 10/7/07


Web Site Black Skylark ZPed Music Player

Reader Reviews for "Reading Rumi after September 11"

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Reviewed by Andre Bendavi ben-YEHU 11/20/2007

An excellent introduction to the works of Master Jalalludin Rumi and to the Book on his life. It is an instructing writing that inspires and leads the reader to an intellectual trip to imagination and intuition.

My gratitude to Author-Poet Aberjhani for this posting.

In admiration,

Andre Emmanuel Bendavi ben-YEHU
Reviewed by Chase Von 10/11/2007

Having read some of your work, and being thoroughly impressed with your immense depth, I can only say reading this review is just as soul touching as reading your writings. I don't know much about Rumi, although I have of course heard of him. But from reading this review it seems that you yourself could have written about the man as well and truly represented him and his legacy as adequately as the author, who I imagine is very pleased to have such a review of their work rendered. It also seems quite obvious to me that although the review is very intelligent and appraising, that if it wasn't done truly well, someone with as much knowledge on the man and his life, such as you possess, wouldn't be the one you might want to ask to review it. (Although you might have done so voluntarily). (Any misrepresentations in it that weren't satisfyingly explained in some way, that gave plausible reasons for possibilities or author interpretations would surely have been identified). I, like a lot of people wish I had more time in a day, but you've made me want to read this authors work as well as more of your own.
Best regards to you always
(And a remarkably in depth review)
Reviewed by Karen Vanderlaan 10/9/2007
the intelligent way that you write is amazing wether you are composing your own poetry ot posting an article-you are a gifted man-as was Rumi-thank you
Reviewed by Mitzi Jackson 10/9/2007
It is very interesting just following you. I enjoyed being introduced to so many things and times and people. You help to elavate people with the things you know, the things you come in contact with and the in-dept way you give it, relate it back to all who read you. I know the different articles you put out here are going to be important, imformative and your going to give us something to take and add to our way of life and thinking. Thank you for all the things you share
Reviewed by Sage Sweetwater 10/9/2007
Being a staunch follower of Jung, myself, my comment of note on Reading Rumi after September 11 will take on an expanded commentary in the form of an essay where I will merge, yes, Salman Rushdie, of which I am both a fan and follower of; the recent controversy of his knighthood and his controversial novel, of which I have read many times, a great writing, "The Satanic Verses," and merge Rumi's importance as to transcend national and ethnic borders.

After Rumi's death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, known as the Whirling Dervishes. Their belief is to perform their worship in the form of dance and music in a ceremony called the sema.

So what I know of Rumi's teachings is union with the beloved primal root, which the "Masnavi" weaves fables and scenes from everyday life. Rumi is considered insan-e-kamil - the perfected, whole human being, which is quintessential Jungian metaphysics - and so Rumi believed that through music, poetry, and dance, was a path to God. Intensely, his beliefs that through these things, the soul was both destroyed and ressurected. This is my thoughts on his connection to Jung, the equivalent to alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone. So Rumi, through the founding of the Whirling Dervishes, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the "Perfect" then returns from this spiritual journey with greater maturity, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination against beliefs, races, classes and nations.

My belief is that Rumi and Rushdie, both men, transformed themselves, as creative writers, through dreams, which is what I say links Jung, who dated his own intellectual life from a dream at the age of three. When I've read Rumi and Rushdie, it appears to me that they write from residual memories, and even perhaps ancient myths.

From the very first chapter, The Angel Gibreel in Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," an abridged line quotes, "To the devil with your the movies you only mimed to playback singers, so spare me these infernal noises now." - "Gibreel the tuneless soloist."

Salman Rushdie, who still lives under an Iranian religious death sentence for writing "The Satanic Verses" for supposedly "blaspheming" Islam in his novel. I think that this novel is nothing more than the hallucinations and Jungian inner imagery of dreams, not blasphemous at all.

Rumi's opening eighteen lines of his Masnavi begins with, "Listen to the reed and the tale it tells, how it sings of separation." The next twelve years of his life he spent writing six volumes and when he fell ill, he predicted his own death and composed these lines, "How does thou know what sort of king I have within me as a companion? Do not cast thy glance upon my golden face, for I have iron legs." These lines, to me, have such alchemical meaning, once again linking to Jungian philosophy. When Rumi died in 1273, his epitaph read, "When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men." Rumi's epitaph, a revelation, I say, has a prediction of what was to happen on September 11, 2001.

This article is one of the strongest reviews I have ever read, Aberjhani. It has pulled me in and drawn me like a moth to a flame.

Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 10/8/2007

When I get my book of poetry ready to be published, will you please leave a review? LOL I am ashamed to say I've never heard of Rumi, but wouldn't mind reading his book, after reading this glowing praise! Excellent.

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
Reviewed by Nicky Goodman 10/8/2007
Gosh! I would like to read this! Great review - i didn't realise he was that popular in the US...i wrote a poem recently called Dear Rumi, wondering about his human relationships, knowing nothing about his wife, or him for that matter... -interesting Aberjhani - and from a Jungian too - its on the list for my next bookshop visit - thank you, Nicky x
Reviewed by Randall Barfield 10/8/2007
Interesting, well-written and enlightening introduction of a new, obviously enjoyable book. I'm ashamed but will admit that I'd never heard of the poet-guy as far as I can recall, so, thanks a million for the review. Cheers

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