Rumi (1207-1273)


Based on the oldest extant painting of Rumi; © 2007 Setsuko Yoshida

About Rumi

Text Box: Rumi Poetry Club
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To the boat passing on the sea

Reeds on the shore appear to be passing by.

Likewise, we pass by and depart this life

Thinking that the world is passing by.


                 trans. R. S.


The outcome of my life can be said in three phrases:

I was raw and unripe;

I was cooked and matured;

I was burned (in love and into nothingness)


The poet known in the West as Rumi has been (for centuries) respectfully called Mowlana (Mevlana in Turkish, meaning “Our Master”) in the East. According to traditional sources, Jalâluddin was born on September 30, 1207 in the city of Balkh, today in northern Afghanistan, and then the capital of the Persian kingdom (then ruled by the Khârazm-shâhiyân Dynasty). He was born to a family of Muslim scholars and mystics. Shortly before Genghis Khan’s Mongol army invaded Persia and brutally massacred Balkh and other cities in 1220, Rumi’s family migrated westward, and after years of traveling, they eventually settled in Konya (now in Turkey), then the capital of the Seljuq Dynasty of Anatolia. Rumi thus spent most of his life in Konya. (The name “Rumi” refers to “Rum”, an Arabic-Persian name for the Byzantine Anatolia, where he lived. The Persian-speaking peoples in Iran and Afghanistan often call him Balkhi, after his birth place.)

After years of studying literature, philosophy, and Muslim law, Rumi succeeded his father as a preacher and teacher in Konya. In October 1244, a chance meeting and subsequent conversations with an old wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz (from a city in northwest Iran) drastically changed Rumi’s life from that of a religious scholar to that of a Sufi poet. Rumi has been described as one of the world’s most prominent mystic and spiritual poets in history. His vision of love and enlightened life is all  inclusive and addresses the very heart of the humanity.

What we know of Rumi’s life mainly comes from three Persian books:

Valad Nâmeh (“The Book of Valad”) by Rumi’s son and successor Sultan Valad;

Risâleh dar Ahwâl-e Mowlânâ Jalâluddin (“Treatise on the life of Master Jalâluddin”) by Feridun Sepah-sâlâr, a fan and follower of Rumi; and

Manâgeb al-Ârefin (“The Virtuous Acts of the Mystics”) by Shamsuddin Ahmad Aflâki , another fan and  follower of Rumi.

Partial English translations of the third book include: James Redhouse’s Legends of the Sufis (London, 1881, reprinted by Theosophical Publishing House, 1976), and Idries Shah’s The Hundred Tales of Wisdom (London, 1978). A recent complete translation is: The Feats of the Knowers of God, translated by John O’Kane (Brill Academic Publishers, 2002).

Rumi is popular today for the same reasons he was revered during his life time in Konya. When he died on a Sunday sunset on December 17, 1273, peoples of all faiths, races, and languages in Konya attended the funeral prayers to pay respect to a great soul they had encountered. His tomb in Konya has been an attractive site for lovers of his poetry and thoughts through centuries.


Rumi’s Works


Rumi is one of the most prolific poets in classical Persian. His poetry is collected in two large volumes:

(1) Divân Shams ("The Poetry Book of Shams") or Divân Kabir ("The Great Book of Poetry") contains nearly 3300 lyric sonnets (ghazal) and 2000 quatrains (rubai'yât), and is dedicated to Shams because Rumi composed these poems shortly after their meeting and continued to the rest of his life.

Partial translations of the Divân Shams include Reynold Nicholson’s Selected Poems from the Diwân Shams Tabrizi (Cambridge University Press, 1898, reprinted several times, most recently by Ibex Publishers, Washington D.C., 2001), and A. J. Arberry’s Mystical Poems of Rumi (University of Chicago Press, reprinted in 2008). Rumi’s ghazals have been translated into English by Nevit O. Ergin from the Turkish translation of Abdolbaqi Gulpinarli and published in 22 volumes (various publishers, 1995-2003). Rumi’s rubaiyât have been translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, The Quatrains of Rumi (San Rafael, CA: Sufi Dari Books, 2008).

(2) Masnavi Ma'navi ("Rhymed Couplets on Spirituality") is a six-volume book (about 25,000 lines) of didactic poetry (stories and parables) which Rumi recited to his disciple and friend Husâm Chelebi during the last decade of his life.

A complete scholarly translation and commentary of the Masnavi in 8 volumes was made by Reynold Nicholson (London: Luzac & Co., 1925–1940). Partial translations include: Teachings of Rumi: Masnavi, by E.H. Whinfield (London: Octagon Press, 1979, reprint of 1898); Tales from the Masnavi and More Tales from the Masnavi by A.J. Arberry (London: Allen & Unwin, 1961-63).

The English translations (with varying quality) of Rumi’s poetry available on the market are usually selections from his Divân and Masnavi.

Two prose works of Rumi in Persian have also survived, although they are far less known:

(1) Fihi Ma Fihi (“In It  What Is In It”). Three English translations are available: Discourses of Rumi by A. J. Arberry (London: John Murray, 1961); Signs of the Unseen: The Discourses of Jalaluddin Rumi by W. M. Thackston (Boston: Shambhala, 1999); Mirror of the Unseen: The Complete Discourses of Jalaluddin Rumi by Louis Rogers (Writers Club Press, 2002). 

(2) Majâlis Sab’a (“Seven Discourses” no English translation exists).

Both these prose works are Rumi’s public lectures delivered over a long period of time and written down by Sultan Valad.

Despite many translations of Rumi’s works, we still need more because Rumi, as Persian scholars are fond of saying, is like an ocean, too vast, too deep, too high to be contained in a jug. Moreover, each translator brings a certain perspective on Rumi that shares  some aspect of Rumi’s universe. Happy reading!                                                                                                                                                                                           - R.S.