The life and work of the poet and mystic Rumi, told in five pieces of trivia
1. Rumi is a bestselling poet. Rumi (1207-1273) is the bestselling poet among US Muslims. Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī was a Sufi mystic poet from Persia. The name by which he is usually known, Rumi, is in fact derived from an Arabic word for ‘Roman’ – a reminder of the nearby Byzantine Empire. Rumi himself was a Muslim follower of the Sufi faith, and he wrote numerous works of Sufi philosophy as well as his poetry. He was born in Vakhsh, a village in modern-day Tajikistan.
2. He wrote a long mystical poem which he viewed as a form of holy text. The Mathnavi (or Masnavi) is, at around 50,000 lines in length, a pretty substantial piece of writing, filling six books. Essentially, it’s devotional poetry, designed to teach followers of Sufism how they can become one with God. (The title Mathnavi means essentially ‘rhyming couplets’ – just as Omar Khayyám’s celebrated Rubáiyát translates simply as ‘quatrains’. Fittingly, in fact, Rumi himself also wrote Rubáiyát.)
3. His poems are widely regarded as sublime fusions of the erotic and the devotional. You can read translations of some of Rumi’s poetry here, where Rumi’s poetry is helpfully categorised according to his most prevalent themes: mystical poems, poems of passion, poems of life and death, and so on. But many of his individual poems inventively cross between the sensual and the religious – indeed, not unlike some of John Donne’s greatest poetry.
4. A special service involving whirling dervishes is held at his tomb every year. A whirling dervish ceremony takes place at Rumi’s tomb in Turkey on 17 December, the anniversary of his death, every year.
5. His admirers include Madonna and Philip Glass. Madonna has recorded readings of Rumi’s poetry and Philip Glass composed the music to accompany Rumi’s poetry in Monsters of Grace, a chamber opera specially commissioned for 2007, the 800-year anniversary of Rumi’s birth.
If you enjoyed these facts about Rumi, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.
Image: Collection of poems of Molavi (Rumi) with a preface of Ostad Jalal-al-din Homaii, 1980, Wikimedia Commons.