I usually read in one of two rooms, the book room, or what other people might call a living room, when I’m trying not to nod off over a book, and in the bedroom, when I’m trying to get drowsy enough to fall asleep. Yesterday, at the same time I happened to pick up Ergin and Johnson’s translation of The Rubais of Rumi: Insane with Love in one room, I finished reading Andrew MacAndrew’s translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1848 short story “White Nights” in the other. [text in English] Both have a sort of meta description of how being in love can transform the external world.
Dostoyevsky’s character, described as “a dreamer”, has his world changed by love, but it changes back again. He is falling in love with someone waiting to rendezvous with her fiancé after a separation, but the man doesn’t arrive at the prearranged meeting place. The dreamer tries to describe to her how his world was transformed after meeting her:
Then I woke up. About an hour before I was to meet you. But I felt I hadn’t slept at all. I didn’t know what was happening to me. It was as if time had stopped and one sensation, one feeling would remain in me from then on; as if one minute was going to stretch out into eternity; as if life would stop and stand still for me. I was gong to tell you all this as soon as we met. When I woke up, I was under the impression that some sweet melody heard somewhere long ago and since forgotten, had come back to me how, that for all these years, I’d been searching for it, l0nging for it, but only now–
[SPOILER ALERT] Maybe the title, “White Nights”, is some sort of clue to Dostoyevsky’s philosophy, since the white nights are the evenings when he meets the woman and walks around Petersburg with her. At the end, when the original suitor finally turns up at the meeting place, Dostoyevsky’s character says “My nights were over.”
And when I looked out of the window, I don’t know why, but the house opposite turned dimmer too, the plaster on its columns fell off, the cornices became all grimy and full of cracks, and the walls, which used to be dark yellow, turned grayish.
Nights are usually thought of as dark, not white, so was the dreamer’s previous enamored emotional state simply an illusion? Or is the actual illusion the newly grayed buildings of the out-of-love dreamer?
Rumi’s world also changes with love, but when he loses his Friend, his world does not change back. He uses the experience to seek out whatever it is within himself that has been created by the experience.
a spark from your fire
fell into me
waters of joy fell from your words
into the river of my heart
but now I understand:
that water was mirage
that spark was like lightning
struck and gone
everything has been a dream
only memory remains
Jelaludin Rumi was a 12th century Sufi mystic who wrote 12-bar Persian poems on the same style of Omar al-Khayyam from a century earlier, a style that has been compared to the roadhouse tradition of the rhyming patterns and chord changes of Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
there is a plain beyond Islam and infidelity both
our love rests in the middle of that plain
that’s where the sage goes to bow down
because there’s no room there for either the
believer or the infidel
you are a volume in the divine book
a mirror to the power that created the universe
whatever you want, ask it of yourself
whatever you’re looking for can only be found
inside of you
Rumi went searching for his friend Shems (presumably murdered) as far as Damascus, a play on words, as the nickname for Damascus is Shems شمس (sun). At Abdali bus station in Amman you can hear the cab drivers for Syria try to drum up business by calling “shem-shem-shem”.
From the translator’s comments:
…on a human level, how could you not fall in love with a friend who came into you life and sparked something in you that took you both to God? In that Rumi viewed the person of Shams as the actual link through which he was able to reconnect himself back to the energies of God, the boundaries between real people and their divine counterparts are blurry ones indeed.
This looks like an interesting Rumi book to have: Rending the veil: literal and poetic translations of Rumi…short review: “This translation gives you a smooth English rendition, a beautiful calligraphic version, a structural, word-by-word English explanation, as well as a romanized version of the original language. “