The most heartbreaking poem I have ever read.
Actually, all Rumi’s love poems are tragic and bittersweet. Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (September 30, 1207 – December 17, 1273) was a 13th-century Persian Sufi mystic and quiet possibly the greatest poet the world has ever produced. Legend has it that one day while in the market place he heard a goldsmith tapping on a golden bowl and the music so astounded him he began to slowly turn about in wonder. From this he founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes.
None of that matters in understanding this poem. What matters is that for all his talent and understanding of love and God and poetry, Rumi had one great love: Shams.
Shams-e Tabrizi was a wandering Sunni Muslim searching and praying for someone who could “endure my company.” From November 1244 to December 1248 the two men were inseparable and then, on the night of December 5, they heard a knock on the door. Shams went to answer it and was never seen again. It is rumored that it was Rumi’s own son (or some jealous followers) who killed Shams, but of course we’ll never know.
What we do know is that Rumi spent the rest of his life looking for Shams, never to find him. He wrote thousands of poems and through them all he constantly talks of Shams returning, “When Shams comes back from Tabriz,/ he’ll put just his head around the edge/ of the door to surprise us, just like this.” Except Shams will never come back and Rumi knows it and this is why this poem breaks me every time I read it. I have no patience for certain modern Persian scholars whose own homophobia tries to explain away Rumi’s and Shams’ love as simply platonic. This is one of the greatest love stories ever told and they do a disservice to both Rumi and lovers everywhere by derogating it.
We are all haunted by the ghosts of past loves that will never return. I draw my inspiration from Rumi and his beloved Shams.
If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.
If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.
When someone asks what it means
to “die for love,” point
If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.
The soul sometimes leaves the body, the returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.
When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.
I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.
When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.
How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?
How did Jacob’s sight return?
A little wind cleans the eyes.
When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us