The Essential Rumi

Book in Focus
First published by HarperCollins Publishers (1995) from the translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson. This edition published by Castle Books (1997). Hardcover, 302 pages

Rumi fans and newcomers alike will appreciate The Essential Rumi (1995), which presents the poet’s major poetry in its most poetic form. Wonder, loneliness, and seduction are just a few of the themes explored in this collection of poems written with passion, wit, and sensitivity.

Using poetic translations, Coleman Barks has made the euphoric, spiritual poetry of the thirteenth-century Sufi mystic Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī more accessible to a wider audience than ever before. Coleman Barks collects the greatest translations from over a decade of devoted study of the poet’s work in this landmark book. Under 27 sections, he explores themes like emptiness and stillness, feeling of separation and of marriage, and many more topics.

Today, Rumi’s spiritual teachings have attracted a wide following not just in the United States but also in other parts of the world. The West’s interest in Rumi, however, didn’t start in the 20th century; some of the oldest translations of Rumi’s poetry come from 1772, when the English philologist Sir William Jones translated the first lines of Rumi’s Masnavi, or “Spiritual Couplets,” which had a major influence on Muslim mystical philosophy and literature throughout the Muslim world.

Rumi’s writings have received appreciation for demonstrating harmony and tolerance as well as for promoting reason, goodness, and altruism. This is also true of Rumi’s belief that all people should be treated with respect, regardless of their beliefs about various religions and cultures.

Rumi’s modest appreciation of the present moment and his capacity to find something to appreciate, even in silences that express what cannot be stated in words, will stick with you the most after reading this poetry collection, among all the lyrical wonder and universal love expressed in it.

Memorable Quotes

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Page 36, The Essential Rumi, transl. by Coleman Barks

The light you give off
did not come from a pelvis.

Your features did not begin in semen.
Don’t try to hide inside anger
radiance that cannot be hidden.

Page 74, The Essential Rumi, transl. by Coleman Barks

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.

Page 106, The Essential Rumi, transl. by Coleman Barks

I am filled with you.
Skin, blood, bone, brain, and soul.
There’s no room for lack of trust, or trust.
Nothing in this existence but that existence.

Page 131, The Essential Rumi, transl. by Coleman Barks

Further Reading

Why is Rumi the best-selling poet in the US? by Jane Ciabattari, BBC

The Rumi Poem we should all Read by Elyane Youssef, Elephant Journal

The erasure of Islam from the poetry of Rumi by Rozina Ali, The New Yorker

Rumi for the New-Age Soul: Coleman Barks and the Problems of Popular Translations by Ajam Media Collective

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