Premortality and Theosis in a Great Medieval Persian Mystical Poet

Premortality and Theosis in a Great Medieval Persian Mystical Poet March 18, 2020

 

Mevlana's tomb
The tomb of Rumi at Konya, Turkey (Wikimedia Commons)

 

I hear hints of a premortal existence in the famous “Song of the Flute” from the opening of the Mathnavi, written by the great Persian Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273).  Why, Rumi asks, implicitly comparing a reed flute to the human soul, is the sound of the flute so plaintive and sad?

 

Listen to the song of the reed, 
How it wails with the pain of separation:

“Ever since I was taken from my reed bed
My woeful song has caused men and women to weep.

I seek out those whose hearts are torn by separation 
For only they understand the pain of this longing.

Whoever is taken away from his homeland 
Yearns for the day he will return.

In every gathering, among those who are happy or sad, 
I cry with the same lament.

Everyone hears according to his own understanding, 
None has searched for the secrets within me.

My secret is found in my lament‚ 
But an eye or ear without light cannot know it . . .”

The sound of the reed comes from fire, not wind‚ 
What use is one’s life without this fire?

It is the fire of love that brings music to the reed. 
It is the ferment of love that gives taste to the wine.

The song of the reed soothes the pain of lost love. 
Its melody sweeps the veils from the heart.

Can there be a poison so bitter or a sugar so sweet 
As the song of the reed?

To hear the song of the reed 
everything you have ever known must be left behind.

–Translation by Jonathan Star, Rumi: In the Arms of the 
Beloved (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997).

 

Do you see, as I do, suggestions of a doctrine of theosis or human deification in the following passage from Rumi, translated by the late A. J. Arberry ?

 

I died as a mineral and became a plant, 
I died as plant and rose to animal, 
I died as animal and I was Man. 
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? 
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar 
With angels blest; but even from angelhood 
I must pass on: all except God doth perish. 
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul, 
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived. 
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence 
Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’

 

 

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