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Esteemed Reader: December 2011 

In light of recent events, I am using this space to share a poem from the Persian poet, Jellaludin Rumi.

Rumi wasn’t only a poet. He was considered a great teacher in his time. Though trained in conventional religious doctrine, his teaching was far from conventional. It celebrates the concurrent levels represented in a human being—mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and divine.

The poems follow the form of the ghazal, an ancient metered verse that always addresses the theme of transcendental love. Rumi’s ghazals were uttered extemporaneously while he whirled with his fellow dervishes. Fortunately, they were recorded by a scribe.

Spilling the Rose Oil

There was a grocer with a fine parrot,
which could talk intelligently to customers
in several languages and to the merchants
bringing fruits and vegetables.
He could also sing
sweet songs in his parrot language. He sat all day
on the back of the grocer’s bench and held forth generously.
Once when the grocer was gone for a moment,
the parrot accidentally knocked over some bottles
of rose oil from a shelf above the bench.
The grocer came back and sat down with great confidence
and high good-humor as a merchant always does
in front of his shop.
Then he realized that his clothes
were soaked in greasy rose oil. He bopped the parrot
on the head so that the top feathers came out
and the parrot looked bald.
For several days afterward
the parrot was quiet. It said nothing
in any language, not even its own.
The grocer felt terrible.
Three days and three nights he grieved
and repented that he had silenced his Friend.
He felt his well-being and his prosperity leaving him.
He gave gifts to every dervish that he saw,
hoping to restore the speech of the parrot.
Finally a bareheaded dervish came by
with a head as bald as a begging bowl.
Hey-hey, screeched the parrot,
Here’s another klutz
who spilt some rose oil!
Don’t judge the Holy Ones
by yourself. The word “lion” sounds like “lying,”
but the inner qualities are so dissimilar!
People have wandered from the true way
because they can’t recognize the Helpers
for what they are.
All human beings are not the same.
Some hymenoptera make poison for their stingers.
Others make honey. Some deer just make dung,
while others make musk from the same grass.
Two reeds in the water: One’s hollow. The other,
full of sugarcane. One person eats and generates
greed and anger. Another, nothing but Love.
Bitter water and sweet water
both look clear. It takes someone
who can taste
to know the difference
between which is sweet
and of the Spirit, and which is not,
a difference as wide
as a seventy-year journey!

Translated and arranged by Coleman Barks

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