That moon which the sky never saw

by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by W. S. Merwin and Talat Halman
Original Language Persian/Farsi

That moon which the sky never saw
     even in dreams
     has risen again

     bringing a fire
     that no water can drown

See here where the body
     has its house
     and see here my soul

     the cup of love has made the one
     drunk
     and the other a ruin

When the tavern keeper
     became my heart's companion

     love turned my blood
     to wine
     and my heart burned on a spit

When the eye is full of him
     a voice resounds

          Oh cup
          be praised
          oh wine be proud


Suddenly when my heart saw
     the ocean of love

     it leapt away from me calling
          Look for me

The face of Shams-ud Din
     the glory of Tabriz

     is the sun that hearts follow
     like clouds

-- from East Window: Poems from Asia, Translated by W. S. Merwin

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I like W. S. Merwin's lean translation here. It feels like it has been sifted down to the essential words...

This poem by Rumi is a wonderful, ecstatic flood of images. But it is more than just random, beautiful statements; specific mystical experiences are being described:

"That moon which the sky never saw..." The blissful state reveals itself as a shining light, as a luminescence permeating the still field of the mind. There is a sense of light from an undefined 'above,' silence, a fullness of vitality, and deep rest. In sacred poetry, this is often expressed as the full moon in the night sky. Of course, this "moon" appears within the field of awareness; it is not outside of oneself. It is not the moon that the sky sees.

That moon, that light of awakening awareness, brings "a fire / that no water can drown" In ecstasy, there is often a sense of heat -- filled with immense love -- that permeates the body. This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as a flame of love. That fire isn't drowned out by water.

Then Rumi says the "cup of love" has made his body drunk and his soul "a ruin." Why is his body "drunk"?

As I've mentioned elsewhere, sacred poetry traditions from all over the world compare ecstatic union with drunkenness. This is not some clever game of words. A subtle, flowing substance is felt upon the palette, with a taste of ethereal sweetness that can be compared with wine or honey. Drinking this, the attention turns inward, the eyelids grow pleasantly heavy and the gaze may become unfocused. A blissful smile spreads across your face. When the ecstasy comes on strongly, the body can tremble, sometimes the consciousness even leaves the body. With these experiences, it not only makes sense for mystics to use the language of wine, observers sometimes mistake this state for actual drunkenness.

But why then does the soul become a "ruin"? A ruin is an empty, crumbling dwelling. That fire and that drunkenness, they move through the awareness, consuming all thoughts. They clear away even the thought of "I", the sense of a separate, egoic self. In this divine ecstasy, there is nothing left of the individual -- the soul has become a ruin where vast spaces now dwell.

I want to especially draw attention to Rumi's curious statement that when his heart saw "the ocean of love / it leapt away," and then it taunts him to "look for me." This is a wonderful image of losing one's heart to love, but again he is also saying something very specific about the mystic path. When the state of egolessness is finally experienced, there is an anchor point of the awareness that is freed. You could call this the point of identity; wherever it sits the individual consciousness imagines, 'I am this.' When that point of identity, what Rumi is calling the "heart," is liberated, it is free to leap away into the living vastness it witnesses. The heart draws the stunned consciousness after it, while teasingly calling back "look for me." In awe, the mind follows after asking, can this be what I am? Can I be one with this immensity?

Finally, Rumi closes by comparing his beloved teacher, Shamz of Tabriz, to that brilliant immensity through which his own identity now moves.



Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Open Secret: Versions of Rumi The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi
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