May 31 2010
|Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi
Translated by Mahmood Jamal
I’m always hesitant when I find a collection of sacred poetry put out by a classics publisher like Penguin. They can be excellent references, but I expect their translations to be stiff and rather academic. So I was pleasantly surprised by Penguin’s Islamic Mystical Poetry — while some of Mahmood Jamal’s translations bring the mind to appreciative, stunned silence, most don’t read like masterpieces of the art. Even so, they have a direct, modern fluidity that is inviting to the tongue. His rhyme, in places, can sound too simple, occasionally evoking sing-song, rather than poetic revelation, but that’s a minor criticism, given how readable these poems are. These are not dusty translations only your great-grandfather could love.
Where this collection really shines is in the breadth of poets gathered together within its pages, those well-known in the West, and many less-well-known. Rabia, Hallaj, ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi, Iraqi, Shabistari, Kabir, Baba Bulleh Shah, Umar ibn al-Farid, Yunus Emre, and many more. This is an excellent sampling of Sufi poetry from Africa to Afghanistan.
Other general collections of Sufi poetry, like The Drunken Universe and Love’s Alchemy might have more arresting translations, but Penguin’s Islamic Mystical Poetry is highly recommended for its broad range of Sufi poets, some hard to find in English translation, as well as for it’s approachable translations.
This one belongs on your bookshelf.
I witnessed my Maker with my heart’s eye.
I asked, ‘Who are You?’ He answered, ‘You!’
For You one cannot ask, Where?
Because where is Where for You?
You do not pass through the imagination
Or else we’ll know where You are.
You are He who is everywhere
Yet You are nowhere. Where are You?
In my annihilation is my annihilation’s annihilation
And You are found in my annihilation.
— Mansur al-Hallaj
Table of Contents
Abu Said ibn Abil-Khair
Sheikh Abdullah Ansari of Herat
Umar ibn al-Farid
Mohyuddin ibn ‘Arabi
Amir Khusrow Dehlavi
Abdur Rahman Jami
Baba Bulleh Shah
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai
Mian Muhammad Baksh