Jun 06 2018

Umar Ibn al-Farid – No one speaks (from The Poem of the Sufi Way)

Published by at 8:05 am under Poetry

No one speaks (from The Poem of the Sufi Way)
by Umar Ibn al-Farid

English version by Th. Emil Homerin

No one speaks
      unless his speech is from mine;
            no one sees
                  but by the gaze of my eye.

No one listens
      unless listening by my ear;
            no one grasps
                  but by my might and strength.

No one
      is speaking, seeing, hearing
            in all of creation
                  but me!

In the composite world,
      I appeared deep within
            every shape and form
                  adorning them with beauty.

While in every subtle sense
      not revealed by my visible guise,
            I was conceived and formed
                  but without a body’s shape.

Yet in what the spirit sees
      clairvoyantly,
            I was rarified,
                  concealed from this subtle sense confined.

In the mercy of expansion,
      all of me is a wish
            expanding wide
                  the hopes of humanity,

While in the dread of contraction
      all of me is awe;
            wherever I cast my eye,
                  I am honored.

In joining both attributes
      all of me is proximity;
            come, draw near
                  my inner beauty.

For in the end-place of “in,”
      I still found with me
            my majesty of witness
                  arising from my perfect nature,

And where there is no “in,”
      I still witnessed within me
            the beauty of my existence
                  without an eye to see.

— from Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life, Translated by Th. Emil Homerin


/ Image by Sea-of-Ice /

In the composite world,
      I appeared deep within
            every shape and form
                  adorning them with beauty.

These lines can be compared with Platonic forms or the Jungian idea of archetypes. The world of outer appearances is built on a spiritual or energetic template. When we see beauty in the world, it is because we recognize something about that outer form that approaches the symmetry of the archetypal or divine template it embodies.

In the mercy of expansion,
      all of me is a wish
            expanding wide
                  the hopes of humanity,

While in the dread of contraction
      all of me is awe;
            wherever I cast my eye,
                  I am honored.

Here the poet gives us a vision of God as a cosmic pulse, expanding and contracting. In expansion, we feel hope, possibility, life. In contraction, we feel fear and awe. We might imagine this contraction as a gathering in, a sense of restriction and death that forces us to let go of the outer world and turn inward.

In joining both attributes
      all of me is proximity;
            come, draw near
                  my inner beauty.

In God, both expansion and contraction are joined, the universal rhythm in harmony. The inbreath and outbreath balanced. A Sufi vision of yin and yang. A vision of unity.

God is the form within all forms, the outward and inward movement of all things, and One. Through this unity the Eternal is in proximity to all things. Perhaps the poet is thinking of the line in the Quran in which God declares that He is closer than our jugular vein. We might read this as God is closer to us than our own heartbeat.

We imagine that God or the Eternal or heaven are somehow far away, in the future or the past, or only sensed through crushing spiritual efforts. But nearness is the nature of God. We just need to heed the invitation, to settle until we can sense the presence underlying everything. We just need to feel the Self that is closer than our own self. Such inner beauty!

And where there is no “in,”
      I still witnessed within me
            the beauty of my existence
                  without an eye to see.


Recommended Books: Umar Ibn al-Farid

Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint: Ibn Al-Farid, His Verse, and His Shrine The Wine of Love and Life: Ibn Al-Farid’s Al-Khamriyah and Al-Qaysari’s Quest for Meaning


Umar Ibn al-Farid

Egypt (1181 – 1235) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

The poetry of Shaykh Umar Ibn al-Farid is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Arabic mystical verse, though surprisingly he is not widely known in the West. (Rumi and Hafiz, probably the best known in the West among the great Sufi poets, both wrote primarily in Persian, not Arabic.) Ibn al-Farid’s two masterpieces are The Wine Ode, a beautiful meditation on the “wine” of divine bliss, and The Poem of the Sufi Way, a profound exploration of spiritual experience along the Sufi Path and perhaps the longest mystical poem composed in Arabic. Both poems have inspired in-depth spiritual commentaries throughout the centuries, and they are still reverently memorized by Sufis and other devout Muslims today.

Ibn al-Farid’s father was a judge and important government official in Cairo.

When he was a young man Ibn al-Farid would go on extended spiritual retreats among the oases outside of Cairo, but he eventually felt that he was not making deep enough spiritual progress. He abandoned his spiritual wanderings and entered law school.

One day Ibn al-Farid saw a greengrocer performing the ritual Muslim washing outside the door of the law school, but the man was doing them out of the prescribed order. When Ibn al-Farid tried to correct him, the man looked at him and said, “Umar! You will not be enlightened in Egypt. You will be enlightened only in Mecca…”

Umar Ibn al-Farid was stunned by this statement, seeing that this simple greengrocer was no ordinary man. But he argued that he couldn’t possibly make the trip to Mecca right away. Then the man gave Ibn al-Farid a vision, in that very moment, of Mecca. Ibn al-Farid was so transfixed by this experience that he left immediately for Mecca and, in his own words, “Then as I entered it, enlightenment came to me wave after wave and never left.”

Shaykh Umar Ibn al-Farid stayed many years in Mecca, but eventually returned to Cairo. He became a scholar of Muslim law, a teacher of the hadith (the traditions surrounding the sayings and life of the prophet Muhammed), and a teacher of poetry. Unlike many other respected poets of the age, Ibn al-Farid refused the patronage of wealthy governmental figures which would have required him to produce poetry for propaganda, preferring the relatively humble life of a teacher that allowed him to compose his poetry of enlightenment unhampered.

More poetry by Umar Ibn al-Farid

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