Keepers of Mystery: Ruba’iyat of Rumi

Rumi translated by Sassan Tabatabai

Born in Balkh (in what is now Afghanistan) in 1207, Jalal al-Din Rumi is a Persian Sufi mystic and poet. In 1218, he migrated west with his family ahead of the advancing Mongol armies and eventually settled in Konya, in modern-day Turkey, where he died in 1273. In 1244, Rumi, who by this time had become a revered religious scholar, encountered a wandering dervish named Shams-e Tabriz. The much older Shams had a profound influence on Rumi’s turn to mysticism. In 1248, Shams disappeared suddenly and it has been suggested that Rumi’s pupils, and perhaps his son, jealous of the master’s relationship with the older dervish, murdered Shams and secretly buried his body. What followed was an outpouring of ecstatic poetry from Rumi fueled by the grief of having lost his beloved Shams.

The Ruba’i (plural Ruba’iyat) is originally a Persian poetic form that dates back to the mid-900s. It is a quatrain often associated with a terse meditation on love. The selection of Ruba’iyat here express some of the central imagery of Persian Sufi poetry: the beloved as a manifestation of the divine, wine as a symbol of gnostic intoxication, the constant yearning for ecstatic union, love as the force that draws the soul towards its spiritual destination, and the ultimate goal of the mystic, which is annihilation in the beloved.

-Sassan Tabatabai

A vision of the beloved pranced in tonight
In the house of flesh sought the seat of the heart
When she found it she drew out a knife
And carved it with expert art


Unannounced the beloved walked through the door
And sat down drunk on ruby wine
As I looked at her and touched her curls
My face became eyes my eyes turned to hands


I am a beam of light you are the sun
I am sick with grief you are the cure
Without wings I fly towards you
I am a blade of straw lost in your amber hue


First she caressed me with a thousand gifts
Then consumed me with a thousand woes
Like a pawn of love she gambled me away
I disappeared in her and she tossed me away


The lute cries to the seraph’s song
It restores the roasted heart
Annihilated passions drowned
Like minnows leap from the tide


The keepers of mystery are naked and drunk tonight
In secret they embrace the beloved tonight
You stranger stand up and leave this path
You bring us nothing but trouble tonight


Published on May 31, 2019