Tuesday, January 01, 2008

my accidental jihad

That's actually the title of a really great story in the October issue of The Sun magazine by one of its staff members, Krista Bremer. A story, in fact, that has me quite intrigued with the concept behind Ramadan. However, it's the poem preceding "My Accidental Jihad" that I'm posting here. I just used the title because it's kinda fitting for me entering the new calendar year. 2007 really wasn't all that bad as a whole. My grandmother's passing in April was my first real brush with some measurable level of grief. But along came December to kick me hard in the crotch. Twice, actually...in case I wasn't paying enough attention the first time. At any rate, it's become clear that I need to make some changes - even if they're temporary - in the upcoming year. For whatever reason, this poem spoke to me...all past, present and future considerations taken.

I had to consult with some friends to help me make sense of my life's unscheduled vacation to the crapper...what did it mean, what did I do wrong, what could I have done differently, etc. The friends I normally count on for support and advice - Wendy, Cindy, Jan, Amber, some of my fellow aminal enthusiasts - were their usual helpful and insightful selves...the first three in particular. But it was another good friend, Elena, who gave me what may have been the most thought-provoking suggestions. And in the midst of all that, I came across this absolutely stunning, thoroughly beautiful poem.

I'm posting it simply because...well, it kinda blew my mind. Aside from being completely timely with regard to my recent unhappiness, it just really...it's hard to explain. Suffice it to say that it's been a long time since I've read anything that made me feel so personally encouraged about my own life while also reminding me I've only begun to scratch the surface of the parts of my mind that have been itching as of late. It's cool if you don't have the same interpretations, though...I'm sure you'll find it a great story for your own reasons.

Whenever I reprint something from The Sun I try to get the author's permission, but I can't see where to go about doing that in this case. So I'll just detail all the info listed in the magazine and hope that it will suffice. The author seems like a pretty good humored guy...and I can't imagine a Rumi enthusiast would also be a lawsuit enthusiast. Particularly, since I'm just some dude with a blog nobody reads. But I like to give as much credit as possible where it's due, and it will follow here in a second. The poem is rather long, as you'll see (Wendy, you've prolly already seen this one). But I have kick-ass typing skills, which is nice when you're as verbose with your written communication habits as I am. And, besides...it's worth it. Sez me.

(Coleman Barks has collaborated with scholars for thirty-one years to translate the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi into American free verse. He has published nineteen volumes of Rumi's work, which have sold more than three quarters of a million copies, as well as six volumes of his own poetry. He taught American literature and creative writing at various universities for thirty-four years and is now a retired professor emeritus at the University of Georgia. He lives in Athens, Georgia, close to his two sons and four grandchildren.

("Song of the Swordsmith" is part of a longer poem, "Central Asian Sufis and the Nature of the Heart," which appears in Coleman Barks's Scrapwood Man [Maypop Books]. Copyright 2007 by Coleman Barks.)


"Song of the Swordsmith"
by Coleman Barks

There is a swordsmith
in a valley in eastern Afghanistan.

When there is no war, he forges
steel plows, and he shoes horses,
but he is most known for his singing.

People come from all over to listen to him,
from the forests of the giant walnut trees,
from Qataghan and Badakshan,
from the snowbound Hindu Kush,
from Khanabad and Kunat,
from Herat and Paghman.

Mostly they come to hear one song
about the far valley of paradise.

This particular song has a haunting lilt
and the ability to make those who hear
feel that they are in that place,
the paradisal valley.

Someone always asks when he finishes,
Is that a real place?

It is as real as real can be,
is always his answer.

Have you been there?

Not in the ordinary way of traveling.

The singer loves Aisha,
a young woman in the valley.

But she doubts that there is
such a place as the one he sings of,
and so does his rival for her love,
Hasan, a swordsman of great strength
and agility. He has full confidence
that he will eventually win Aisha.

He makes fun of the swordsmith-singer
whenever he can. One day the villagers
are sitting inside the blessed quiet
that happens after that song.

Hasan says, Why don't you follow
the blue haze that rises there
from the mountains of Sangan,
and actually
go to the place you sing about?

I feel it would not be right.

Well, that is a convenient feeling.
It keeps you from being revealed
as a fraud and a sentimental dreamer.

I propose a test to decide
several things at once.

You love Aisha,
but she does not believe
in your valley.

You two could never be married
in such a discord of trust.

The swordsmith replies,
You expect me then
to set out for the valley and return
with proof of its existence?

Yes! call out Hasan
and the crowd together.

I will make this trip then,
but will Aisha promise to marry me
if I return successfully?

I will, says Aisha quietly.

He collects dried mulberries
and scraps of bread in a sack
and starts on the journey.

His way is always up. He climbs
until he comes to a sheer wall
blocking the way. He scales that,
and there is another, another,
five walls in all.

On the other side of the last wall
he finds himself in a valley
like his own.

People come out of their houses
to welcome him.

It is so weirdly strange, this experience
of the swordsmith-singer.

Months later he walks back into
the valley he started out from,
an old man limping to his hut.

Word spreads that he has returned.
Hasan is spokesman for the crowd that comes.
He calls the singer to the window.

They gasp at how old he has become.

Did you find the valley?

I did.

What was it like?

He is quiet for a while
in the weariness and confusion,
in the difficulty of saying
where he went, where he is now,
and what has happened.

I climbed until it seemed like
no human habitation could be so high.
But there was, a valley identical to this one.

And the people there are not only
like
us, they
are us. Hasan, Aisha, myself,
you, you, everyone is there
in his or her original form.

We are the shadowy copies.

Everyone turns and walks away,
convinced that the singer has gone mad
in his solitary search.

Aisha marries Hasan.
The singer rapidly grows old and dies.

The people who heard the story
as he told it also soon grow old.
They lose interest in their lives.

They feel some huge event is about to occur,
one they have no control over.
Vital energy drains away.

Once in a thousand years
such a secret is revealed
to someone like the singer-swordsmith.

But no one yet
has quite been able to take in
the truth that we are two selves,
this one and one more real
that lives in the valley
a certain song makes us long for.

That we are that being
as well as this more familiar one,
who is dubious, confused, reckless, and sad,
whose sadness is a little solved
when we hear the song
that makes us remember essence.

A friend says,
There
is another world,
and this is it.

That the two valleys are one
living being
cannot be said in language.

That we already
are the perfected one
cannot be spoken of.

But it can be
felt inside,
as the moment itself,

and as the whole outdoors,
the whole-around-us,
that veiny animule.

That is the heart,
where we take our walks.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Elena said...

Perfected indeed...

6:28 PM  
Blogger rama666 said...

Is that you talking or are you channeling the BEST program...?
:)

7:43 PM  
Anonymous wendy said...

Thank you for presenting me with this poem again. I had read it in The Sun. Actually, I should say I started reading it, but it didn't speak to me the way it spoke to you, and I didn't finish it. I didn't take the time to get to the message. So thanks...

I like the R.E.M. lyric, by the way...

8:56 PM  
Blogger rama666 said...

Ordinarily, I have to admit to tuning out a bit, myself, when I get to the poetry in The Sun. I don't ingest poetry as well as I do prose. Maybe it was just the silence of the day that allowed me to pay more attention or something...

5:51 AM  

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