The poet speaks of Love
A little while ago I wrote an essay-review of the movie “The Shape of Water”, which incorporated the poem quoted at the story’s end, attributed to the poet Rumi:
“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, for You are everywhere.”
The essay became the most widely read in the entire history of my website, and that quote was one of the things that people searched for and led them to that post.
When I was 17, my father gave me two books of poetry, one by Omar Khayyam and the other by, yes, Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet who was one of the most passionate and profound in history.
I can see both books in my mind’s eye perfectly, but I can’t seem to lay my hand on them. They’re somewhere among the 5,000-plus books in my house, but their exact location is not precisely known at this moment. It is of no matter, these poets are well enough known that quotes from them are everywhere – and I was moved by the response to that quote from the movie to go and dig out more Rumi.
Which turned out to be quite the springboard for further thoughts and, well yes, Rumi-nations.
There’s all kinds of threads to be followed in these quotes but we’ll start with the same one that infused the “Shape of Water” quote – love.
Love in the RUMIverse
It is timely enough, because the moment we shook off the glitter of Christmas, we woke up to entire aisles in our local stores and supermarkets filled with pink and scarlet heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and racks and racks of cards which speak (with a greater or lesser degrees of schmaltz) of the undying devotion that lovers profess for one another.
Valentine’s Day. When all that is love is apparently for sale.
But if you go back to Rumi, the whole thing suddenly takes on a whole new layer. For all we know, these quotes belong to verses which were the Valentine card equivalents, back in the day – but oh, how different they are.
“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”
Is this an answer about whether or not soulmates literally exist? That when you meet the “right” person”, something already inside of you wakes and trembles and seeks life and release? That “love at first sight” isn’t so much that as “love at first recognition”?
Someone recently said to me, finding someone to share your life with is hard. The “being in love” feeling, that first flutter of something huge and unbearably beautiful, something whose name you can only barely begin to comprehend and cannot quite say out loud for fear that the thing it names might vanish with the utterance – that is wonderful, and amazing, but it doesn’t (as and off itself) last.
Even couples who swear they’re still “in love” after fifty years of marriage… aren’t. Not like that. It’s never like that first flush. In the words of another poet, Robert Browning, “you never can recapture… that first fine careless rapture”. But while it’s young and living and powerful that feeling is heady, it makes you dizzy and brave and unwise, and nothing matters except the beloved
“I want to see you.
Know your voice.
Recognize you when you
first come ’round the corner.
Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.
Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.
Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.
I want to know the joy
of how you whisper
“More”. This is the stage of “more”. This is the stage of where your thirst is too big to quench and you gulp down great mouthfuls of this state of being because it intoxicates you. Because – as Rumi describes above – the air itself is alive with recognition of the Beloved, of the mere presence of the Beloved, of the scent and the whisper of a footfall and the close-focused glimpse of parted lips of the Beloved. You eat, drink, breathe, dream the Beloved. The world shrinks to the Beloved. You know when your other is in the same city, never mind the same street, the same house, the same room… the same bed. You feel their heartbeats as your own. You swear that you would know the moment something happened to them because you literally breathe the same molecules of air at the same time and you would know – you would KNOW – if they stopped breathing those molecules.
But that more isn’t quite the same mindless state of bewildered joy that the initial encounter brings. Because love unleavened with friendship is not true love – if all you ever share is a physical intoxication that simply isn’t enough to make an elixir that would last a lifetime. There is, indeed, “more”.
“When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.”
The first time a good friend of mine returned from meeting the man she would eventually marry, I asked what happened on the date.
“We talked,” she said. “All night.”
That’s when I knew that she had found someone she could be happy with. That loving insomnia that Rumi speaks of in his quatrain. The ability to spend time with someone else – to actively spend time with them – doing nothing but exchanging shining thoughts that take form between the two of you like some sort of magical cloud – the ability to do so constantly, consistently, and to consider that time as well spent and never in any way shape or form the kind of hours that you would want back to spend in what could be considered a more “constructive” way – that is a priceless gift, and when the person is discovered with whom you can share this ability that is the person you hold on to because this is the moment when life stops being lonely. It isn’t crowded – but there is ALWAYS someone there if you need them.
This is a far greater thing than just that first breathless and intoxicating infatuation of the physical because this is a meeting of minds and souls and this bond, once forged, lasts, and outlasts. The outer packaging might change but the inner beings, if they change, now change together and that means that they perceive the rest of the world as changing and themselves – their relationship – as the single immutable pivot point of the universe. You give up sleep for that. It’s worth it. Because there is always something there to talk about all night.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Barriers are always there. Barriers can include all the “you shouldn’t” caveats born of things that are, in the end, probably irrelevant. You shouldn’t love this man or that woman because they’re wrong class, the wrong color, the wrong faith, the wrong age, sometimes the wrong gender. But love is what you carry within you – and when you find a person to rest it on, the “you shouldn’t” warnings become unimportant.
If you marry someone much older than you, you might do it in the full knowledge that that person had a life before you were born and that you are going to have a life after they die – because your chronological streams are not properly aligned. But you do it anyway, knowing all this, because the trade-off are the years in between – the shared years – which you get to spend together, and which are all the more shining and precious because they may not be as many as you might have wished.
If you marry someone of a different color or culture than yourself, that means you become part of a greater world than you might otherwise have known. You learn things you might never have believed possible; you take part in rituals and ceremonies which may not be the ones that you grew up with, you meet different gods, you learn to understand different points of view and different beliefs, and it opens you up and makes you greater than you believed you could be. More fully human, perhaps, because you are integrating other human beings within you and making it all work. Through love, you become wise. Through sharing, you become generous, and you become humble. Through learning, you become capable of a greater understanding.
If you love someone who is not like you – in any way – you learn about what it means to be them, and it deepens and broadens both of you. And that love bears fruit – be it progeny to carry on this shared understanding and enrich the human race with it, or simply new ideas to carry forward into the future. Love is worthy, for the sake of love, and for what love brings as the gifts that it carries.
For some of us – like Rumi, like the poets – that becomes an inspiration.
“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”
And so we paint. Or sculpt. Or make music. Or write.
Love is great. Love is good. May love live forever in your heart.