Monday, June 22, 2009

Kim Stanley Robinson digs the Persian poet Rumi

Here’s an interesting literary tidbit that I just dug up, thanks to the Google Book Search project: SF author Kim Stanley Robinson is a big fan of the 13th-century Sufi and Persian poet Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, whose formal name has several variant spellings and who is commonly referred to in the English-speaking world as Rumi.

In his award-winning novel Red Mars (1992), Robinson uses one of Rumi's most often quoted passages in writing about a stay at a Sufi caravanserai on the surface of Mars:
"We say a bedtime prayer from the Persian poet Rumi Jalaluddin,” the old woman told him, and recited it:

I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal.
I died as animal and I was human.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die human,
To soar with angels blessed above.
And when I sacrifice my angel soul,
I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

“Sleep well,” she said into his drowsing mind. “This is all our path.”
In his award-winning novel Green Mars (1993), Robinson mentions a Sufi settlement on Mars called Rumi. A few pages later, Robinson writes about a visit to another Sufi settlement, Margaritifer:
“It’s a Farsi poem by Jalaluddin Rumi, the master of the whirling dervishes. I never learned the English version very well--

‘I died from a mineral and plant became,
Died from the plant, took a sentient frame;
Died from the beast, donned a human dress--
When by my dying did I ever grow less ...’

“Ah, I can’t remember the rest. But some of those Sufis were very good engineers.”
In his award-winning novel Blue Mars (1996), Robinson mentions a town called Rumi in discussing delegates to a constitutional congress on Mars. Presumably, this town grew out of the settlement referred to in Green Mars.

It’s also worth noting that Kim Stanely Robinson mentions the Sufi and Persian poet Rumi several times in his non-Mars novel The Years of Rice and Salt (2002). See if you recognize any lines in this passage:
“Do you know the poem by Rumi Balkhi, ‘I Died As Mineral’? No? It is by the founder of the dervishes, the most spiritual of Muslims.” He recited:

I died as mineral and came back as plant,
Died as plant and came back as animal,
Died as animal and came back a man.
Why should I fear? When have I ever lost by dying?
Yet once more I shall die human,
To soar with angels blessed above.
And when I sacrifice my angel soul
I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

“That last death I think refers to the hun soul, moving away from the po soul to some transcendence.”
I’ve never read anything written by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, but my interest has been piqued. Thanks KSR!

No comments: