Watch a One-Year-Old
The following poem was written by a man named Rumi. He is famous,
and you may have heard of him. But for Westerners, he may be relatively unknown.
He was born in the year 1207, in a place that is now called Afghanistan.
I, as a new grandfather, contemplating the birth of my
first grandchild, was deeply moved by the content of this poem, titled
"Watch a One-Year-Old," as translated by Rumi scholar, Coleman Barks,
in his recent book, The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems
(Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 2001).
Watch a One-Year-Old
Anger rises when you're proud
of yourself. Humble that. Use
the contempt of others, and your
own self-regarding, to change, like
the cloud in folklore that became
three snake shapes. Or if you like
the dog-barking lion wrath, enjoy
the hurt longer. Watch a one-year-
old, how it walks, the slow wisdom
there. Sometimes a sweet taste
makes you sour and mean. Listen
to the voice that says, It was for
you I created the universe. Then
kill and be killed in love. You've
been two dogs dozing long enough!
What does it mean? Some background first. Here are Coleman Bark's
opening remarks about Rumi:
"Rumi's Life and Times"
"The thirteenth century in the Near
East was a time of tremendous political turmoil and war: The Christian
military expeditions called crusades continued to set out from the
European west across the Anatolian peninsula, and from the east the inexorable
Mongol armies rode down from the Asian steppes.
"It was also a time of brilliant
mystical awareness, when the lives of three of the world's great lovers of
God's presence in humanity, and in existence itself, overlapped: Francis of
Assisi (c. 1182-1226) at the beginning of the century, Meister Eckhart (c.
1260-1328) at the end, and Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-73) at the center. They were
all magnificently surrendered souls, and wonderful creators with language.
"Rumi was born near the city of Balkh,
in what is now Afghanistan, then the eastern edge of the Persian empire, on
September 30, 1207. He was the descendant of a long line of Islamic jurists,
theologians, and mystics."
My interpretive comments:
While the title may seem to suggest that the poem is about the
significance of how a one-year-old acts, its meaning is about something
profoundly transcendent to that. The one-year-old reference is brilliant, but it
there as a way of illustrating and communicating a deeper meaning. But, as I
mentioned above, a grandchild has come into our lives, and the genius of the
child's joy-filled innocent certainty casts a spell upon me....
"Anger rises..." What is the relationship between
anger, pride, and humility?
"the cloud in folklore..." Transformation is real,
essential, and mystical.
"the dog-barking lion wrath..." Primal passions!
Anger? Fear? Disdain? Blood-lust? Pack instinct? Blaming others - refusing
to take responsibility? The seductive preference for wallowing in misery, or
for living on the edge of danger, ...a lust for action...?
"how it walks, the slow wisdom there." Patient
acceptance? Certainty that transformation is one's destiny, and fulfillment
is eminent. Incurable optimism.
"sweet taste makes you sour..." Corrupting effect
of privilege and power.
"for you I created..." Fulfillment is found in
transcendence into the divine.
"be killed in love." As in baptism, the self must
first die before the New Creation can be born.
"two dogs dozing..." Two! It's about two! Awake
from the laziness of self-absorption! If you would live, if you would love,
then become "twoness."