A Poem
Home Our Family Genealogy Greg Says Trips

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 is 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."