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 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).
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:
"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." [Coleman Barks
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.