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“What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.”
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Though musicians Beyoncé and Jay-Z aren’t normal subjects for a blog about books and publishing, today they are the perfect entry point to discuss beloved Persian poet Rumi. Ever since Beyoncé gave birth to the couple’s twins, people have been speculating about the names of the children. Names matter after all both in fiction and in real life. And judging from several recent trademarks filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have named their twins Sir and Rumi.
For the child of two artists who play with words and have alluded to their own deep spirituality, Rumi is a fitting name. The historical Rumi, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, was a Persian poet, scholar, and religious leader who lived in the 13th-century. Despite his temporal distance from the modern era, Rumi’s writings persist; in 2014, the BBC described Rumi as the “most popular poet in the US.”
Rumi was born in Balkh region of what is today either Afghanistan or Tajikistan and came from a long line of Islamic spiritual leaders. For the first part of his adulthood, Rumi gave sermons and taught his many followers. A man named Shams-i Tabrizi, however, changed the course of Rumi’s life and the trajectory of literary history.
Like Rumi, Shams was a spiritual leader. The two met while Shams was on a religious quest, and they quickly bonded over discussions of discipleship, God, and the beauty of the world. Then after four years of profound friendship, Shams disappeared. Perhaps he was murdered by a jealous son or a religious rival. Or perhaps he left in order to teach Rumi a lesson about faith.
Regardless of what happened, Rumi changed after his friend vanished. He began to write poetry. Rumi had always written – he was a religious scholar after all – but the form and tone of these writings changed. Among other things, he crafted 3,000 love poems. He then incorporated these poems along with music and dance into his practice of Islam. In fact, Rumi dedicated the last 12 years of his life to writing The Masnavi or Masnavi-i Ma’navi, a 50,000 line poem intended to teach Sufis how to find true love through their relationship with God. After his death, Rumi’s musings lived on through these writings.
I won’t speculate why Beyoncé and Jay-Z chose the names that they did for their twins, but I will hope that young Rumi inherits the grace of language and spirit for which the poet is known. Both would be precious gifts.
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Those who don’t feel this Love
pulling them like a river,
those who don’t drink dawn
like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don’t want to change,
let them sleep.
This Love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way,
I’ve given up on my brain.
I’ve torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.
If you’re not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words