Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
Coleman Barks Reads Rumi, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS
Watch Video
Read Transcript
April 11, 2003

On BILL MOYERS JOURNAL poet Robert Bly talked about his recent focus on Islamic poets, including Rumi, Hafez and 15th century Indian spiritual poet Kabir. Bly states: "Rumi and Hafez have been the guiding light, Rumi especially, of American poetry for the last five or ten years. But also it seems to me that if we're...criticizing the Muslim world so much, we should be able to give thanks for the genius that is there."

Poet Coleman Barks is also known for his translations of the great 13th century Islamic poet and teacher, Jalaladdin Rumi. In 2003, Barks appeared on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, reading three of Rumi's poems. Not only is Rumi's work heard on radio throughout the Arab world, he is a best-selling poet in America.

Barks and Bly at tomb
Together Bly and Barks visited the tomb of Hafez, a revered poet of the 14th century, in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz. Bly says of the visit:

"We got up in the morning and we went to the grave. And about eight o'clock in the morning, you know, children started to come. Maybe third grade children. And they stood around the little tomb and sang a poem of Hafez's. Really charming. And then they went away, and now some fifth graders came. And they stood around the tomb and sang a poem of Hafez. Of course, every poem of Hafez is connected with a tune, so you teach the children the tune, and then they have the poem. So I said to myself, "Isn't that unbelievable? And why don't we do that? Why don't we go to the grave of Walt Whitman and have children come there?"
Photo courtesy of Texas Nafas.

>back to Robert Bly on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL

References and Reading:
More on Rumi, Hafez and Kabir and Persian Poetry

Jelaluddin Rumi was born in the Eastern part of the Ancient Persian Empire near Balkh (presently Afghanistan) in 1207. His first name literally means "Majesty of Religion." Because of the threat of Mongol invasion in Persia his family fled, finally settling in Konya, Turkey. He passed away, on December 17, 1273. His shrine is in Konya.

Following in his father's footsteps, Rumi became a scholar. Rumi underwent a spiritual transformation in 1244 after meeting the wandering dervish, Shams al-Din. With appearance of Shams, Rumi became reborn and soon started one of his renowned works, MATHNAWI, consisting of 24,000 verses at age 38. Rumi's poetry has a mystic connotation, a combination that is the universal language of the human soul.

Rumi's poetry has been translated into many languages, his work is well known throughout the world. Rumi was the founder of the Mevlevi Dervish Order, also known as the whirling dervishes. Rumi was born in what is now Afghanistan, in the year 1207, but his family moved on, in the face of the Mongol invasion, moved to Baghdad, then Damascus, and finally to a crossroads on the Silk Road.

There, as a Sufi Muslim, he was influenced with both Christian and Jewish thought. It was a violent time, with the crusades raking back and forth across his land. But Rumi's sense of the sacred remained inclusive, gentle, and true to the longing of the human heart.

The Rumi Network
" is based on the work of award-winning Rumi translator, author and performer Shahram Shiva. Shiva has been translating the poetry of Rumi since 1988 and has been presenting Rumi concerts and workshops in the US ever since."

Read and Listen to poems by Rumi

Read poems by Persian poet Hafez

The Poetry of Indian poet Kabir

Islamic Foundation: Classic Islamic Poems
"There has long been a great tradition of spiritual poetry in the world of Islam. From the time of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad, when his companions used to recite poetry with his approval, until our present day, Muslims have sought to discover the truth of the maxim, 'In some poetry there is wisdom.'"

Texas Nafas
Nafas, in Middle-Eastern languages, is the word for "breath" and a metaphor for spirit or life. Texas Nafas airs on Public Access Community Television (PACT, Time Warner Cable channel 16, every Saturday at 10:00 PM to 10:30 PM in Austin, Texas). In August 2007, Robert Bly and Coleman Barks read poems in a special program sponsored by Nafas.

From the Moyers Files

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? Watch a preview.

BILL MOYERS ON FAITH & REASON: Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and more...

MOYERS ON AMERICA: "Capitol Crimes"


MOYERS ON AMERICA: "The Net at Risk"

Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ