JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, a poet who speaks across centuries. Jeffrey Brown narrates our report by independent producer David Grubin.
JEFFREY BROWN: With more and more American soldiers arriving in Afghanistan each day coming face to face with a culture and a people they know little about, it may come as a surprise that one of the best loved poets in America is the national poet of Afghanistan, a 13th century Sufi mystic named Jalaluddin Rumi.
COLEMAN BARKS, poet and translator: "All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea."
JIM LEHRER: The poet Coleman Barks has been translating Rumi for more than 36 years. In a 1994 PBS documentary, he read to music by the Paul Winter Consort.
COLEMAN BARKS: "The day is coming"...
JIM LEHRER: Rumi, born in northern Afghanistan, wrote thousands and thousands of ecstatic poems traditionally spoken with music. Although most Afghans are illiterate, they can recite Rumi by heart.
COLEMAN BARKS: There is a part of the Afghani culture, a huge part, that is way beyond the Taliban. Rumi's read on the radio daily. He's used in their conversation. He's like the Shakespeare of the Middle East, only he has mystical awareness. By that, I mean that his poetry is aware of the deep interconnectedness of all life and of all peoples and of all religions.
"I am so small. How can this great love be inside me? Look at your eyes. They're small. But they see enormous things."
He lived in the 13th century, and there was sectarian violence. The crusades were raking across Anatolia. But he said, "It doesn't matter what religion you are." He says, "I go into a synagogue, I go into the Christian church, and I go into the Muslim mosque, and I see one altar."
The kingdom of God is within you. That's what Jesus says in Luke 17:12. And that's what Rumi is saying, that the deep sense of the divine mystery is in each other.
"I, you, he, she, we, I, you, he, she, we. In the garden of mystic lovers, these are not true distinctions."