Editor’s Note: Although you can enjoy this poem on its own merit, I highly suggest you read this short biography of Rumi which offers a glimpse into his fascinating transformation from a regular religious scholar to one of the world’s greatest mystical poets of all time.
The Reed Flute’s Song (A Rumi Poem)
Listen to the story told by the reed,
of being separated.
“Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves
understand what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.
At any gathering I am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,
a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden
within the notes. No ears for that.
Body flowing out of spirit,
spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. But it’s not given us
to see the soul. The reed flute
is fire, not wind. Be that empty.”
Heart the love fire tangled
in the reed nots, as bewilderment
melts into wine. The reed is a friend
to all who want the fabric torn
and drawn away. The reed is hurt
and salve combining. Intimacy
and longing for intimacy, one
song. A disastrous surrender
and a fine love, together. The one
who secretly hears this is senseless.
A tongue has one customer, the ear.
A sugarcane flute has such effect
because it was able to make sugar
in the reedbed. The sound it makes
is for everyone. Days full of wanting,
;et them go by without worrying
that they do. Stay where you are
inside such a pure, hollow note.
Every thirst gets satisfied except
that of these fish, the mystics,
who swim a vast ocean of grace
still somehow longing for it!
No one lives in that without
being nourished every day.
But if someone doesn’t want to hear
the song of the reed flute,
it’s best to cut conversation
short, say good-bye, and leave.
(The Reed Flute’s Song by Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi)
Persian poets often refer to themselves at the end of a poem as a sort of signature. However, Rumi never really referred to himself at the end of the poem. His variation on the practice was to refer instead to Shams, his friend who had the greatest influence on his life or to silence (khamush).
Rumi is less interested in language, more attuned to the sources of it. As such, he has great appreciation for silence and emptiness. According to Rumi, language and music are possible only because we are empty, hollow, and separate from the source.
The Reed Flute’s Song ends with a reference to silence. The reed flute was also Rumi’s favorite musical instrument and he has a whole theory of language based on the reed flute.
Liked this poem? Check out these other delightful poems by Rumi, the world’s greatest spiritual poet.