18 coins & a 50 piastres note

A New Rambunctious Craziness

A new rambunctious craziness comes,
dragging our chains,
tearing and spilling the full sacks.
Some nameless Bedouins
buy Joseph for 18 coins
and that story begins again.
All night we pasture
on jasmine and narcissus.
We leap up for the dawn.
Anemones sprout
in the stone cracks
and the trees!
God has given a new world.
You lover,
you gnostic,
you friend.
God has chosen you
to read this poem out loud,
because you’re the one
with the love-bites on you.
Don’t say anything.
Go outside.
Take a long walk
and just look.

Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
tr.Coleman Barks
from “Poems of Rumi” (cassette tape)
Audio Literature 1989

The version above was listed as unpublished on the cassette liner notes; the version below, from The Big Red Book feels more focussed, more measured, more sedate even.  Coleman Barks’ reworkings of Rumi span almost 40 years and you can see through them how he has grown and changed like a tree, or a landscape, slowly over time.  I love both versions equally, for their passion and their sagacity.

The Only Obligation

Today a new madness is trying to set us free,
tearing open our sacks.

Some nameless Bedouin has bought Joseph again
for eighteen coins.

A narcissus sprouts through the ground.
Our souls, having pastured all night on jasmine,
leap up for the dawn.

The world is new,
and you have been chosen to say this poem,
because you are the one with the love-bites on you.

Your love has brought us to this silence,
where the only obligation
is to walk slowly through a meadow and look.

Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
tr.Coleman Barks
from Rumi: The Big Red Book
HarperCollins 2010

18 coins#4
The reference to Joseph being bought for eighteen coins is interesting, by the way.
In the Old Testament (Genesis 37:28) Joseph is sold to a company of Ishmaelites on their way from Gilead to Egypt for twenty shekels of silver.
In the Qu’ran, (Sura Yusuf 12:20), he is said to be have been sold to a caravan of travellers for a few dirhams. a small number (unspecified) of silver coins.
I wonder where Rumi found the number eighteen?
And don’t we know a song about money?


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