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Fall Into Grace Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by romeckvanzeyl, United Kingdom Nov 9, 2003
Human Rights   Poetry
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There is a beautiful Creature
living in a hole you have dug.
So, at night,
I set fruit and grains,
and little pots of wine and milk
beside your soft earthen mounds
and I often sing.
But still, my dear,
you do not come out.
We should talk about this problem,
I will never leave you alone.

This is a poem by Hafiz, a Sufi mystic who lived in Persia in the 14th century. The first time I read it, I laughed out loud. I turned to a friend who was standing beside me and read it to her, and we were both strangely touched, standing there in the middle of a busy bookshop in the Amsterdam Red Light District, somehow awed by what the poem implies. What struck us both was how, in a place where life can be harsh, this voice seemed to suddenly speak to us in such an intimate way, as if Hafiz knew and loved us. If one lets the poetry “sink in”, one cannot help but take it personally, as it is obviously meant: not just directed at us, me, but at the one who hides inside me, a secret self I sometimes sense but rarely allow to be seen by another.

The other thing that struck me is something I had heard talked about, but never spoken from, as if it were already a fact for the poet. It is the notion of intimacy with the Divine, the notion that the Divine has a close, personal relationship to us, whether we know or acknowledge this or not. Hafiz is a Sufi mystic, Sufism being the mystical “wing” of Islam. The word mysticism is often associated with dreaminess, something vague and unreal bearing little relevance to either our daily lives or the world we read about in newspapers. To me, a mystic is someone whose central concern in life is the desire to know oneself as the Truth, as that which Is. In Sufi poetry, Truth in its personalized form is often referred to as the Beloved, or the Friend. To know – I had always associated knowing with information, with data stored in the memory. Hafiz – and other poets too, but Hafiz foremost among them – brought home to me that there is a different kind of knowing, much more direct and intimate, not unlike the way we know we are tired, or sad, or that we have a headache. We might ask: how can we know that we have a headache? And the answer would be that we know it directly, in our being, in our bodies.
Here’s a poem by Rumi, another Sufi poet who lived a century or so before Hafiz:

This we have now
Is not imagination.
this is not
grief or joy.
Not a judging state
Or elation.
These come
And go
This is the Presence
That doesn’t.

Both the knowledge that Rumi and Hafiz speak from, and knowing that you have a headache, or being tired or joyful, can be sensed directly, in one’s present experience, now. The difference is that those passing body sensations and feeling states can be experienced at a certain distance, as if they were somehow separate from us. They can then be stored in the memory, as something that once happened and is now gone. But this Presence, this there-ness, I can in no way experience and separate myself from at the same time. Rumi calls it the Presence that does not come and go because, even if we lose touch with it, it is always already here. It’s almost impossible to speak of because the word “it” already turns it into an object outside this direct, present-time knowing which is at the same time being. It is that which Hafiz addresses in us, across six centuries, and there is an immediate response. Something real is being acknowledged, it is like meeting myself face to face without a mirror, and I suddenly know without a doubt that it is good and right that I am here.

To me, personally, this is not only a new experience but one that is always new. It is not even a precious experience but a taste of the preciousness that I am. The closest my conditioned brain can get to understanding it in terms of my Judaeo-Christian upbringing is through a phrase from the Old Testament, where it is said when two people have made love with one another that “she knew him”, or “he knew her”. It is knowledge as intimacy, knowledge as, eros. It does not go down very well with any institutionalized religion that sees God as Out There, as not just the Eternal One but as the Eternal Other.

Some weeks ago, I had a brief conversation with a friend of a friend, almost in passing. The subject of mystical poetry flashed by, and did it bear any relevance to the way we live our lives, or, say, the events of the eleventh of September 2001? Before I knew it, I jokingly remarked that someone should write an article “on the political relevance of mystical poetry”. Then of course, this very idea started to haunt me. Poetry, mystical poetry, has political significance for me if I dare to live the truth that it conveys. But to write about it… who am I to presume to write about such potent and far-reaching ideas? At random, I open a book of Hafiz poetry, in a modern translation by Daniel Ladinsky. This is what I read:

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