Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
The Poet and the Prophet
There is a saying that a poet is a prophet, and this saying has great significance and hidden meaning. There is no doubt that although poetry is not necessarily prophecy, prophecy is born in poetry. If one were to say that poetry is a body that is adopted by the spirit of prophecy, it would not be wrong. Wagner has said that noise is not necessarily music, and the same thing can be said about poetry. A verse written in rhyme and meter is not necessarily true poetry. Poetry is an art, a music expressed in the beauty and harmony of words. No doubt much of the poetry one reads is meant either as a pastime or for amusement; but real poetry comes from the dancing of the soul. No one can make the soul dance unless the soul itself is inclined to dance. Also, no soul can dance which is not alive.
In the Bible it is said that no one will enter the kingdom of God whose soul is not born again. Being born means being alive. It is not only a gay disposition or an external inclination to merriment and pleasure that is the sign of a living soul. External joy and amusement may come simply through the external being of man. However, even in this outer joy and happiness, there is a glimpse of the inner joy and happiness, and that is a sign of the soul having been born again.
What makes the soul alive? It makes itself alive when it strikes its depths instead of reaching outward. The soul, after coming up against the iron wall of this life of falsehood, turns back within itself; it encounters itself, and this is how it becomes living. In order to clarify this idea, I should like to take as an example a man who goes out into the world – a man with thought, feeling, energy, desire, ambition and enthusiasm – to live and work in life. Because of the actual nature of life, his experiences will make him feel constantly up against an iron wall in whatever direction he strikes out. The nature of man is such that when he meets with an obstacle, he struggles. He lives in the outer life and he goes on struggling. He does not know any other part of life, for he lives only on the surface. Then there is another man who is sensitive because he has a sympathetic and tender heart, and every blow coming from the outer world, instead of making him want to hit back outwardly, makes him want to strike at himself inwardly. His soul, after being born on this earth seems to be living, but in reality is in a grave. However, now his soul becomes awakened by that action. Once the soul is awakened in this way, it expresses itself outwardly, whether in music, art, poetry, actions, or in whatever ways it wishes to express itself.
In this way, a poet is born. There are two signs which reveal the poet. One sign is imagination; the other sign is feeling. Both are essential on the spiritual path. A man, however learned and good, who yet lacks these two qualities, can never arrive at a satisfactory result, especially on the spiritual path.
The sacred scriptures of all ages, whether of the Hindus or of the Parsis, the race of Ben Israel or of others, were all given in poetry or in poetic prose. No spiritual person, however great, however pious and spiritually advanced, has ever been able to give a scripture to the world unless he was blessed with the gift of poetry.
One may ask if this would still be possible nowadays, when sentiment takes second place in life's affairs and people wish everything to be expressed plainly, 'cut and dried' as the saying goes. They have become so accustomed to having everything, especially in science, explained in clear words. It must be understood that facts about the names and forms of this world may be scientifically explained in plain words, but when one wishes to interpret the sensation one gets when looking at life, it cannot be explained except in the way that the prophets did in poetry. No one has ever explained, nor can anyone ever explain, the truth in words. Language exists only for the convenience of everyday affairs. The deepest sentiments cannot be explained in words. The message that the prophets have given to the world at different times is an interpretation in their own words of the idea of life that they have received.
Inspiration begins in poetry and culminates in prophecy. One can picture the poet as a soul who has, so to speak, risen from his grave and is beginning to make graceful movements. However, when that same soul begins to move and dance in all directions and to touch heaven and earth in its dance, expressing all the beauty it sees – that is prophecy. The poet, when he is developed, reads the mind of the universe, although very often, the poet himself does not know the real meaning of what he has said. Very often, one finds that a poet has said something, and after many years there comes a moment when he realizes the true meaning of what he said. This shows that behind all these different activities, the divine spirit is hidden, and the divine spirit often manifests through an individual without his realizing that it is divine.
In the East, the prophet is called Payghambar, which means 'The Messenger.' He is the one who carries someone's word to someone else. In reality, every individual in this world is the medium of an impulse that is hidden behind him, and that impulse he gives out, mostly without knowing it. This is not only so with living beings, but also with objects. Every object has its purpose; and by fulfilling its purpose, the object is fulfilling the scheme of nature. Therefore, whatever be the line or activity of a man, whether it is business, science, music, art or poetry, he is a medium in some way. There are mediums of living beings, and there are mediums of those who have passed to the other side. There are mediums who represent their country, their nation and their race. Every individual is acting, in his own way, as a medium.
When the prophet or the poet dives deep into himself, he touches that perfection which is the source and goal of all beings. As an electric wire connected with a battery receives the force or energy of the battery, so the poet who has touched the innermost depths of his being has touched the perfect God. From there, he derives that wisdom, that beauty, and that power which belong to the perfect Self of God.
There is no doubt that in all things, there is the real and the false, the raw and the ripe. Poetry comes from the tendency to contemplation. A man with imagination cannot retain the imagination, cannot mold it, cannot build it up, unless he has this contemplative tendency within him. The more one contemplates, the more one is able to conceive of what one receives. Not only this, but after contemplation, a person is able to realize a certain idea more clearly than if that idea had only passed through his mind.
The process of contemplation is like the work of the camera. When the camera is put before a certain object and has been properly focused, then only that object is received by the camera. Therefore, when an object before one is limited, then one can see that object more clearly. What constitutes the appeal of the poet is that he tells his readers of something he has seen behind these generally recognized ideas.
The prophet goes still further. He not only contemplates one idea, but he can contemplate on any idea. There comes a time in the life of the prophet, or of anyone who contemplates, when whatever object he casts his glance upon opens up and reveals to him what it has in its heart. In the history of the world we see that besides their great imagination, their great dreams, ecstasy and joy in the divine life, the prophets have also been great reformers, scientists, medical men or even statesmen. This in itself shows their balance. It shows that theirs is not a one-sided development. They do not merely become dreamers or go into trances, but both sides of their personality are equally developed.
It is an example of God in man that the prophets manifest. We can see this in the life of Joseph. We are told that he was so innocent, so simple, that he went with his brothers, yielding to them, and that this led to his betrayal. In his relationship with Zulaikha, we see the human being, the tendency to beauty. At the same time, there is the question he continually asks, 'What am I doing? What shall I do?' Later in his life we see him as one who knows the secret of dreams, as the mystic who interprets the dream of the king. Still later in life, we see that be became a minister, with the administration of the country in his hands, able to carry out the work of the state.
Spirituality has become far removed from material life, and so God is far removed from humanity. Therefore, one cannot any more conceive of God speaking through a man, through someone like oneself. Even a religious man who reads the Bible every day will have great difficulty in understanding the verse, 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' The Sufi message and its mission are to bring this truth to the consciousness of the world: that man can dive so deep within himself that he can touch the depths where he is united with the whole of life, with all souls, and that he can derive from that source harmony, beauty, peace and power.