Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
In poetry the rhythm of the poet's soul is expressed. There are moments in the life of every human being when the soul feels itself rhythmic. At such moments children, who are beyond the conventionalities of life, begin to dance or to speak in words which rhyme, or to repeat phrases which resemble each other and harmonize together. It is a moment of the soul's awakening. One person's soul may awaken more often than another's, but in the life of everyone there are such times of awakening, and the soul which is gifted with the means of expressing thoughts and ideas, often shows its gift in poetry.
Among all the valuable things of this world, the word is the most precious. For in the word one can find a light which gems and jewels do not possess; a word may contain so much life that it can heal the wounds of the heart. Therefore, poetry in which the soul is expressed is as living as a human being. The greatest reward that God bestows on man is eloquence and poetry. This is not an exaggeration, for it is the gift of the poet that culminates, in time, with the gift of prophecy.
There is a Hindu idea that explains this very well: that the vehicle of the goddess of learning is eloquence. Many live, but few think; and among the few who think there are fewer still who can express themselves. Then their soul's impulse is repressed, for in the expression of the soul the divine purpose is fulfilled. Poetry is the fulfillment of the divine impulse to express something.
No doubt there is true poetry and there is false poetry, just as there is true music and false music. A person who knows many words and phrases may fit them together and arrange something mechanically, but this is not poetry. Whether it is poetry, art or music, it must suggest life; and it can only suggest life if it comes from the deepest impulse of the soul. If it does not do that, then it is dead. There are verses of the great masters of various periods that have resisted the sweeping wind of destruction; they remain ageless. The endurance of their words was in the life that was put into them. The trees that live longest have the deepest roots, and so have the living verses. We only read them in the same way in which we look at the trees, but if we could see where the roots of those verses are, we would find them in the soul, in the spirit.
What is it that awakens the soul to this rhythm and brings about poetry? It is something that touches in the poet that predisposition which is called love. For with love there comes harmony, beauty, rhythm, and life. It seems that all that is good and beautiful and worth attaining is centered in that one spark, hidden in the heart of man. When the heart speaks of its joy, of its sorrow, all of it is interesting and appealing. The heart does not tell a lie; it must always tell the truth. By love, it becomes sincere; and it is through the sincere heart that true love manifests. One may live in a community where there are always amusement, pastimes, merriment, and beauty; one may live that life for twenty years, but the moment one realizes the movement in the depths of one's heart, one feels that those twenty years were nothing. One moment of life with a living heart is worth more than a hundred years of life with a heart that is dead.
We see many people in this world who have every comfort, and good fortune, and everything they need; and yet they lead an empty life. Their lives may be more unhappy than those of people who are starving. He whose soul is starving is more to be pitied than he whose body is starving; for the one whose body is starving is still alive, but the one whose soul is starving is dead. Those who have shown the greatest inspiration, and have given precious words of wisdom to the world, were the farmers who were plowing the soil of their hearts. This is the reason why there are so few real poets in this world. For the path of the poet is contrary to the path of the worldly man. The real poet, although he exists on this earth, dreams of different worlds from whence he gets his ideas. The true poet is at the same time a seer; otherwise, he could not bring forth the subtle ideas which touch the heart of his listeners. The true poet is a lover and admirer of beauty. If his soul were not impressed by beauty, he could not bring it out in his poetry.
What stimulates the gift in the one who is born with the gift of poetry? Is it pleasure, or is it pain? Not pleasure; pleasure freezes the gift. The sensitive poet's soul has to go through pain in his life. One may ask whether it would then be a wise thing to seek pain if one wants to be a good poet. But this would be like thinking that crying was a virtue if one hurt oneself and cried a little. Who, with a living heart, can live in this world as it is and not suffer and not experience pain? Who, with any tendency to feel, to sympathize, to love, does not go through pain? Who, with any sincerity in his nature, could experience daily the insincerity, falsehood, and crudity of human nature, and yet avoid suffering? At every step he takes, the poet will meet with suffering. A poet begins with the admiration of beauty, and his talent is the cause that he naturally tends to shed tears over the disappointments that he meets with in life. When he has passed that phase, then comes another phase – and he begins to smile and even laugh at the world.
The further one advances in life, the more life offers things that can give one a good reason for enjoying and amusing oneself. And the first thing that can make one smile is seeing how everybody is running after his own interests: how a man finds his way along devious routes, how he knocks another person down in order to go forward himself, how he pushes another from behind, and how he silences the next one. Is there anything that we cannot find in human nature? Biting, kicking, and fighting; it is all there. There is nothing of the animal nature that is not in the human being; man even exceeds the animal. All this, however, only makes one smile; the laughter comes afterwards, when one can see where it all ends. If one is capable of seeing all the various endings, in the end there will be laughter.
It is in this period of a poet's advancement that in some way, pity, sentiment, and the sympathy that he already had will turn into smiles and laughter. It is like something that is turned inside out. The pity and the shedding of tears that were at first outside, are now inside; and outside is the smile and the laughter. Thus, both exist at the same time: laughter or a smile on the lips, and pity in the heart. When the poet is laughing, his heart is crying at the same time; this is his nature.
The poet rises above tears after he has shed enough. This does not mean that he becomes cynical, that he sneers at life; but rather that he sees the funny side of things and that the whole of life, which he once saw as a tragedy, now appears to him in the form of a comedy. This stage is a consolation for him from above, after his moments of great pain and suffering. But then there comes yet another stage where he rises higher still, where he sees the divine element working in all forms, in all names, and begins to recognize his Beloved in all forms and names.
This experience in the life of a poet is like the joy in the life of a young lover. It inaugurates another period in his life. Whatever his condition, rich or poor, in comfort or in need, he is never without his Beloved. His divine Beloved is always in his presence. When he arrives at this stage, he pities the lover who has only a limited beloved to admire, to love. For now he has arrived at a stage where, whether alone or in a crowd, whether in the North, the South, the West or the East, on earth or in heaven, he is always in the presence of his Beloved.
And when he goes one step further still, then it becomes difficult for him to express his emotion, his impulse, in poetry. For then he himself becomes poetry. What he feels, what he thinks, what he says, what he does, all is poetry. At this stage, he touches that ideal of unity which unites all things in one. But in order to reach this stage, the soul must become so mature that it is able to enjoy it. An infant soul would not be able to enjoy this particular consciousness of all-one-ness. From this time on, one will find in the poetry of that poet glimpses of prophetic expression. Then it is not only the beauty of the words and their meaning, but his words become illuminating and his verses become life-giving. There are souls in this world who are pious, who are wise, who are spiritual; but among them, the one who is capable of expressing his realization of life, of truth, is not only a poet but also a prophet.