The Sheikh Who Played With Children

A postage stamp honoring Rumi.
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From the Coleman Barks translation published as “Selected Poems” by Penguin Classics in 2004, p. 44.  Of all the poems in this collection, I found The Sheikh Who Played With Children to be Rumi’s most accessible, humorous, and instructive for everyday life.  Budding politicians, take note:

A certain young man was asking around,

“I need to find a wise person.  I have a problem.”

A bystander said, “There’s no one with intelligence

in our town except that man over there

playing with the children,

the one riding the stick-horse.

He has keen, fiery insight and vast dignity

like the night sky, but he conceals it

in the madness of child’s play.”

The young seeker approached the children, “Dear father,

you who have become as a child, tell me a secret.”

“Go away.  This is not a day

for secrets.”

“But please!  Ride your horse this way, just for a minute.”

The sheikh play-galloped over.

“Speak quickly.  I can’t hold this one still for long.

Whoops.  Don’t let him kick you.

This is a wild one!”

The young man felt he couldn’t ask his serious question

in the crazy atmosphere, so he joked,

“I need to get married.

Is there someone suitable on this street?”

“There are three kinds of women in the world.

Two are griefs, and one is a treasure to the soul.

The first, when you marry her, is all yours.

The second is half-yours, and the third

is not yours at all.

Now get out of here,

before this horse kicks you in the head!  Easy now!”

The sheikh rode off among the children.

The young man shouted, “Tell me more about the kinds of women!”

The sheikh, on his cane horsie, came closer,

“The virgin of your first love is all yours.  She will make you feel happy and free.  A childless widow

is the second.  She will be half-yours.  The third,

who is nothing to you, is a married woman with a child.

By her first husband she had a child, and all her love

goes into that child.  She will have no connection with you.

Now watch out.

Back away.

I’m going to turn this rascal around!”

He gave a loud whoop and rode back,

calling the children around him.

“One more question, Master!”

The sheikh circled,

“What is it?  Quickly!  That rider over there needs me.

I think I’m in love.”

“What is this playing that you do?

Why do you hide your intelligence so?”

“The people here

want to put me in charge.  They want me to be

judge, magistrate, and interpreter of all the texts.

The knowing I have doesn’t want that.  It wants to enjoy itself.

I am a plantation of sugarcane, and at the same time

I’m eating the sweetness.”

Knowledge that is acquired

is not like this.  Those who have it worry if

audiences like it or not.

It’s a bait for popularity.

Disputational knowing wants customers.

It has no soul.

Robust and energetic

before a responsive crowd, it slumps when no one is there.

The only real customer is God.

Chew quietly

your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay

playfully childish.

Your face

will turn rosy with illumination

like the rosebud flowers.

~ by FinFlaneur on July 15, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Sheikh Who Played With Children”

  1. What a passage! “Chew quietly your sweet sugarcane God-love”–I don’t think any budding politicians are anywhere near this sort of feeling.

  2. There is still this part of the poem:

    Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy,
    absentminded. Someone sober
    will worry about things going badly.
    Let the lover be.

    All day and night, music,
    a quiet, bright
    reedsong. If it
    fades, we fade.


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