Coleman Barks – Interpreter of Rumi

Coleman Barks (born 1937) is an American poet. Although he neither speaks nor reads Persian, he is nonetheless renowned as an interpreter of Rumi and other mystic poets of Persia.

How Barks started working on Rumi’s poetry? He answers the question in an interview which is reproduced below (see the full interview at here)

Duncan Campbell: One of the things that I thought might be of interest to our listeners is to tell the story perhaps, for openers as to how you came to Rumi’s poetry.

Coleman Barks: Well, I’ve told that story in several places. And it’s got at least three strands to it …

… I had this dream in which I was sleeping by the Tennessee River. That’s where I grew up outside Chattanooga.

And in the dream a ball of light rose off of Williams Island. And I woke up inside the dream. It was one of those lucid moments when I was awake, and yet I was still asleep in the dream but I had woken up inside the dream. And this ball of light came over and clarified from the inside out. A man was sitting inside the ball of light. He raised his head and he said, “I love you.” And I said, “I love you too.”

And the whole landscape then felt drenched with dew. And the dew and the wetness was love. And somehow, that was all there was to the dream, but it felt like something got settled there.

And then about a year and a half after that I was traveling up north to do some poetry readings. I stopped in and met Jonathan Granoff. He took me to see his teacher there in Philadelphia. It was Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. And he was the man in the dream, who was sitting there in a ball of light.

There’s no way that I can prove that happened except to myself. It did happen. And I was there inside the dream and I met him. And he would come to me and teach me things in dream. And then I would go up to Philadelphia and I would tell him the dream. And he would just wave me on like, “I was there. You don’t need to tell me the dream. What do you want to know?”

He told me to do this Rumi work. He said it had to be done. So that is the only credential that I have for working on the words of this great enlightened being is that I was in the presence for nine years, on and off, four or five times a year visiting this man, who also spontaneously sang songs and praise of existence.

So that’s the main strand of that connects me with Rumi. When I work on these poems I think it is that I am strengthening the friendship with my teacher.