This is one of my favorite Rumi poems. I especially like the final descent into emptiness.
OMAR AND THE OLD POET
The harper had grown old. His voice was choked sounding
and harsh, and some of his harp strings were broken.
He went to the graveyard at Medina and wept. “Lord,
you’ve always accepted counterfeit coins from me!
Take these prayers again, and give me enough
to buy new silk strings for my harp.”
He put the harp down for a pillow and went to sleep.
The bird of his soul escaped! Free of the body
and the grieving, flying in a vast simple region
that was itself, where it could sing its truth.
“I love this having no head, this tasting without mouth,
this memory without regret, how without hands I gather
rose and basil on an infinitely stretching-out plain
that is my joy.” So this waterbird plunged into its ocean,
Job’s fountain where Job was healed of all afflictions,
the pure sunrise. If this Mathnawi were suddenly sky,
it could not hold half the mystery that this old poet
was enjoying in sleep. If there were a clear way
into that, no one would stay here!
The Caliph Omar, meanwhile, was napping nearby,
and a voice came, “Give seven hundred gold dinars
to the man sleeping in the cemetery.”
Everyone understands this voice when it comes.
It speaks with the same authority to Turk and Kurd,
Persian, Arab, Ethiopian, one language!
Omar went to the place and sat by the sleeping man.
Omar sneezed, and the poet sprang up thinking
this great man was there to accuse him.
“No. Sit here beside me. I have a secret to tell you.
There is gold enough in this sack to buy new silk
strings for your instrument. Take it,
buy them, and come back here.”
The old poet heard and realized the generosity
that had come. He threw the harp on the ground
and broke it. “These songs, breath by breath,
have kept me minding the musical modes of Iraq
and the rhythms of Persia. The minor zirafgand,
the liquid freshness of the twenty-four melodies,
these have distracted me while caravan after caravan
was leaving! My poems have kept me in my self,
which was the greatest gift to me, that now
I surrender back.”
When someone is counting out
gold for you, don’t look at your hands,
or the gold. Look at the giver.
“But even this wailing recrimination,” said Omar,
“is just another shape for enclosure, another joint
on the reed. Pierce the segments and be hollow,
with perforated walls, so flute music can happen.
Don’t be a searcher wrapped in the importance of his quest.
Repent of your repenting!” The old man’s heart
woke, no longer in love with treble
and bass, without weeping
or laughter. In the true bewilderment of the soul
he went out beyond any seeking, beyond words
and telling, drowned in the beauty,
drowned beyond deliverance.
Waves cover the old man.
Nothing more can be said of him.
He has shaken out his robe,
and there’s nothing in it anymore.
There is a chase where a falcon dives into the forest
and doesn’t come back up. Every moment,
the sunlight is totally empty
and totally full.