To conclude this series of lectures on Sufi poetry, and in particular the poetry of Persia, Hazrat Inayat Khan underlines the sensitivity of the poetic soul to the influence of life without and within, and the ability to perceive spiritual currents beyond the limits of time. The previous post in the series may be found here.
No doubt the poet is much more sensitive to the troubles and difficulties of life than an ordinary person. If he took to heart everything that came to him, all the jarring influences that disturbed his peace of mind, all the rough edges of life that everyone has to rub against, then he would not be able to go on. On the other hand, if he hardened his heart and made it less sensitive, then he would also close his heart to the inspiration which comes as poetry. Therefore, in order to open the doors of his heart, to keep its sensitiveness, the one who communicates with life within and without is open to all influences, whether agreeable or disagreeable, and is without any protection. His only escape from all the disturbances of life is through rising above them.
The prophetic message which was given by Zarathushtra to the people of Persia was poetic from beginning to end. It is most interesting to see that Zarathushtra showed in his scriptures and all through his life how a poet rises from earth to heaven. It suggests to us how Zarathushtra communicated with nature, with its beauty, and how with every step he took he touched deeper and deeper into the depths of life. Zarathushtra formed his religion by praising the beauty in nature and by finding the source of his art, which is creation itself, in the Artist who is behind it all.
What form of worship did he teach? He taught the same worship with which he began his poetry and with which he finished it. He said to his pupils, ‘Stand before the sea, look at the vastness of it, bow before it, before its source and goal.’ He said to them, ‘Look at the sun and see what joy it brings. What is at the back of it? Where does it come from? Think of its source and goal, and how you are heading towards it.’ People then thought that it was sun worship, but it was not. It was the worship of light which is the source and goal of all. That communication, within and without, sometimes extended the range of a poet’s vision so much that it was beyond the comprehension of the average man.
When the Shah of Persia said that he would like to have the history of his country written, for one did not exist at that time, Firdausi, a poet who was inspired and intuitive said, ‘I will write it and bring it to you.’ He began to meditate, throwing his searchlight as far back into the past as possible; and before the appointed time, he was able to prepare that book and bring it to the court. It is said that the spiritual power of that poet was so great that when someone at the court sneered at the idea of a man being able to look so far back into the past, he went up to him and put his hand on his forehead and said, ‘Now, see!’ And the man saw with his own eyes that which was written in the book.
This is human; it is not superhuman, although examples of it are rarely to be found. For in the life of every human being, especially of one who is pure-hearted, loving, sympathetic and good, the past, present and future are manifested to a certain extent. If one’s inner light were thrown back as a searchlight, it could go much farther than man can comprehend. Some have to develop this gift, but others are born with it. Among those who are born with it, we find some who, perhaps, know ten or twelve years beforehand what is going to happen. Therefore, a poet is someone who can focus his soul on the past and also throw his light on the future. He makes clear that which has not yet happened, but which has been planned beforehand and which already exists in the abstract.
It is such poetry that becomes inspirational poetry. It is through such poetry that the intricate aspects of metaphysics can be taught. All the Upanishads of the Vedas are written in poetry. The suras of the Quran and Zarathushtra’s scriptures are all in poetry. All these prophets, whenever they came, brought the message in poetry.
The development of poetry in Persia occurred at a time when there was a great conflict between the orthodox and the free thinkers. At that time, the law of the nation was a religious law and no one was at liberty to express his free thoughts that might be in conflict with the religious ideas. There were great thinkers such as Firdausi, Fariduddin Attar, Jalaluddin Rumi, Sadi, Hafiz, Jami and Omar Khayyam, who were not only poets, but were poetry itself. They were living in another world, although they appeared to be on earth. Their outlooks on life, their keen insights, were different from those of everyone else. The words which arose from their hearts were not brought forth with effort, but were natural flames rising up out of the heart. And these words remain as flames enlightening souls of all times, whatever soul they had touched.
Sufism has been the wisdom of these poets. There has never been a poet of note in Persia who was not a Sufi, and every one of them added a certain aspect to the Sufi ideas. However, they took great care not to affront the minds of orthodox people. Therefore, a new terminology had to be invented in Persian poetry. The poets had to use words such as ‘wine,’ ‘bowl,’ ‘beloved,’ and ‘rose,’ words which would not offend the orthodox mind and would yet at the same time serve as symbolic expressions to explain the divine law.
It belongs to the work of the Sufi movement to interpret the ideas of these poets, to express their ideas in words that can be understood by modern people; for the value of those ideas is as great today as it ever was.