Rumi composed a small eruption of a poem about love’s most beguiling and dangerous qualities. This gem of verse marks out, like a Morse code, the action, the alchemy of love. I’ve revisited this poem many times, and with each close reading new facets are revealed, sharper insights gleaned. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Love comes sailing through and I scream.
Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.
Love puts away the instruments
and takes off the silk robes. Our nakedness
together changes me completely.
The opening conveys abrupt immediacy. Things are one way one minute and then — a surge: “Love comes sailing through…” Sailing evokes being on an ocean, perhaps the Sargasso Sea where we often drift in the humdrum trance of our day-to-day life. But then the majesty of love glides in. Also, the word ‘sailing’ connotes a particular sound, the movement of Cupid’s arrow perhaps?
Love’s entrance — and then: a scream. Not a yell or a shout. A scream. A kind of fright or terror. The shock of love. Rumi is writing about the ego’s perception and reaction to love. Unnerving, startling — a harbinger for what exactly?
P.D. Ouspensky wrote in Tertium Organum: “Love is the potent force that tears off all masks, and men who run away from love do so in order that they may preserve their masks.” I guess that would explain the screaming.
Should we endure, there’s the promise of an intimate alignment, a regulation that calms the initial shock: “Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.” This line enchants me, the image it calls forth. “…like a private supply of itself.” This speaks to the notion that we are each a localized, unique expression of love — and when we experience love we’re given the opportunity, through the mirror of the Beloved, to remember, to see this condition. We relax, perhaps unaware of the disarming that will follow.
“Love puts away the instruments and takes off the silk robes.” Now Rumi’s describing another love action — the revealing, the stripping — making naked. The initial reading is a prelude to sex, and this can work in the poem too. But there’s something more; the instruments, the clothing — the ways the ego displays its talents, or how it hides behind a facade — all of that’s got to go in the presence of love. Nakedness implies as much.
And then the coniunctio: “Our nakedness together changes me completely.” This closing stanza has the same jarring impact of Rilke‘s abrupt finale to his sonnet Archaic Bust of Apollo, which reads: “You must be reborn.” Stephen Mitchell translates the line as “You must change your life.” And it’s the later reading that is most emphatic. And cuts the deepest.
This poem is a sequence of actions. And there is effort implied too, on the part of the narrator, to remain awake amidst the disorientation of love. For us, the readers, the color and enchantment of the poem can lull us away from the shock. Coleman Barks says of beautiful poetry that it can be dangerous because “it gives the illusion of having had the experience without really going through it.” The experience? The Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote: “The pain of love is the dynamite that breaks open the heart, even if it be as hard as a rock.”
Rumi’s poem involves the consciousness of love: the being awake amidst the process of love. Love as dynamism. Love as the Prime Mover. The poem challenges the passivity of “falling in love” and informs the difference between romantic love and objective or conscious love. Can you sense the difference?
In one of his most pointed essays, Love Is Not A Feeling, the late, great psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote:
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