Mysticism in Poetry: James Fleming

My favorite poems in this selection of Sufi mystics were the Tales from Sa’di because of their ability to encompass many important themes of Sufi beliefs, such as the effort of nothingness in attempt to be a mirror of God’s creation, the importance of wisdom and knowledge, the de-emphasis of materialism, and attempting to understand God’s design. This is especially true for the tale of the Arab merchant. This particular poem summarizes the important themes of many of Saadi’s other poems, as well as those of the other mystic poets, such as Hafez and Rumi.


He effectively uses metaphors in this allegory to make these ideas easy to conceptualize, as well as make the reader understand the concepts even better firat through the allegory itself and the inference of its important concepts. The story is of an Arab merchant who is lost in the desert without any provisions who finds a bag, he is initially overjoyed that he has found fried wheat and grains, but is crestfallen to find that it is only a bag of pearls.


There are many dimensions to this allegory. For example, there can be a simple interpretation that we are nothing without God, and that he creates the value of everything. If the desert is life and its harshness, then pearls, or any other worldly power or possessions, are useless if we are trying to grow spiritually towards God. If the food is God’s nourishment, which is necessary for life, then finding a bag of pearls is an additional burden to carry in the desert. Material possessions and focus on worldly power are burdens if one is in pursuit of God and attempting to understand spirituality.


These fried wheat and grains can also represent knowledge and wisdom, perhaps the most important concepts in the Quran after love. There are many verses stressing the importance of scholars and the written word and how God speaks through the Word to humans directly. The pursuit of knowledge does not entail material wealth or power, but as pearls are useless in the desert, wealth is useless in Paradise, and more importantly, it is useless in spiritual pursuits on Earth. Things only have a given value and not actual value, unless given by God. If there is no buyer of the pearls so that the merchant may buy food, similarly there is no value given by God to material possessions in regards to spiritual objectives.


Saadi does not explain how this man is able to survive his time lost in the desert. One can conclude that this man’s knowledge of God’s will and the merchant’s knowledge of the importance of wisdom over wealth is what caused God to intervene and save him rescue him from the desert. Another conclusion is that because of Saadi’s efforts in Sufi spirituality, he manages to elevate spiritually and is able to glimpse into paradise and hear this trader’s tale while having a transcendent experience.


Modern Poet Nizar Kabbani also effectively delivers an idea important of Sufi ideology, although his work is in a modern context. This particular poem is opposite the introduction and is unnamed. This poem is about rushing to the phone, and although we are eager to talk to the person on the other side, because they are not with us they feel absent and distant. In this world where communication becomes easier every day, it is seemingly becoming more and more difficult to communicate personally.


We greatly desire communication, and we are eager to pursue it in all of its forms. He talks about the caller coming from the “invisible world.” This can either mean someone who we feel is lost because they are absent in our daily lives, or this can also be our yearning to be in contact with God. Striving to do so is fundamental to the Islamic worldview, and this poem describes how the distraction of our lives and our humanity can interfere with clear contact with God. Similarly, this follows in the tradition of Sufi mystic poetry. Because of the nature of the Persian language, the language of the majority of Sufi poetry is written, there is no distinction between human and divine without expanding on the language. This poem simultaneously addresses the effort of interacting with others and God, and how these can be impersonal yet emotionally gripping.