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The Crisis of Identity in Rumi's 'Tale of the Reed'


The exceptional achievements of Rumi (d.1273) in poetry and mysticism, along with his intriguing relationship with Shams al-Din of Tabriz (d.1247), have kept him in the foreground of literary and mystical discussions all over the world. Rumi's intimate relationship with Shams—a mysterious dervish whom he met in Konya in 1244—had a formative influence on his life and his poetry. He considered Shams to be the perfect image of the beloved, the supreme companion he had been seeking in his spiritual life, a spiritual mirror for his own complex mystical experiences.

This essay evaluates an instance of such complexities in a reading of the "Tale of the Reed" (Nay Namih), the well-known opening thirty-five lines of the great Persian mystic magnum opus, the Masnavi. The "Tale of the Reed" is the account of the separation of the lover, personified as the reed, from the Fatherland, the reed-bed, where it had belonged in the presence of God, the beloved. It has been argued that the "Tale of the Reed" captures the major themes that appear in the ensuing several thousand rhyming couplets of the Masnavi. This essay evaluates this prelude against the background of the relationship between Rumi and Shams, within the context of separation and union between the lover and the beloved, and demonstrates how the exchanges between the lover and the beloved correspond to Rumi's transcendence in his relationship with Shams.

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