Rumi's attributed photo by Eliza_Tashbihi, under a Creative Commons licence
This session was billed as an introduction to the life, stories and poems of 13th century poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, known commonly in the English-speaking world as Rumi. The setting was the grand main church of St John's: a haven from Princes St and Lothian Road, both heaving with people in August; 'a voice inside the beat knows you are tired'. Duncan Mackintosh is an accomplished and smooth performer, happily blurring the poems, stories and biographical details together with music.
The venue and the seamless integration of each piece spoke to the material: Rumi was slowly revealed to be a mystic, student of science and law, accomplished legislator and leader who left society to learn from a gnostic (original meaning: 'direct knower of the truth') and more. The unity of science and the arts, ordinarily (pace CP Snow) thought to be in conflict with each other, is apparent in his poetry. Many of the stories use alchemical and cooking metaphors, such as the cook speaking to the chickpea: 'the rain you drank in the ground was for this.'
Mackintosh fluently shows that Rumi's vast body of work has lost none of its relevance and potency (he left 35,000 verses, six large volumes). Persia in 1207, the time of Rumi's birth, was a place situated in a time of destruction and turmoil, not unlike our own world, seen through the news each day. 'Good information is like medicine, it rhymes like truth,' Mackintosh read, also warning gently of the dangers of 'wanting and imitating someone else's wanting' – a lesson particularly poignant when we are all awash in information and advertising each day. On a more human scale, there is a familiarity in how Rumi came to write poetry: he was moved to write poetry after the loss of his beloved teacher. Grief remains a powerful force in the creation and seeking of poetry.
Though Mackintosh couldn't cover all of Rumi's life and work in an hour, what the audience took away was powerful in itself: a taste of a spirituality relevant to all religions and none, asking “where did I come from? What am I doing here? I am an astounding lucid confusion.”
A confusion that bears further study: Duncan Mackintosh leads more sessions on Rumi as part of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace this week.
Scattering Stars Like Dust: An Evening With Rumi, St John's Church Hall, Wed 22 August and Friday 24 August, 8pm-10pm. £10/8.
The Breeze at Dawn – A Rumi Workshop with Duncan Mackintosh, St John's Church Hall, Sat 25 Aug, 4pm-6pm. £12/10.