A WRITER AND ACTIVIST, Iranian-American Melody Moezzi enlisted the aid of her father, who is fluent in the classical Farsi of the mystic poet Rumi, to write her book The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life.
Each chapter includes an original translation of one of Rumi’s poems. Moezzi shows how the words can help navigate a particular challenge, from anger, to isolation, to depression.
Kalia Kelmenson spoke with Moezzi to explore the prescriptive power of Rumi’s poems, the mysticism that can be embedded in madness, and what is, or isn’t, lost in translation.
You describe a strong connection with Rumi, calling him a guest in your house as a child. Do you feel like Rumi’s work is available to everyone in that same way?
Yes. It speaks to so many people. To be honest, Rumi’s poems are described as “deceptively simple,” but it turns out they are not simple at all. In Farsi, they are very difficult, some more than others.
They are not simple, but in translation, they have become simple. Some translators don’t actually speak Farsi, but still manage to translate the spirit of Rumi’s poetry, which is very much in line with Rumi. Rumi notes specifically that it’s better to be of the same heart than of the same tongue.
For me, speaking Farsi is in a way absolutely helpful, but also the language can get in the way.
I would never have approached a book like this had I not known that there are translators of Rumi’s work who don’t speak Farsi. I respect those translators. Coleman Barks is the most famous of those translators, and I love his translations, and so does my dad.
We respect him because he has translated the poetry in a way that speaks to the heart and the souls of people around the world who speak English and don’t speak Farsi. I think that’s beautiful.
For me, as someone who comes from this culture, it was really important to me not only to translate the meaning and get the heart of his poetry, but also the musicality of it. That’s one thing a lot of English translators don’t do. So I maintain the rhyming scheme, for instance, which was very difficult. I had to work really hard on those translations. The book ended up taking much longer than I anticipated because these very short poems that appear in the book took so much time to translate, and I’m still not happy with some of them.
Can you describe how Rumi’s poetry became prescriptive in your life?
I’ve been blessed to have two mystical experiences in my life. Both of those experiences overlapped with what is also clinical mental illness, and I recognize the mental illness and I also recognize the mystical experience, which I didn’t for a very long time. I was told by the medical community that there is nothing valid about your spiritual experience, it doesn’t matter, it’s not useful to you. In fact, I was told that it was harmful for me, so I sort of threw out the mystical side of my manic experiences. Later on I was able to retrieve them, after I had been in recovery for a while.
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