Dr. Coleman Barks presents Rumi poetry accompanied by musicians playing the sitar and tabla.

The Words of Rumi

Francis X. Shea Memorial Lecture presents the poetical works of Jelaluddin Rumi

Alexis Anderson

Poetry can move us, change us, and leave us yearning for more. For this year’s Francis X. Shea Memorial Lecture, a new type of presentation was brought the the Mitchell Auditorium stage. Dr. Coleman Barks, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Georgia, read the poetry of a Persian mystic of the middle ages, Jelaluddin Rumi.

Barks has published eight volumes of his own poetry as well as a series of books on Rumi poetry, including “The Essential Rumi.” Dr. Barks has spent forty years translating the poems of Rumi from their original language into American free verse, so that all may enjoy the message Rumi wanted to share in his art.

The professor began his reading by launching right into a poem of Rumi’s. Accompanied by musicians playing the sitar and tabla, Barks had the audience entranced – the trials and triumphs of 700 years ago similar to those of modern day.

Jelaluddin Rumi wanted harmony in the world with no distinctions of religion, race, or culture. Rumi’s poetry raised a spiritual question that many wonder about, “I am so small, how can this great love be inside me?” To which Rumi answers his own question, “My eyes are small but they see enormous things, they can take in the night sky. That’s how this great love can be inside me.”

Barks acquainted the audience with many themes from Rumi: love, religion, friendship, and happiness. His lecture continued to fascinate those in attendance as he told jokes and read from the poetry of Rumi’s great friend, Sham.

During a break for the instrumentalists, Rhode Island Poet Laureate read her own poetry. Her contemporary style offered a contrast to that of the fourteenth century poetry. Her poems, like those of Rumi and Sham, touched the hearts of those in the audience.

Students in attendance of Bark’s lecture left feeling awestruck.

“Dr. Coleman Barks is one of the purest souls I have ever seen perform on stage,” said Ted Carlson Webster, a freshman at St. Scholastica, “His deliverance of
the poems, context, and meanings, as well as many jokes was both profound and entertaining.”

Another student, Rachael Platt, said, “Rumi’s words are very powerful and awe inspiring.”

The reading was followed by a reception where the line to meet Dr. Barks was extremely long, filled with people who desired to speak to the man that had captured their undivided attention for the last hour.