What Happened to Poetry? (A Lecture by Shaykh Hamza)

    • I grew up hearing poetry, but didn’t appreciate it until I had a great teacher. And that happened in West Africa. Funny that an American with a father who had a great love of poetry, learnt to appreciate poetry hearing West Africans listen to poetry, recite poetry and be moved by poetry. And seeing their expressions when they hear a line. Troubadour is one that makes you delight in what he has to tell. (from Arabic word tarab)
    • If you ever had a teacher who taught you poetry in a real way, was probably one of the most profound class or experiences of your life. But very few of us are afforded the delight of having a great teacher. Most of us have to suffer the mediocrity of passionless people teach words that emanated from the hearts of deeply passionate people. Because what poetry is about is passion. And what’s forbidden in modern world is passion.
    • If think what is out there as mimicking passion has anything to do with real passion, then have been completely deluded. Really completely deluded.
    • One of the reasons that don’t teach poetry because poets aren’t melodramatic. And in world want people to think in melodramatic terms, don’t want people to understand the subtleties of the poet.

  • Example: In Homer’s Iliad, you never know whether Homer the Greek is on the side of the Greeks or the Trojans. You don’t know who is more noble, the Greeks or the Trojans.
  • And what that tells you is that when you look at enemy have to admit that even enemy has redeeming qualities. Because if you’re not willing to admit that, stuck in a Manichean duality of black vs white. And this is the melodrama of the modern world. They are evil, therefore we are good. Problem with that worldview is that, as an American poet said, the world is divided into two people. One group is the one who divide the world into two people, and the second is all the rest.” And she said, “I’m not talking about the good and the bad. Because the bad are half good and the good are half bad.” That’s the human condition.
  • Poetry makes you think.
  • What happened to  poetry? What happened to English poetry?
  • Biggest lie anyone ever told you was that anyone can write poetry. That you can just sit down and put down your thoughts and call that poetry. That hard things come easy is another modern lie.
  • Qur’an has a chapter called the Poets. No chapter in the Qur’an that isn’t named for something that is great. Will not find any chapter of the Qur’an that is not named for something of immense impact. Whether it is the spider, cow, bee, morning sunlight, moon, moving sand dunes, mutual consultation, every word that is used as a title of a chapter of the Qur’an has immense importance in the lives of human beings. And one of them is The Poets.
  • The poet speaks in a universal language in a way that all can relate. That is what makes the poet great.
  • What Aristotle says is that poetry is greater than history, because history deals with particulars, but poetry deals with universal. Which is why when the poet speaks, if s/he speaks the truth,  it impacts our hearts because we recognise the truth.
  • Describing something human beings experience. Poets try to deal with ambiguities.
  • Rumi is calling our bluff because everyone knows in their hearts of hearts that they are going to die. And all he is, is someone who is in the moment, recognising death is imminent and that the only important thing is readiness. And that is something that another great poet from the West said:
  • The play Hamlet, is really is a play of spiritual evolution. A lot of people don’t read Shakespeare like that, but Shakespeare was working within deeply spiritual motifs. One of them is the idea of purifying the soul. And Hamlet, if you remember in the great soliquoy, when he says to be or not to be, what is it about? It’s about the fear of death. Because that is part of Hamlet’s dilemma, his fear of his own mortality. But then by the end of the play, what has happened to the man? He has had a complete  transformation, and when he is about to go into this duel, him and Horatio are talking and he hints to Horatio that even though he feels he is going to win the duel, he has this sense of his own death. And Horatio says we’ll leave it for another day.
  • And Hamlet says: “Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. ” (Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2)
  • He is talking about death. The readiness is all. That is what life is about. It’s not about putting off death, it’s about being ready for death.
  • “Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.”
  • He is saying if you can’t take anything with you, why are you so worried about living this long life because once death comes..

Finally, my favourite sonnet:

Sonnet 129

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

  • That is a commentary on a hadith, “that Hell is surrounded by pleasurable things and Heaven is surrounded by displeasurable things.” That is all that he is saying, that you look at the enticements of the world and you go after them without any thinking and as soon as you have them, you realise the bitterness of their reality because they didn’t get you want you wanted. And he is saying that we all know it, because we’ve done it again and again, and yet, we don’t know to shun the heaven that leads to hell. In other words, these temporary pleasures lead to that which is frightening.
  • The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him said, surely in poetry is great wisdom.
  • That is all that Rumi is saying, everything other than God is false. And if you realise that at the intellectual level, he and every other scholar of Islam is has been calling us to realize it at an experiential level. And that is the path of submission to God, which in Arabic is called al-Islam. (submission of God)

One Who Wraps Himself ( commentary on the Surah al-Muzammil)

By Rumi

God called the Prophet Muhammad Muzzammil,
“The One Who Wraps Himself,”
and said,
“Come out from under your cloak, you so fond
of hiding and running away.

Don’t cover your face.
The world is a reeling, drunken body, and you
are its intelligent head.
Don’t hide the candle
of your clarity. Stand up and burn
through the night, my prince.

Without your light
a great lion is held captive by a rabbit

  • That is what Odysseus, in one of Shakespeare’s plays says to the Greeks, “it is by our weakness that Troy stands, not by their strength.
  • That is the reality. It is by the weakness of people of truth that people of falsehoods stand, not by their strength. Because falsehood has no strength. But when people of truth are weak, then a rabbit can hold a lion.

(Poem continues)

Be the captain of the ship,
Mustafa, my chosen one,
my expert guide.
Look how the caravan of civilization
Has been ambushed.
Fools are everywhere in charge.
Do not practice solitude like Jesus. Be in
the assembly,
and take charge of it.
so you should live most naturally out in public
and be a communal teacher of souls.”


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