Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, better known to the Western world as Rumi, lived in what is now Turkey during the thirteenth century. His followers founded the Mevlevi order of Islam (the “whirling dervishes”) based on his teachings, and he became one of the greatest and most widely read of Islamic mystic poets. The focus of his thought and writings concerns tawheed, or unity with the divine, and the central religious rite of the Mevlevi involved the use of music, poetry, and dancing to manifest this unity. So great has his influence been that UNESCO designated the year 2007 as “International Rumi Year” to commemorate the eight hundredth anniversary of his birth.
The text for this piece is a fragment of a poem translated by Coleman Barks in his 1995 book The Essential Rumi, published by Harper San Francisco. I think of it as an exhortation against inattentiveness and uninspired routine, and the musical setting is a kind of spiritual exercise that makes every word of the poem an object for meditative contemplation.