Here’s a Rumi poem to celebrate tomorrow’s ending of Ramadan. It’s particularly appropriate after a month of fasting because it talks about the need to penetrate “the glut of wealth in the city of Saba.” As I understand it, Ramadan’s fasting is designed so that worshippers will get in touch with the truth that gets hidden beneath the everyday concerns of our Saba existences. Given how America is blinded by its excessive wealth and conspicuous consumption—and how apparently we have the fattest population on earth—anything that can get us to “be more silent” is of inestimable value. Many Muslims find that “life grows sweet again and fragrant” and that they move beyond the glut of “overrichness” as a result of Ramadan fasting.
Rumi doesn’t specifically mention poets when he instructs us to “Turn toward teachers and prophets who don’t live in Saba.” But poems like this one are cures, internal medicines, that can revive our “fat and satiated” souls.
The City of Saba
There is a glut of wealth in the city of Saba. Everyone
has more than enough. Even
the bath stokers wear gold belts. Huge grape clusters hang
down on every street and
brush the faces of the citizens. No one has to do
anything. You can balance
a basket on your head and walk through an orchard, and it
will fill by itself with
overripe fruit dropping into it. Stray dogs stray in
lanes full of thrown-out
scraps with barely a notice. The lean desert wolf gets
indigestion from the rich
food. Everyone is fat and satiated with all the
extra. There are no
robbers. There is no energy for crime, or for gratitude
and no one wonders about
the unseen world. The people of Saba feel bored with
just the mention of prophecy.
They have no desire of any kind. Maybe some idle curiosity
about miracles, but that’s
it. The overrichness is a subtle disease. Those
who have it are blind
to what’s wrong and dead to anyone who points it out.
The city of Saba cannot be
understood from within itself. But there is a cure, an
individual medicine, not
a social remedy; sit quietly, and listen for a voice
within that will say, Be
more silent! As that happens, your soul starts to revive.
Give up talking and
your positions of power. Give up the excessive money.
Turn toward teachers and
prophets who don’t live in Saba. They can help you
grow sweet again and fragrant
and wild and fresh and thankful for any small event.
Translated by Coleman Barks
A note on the artist: The above painting can be found at miltosideris.deviantart.com/art/Imaginary-cities-267024653.