Poem: The Soul Is A Porcupine, Made Strong By Stick-Beating
Check Mate by Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks
Borrow the beloved’s eyes.
Look through them and you’ll see the beloved’s face
everywhere. No tiredness, no jaded boredom.
“I shall be your eye and your hand and your loving.”
Let that happen, and things
you have hated will become helpers.
A certain preacher always prays long and with enthusiasm
for thieves and muggers that attack people
on the street. “Let your mercy, O Lord,
cover their insolence.”
He doesn’t pray for the good,
but only for the blatantly cruel.
Why is this? his congregation lasts.
“Because they have done me such generous favors.
Every time I turn back toward the things they want,
I run into them, they beat me, and leave me nearly dead
in the road, and I understand, again, that what they want
is not what I want. They keep me on the spiritual path.
That’s why I honor them and pray for them.”
Those that make you return, for whatever reason, to God’s solitude, be grateful to them.
Worry about the others, who give you
delicious comforts that keep you from prayer.
Friends are enemies sometimes,
and enemies friends.
There is an animal called an ushghur, a porcupine.
If you hit it with a stick, it extends its quills
and gets bigger. The soul is a porcupine,
made strong by stick-beating.
So a prophet’s soul is especially afflicted,
because it has to become so powerful.
A hide is soaked in tanning liquor and becomes leather.
If the tanner did not rub in the acid,
the hide would get foul-smelling and rotten.
The soul is a newly skinned hide, bloody and gross.
Work on it with manual discipline,
and the bitter tanning acid of grief,
and you’ll become lovely, and very strong.
If you can’t do this work yourself, don’t worry.
You don’t even have to make a decision,
one way or another. The Friend, who knows
a lot more than you do, will bring difficulties,
and grief, and sickness,
as medicine, as happiness,
as the essence of the moment when you’re beaten,
when you hear Checkmate, and can finally say,
with Hallaj’s voice,
I trust you to kill me.