Jelaluddin Rumi was a Sufi mystic, founder of the whirling dervishes, and for hundreds of years the most read, memorized, sung, and beloved poet in many parts of the Islamic world. In the West he was unknown until about 100 years ago, when translations first became available, but it was not until Robert Bly and especially Coleman Barks, two of America's finest contemporary poets, began translating him thirty years ago that he became so celebrated.
To say that Rumi wrote spiritual poetry would be accurate but would miss much. His poems are not, as Barks says, about "cheerfulness, conventional morality, and soft-focus, white-light feel-good."
He can, by turns, be all embracing and compassionate:
| Come, come whoever you are |
wanderer, worshipper, lover
of leaving. It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your
vow a thousand times. Come.
and stern, even severe:
| Gamble everything for love |
if you're a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.