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A dervish knocked at a house
to ask for a piece of dry bread,
or moist, it didn’t matter.
“This is not a bakery,” said the owner.
“Might you have a bit of gristle then?”
“Does this look like a butchershop?”
“A little flour?”
“Do you hear a grinding stone?”
“This is not a well.”
Whatever the dervish asked for,
the man made some tired joke
and refused to give him anything.
Finally the dervish ran in the house,
lifted his robe, and squatted
as though to take a shit.
“Quiet, you sad man. A deserted place
is a fine spot to relieve oneself,
and since there’s no living thing here,
or means of living, it needs fertilizing.”
The dervish began his own list of questions and answers.
“What kind of bird are you? Not a falcon,
trained for the royal hand. Not a peacock,
painted with everyone’s eyes. Not a parrot,
that talks for sugar cubes. Not a nightingale,
that sings like someone in love.
Not a hoopoe bringing messages to Solomon,
or a stork that builds on a cliffside.
What exactly do you do?
You are no known species.
You haggle and make jokes
to keep what you own for yourself.
You have forgotten the One
who doesn’t care about ownership,
who doesn’t try to turn a profit
from every human exchange.”
–Mawl?n? Jal?l-ad-D?n Muhammad R?m? (Rumi) (?????? ???? ????? ???? ????), Masnavi-ye Manavi (????? ?????), vi, 1250-67 (ca. 1265) (Coleman Barks transl.) (This work plays off one of Rumi’s most famous sayings, namely that a dervish is an open door to the Divinity).
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”