Blake and Rumi, by Sardar Muhammad

A Comparative Study of Jalal-Ud-Din Rumi and William Blake as Mystical Poets

Detail from Rumi’s epic poem Mathnavi-e-Ma’navi or ‘Poem of Inner Meanings’

This article examines the concept of Mystical Union, one of the major themes of Islamic and Christian mystical poetry through juxtaposing the views of Jalal-ud-din Rumi and William Blake on it (Mystical Union).

The work is primarily focused on confirming the philosophical assertion that, “at the highest level of spiritual elevation (state of mystical union), dogmatic differences either cease to exist or become insignificant.” As a central theme of Islamic and Christian mystical poetry, the study of Mystical Union may help to understand both types of mysticism. The analysis of this theme may also encompass the interpretation of most of the constituting elements of mysticism (the stages of mystical path in Islamic and Christian mysticism).

The affinities between the views of Rumi and Blake on mystical union show that there has been an overwhelming agreement between Islamic and Christian mysticism, and that “at the highest level of spiritual elevation (state of mystical union), the differences based on dogmatism cease to exist or become insignificant”. The validity of this assertion has been confirmed through comparative study of Rumi and Blake on Mystical Union.

Introduction: Mystical union 

Jalal-ud-din Rumi

Comparative study of mystical themes with reference to the poetry of mystical poets with different poetic traditions and cultural backgrounds can be stated as a better literary technique to analyze and evaluate the universal nature of mysticism because of its presence in almost all religions of the world. Through juxtaposing the poets on mystical themes one can find out sufficient evidence of natural affinity inherent in different types of mysticism including Sufism (Islamic mysticism) and Christian mysticism in spite of linguistic and cultural dissimilarities.

As mysticism is “the science of union with the Absolute” (Underhill, 1912) the central theme of mystical poetry can be determined as mystical union. Comparative analysis of mystical union as a poetic theme through juxtaposing two mystical poets, one from Islamic and the other from Christian mystical tradition can help to understand the nature and function of mystical poetry in the eastern and the western societies, particularly with Islamic and Christian religious and social values.

William Blake

To interpret the concept of mystical union through juxtaposing mystical poetry, one needs to select two poets on the basis of their status as poets and mystics. As representatives of Islamic and Christian mysticism Jalal-ud-din Rumi (a Muslim) and William Blake (a Christian) as mystical poets can be natural and logical choices for any researcher of mysticism, and their juxtaposition, a logical requirement for the interpretation of mystical union.

From the works of their critics it can be safely stated that Jalal-ud-din Rumi and William Blake have been regarded as popular figures and respected equally in literary circles of their times and their respective communities of practicing mystics. So there is a need to present the opinions of their critics to evaluate their individual position to justify their selection for comparative analysis of mystical union.


Status of Rumi and Blake as Mystical Poets

To analyze the mystical themes with reference to the poetry of two mystical poets from different cultures and literary traditions it would be more important to evaluate their status as poets in their respective societies from the sources of information available in the form of printed books.


  1. Rumi

Coleman Barks’s remarkable translation of Rumi has done much to popularise his work in the West. Rumi’s verse has influenced everyone from Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman to Philip Glass, Chris Martin, and Madonna.

Rumi’s biographers and critics mostly seem to be agreed on his standing or level of importance in literary circles. Their opinions reflect greater significance of Rumi and admiration of his poetry’s greatness. As the critics belong to Eastern as well as Western regions his poetry can be judged as popular equally in both regions of the world. How can a poet be regarded as great and popular among his readers whose poetry does not discuss something different from other poets of his time?

There may be several reasons behind his popularity as a poet. From the writings about his poetry it can be stated that he is appreciated in the east perhaps for the beauty of his verse and his theme of love for mankind, and in the west for his doctrine of universal brotherhood. Whatever may be the reason the level of his popularity in the West seems to be based on the greatness and reconciliatory nature of his message, as Raficq Abdulla observes:

I believe the secret lies in the quality of lived experience, the intense yearning or desire for something greater than ourselves, something which emanates power, awe, love, and beauty. It is the feeling of homecoming in a world in which we are displaced, un-rooted, that is the essence of Rumi’s verse and what draws us to it.

Abdulla’s words seem to be sufficiently convincing for the readers of Rumi’s poetry to believe in it as a mainspring of motivation and energy to the hearts of those who intend to change their way from the way of ‘displaced-men’ to the world of universal love, a common home for ‘united-men’. His words also represent a stronger desire for attaining the higher form of knowledge which may provide necessary platform for reconciling differences between mankind.

Like other Sufis of the Muslim world, Rumi, on the basis of his contribution to Islamic mysticism, can also be regarded as a well-known saint and Sufi master, the founder of a new order of mysticism (Maulavia order) and also a great Muslim scholar. Most of his biographers believe that the message of love for mankind is perhaps one of the factors which contribute to make his poetry more appealing, and appreciated by the readers from all parts of the world.

One can observe ‘comprehensiveness’ as one of the major characteristics of Rumi’s poetry. Through detailed study of his Mathnavi, the reader can realize that the work is comprehensively composed, and covers almost all aspects of Islamic Mysticism with necessary details. Although the style of Rumi’s poetry, like any other poet, can be questioned the poetic themes or subject-matter can help the critics to judge the value of his work through evaluating his philosophy instead of his language and structural aspect of poetry. As Raficq Abdulla opines:

A seventeenth-century illustration for Rumi’s epic poem “Masnavi.”

The Mathnavi-e-Ma’navi or ‘Poem of Inner Meanings’ runs for thousands of verses and is made up of countless interweaving stories, interspersed with more generalized observations. In this great didactic work, Rumi attempts to describe every aspect of mystical perception and aspiration. The Mathnavi is so highly regarded in the Muslim world that it has been audaciously called the Qur’an in Persian.

Abdulla’s appreciation of Rumi’s poetry helps to evaluate his position in the community of mystical poets. The Mathnavi’s recognition and appreciation to the level of equality with the Holy Qur’an seems to be symbolic but it shows the extent to what the people love and pay tribute to Rumi’s poetry. Perhaps, a sizable majority of people who love Rumi’s poetry for its subject-matter and appreciate his message of love for mankind may not be able to understand Persian language, the language of Rumi’s poetry.

As Rumi’s poetry covers most of the aspects of Islamic Mysticism it may be a good source of information for the students of Islamic mysticism. The stories told by Rumi in the Mathnavi provide necessary information about well-known personalities mentioned in the Qur’an and the history of early Islamic period and overall condition of various social and political institutions. In this way it can be equally helpful to the students of Qur’anic studies, history and literature.

The universality of Rumi’s message of love shows that the audience of his poetry cannot belong only to a particular religious community but the people from all religions and cultures. He represents love, and peace and thus represents human nature (love and peace are the parts of human nature). Citlak and Bingul aptly say, “The world has never been without representatives of love and peace. Rumi was and is one of the perfect representatives of such a complete human being, and one of the greatest teachers of universal love and peace.”

“The universality of Rumi’s message of love”

Rumi’s teachings can be useful to all men in the East and West. He is not only a poet to be appreciated for the sublimity of thought in his poetry but a teacher who teaches the men beyond geographical boundaries and cultural and linguistic limitations. His doctrine of universal love is such a humanitarian belief that has roots in almost all religions of the world including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Rumi’s poetry can be called the poetry for all men. It is to be noted that:

Rumi is not merely a Mawlana (our master) – one of the titles assigned to him and widely used among Muslims – whose scope is limited to one part of the world. Rather, he is the master of people from both the East and the West. In fact, westerners have increasingly been amazed that his presence seems so alive eight centuries after his death. (Citlak and Bingul)

From these lines it can be inferred that even after eight hundred years the presence of Rumi’s message in the minds of readers from the Eastern and the Western regions of world may be a token of his poetry’s recognition and popularity. His status has also been changed from that of a representative of a group of Muslims to the spiritual leader and guide for the lovers of mankind. It also shows that his words consist of superior wisdom which may be honoured by all men.

A page of a copy c. 1503 of the Diwan-e Shams-e Tabriz-i.

Rumi’s works (particularly Divan and Mathnavi) seem to represent man’s universally acknowledged tendency to attain higher level of wisdom which makes him distinguished from other Muslim poets. This is perhaps one of the qualities for what Rumi seems to be more acceptable to the communities of mystics as well as literary circles all over the world. It can be safely stated that research made in Rumi’s works is more than research made in the works of his contemporaries. That is why his position can be regarded as greater than other Muslim mystical poets.


2. William Blake

William Blake can also be regarded as a well-known poet with a background of Christian mysticism. He can be considered as a poet with a message for all people from all times and cultures. Osmond calls him “one of the greatest of English mystics and, perhaps, the greatest poet among English mystics.” His status as a poet is perhaps higher than most of his contemporaries. What makes him more different from other poets is the individuality of his poetic themes.

“Spurgeon has placed William Blake with devotional and religious mystics”

There are several categories of mystics among English poets who differ from each other on the basis of the subject matter of their poetry (love, beauty, nature, philosophy and religion etc.). Spurgeon has placed William Blake with devotional and religious mystics. Devotional mysticism can be interpreted as a form of mysticism which represents the mystic’s passionate devotion for God. It also shows intimacy and direct relation between man and God in human form. The mystic enjoys the nearness to God and praises the kindness, and greatness of God as a Master.

Most of the critics of Blake’s poetry including Spurgeon seem to be agree on the point of his status as a great poet but there may be some difference of opinion while his category as a mystic is determined. Spurgeon’s conclusion in this regard seems to be more logical, “within what category could Blake be imprisoned? He outsoars them all and includes them all.” Blake in this way performs the role of a leader and representative of a particular school of thought in mysticism.

There may be some specific qualities in his poetry which help him to heighten his position in the minds of his readers. The readers can find according to their own social status, educational qualification, and literary taste, the elements of their interest in Blake’s poetry. He becomes important to them on the basis of some reasons, as Shivshankar Mishra observes:

Blake attracts them all and sounds a meaning in a very personal way, by evoking the ‘Human Imagination’ embodied in each individual self. It is not for nothing that in an age like this, when most of the previous poets are losing fast their grounds, Blake has come up to the fore from a long way behind.

Mishra’s words highlight some of the salient or distinctive features of Blake’s poetry. And that its appeal lies in its quality of being an evoker of man’s imagination to see the world beyond the limits of human mind, and be the part of that celestial world. It also shows that universality of his message maintains the appealing quality of his poetry. From the words of Mishra, he appears to be more readable than the poets of his tradition, his contemporaries, and even the poets of modern times.

The appeal of Blake’s work “lies in its quality of being an evoker of man’s imagination to see the world beyond the limits of human mind”

It is however important to note that Blake composed his poetry not for a lay man but for poets, literary critics, research scholars and mystics. That is why he seems to be more popular for his greater poetry among other mystical poets than common people who can hardly understand the meaning of his unfamiliar biblical terms, symbols and allusions. His Biblical scholarship may be appreciated by most of his learned Christian readers but for few people it can prove to be burdensome or cumbersome.

In spite of a few difficulties, readers with a strong affiliation to Christian mysticism and Biblical ideology can perhaps be attracted to Blake’s poetry more than any other poet with mystical tradition. At one hand the readers have to make efforts to overcome the difficulties based on his poetic technique but on the other hand they can realize that Blake’s message is known to them through Bible and the words of Jesus Christ. In such situations Blake’s themes get superiority over the structure of his poetry.

“As a mystical poet, Blake can provide his readers an opportunity to understand their inner spiritual life”

As a mystical poet, Blake can provide his readers an opportunity to understand their inner spiritual life. His description of his own mystical experience can facilitate the Christian readers to discover their own ability to realize the importance of mystical experience in attaining the higher form of knowledge or mystical wisdom. In this way he attains the status of a teacher, a spiritual guide, and a popular poet. Mishra rightly observes:

Everyone finds in Blake something which is at once very much his own and which he does not find anywhere else. It is, indeed, more than poetry normally can offer to its readers. They get attracted to him through feeling that he is for them a personal discovery and something of a private possession.

Like any other mystic, Blake’s poetry may greatly appeal to the soul and heart of his readers. They can be fascinated by the power of mysticism to discover their own soul, the hidden treasure of knowledge. It is to be noted that the knowledge of mysticism can hardly be disseminated and communicated to other people. However, the superior knowledge through Blake’s poetry can help to enlighten the minds of his followers and they can see their spiritual destination in his message.

As a mystical poet Blake could perhaps more successfully promote the freedom of human soul from the limitations of human body. His heart seems to be palpitating with the hearts of those who needed a guide, a leader, and a facilitator on the way to ultimate wisdom. Like all other mystics he can also be considered as a great lover and well-wisher of humanity. He was perhaps one of the people who exerted a lot to create an ideal situation for the people to get rid of their problems based on man’s material needs.

Blake can be perceived to be the leader of mystical poets who tried to promote universal love. It makes him the prophet of humanity and entitled to enjoy love and respect by all of his readers. It can also be considered one of the reasons behind effectiveness of his poetry. Because of his greater subject-matter the poetry could be created by the blessings of God without exerting much energy. John Beer believes that, “much of Blake’s best work came to him in this way – after the struggle was over.” These words show that his mystical themes help to determine his status as a poet and mystic of his own category.


Significance of Rumi and Blake’s Juxtaposition

“As all men are alike (tho’ infintiely various) So all Religions & as all similars have one source. The true Man is the source he being the Poetic Genius”. By ‘All Religions are One’ Blake did not mean they all have some objective, lowest common denominator. He meant that they all originate within the human imagination – as he radically put it, “All deities reside in the human breast”.

Rumi and Blake’s comparison is based on the principle of universal agreement between mystical poets irrespective of their religion, culture or language. If such a desirable principle is universally recognized, the mystics from all religions and all times would make a family of members who profess nothing but universal love and brotherhood. Derek Wall’s words can perhaps be helpful in showing universal link between the poets of all ages:

I grant this makes up an ungainly family tree, how many of these often cantankerous artists and thinkers could so much as share a conversation with one another? Yet I am sure they belong together, not as an ideology, but as a sensibility for the sacred, the organic, the personal.

There has been a family of mystics which will exist till the end of this universe. Universal love as a main theme in the poetry of mystics makes them universal representatives of humanity. Mysticism in this way can be widely accepted as a poetic tradition common to all poets from all languages and cultures. Rumi and Blake as mystical poets enjoy individual as well as cross-cultural significance. Rumi emphasized the value of human interaction and “stressed that all is love and all life is linked by a process of transformation and interaction” (Wall, 1994).

Rumi himself provides necessary information to the readers and critics to facilitate them to realize the need for juxtaposition of Rumi and other poets with similar interests and objectives. He seems to be interested in promoting and disseminating universal love as the message by all mystical poets for the people from all times, societies and geographical regions. And that the people from different backgrounds can never be united if love is excluded from their life.

On the other hand, Blake’s position and status also appeals to the mind of students and research scholars to put him in an appropriate place while selecting poets for juxtaposing their opinion on mystical themes. When there is a comparison of mystical poets from eastern and western cultures, Blake deserves greater attention as Derek Wall says, “It is perhaps both impossible and irrelevant to separate Western from Eastern streams of such thought. The influence of William Blake in synthesizing and transmitting such ancient knowledge cannot be understated.”

The need for spiritual enlightenment can provide a common platform for mystics from all races and times to come closer to each other. Where there is a common objective to be achieved by two persons belonging to contrasting ideological backgrounds, their ideological differences disappear at least for the time being. The candle of mysticism can be helpful in finding the ultimate truth or attaining the state of enlightenment. Rumi’s story of the elephant shows that, “If there had been a candle in each one’s hand, the difference would have gone out of their words. The eye of sense-perception is only like the palm of the hand: the palm hath not power to reach the whole of him (the elephant)”.

The parable of the elephant

Through the parable of the elephant Rumi tries to emphasize the need for reconciliation between the people believing in different ideologies through attaining knowledge of absolute truth. It is one of the important aspects of mysticism. Similarly, William Blake believes in providing an opportunity to man’s inner eye to clean itself to be able to see things accurately. He aptly says, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”

Rumi and Blake provide necessary information for understanding both types of mysticism (Islamic and Christian mysticism). Juxtaposition of these poets on mystical themes can be helpful in finding ideological similarities between both types of mysticism at one hand, and affinities between Eastern and Western traditions of mystical poetry on the other hand. It can also facilitate the lovers of poetry and the followers of Rumi and Blake to come closer to each other through developing identical thinking on mysticism.


The Union of the Heart and the Head 

The type of mysticism represented by Jalal-ud-din Rumi and William Blake through their poetry seems to be almost similar to William Johnston’s definition of mysticism who says, “Mysticism is wisdom or knowledge that is found through love; it is loving knowledge”. The definition primarily gives us two main themes as major parts of mysticism. The mysticism in this way can be analyzed as a journey of human soul from human heart (love) to human brain (wisdom). The love provides a platform for mystical practices and these practices end with the attainment of mystical wisdom.

To analyze mysticism the works of poetry composed by Jalal-ud-din Rumi and William Blake could be a great source of information. The present study is based on the concept of mystical union discussed in Rumi’s two major works (the Mathnavi and Divan-e-Shams-e-Tabriz), and three major works of William Blake (Jerusalem, Milton, and The Four Zoas).

Illuminated frontispiece, 1st book (daftar) of the Collection of poems (Masnavi-i ma’navi), 1461 manuscript

Rumi’s Mathnavi discusses in detail the stages of mystical path which leads to union with God, and the mystic’s spiritual states developed through mystical exercises. On the other hand Blake’s Jerusalem discusses the mystical process that ends with unitive life in Christian Mysticism. The overall thematic similarity between Rumi’s Mathnavi, and Blake’s Jerusalem and the importance given by both poets to symbolic figures of Sham-e-Tabriz and Milton, paved the way for comparative analysis of mystical union as a central theme in the poetry of Rumi and Blake.

Three major mystical themes appear to encompass the whole discipline of mysticism and dominate the poetry of Rumi and Blake. These are also inter-dependent. If one of them is dissociated the remaining two themes would perhaps lose their significance. These mystical themes are love, mystical union, and perfect wisdom. Love can be regarded as a primary element in mystical experience.

As it comes from the human heart, the nursery of all passions and desires, it provides necessary enthusiasm and power to proceed on the path of mystical experience that leads to union with God, and through attaining mystical union the mystic can achieve superior form of wisdom. William Johnston rightly observes, “Mystical theology is experimental knowledge of God through the embrace of unitive love”. In this way the inter-dependence of love and wisdom is proved and mysticism appears to be the journey from the love to wisdom.


Theme of Love

The theme of love seems to be highly popular in the writings of almost all the mystics from Christian and Islamic mystical traditions. It provides necessary power to determine the mystics’ direction to spiritually travel to attain superior form of wisdom. Once the nature of relation between love and wisdom is comprehended the mystic’s work can be easier. As “Contemplation is the mystical theology which theologians call secret wisdom which St.Thomas says is communicated and infused in to the soul through love” (Johnston, 1997). The mystic’s level of determination to achieve that wisdom seems to be essential.

All mystics or mystical poets perhaps agree on the matter of recognizing the central role of love in mysticism. It seems to be the basic foundation of man’s relation with God. “He who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God” (Johnston). Perhaps it was love which made Jalal-ud-din Rumi and William Blake the mystics and enlightened persons. Their poetry is replete with the examples of mystical love. Although the parables of both poets are different because of their own different cultures the theme of love seems to be at the centre as a power to move on the way to wisdom.

“Once the nature of relation between love and wisdom is comprehended the mystic’s work can be easier”. Man in his present state does not believe that the universe loves him, and does not see that the universe is in fact love. The purpose of Rumi and Blake was to suggest that it does, and is – because there ultimately is no separation between inner and outer, and what we see appears in the form of how we see it.

From Rumi (1207-1273) to Blake (1757-1827) the poetry of mystical traditions seems to be full of love theme. It was either in Persian or in English language but the concept of love as a dominant theme could perhaps retain its position. William Johnston believes that “in the mysticism which flourished in medieval the whole emphasis is on love. This is a time which abounds in lyrical treatises on the grades of love, ecstatic love, the ladder of love; it is a time of discussions and controversy about disinterested love and the chaste and perfect love of God”.

The theme of love in Rumi’s poetry occupies a central position and provides the necessary power to mystically travel on the way to achieve superior wisdom and rich knowledge of God and the status of man. Whinfield, acknowledging the power of love says:

Hail to thee, then, O LOVE, sweet madness! Thou who healest all our infirmities! Who art the physician of our pride and self-conceit! Who art our Plato and our Galen! Love exalts our earthly bodies to heaven, and makes the very hills to dance with joy! 0 lover, ’twas love that gave life to Mount Sinai, when “it quaked, and Moses fell down in a swoon”.

Pride and self-conceit can be regarded as more harmful spiritual diseases than all other ailments. These are great hurdles on the way of a mystic to attain mystical union and spiritual wisdom. Plato and Galen represent human reason and intellectual power which remains under the influence of physical world. On the other hand, love can give life to mountains. It was perhaps the effect of love instead of reason and intellect that Mount Sinai trembled and Moses became unconscious.

Through regarding love as a cure to most of the spiritual ailments Whinfield tries to prove that Rumi’s theme of love is more important than anything else in his mystical philosophy. To Rumi, love seems to be multi-faceted. It is pain of heart, something man cannot describe appropriately. When it appears there is no room for reason. True love does not lose its power with the passage of time. It seems to be very difficult to interpret love. If one tries to define it he would hardly be able to do it. Its strength cannot be normally measured. It possesses such a power that may enable an ordinary man to do great things in life:

Explanation by the tongue makes most things clear,

But love unexplained is clearer.

When pen hasted to write,

On reaching the subject of love it split in twain.

When the discourse touched on the matter of love,

Pen was broken and paper torn.

Rumi believes in the power of pen more than almost anything else. But he holds an even more powerful opinion about love. It is the pen which can hold everything under its control except love. To Rumi it is love which does not need to be discussed. Once it is disclosed its power is lost. It does not need a tongue to express it but the overall condition of the lover can make it more visible and easily expressible.

The well-known story of Laila and the Khalifa provides sufficient information about Rumi’s concept of love as expounded in his poetry. When Khalifa questioned the beauty of Laila through declaring her less beautiful than other women, her response to this criticism was surprising to Khalifa. She turned down his claim by criticizing him for not holding the eye with love to see her real beauty. Rumi says:

In love to be wide awake is treason.

The more a man is awake, the more he sleeps (to love);

His (critical) wakefulness is worse than slumbering.

Our wakefulness fetters our spirits,

Then our souls are a prey to divers whims,

Thoughts of loss and gain and fears of misery.

They retain not purity, nor dignity, nor lustre,

Nor aspiration to soar heavenwards.

If mystical wisdom cannot be attained without love as a power behind it, one can understand the reason behind Rumi’s claim about wakefulness as treason. Why does Rumi believe that wakefulness fetters our spirits? The simplest possible answer from Rumi’s poetry is perhaps nothing but the acceptance of the heart’s (love’s) superiority to brain (intellect). And that the power of love is essential for traveling on mystical path which leads to attain mystical wisdom.

The concept of love is of central position in Rumi’s poetry. His admirers highlighted this theme as a main spring of Rumi’s philosophy. Citlak and Bingul opine that: “Divine Love is the cause of creation, the doctor of all diseases, the cure of disdain and selfishness and the lotion of agony”. They also quote the words of Rumi which describe love necessary for mystical journey:

Love is that flame which, when it blazes up, burns everything except the Beloved. Love is among the attributes of God. O the medicine of our vanity and impunity, O our Plato, Our Galen, the body of dust has ascended to the heavens from love; Whoever has no inclination to love is like a wingless bird; woe on to him.

Rumi’s theme of love has similarity with the flame of fire that may possess sufficient power to lead the mystic to the mystical path of wisdom. Once the love is able to control the excess of human pride nothing can prevent the mystic (the lover) from proceeding to reach his ultimate destination, the attainment of mystical wisdom. Consequently, the importance of love is increased to such a higher level that it becomes indispensable for the survival of a mystic.

The power of love has a central place in the poetry of Jalal-ud-din Rumi. It is recognized as a motivating force for mystical journey. Annemarie Schimmel, a well-known writer on Sufism and Rumi’s mystical poetry, holds higher opinion about Rumi’s theme of love and its impact on the poetry and personality of Rumi. It is perhaps nothing but love that makes Rumi’s poetry a token of enlightenment and mystical wisdom. She quotes the concept of love from Rumi’s poetry to interpret its power:

The lady Spirit, sitting at home, began again to draw her veils,

and to run about from the castle of the body out of love.

Sleeping on the roof of love, the shepherd ‘Heart’ began,

Out of love for the moon, again to count the stars, one by one.

It is love that helps Rumi’s soul to get freedom from the prison of human body. The soul once free from the grasp of human body becomes able to fly higher on mystical path and reaches its ultimate destination. It is love that made it possible for Rumi to count the stars in search of moon, the Beloved. In this way the student of Rumi’s poetry can aptly conclude that the theme of love provides necessary foundation for Rumi’s poetry and making him an important figure in the community of mystical poets, and the whole credit for attaining wisdom by him goes to his mystical love.


William Blake on the Theme of Love

Blake’s theme of love is primarily based on his mystical theology. He believes in love as a divine power gifted by God to some of the selected people in the world commonly known as mystics of love and devotion. It is a form of blessing that can hardly be attained by efforts. It is enjoyed by those who are divinely blessed and Blake claims to be one of them. In the first part of Jerusalem, one of his prophetic books, he claims that:

Every morn Awakes me at sun-rise, then I see the Saviour over me

Spreading his beams of love, & dictating the words of this mild song.

Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!

I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine.

“To Blake, love is the foundation for all mystical endeavours”

To Blake, love is the foundation for all mystical endeavours. It is nothing but love that helps the man to be one with the Christ. The love of the Saviour (Jesus Christ) helps the people to awake spiritually and proceed on the mystical path to attain the mystical wisdom which can be regarded as superior wisdom almost unattainable through physical or material sources. The form of mystical experience Blake believes in cannot be experienced without love as its basis.

Blake also holds an opinion that may support and highlight the significance of love as a mystical theme in his poetry. He claims that man cannot be sincere in dealing with another man in physical life. His so-called friendship to man is intentionally misleading without any sincerity for other human being. The only solution to this problem is that man should seek divine love. The love of God can lift the man above the level of material pleasures. Then he can be the traveler of mystical path. Blake says:

Seeking to keep my soul a victim to thy Love! which binds

Man the enemy of man into deceitful friendships.

Blake’s doctrine of love seems to be based on his assumption that it is man’s carnal soul which makes a man enemy to another human being. It cannot allow the love to be developed and flourished among all men as members of one human family. To control this aspect of human soul the Saviour’s love is important and needs to be attained. As a mystic he believes in purifying the soul from the hatred and negative impact of sensuality with the power of divine love.

The concept of love as promoted by Blake can be regarded as a great power for human being, especially, the mystic searching for enlightenment and superior wisdom, but it is completely conditioned with the favours of Christ, the Saviour. To qualify for the favours of Christ one has to annihilate his carnal self. As the quest for divine love begins the carnal self as a greater hindrance on the mystical path to union with the Absolute begins to be removed. Keeping in view the power and significance of love, Blake prays for it with great force and enthusiasm:

O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:

Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life.

Blake believes in self-annihilation as the only way to be the part of divine life. It is a specific type of life which can hardly be attained through human efforts. It needs divine love as its foundation and gradually the mystic makes progress on spiritual journey. In mystical life the man becomes one with God as soon as the process of self-annihilation comes to an end. Only the mystic can realize the influence of God’s love for man in his spiritual progress.

Once the mystic begins his journey on the mystical path, love and fear simultaneously begin to exist in his heart. At one side love makes him sufficiently powerful to face the challenge of mystical journey through his own Self, but on the other hand the fear of losing the acquired mystical status makes him helpless. However, the fear of God helps to purify the soul through controlling the activities of human body. The purification of human soul is perhaps based on purification of body through God’s fear.

Falling in God: “In mystical life the man becomes one with God as soon as the process of self-annihilation comes to an end”

Blake’s human love activates his quest for divine love which ultimately gives him another form of life different from the life in material world. With the passage of time the intensity of love increases and his prayer for blessing turns in to emotional appeal to Christ for love and favours. Blake expresses his feelings in these words:

Come to my arms & never more

Depart; but dwell for ever here:

Create my Spirit to thy Love:

Subdue my Spectre to thy Fear.

Blake’s style of expressing love seems to be similar with the natural style of any man’s expression of powerful feelings for other fellow being (man to man). What has made him so self-reliant in his dealings with the Christ is perhaps nothing but his own love for the Saviour of mankind. Like a true lover, Blake surrenders his soul to the Christ for its development through the Christ’s love. He believes in the purification and development of soul through love, but he also believes that the body (physical aspect of human life) needs to be subdued through the fear of the Saviour.

Instead of a religion of mysticism the modern church has built an institution of repression and control

Blake also believes in love as a primary source of inspiration for a mystic to be able to endeavour for mystical knowledge and wisdom. It is perhaps nothing but love which introduced him to a new world almost unimaginable in ordinary circumstances of a mystic’s life. The love motivated him to enter mysticism, the spiritual world where he could experience the knowledge of God and celestial bodies. It was the love which gave him the eye to see that world:

I went to the Garden of Love,

And saw what I never had seen.

The spiritual eye is usually given by God as a part of His blessing to let the mystic see the destination before coming closer to it. The inner eye provided the poet an opportunity to see the invisible world of celestial bodies. The poet’s experience was perhaps a great source of knowledge and wisdom. He could realize that the life in material world is only a shadow of that superior status of life which shows him the part of Christ’s land of love and total blessings.

Love gives him a sense to act in the direction of spiritual enlightenment. He begins to realize that he is not supposed to waste his time sitting idly without improving his present spiritual condition. He expresses his sense of dissatisfaction over his own spiritually dormant condition and his affiliation to physical world. His sense of realization is represented through these words:

Oh how sick and weary I

Underneath my myrtle lie!

Why should I be bound to thee,

O my lovely myrtle-tree?

The words depict William Blake’s spiritual condition. He is physically under the influence of myrtle-tree’s beauty which can dominate the soul of every human being by the power of fragrance. With the passage of time, the poet strongly realizes that his actual destination is somewhere else and the beginning of his journey to that spiritual destination is almost indispensable and unavoidable, and that to delay the process of spiritual endeavour may be regarded by his spiritual Beloved as a token of dishonesty and unfaithfulness.

The concept of love as a form of true humanity has also greater importance for William Blake. The love as an attitude of heart is placed at higher position in his mystical philosophy of life. The message of Blake’s poetry based on the theme of love is of universal nature. To Blake it worked as an inspiration and motivating power to create the poetry with sublimity of thought and grandeur of imagination: “The true artist is always imaginative; the true man is a constant overflow of love”.

Blake shows indifference to Science and philosophy perhaps because of the absence of love in these fields of human knowledge. As a mystical poet his attitude toward the sources of knowledge primarily based on human intellect or the knowledge that appeals to the intellect rather than the emotions seems to be inappreciative. He believes that: “Study science till you are blind; study intellectuals till you are cold; yet science cannot teach intellect, much less can intellect teach affection”.

As opposed to reason, Blake’s complete support for love and tender feelings as a part of his mystical philosophy provides necessary information about his attitude toward the concept of love as a necessary part of mystical life that leads the mystic to attain the superior form of wisdom, the ultimate objective of all mystical endeavours. Once the love provides stronger foundation for mystical journey the destination (the mystical wisdom) becomes visible and attainable to any mystic.


Rumi on the Theme of Wisdom

Keeping in view the description of Mysticism by William Johnston as ‘wisdom or knowledge through love’, Rumi’s concept of wisdom can be discussed as the outcome of mystical experience and the ultimate objective of mystical practices. Rumi believes that the specific type of wisdom endowed by God to mystic after attaining union with the God cannot be compared with the wisdom attained by other people through academic activities and other social means.

Rumi’s concept of wisdom is based on his own mystical interpretation of human knowledge. He opines that God divided wisdom in to different forms and endowed one of these forms of wisdom to everyone according to his status and position. In this way, the knowledge or wisdom given to the mystics can be regarded as superior to the knowledge or wisdom of other people. Rumi highlights the significance of specific knowledge by saying that:

O friends, God has given me inspiration. Oftentimes strong counsel is suggested to the weak. The wit taught by God to the bee is withheld from the lion and the wild ass. It fills its cells with liquid sweets; For God opens the door of this knowledge to it. The skill taught by God to the silkworm is a learning beyond the reach of the elephant. The earthly Adam was taught of God names, So that his glory reached the seventh heaven.

To Rumi, the wisdom of man is a form of God’s blessing. His knowledge comes directly from his creator as a reward for his efforts that he makes to come closer to his Creator. It is nothing but spiritual wisdom that makes him more important than the angels in heaven. The difference between the level of wisdom owned by the people of different categories shows that the knowledge and wisdom given by God is based on human needs. The mystic who does not get satisfied with the existing knowledge of God begins his journey in a special direction that may lead him to ultimate wisdom as God’s special endowment.

“Rumi seems to believe in two types of wisdom, external and internal wisdom”.

Rumi seems to believe in two types of wisdom, external and internal wisdom. He believes in external as a great hindrance on the way to attain internal or mystical wisdom. He gives much importance to mystical wisdom as he believes in it as an ultimate objective of all mystical practices. The mystic is therefore supposed to keep his external wisdom aside and proceed in the direction of mystical or internal wisdom. Once the hindrance is removed the blessings of God begin to reach him in the form of superior knowledge and wisdom. Rumi’s words truly represent it:

The knowledge of men of external sense is a muzzle

To stop them sucking milk of that sublime knowledge,

But God drops in to the heart a single pearl-drop

Which is not bestowed on oceans or skies.

The knowledge through mystical practices seems to be as great and powerful as its attainment is generally regarded as difficult. However, the wisdom endowed to man through mystical way is so vast that if it had been in material form the whole world could be insufficient to keep it. The significance of mystical wisdom can be evaluated from its function as the manifestation of divine being. It is important to note the mystic’s knowledge is beyond the level of common man and that it cannot be infused through teaching in to the mind of an ordinary man.

Rumi makes a link between the mystical wisdom (the light of the heart) and the wisdom of intellect (the light of the brain). He believes that the mental wisdom is a light that comes out of the light of the heart which comes from the God directly. The wisdom of the brain is its ability to argue, appreciate, and criticize in a logically acceptable manner. Once the wisdom of the heart is attained the brain may also get wisdom, but the wisdom of intellect can hardly develop the heart’s level of enlightenment. Rumi claims that:

The light that lights the eye is also the heart’s Light;

The eye’s light proceeds from the Light of the heart.

But the light that lights the heart is the Light of God,

Which is distinct from the light of reason and sense.

“Rumi makes a link between the mystical wisdom (the light of the heart) and the wisdom of intellect (the light of the brain).” We might today think of this distinction between the two different forms of knowing and being as that which the right and left hemispheres respectively deliver.

Rumi’s description of the difference between the power of brain (wisdom) and that of heart (mystical wisdom) seems to be an effort to project the heart as superior to brain. In this way one can assume that perfect wisdom cannot be attained through education of mind but only through the blessing of God. Rumi opines that, “the perfection of human reason is reached when God reveals Himself to man, so that the recipient of this grace loses his rational faculties, being overwhelmed by this wonderful light”.

Rumi also claims that mystical wisdom attained through the human heart (based on love) is superior to external wisdom through human brain (based on information and reason). The power and the level of wisdom through intellect may be limited but the mystical wisdom may have no limitations as Rumi says: “The intellect says: ‘the six directions are limits: There is no way out.’ Love says: “There is a way. I have traveled it thousands of times”.

The power of mysticism lies in its level of wisdom attained by the man through specific mystical practices. Wherever the mind of a man educated through formal traditional education finds itself unable to resolve the problems of life in physical world, the mind of mystically educated man successfully traces the appropriate solution to those problems. The power of love enlightens the mind many times more than the power of formal education.

Rumi’s concept of mystical wisdom seems to be overwhelmingly attached to his mystical quest for attaining spiritual ability to see the world beyond the physical world and its limitations. To Rumi, the level of wisdom can be determined through observing the level of clarity maintained by human heart. Rumi believes that “Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it”. The higher level of wisdom by heart in this way, can be attained only through purifying it to the possible extent.

Rumi compares the wisdom of a mystic to that of Jacob (Hazrat Yaqub, the prophet) who lost even his physical ability to see and recognize the people, but his spiritual ability or inner wisdom was improved with the passage of time as a part of God’s blessing. The mystic can see the things with the help of inner-eyes which cannot be seen with external or physical eyes. He says:

From each corner springs a restless Jacob

For his senses have received the scent of Joseph’s shirt,

Because the soul came to life with: “I breathed of My spirit into him”,

The divine spirit is its best food and drink,

Because the resurrection of the dead comes with blowing the trumpet,

The joy of hearing music brings the dead to life.

Rumi’s description of spiritual wisdom as human ability to feel and things beyond the limitation of human eyes and its comparison to the prophetic wisdom of Hazrat Yaqub (Jacob) seems to based on the intensity of his love for God. The prophet could feel the presence of his son Yousaf (Joseph) from a great distance with the help of that superior wisdom (based on his love for Yousaf) given to him by God. Similarly the mystic with superior wisdom endowed by God can see the things invisible to man with external eyes.

It can be stated that Rumi covers different aspects of wisdom as given by God to man in the form of blessing. The description of wisdom by Rumi includes God’s distribution of knowledge or wisdom in accordance with the need of his creatures. The knowledge given to man is more important than the wisdom of all other creatures, and the wisdom through heart is distinct from the wisdom of mind. The wisdom of a mystic can dominate the wisdom of an ordinary man, and is able to find solutions of problems. The wisdom of man is based on the degree of his heart’s clarity, and that all wisdom is one or the other form God’s spirit breathed in to man.


Blake on the Theme of Wisdom

“This extraordinary image seems to depict Christ in the very moment of transformation. It is also notable that Christ is wearing a wedding band on his left hand, drawing on the tradition of Christ as the bridegroom of humankind. This is Christ as the embodiment of visionary energy inviting the viewer into his embrace and into union and regeneration with him.”

William Blake’s discussion of the theme of wisdom encompasses its various aspects including its nature, significance, attainment and its overall impact on the life of a mystic. His interpretation of the wisdom as a poetic theme is perhaps based on his mystical philosophy which discusses the qualities and conditions of human life as a product of God’s love and blessing for the man. In this way, the more the love of God is achieved, the higher the level of wisdom is maintained.

The level of wisdom attained by man is however based on the maximum level of God’s presence in human being. The wisdom which makes a man superior and different from other people is to full extent the divine quality and not the outcome of one’s efforts. Blake aptly claims that: “To his Genius, which is the Holy Ghost in Man; there is no other God, than that God who is the intellectual fountain of Humanity”. The God who guides the man through strengthening and improving his intellectual ability may be regarded as mainspring of mystical wisdom.

Blake gives much importance to mystical wisdom or ability to understand the extraordinary things in human life. He believes in searching for knowledge through Jesus Christ as the only way to get rid of physical restrictions on the way to attain the knowledge of heavenly world. The mystic can disserve the blessings of God only after preparing himself successfully for the mystical knowledge as Blake says: “teach me, O Holy Spirit, the Testimony of Jesus! let me Comprehend wondrous things out of the Divine Law”.

Blake noted that “Christ & his Apostles were Illiterate Men” whilst “Caiphas Pilate & Herod were Learned” and left his readers to make up their own minds from this inference.

It is worthy to be noted that Blake does not believe in wisdom as an outcome of religious education through pedagogical process. He does not recognize the religiously holy person as mystically wise one. He approves a man to be wise only if he maintains specific level of mystical knowledge otherwise the training through religious education is nothing but foolishness. Blake seems to believe in intellect which may be based on mysticism:

I care not whether a Man is Good or Evil; all that I care

Is whether he is a Wise Man or a Fool. Go, put off Holiness

And put on Intellect.

To Blake apparent holiness and intellect (mystical wisdom) are always in contrast with each other. The so called holiness cannot represent spiritual development of a Christian on mystical path to a recognizable level. He emphasizes the need for the attainment of mystical wisdom through keeping himself away from the controversial discussion of good and evil based on dogmatic Christianity. In this way, he tries to minimize the significance of the religious concept of good and bad in human life.

The wisdom that William Blake expects from a Christian to achieve cannot be easily acquired. It needs specific attitude on the part of a Christian mystic. It requires unrestrained behaviour or the activity that goes beyond what is socially acceptable. The social restrictions mostly control the overall behaviour of a man and the case of mystical journey is not an exception. Blake aptly says:

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

Blake derives wisdom from the heart, which makes it superior to that of human brain. Prudence, which represents the human brain, is nothing but a tendency to evaluate situations carefully, so that risk may be avoided up to maximum level. Blake believes that superior wisdom cannot be achieved by a man who is unable to be courageous and willing to excel in mystical practices. The prudence is one of the major restrictions on the way of a lover to acquire the higher standard of wisdom.

Blake also believes that it is nothing but mystical knowledge that makes some difference between a wise man and the person lacking wisdom. Both of them see things in the universe differently. The mystic can evaluate and decide about human behaviour in a better way in specific conditions while the unwise man begins to analyze with his formally educated brain. He is unable to foresee the things to be happened in near future as the mystic can do as Blake concludes:

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

Cat Stevens in front of some mystical Blakean graffiti, London, 1970

Blake claims the superiority of the mystic, a spiritually enlightened person to a man with no mystical knowledge. He calls him fool even if he is properly educated in theology or the popular sciences of his time. His claim is based on his own perception of formally educated people who can see things if they are understandable with the help of his own organs of sense. On the other hand the knowledge of a mystic has no limitations. As Blake observes: “The hours of folly are measured by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure”.

The concept of mystical wisdom as promoted by William Blake seems to represent a conflict between heart and mind. Blake stands by heart, the nursery of love and rejects the status of mind as a representative of wisdom. He does not approve the knowledge through instruction and criticizes its limited scope. The knowledge that controls human emotions and does not allow the man to act independently cannot be recognized as wisdom. Blake supports the knowledge with power to free human being from all restraints of material world. He says:

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Expect poison from the standing water.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

Listen to the fools reproach! it is a kingly title.

Blake compares the tiger’s uncontrollable anger with the horse’s controllable power to show that the tiger’s knowledge (given directly by God) is based on his love for God. It does not allow him to surrender to any material power or allow anyone to subjugate it. On the other hand, the horse educated and tamed by human hands cannot think to revolt against its educator, the man whom it regards the main source of knowledge. The wisdom according to Blake lies in freedom and not in slavery of material world.

Newtonian time: “The hours of folly are measured by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure”. The idea of mechanical, abstract time is useful but unreal.

He also point out some of the weaknesses of man which restrict him from attaining wisdom. Man is by nature a lover of easiness. It makes him lazy and unable to proceed for higher wisdom through mystical practices. The limitation of man’s thinking is another great weakness and he cannot come to know about the knowledge or wisdom he requires. And the most important weakness of man is his restriction. He cannot afford to tolerate the criticism by his own society. Blake declares that social criticism of a mystic is the title of honour for him. So he must proceed to attain the required wisdom.

The critics of William Blake are also holding the similar opinion about his concepts of love and wisdom as discussed by Blake himself in the text of his poetry. If one critically analyses the poetry of William Blake he can trace the influence of Swedenborg on Blake’s philosophy and poetic themes. But on the concept of love and wisdom his opinion seems to be different from that of Swedenborg. Robert Rix is one of the critics who analyses this point and says:

Blake owned and annotated Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, in which Swedenborg banished all abstract notions of God’s compassion. Divine Love and Wisdom were known only through the ‘human form’. Love and wisdom, Mercy and Clemency were the Divine materialized through the practices of the individual believer.

Blake’s support for the theme of wisdom based on the practices of an individual mystic through love makes him different from Swedenborg. His opinion about wisdom also makes him a true representative of Christian mysticism. Divine wisdom through human form needs divine love, the only motivating power to lead the mystic on the way to achieve the goal of mystical life. Through divine love, divine values including mercy, clemency etc. became the part of human life.

The body of mysticism seems to be built on the basis of love and wisdom. The love and wisdom can be distinguished from each other but only on the basis of their thematic identity. As far as their function is concerned, the study of mysticism can perhaps provide sufficient evidence to prove that love and wisdom have identical function in their capacity of being two primary elements in the body of mysticism. Blake observes: “Thought without affection makes a distinction between Love and Wisdom as it does between body and Spirit”.

In the body of mysticism, love and wisdom as two pillars of equal importance work side by side to maintain the order of activities inside the body of mysticism. Both pillars work inter-dependently. If one of them disappears the whole building will be collapsed immediately. The wisdom needs love to maintain it as the soul needs human body to live in it. The love is like a seed that is sowed in heart, the mystical land. Out of this seed the tree of mysticism is grown and the fruit of that tree is nothing but wisdom.

The body of mysticism is built on two pillars (love and Wisdom), which are located on two different sides. One pillar (love) is at the beginning and the other (wisdom) at the end of the body of mysticism. Whatever is located between beginning and the end is usually known as mysticism. Evelyn Underhill (2003) says that: “Mysticism, in its pure form, is the science of ultimates, the science of union with the Absolute, and nothing else, and that the mystic is the person who attains to this union, not the person who talks about it” (86). The concept of mystical union appears to be the central point in mysticism. A comparative study of Rumi and Blake with reference to their views on mystical union may help to understand mysticism in a better way.

This is an edited version of ‘A Comparative Study of Jalal-Ud-Din Rumi and William Blake as Mystical Poets’, by Sardar Muhammad. To read the full text please click here. To find our more about  Rumi and his remarkable spiritual teacher Shams Tabrizi, please click here.

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