Coleman Barks (born April 23, 1937) is an American poet, and former literature faculty at the University of Georgia. Although he neither speaks nor reads Persian, he is a popular interpreter of Rumi, rewriting the poems based on other English translations. His "translations" are therefore controversial.
|Born||Coleman Bryan Barks|
April 23, 1937
|Notable works||Gourd Seed, The Essential Rumi|
|Spouse||Kittsu Greenwood (1962–?, divorced)|
|Part of a series on Islam|
Early life and background
Barks taught literature at the University of Georgia for three decades.
Barks makes frequent international appearances and is well known throughout the Middle East. Barks' work has contributed to an extremely strong following of Rumi in the English-speaking world. Due to his work, the ideas of Sufism have crossed many cultural boundaries over the past few decades. Coleman Barks received an honorary doctorate from Tehran University in 2006.
He currently lives in Athens, Georgia, where he interprets the writings of Rumi and composes poetry of his own. In early 2011, Barks suffered a stroke that has somewhat impaired his speech and has resulted in at least one cancelled appearance.
Barks has published several volumes of his interpretations of Rumi's poetry since 1976, including The Hand of Poetry, Five Mystic Poets of Persia in 1993, The Essential Rumi in 1995, The Book of Love in 2003 and A Year with Rumi in 2006.
Barks does not speak or read Persian; his 'translations' are therefore technically paraphrases. Barks bases his paraphrases entirely on other English translations of Rumi which include renderings by John Moyne and Reynold A. Nicholson. In addition, while the original Persian poetry of Rumi is heavily rhymed and metered, Barks has used primarily free verse. In some instances, he will also skip or mix lines and metaphors from different poems into one 'translation'.
For example, here is a very literal rendering by Reynold A. Nicholson,
On the Day of Resurrection every hidden thing will be made manifest: every sinner will be ignominiously exposed by himself.
His hands and feet will give evidence and declare his iniquity in the presence of Him whose help is sought.
His hand will say, 'I have stolen such and such'; his lip will say, 'I have asked such and such questions';
His foot will say. 'I have gone to (enjoy) things desired'; his pudendum will say, 'I have committed fornication.'
His eye will say, 'I have cast amorous glances at things forbidden'; his ear will say, 'I have gathered evil words.'
Therefore he is a lie from head to foot, for even his own members give him the lie,
Just as, in (the case of) the specious prayers (performed by the ascetic), their fine appearance was proved to be false testimonio testiculi.
Act, then, in such wise that the action itself, without (your) tongue (uttering a word), will be (equivalent to) saying 'I testify' and (to making) the most explicit declaration,
So that your whole body, limb by limb, O son, will have said 'I testify' as regards both good and ill.
The slave's walking behind his master is a testimony (equivalent to saying), 'I am subject to authority and this man is my lord.'
And Barks' version of the same passage,
On Resurrection Day your body testifies against you.
Your hand says, 'I stole money.'
Your lips, 'I said meanness.'
Your feet, 'I went where I shouldn't.'
Your genitals, 'Me Too.'
They will make your praying sound hypocritical
Let the body's doings speak openly now,
without your saying a word,
as a student's walking behind a teacher
says, "This one knows more clearly
than I the way.
The essential problem of Coleman Barks lies in the fact that in his version he intentionally changes Rumi... He approaches Rumi's poetry as sacred texts, which need to be dusted from the passage of times by a touched devotee and prepared for the Post Modern, New Age market in the West. The New Age movement finds a remedy for modern alienation in old recipes, such as horoscope, Extra-Sensory Perception and divination... In order to remodel and fix Rumi for the American market Barks follows the path of a New-Age sufi. He tries to disconnect the mystical concepts of Rumi from their historical and social backgrounds and modify them for our contemporary taste... The falsification and misrepresentation of Rumi's fundamental concepts is not limited to Love and spreads to other ideas such as "wine", "master" and "Jesus".
Barks has published several volumes of his own poetry, including Gourd Seed, "Quickly Aging Here", Tentmaking, and, in 2001, Granddaughter Poems, a collection of Coleman's poetry about his granddaughter, Briny Barks, with illustrations by Briny. Harper published his first book of poetry, The Juice, in 1972.
- Barks, Coleman. Marcus Wise, David Whetstone, Robert Bly (October 1, 2001). Rumi: Voice of Longing (audio). Sounds True Incorporated; Unabridged edition. ISBN 1-56455-832-0. Archived from the original (CD) on 2016-03-06.
- Barks, Coleman. Barry Phillips. Shelley Phillips (2003). What Was Said to the Rose (CD). Maypop Books.
- Barks, Coleman. Barry Phillips. Shelley Phillips (April 10, 2006). Five Things to Say (CD) (audio). Maypop Books. ASIN B000G8P56U. 666449456022.
- Barks, Coleman (April 1, 2001). I want Burning (CD) (audio). Sounds True Incorporated; Unabridged edition. ISBN 1-56455-830-4.
- Barks, Coleman (January 2005). Rumi (CD) (audio). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. ISBN 0-660-19370-1.
- Barks, Coleman (2006). Back From Afghanistan (audio).
- Barks, Coleman. Robert Bly (July 1989). Poems of Rumi (CD) (audio). Audio Literature. ISBN 0-944993-10-9.
- Barks, Coleman. Hamza Ele Din, Steve Coughlin (April 1991). Like This: More Poems of Rumi (CD) (audio). Audio Literature. ISBN 0-944993-14-1.
- Barks, Coleman. (January 1997). Dust Particles in Sunlight: Poems of Rumi (CD) (audio). Omega Publications. ISBN 0-930872-60-6.
- Barks, Coleman. (February 1997). The Hand of Poetry 4 Audio Cassette set (CD) (audio). Omega Publications. ISBN 0-930872-57-6.
- Barks, Coleman. Dorothy Fadiman (1993). Selections From Open Secret (Poems of the 13th Century Sufi Master Rumi) (CD) (audio). Coleman and Dorothy. ASIN B000RZX7Q2.
- Barks, Coleman. Mary Sinclair, Lory Messina (January 1997). The Woman Who Dressed As a Man: Poems of Attar (CD) (audio). Omega Publications. ISBN 0-930872-59-2.
- Persian Poet Conquers America Archived 2007-06-22 at the Wayback Machine
- Iran News report
- Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition (Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), "On the more literal level, the texts I work from to produce these poems are unpublished translations done by John Moyne, Emeritus Head of Linguistics at the City University of New York, and the following translations by Reynold Nicholson and A. J. Arberry, the famous Cambridge Islamicists..." (p. 365)
- Reynold A. Nicholson (translator), The Mathnawi of Jalalu'din Rumi, Book V, verses 2211-2220, p. 133 (E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Trust 1926, Reprinted 2001)
- Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition, (Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), p. 111
- Coleman Barks and Rumi's Donkey, The Iranian, December 13, 2005, by Majid Naficy
- Fars News Agency report
- Bookpage.com Archived 2007-11-21 at the Wayback Machine