With the benefit of hindsight and time, several features from Rumi’s who-i-am poem remain in my memory. What stays means something because of its strong initial presence. For example, the opening stanza about dust particles and the sun stick in my mind over time perhaps because of extreme contrast in size and significance. I have trouble imagining two things more different in magnitude. In addition, one of the elements, the sun, shines light on the other, thereby rendering it visible. Visibility equals possibility; the sun brings the tiny dust particle into being, just as it does the day. In other words, the two metaphorical objects are related not just by serious contrasts in size; they have a cause-and-effect relationship, as well.
Another metaphor that remains in my mind over time is the stanza devoted to a ship. This image stays with me in part because we discussed it in class. Beyond this reason, though, the naming of specific parts of the sailing vessel lodge the stanza in my hippocampus. Rumi identifies the parts responsible for propelling, directing and stabilizing the ship, which works wonderfully as a metaphor for our lives. After mentioning these specific parts, the stanza moves to a single image–the reef on which someone’s ship “founders.” We steer our ship, and sometimes, when we are sleeping or distracted or simply inattentive, we run our own ship aground. The specific naming of parts keeps this stanza alive, and the contrast between the two lines assures its vitality.
Finally, the last few stanzas work memorably–not because I recall exact lines, but more for structural reasons. In other words, the poem has an overall momentum or development. In at least the first half of the poem, the stanzas are self-contained–with end-stopped lines. Towards the end, however, run-on lines start spilling the content of one stanza into the next. A kind of dissolution results; the poem is dissolving, or the speaker is dissolving into more than a single being. The lines blur, and the connections build. Trying to imitate this particular dynamic in my own poem will not work, but Rumi’s poem shows me one specific way to implement a general idea: build the metaphors on each other, thereby creating an overall movement through the poem, which differs from making a simple laundry list of images that do not cohere. Following Rumi’s instruction, I am more likely to compose a unified poem, one that will not dissolve under the gaze of attentive readers.