On Reading Elif Shafak’s “The Forty Rules of Love”

29 Jan

While my blogs on the Arizona shootings and on Jewish identity has sparked unexpectedly intense controversy, I have done my best to continue with normal work and activities. At times of stress poetry and philosophy have offered me consolation. Recently I finished reading Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love, which I found instructive about the Sufi worldview, the spiritual education of Rumi (the world’s greatest poet of love), and the abiding magnetism of this 13th century spiritual flourishing for those seeking a deeper experience of contemporary life. Shafak writes knowingly, and skillfully weaves a vivid tapestry of character and narrative, with seamless time shifts between that historical moment in Konya and the present. It almost doesn’t matter that the sub-plot is neither credible nor engaging: an American middle aged Jewish housewife, bored in a loveless marriage in the small college town of Northampton, becomes romantically entwined with a terminally ailing Scottish Sufi convert through email correspondence that takes off in an abrupt flight that crosses the cyber barrier with grace, but a bit too smoothly for my taste. What matters is the moral clarity and depth that Shafak brings to the Sufi tradition as it unfolded in Konya through this fascinating fictionalization of the interplay between Rumi and a wandering Dervish, Shams of Tabriz, who became the spiritual teacher of Rumi, and was murdered by representatives of the local established order who could not abide his virtue or his teaching. The parallels to the life of Jesus are too obvious to explicate, as are the differences.

This book led me to write the following poem that seeks to express my personal encounter with its thought and journey:

After Reading Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love

You impose

this singular fish

it swims below my surfaces

it swims deep below surfaces

it crisscrosses my heart’s ocean

this singular fish can creep

can creep along slick walls

of deceit, of deception

I can only impose

laughter on subtle strangers

whose delight is frostbite

These who know nothing

nothing at all

of singular fish

and the forty rules of love

will swim away in panic

will ignore the hymnals

of forty hovering angels

in flight  below soft clouds

not high above your sea

the water thick with..yes

singular fish


11 Responses to “On Reading Elif Shafak’s “The Forty Rules of Love””

  1. Huyen January 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Hi Richard,
    I like your new poem. You made me want to read the “Forty Rules of Love” book.

    • Richard Falk January 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

      Hi Huyen: I will send it if you tell me how..

  2. pamela January 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I love poetry.
    So I hope mine is only ancillary to a man I respect,as a loving response:

    The fish lies beneath the surface of the lake;
    The lake reflects darkening clouds.
    It cannot avoid the downpour anymore than the fish;
    Enlarged, the lake better reflects the before hidden blue-sky; the fish simply continues.

  3. Cristina Nevans January 29, 2011 at 10:58 pm #


  4. deepaktripathi January 30, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Poetry is a great soother. The following poem by Rabindra Nath Tagore’s Gitanjali (Nobel Prize-winning collection of poems)strikes me particularly as something that brings love, purity and strength all together.


    Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my body pure, knowing
    that thy living touch is upon all my limbs.
    I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from my thoughts, knowing
    that thou art that truth which has kindled the light of reason in my mind.
    I shall ever try to drive all evils away from my heart and keep my
    love in flower, knowing that thou hast thy seat in the inmost shrine of my heart.
    And it shall be my endeavour to reveal thee in my actions, knowing it
    is thy power gives me strength to act.

    — Purity, Rabindra Nath Tagore

    • Richard Falk January 30, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      Thanks, Deepak, for this Tagore poem that does speak directly to my own
      struggle, and helps me rise above the pressures of the moment.

      • Norm Depalma January 31, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

        This passage of a poem by Kiel has helped me through some difficult times:

        “Aflight Adrift Aboard the Alacrity of
        Kinetic float on waves of Treasured Shearling
        Unfathomable galleons

  5. Emmitt Mcpheeters February 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    I am writing to let you know of the superb experience my cousin’s daughter undergone visiting your blog. She even learned some pieces, including what it’s like to have a marvelous giving nature to make most people without difficulty fully understand various impossible subject areas. You actually surpassed readers’ expected results. Thank you for showing those valuable, trustworthy, edifying and in addition easy thoughts on your topic to Julie.

    • Richard Falk February 14, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

      Thanks for such a gracious message, and hopefully, I will continue to please Julie whom I guess must
      be an unusually promising young woman to take these big issues seriously.

  6. Johnnie Wence February 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Hi there! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice data you’ve gotten right here on this post. I might be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  7. deborah July 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    Surfing about on the internet, a sleepless night… And I stumble upon your poem and your piece on “The Forty Rules of Love.” I was in Konya this time last year and happened to read Elif Shafak’s book… And Deepak, thank you too for the Tagore poem… All in all, just what I needed before heading off to sleep…


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