Something kind of momentous happened today. I read the Rumi poem “Chickpea to Cook” for the first time. What a feat of imagination, to identify yourself as a chickpea being cooked, and to conceive this as a metaphor for how life shapes us. A chickpea, anthropomorphised. I recognise that there must be great artistry as well as contention between translations of Rumi, because the first version I include feels so darn contemporary, especially compared to other, earlier ones.
Chickpea to Cook (translated by Coleman Barks) A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot where it’s being boiled.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
‘Don’t you try to jump out. You think I’m torturing you. I’m giving you flavor, so you can mix with spices and rice and be the lovely vitality of a human being. Remember when you drank rain in the garden. That was for this.’
Grace first. Sexual pleasure, then a boiling new life begins, and the Friend has something good to eat.
Eventually the chickpea will say to the cook,
‘Boil me some more. Hit me with the skimming spoon. I can’t do this by myself. I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver, my way into existence. I love your cooking.’
The cook says, ‘I was once like you, fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time, and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.
My animal soul grew powerful. I controlled it with practices, and boiled some more, and boiled once beyond that, and became your teacher.
Compare the light and sparing touch to this translation by Chittick:
Look at the chickpeas in the pot, how they keep on jumping up, driven by the fire.
At every instant the chickpeas boil up to the top and let out a hundred cries: “Why are you tormenting us with fire? Since you showed your appreciation for us by buying us, why do you treat us with contempt?”
The housewife keeps stirring with the ladle:
“Now, now! Boil sweetly and do not jump back from the one that made the fire.
I do not cook you because I dislike you: I want to gain taste and savor.
You will become food and then mix with the spirit. You do not suffer tribulation because you are despicable.
Fresh and succulent, you used to drink water in the garden; your water-drinking was for the sake of this fire,”
His Mercy is prior to His Wrath, so that Mercy could acquire a stock-in-trade: existence. For without pleasure, flesh and skin do not grow.
If they do not grow, what can love for the Friend waste away? Gentleness will come again, asking forgiveness:
“Now you have purified yourself and jumped across the stream to safety.”
She says, “Oh chickpeas! You fed in the spring pasture, and now suffering has come as your guest.
Receive it well. So that the guest may return in gratitude and tell of your generosity before the King.
Then in place of benefits, the Benefactor will come; all benefits will envy you.
I am Abraham, you are my son. Place your head before the knife: I saw in a dream that I must sacrifice you.
These are all just versions gleaned from around the web. If you get really interested, here’s the relevant lyric contextualised and analysed in the whole verse. (May I add a coincidental aside? Years ago, as a kind of visual joke for my dear friend Neil, an artist and yogi, I switched the G and the Y on the label from a can of Goya-brand chickpeas because he used to always say, “It’s all yoga!” as a way to express that everything is part of everything- which in fact is a very Rumi kind of sentiment. Looking at it now, 2o years later, I’m realising that it’s not completely alien to imagine chickpeas to have consciousness and sentience, or that they somehow practice, for example, the “grace,” “sexual pleasure” and”fierce boilings” of the yoga that is life.
Of course you could decide that all interpretations of Rumi are up for grabs, and that the spirit of Rumi would want this, as my friend the incredible Raw Food Vegan Jeremiah Wallack did. He told me when he woke up and read this poem, having never before seen it, “there was some weird disconnect” for him, “like when you see a smiling person throw a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. ” So he wrote a sprouted version, hoping it wasn’t presumptuous to rewrite Rumi. I love it.
CHICKPEA TO SPROUT – a response by Jeremiah Wallack
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the jar where it’s being sprouted.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’
The human pushes him down with a finger. ‘Don’t you try to jump out. You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you warmth and water, so you can ignite your green fire and become the lovely vitality of a human being. Remember when you drank rain in the garden. Perhaps that was for this.’
Grace first. Sexual pleasure, then a sprouting new life begins, and the Friend has something good to eat.
Eventually the chickpea will say to the human, ‘Sprout me some more. Stir me with the wooden spoon. I can’t do this by myself. I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens and doesn’t pay attention to his driver. You’re my recipe, my driver, my way into a new existence. I love your sprouting.’
The human says, ‘I was once like you, fresh from the ground. Then I sprouted in time, and sprouted in the body, two fierce sproutings. My animal soul grew powerful controlled it with practices, and sprouted some more, and sprouted once beyond that, and became your teacher.’
And one last interpretation– a singer and drummer really feeling the spirit of words and meaning. You can laugh or you can really get into it; I’m having both experiences.