While the sun's eye rules my sight

by Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

English version by Bernard Lewis
Original Language Arabic

While the sun's eye rules my sight,
love sits as sultan in my soul.
His army has made camp in my heart --
passion and yearning, affliction and grief.
When his camp took possession of me
I cried out as the flame of desire
burned in my entrails.
Love stole my sleep, love has bewildered me,
love kills me unjustly, and I am helpless,
love has burdened me with more than I can bear
so that I bequeath him a soul and no body.

-- from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is a powerful verse to contemplate by the Sufi philosopher Ibn 'Arabi. He describes love as an invading army that is plundering his whole being. This is a disturbingly violent image but, from the ego's point of view, the opening to that transcendent love is a violent overthrow: the ego, the self-centered sense of identity, is unseated from its comfortable position of rulership and replaced by this "invading" love. Of course, love knows itself to be the rightful ruler, but the ego-self, rarely able to relinquish control willingly, cannot admit this truth and so it must be forced aside by the flooding in of the forces of love.

When Ibn 'Arabi says that love's "army has made camp in my heart," he is describing a very specific experience. He isn't merely associating love with the heart in the vague way that most people do. In the experience of being flooded by divine love, you recognize its presence everywhere -- within you, without you, physically as well as subtly -- but it is usually felt as being somehow centered in and radiating out from the heart.

I love the closing line: "I bequeath him a soul and no body." In the rapture of this divine love, it is as if Ibn 'Arabi's body has been consumed by flames, an experience that is both painful and ecstatic, a burning desire for the Divine which is also its own immediate fulfillment. When you surrender to that fire completely, the physical world, including your own physical body, is seen as empty or dream-like. You, your soul, is there, but your body is not, and your soul has surrendered itself to that all-consuming love as its rightful ruler -- "love sits as sultan in my soul."

Recommended Books: Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) The Mystics of Islam Stations of Desire: Love Elegies from Ibn 'Arabi and New Poems Perfect Harmony: (Calligrapher's Notebooks)
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While the sun's eye