The Power of Poetry: Putting a Female Spin on Rumi

The Power of Poetry: Putting a Female Spin on Rumi

By Kirsten Akens


Sometimes you just need to take translation into your own hands.

By Kirsten Akens

The most popular translations of the 13th-century poet, Sufi mystic and philosopher known as Rumi have been produced by English-speaking white men. And while that’s helped turn him into one of the best selling poets in the U.S. and has influenced everything from Coldplay albums to tattoos, some people have questioned what’s missing from these interpretations. Perhaps that’s a Persian woman’s perspective.

Ari Honarvar, born and raised in Shiraz, Iran, has always felt a deep connection with the poets of her Persian culture, “where poetry is so much part of a person that we can’t distinguish us from the poem,” she says. Ten years ago she began the process that birthed Rumi’s Gift oracle cards, a set that provides readers with multiple pathways to connect with the ancient poetry. But also a new take: Rumi saw spirituality as a very feminine and receptive form, Honarvar notes — she used this as inspiration.

Rumi's gift oracle cards

Rumi’s Gift oracle cards

Source Courtesy Ari Honarvar

“We have this centuries-long tradition in Iran of divination,” she explains, “where we take a poetry book, we open it to a page and, if we have hardship in life or we have questions about how to proceed in life, the poem that our eyes fall on is the answer to our question.” Comparing that to the West’s fascination with tarot and oracle cards, she thought a deck of cards could be the perfect fusion of East and West.

I was saved by a poem.

Ari Honarvar

The set ($29.99) includes 66 4½-inch square cards with original Persian illustrations that depict a mythical and mystical interpretation of the Rumi poems, plus their English translations, along with a book of commentary and meditative activities. Thirty-three of the cards feature a single word — such as silence, confidence or ecstasy — below a brightly colored Persian illustration. The remaining cards work in tandem with the first 33, but focus on Rumi’s words with a four-to-12-line translation above the lines in original Farsi.


On the back of each Rumi’s Gift card is the Farsi script for “Hu,” one of the names of God. Honarvar added a second tiny Hu in the center, since she says one of the ways Rumi talks about spirituality is that we are responsible for our own god inside our own bodies. “We are kind of responsible for our own path, our own spiritual development,” she adds.

Ari Honavar

The artist, Ari Honarvar

Source Brian Sherwin

The cards and book, which come stored in a decorative box, have appealed to a variety of individuals and professionals, ranging from yoga teachers to therapists. During a book signing, Honarvar met a person using the cards as poetry therapy: A client pulls out an image card at the beginning of a session and discussion revolves around what the card means to the person and their problems, Honarvar explains.

The fact that through her translations, Rumi’s poems might now be helping others is not lost on Honarvar. “I was saved by a poem,” she says. While desperately trying to get out of Iran, her mother, a Persian literature scholar and poet, wrote a poem to the Indian ambassador and included it with her visa request. The poem put them on a path to a visa to India, a meeting with the American ambassador and a move to the U.S. And ultimately a path to a new way of looking at ancient words.