The following excerpts are taken from a 16-pages long academic paper - Coleman Barks and Rumi's Donkey - by the Persian scholar and poet, Majid Nacify, and bears strong scholarly criticism of the great American scholar and "translator" of Rumi, Professor Coleman Barks who, in my humble opinion, deserves huge amounts of appreciations and accolades for introducing and popularizing Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi Rumi to the mainstream American society.
It's largely thanks to Coleman Barks and his truly groundbreaking book, The Essential Rumi that Rumi is a household name and the widely read poet in America these days. And astonishingly, he accomplished it all without even speaking a word of Farsi!
By Majid Naficy
The essential problem lies in the fact that Barks intentionally changes Rumi, perhaps for the better, but at the expense of distortion and misrepresentation.
I. Coleman Barks and Rumi"During the first half of twentieth century the six volumes of Rumi's Masnavi and a selection of his lyrics were translated into English by British scholars Reynold Nicholson and Arthur John Arberry but these works were mostly known to academia. Recently, Coleman Barks's version of Rumi in English, especially The Essential Rumi which is the subject of this review, has become popular and a best-seller-book in the US. Barks did not know Rumi until 1976 when the American poet, Robert Bly handed him a copy of A. J. Arberry's translations saying "These poems need to be released from their cages".
Barks who does not know Persian, first rewrites some of the old translations in English. Then, by using an unpublished John Moyne's translation on one hand, and with the blessing of a Sri Lankan sufi saint living in the US, Bowa Muhaiyaddeen on the other hand, Barks publishes a new English version of rumi in free verse. No doubt that Coleman Barks's version of Rumi has released these poems from the confines of Departments of Near Eastern Studies but unfortunately, as we will see, he has tied them in the cage of his personal taste.."