"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

Search The Legacy of Henry Corbin: Over 800 Posts

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mysticism & Humor

Henry Corbin

from Spring Journal 1973

Publisher’s Note: This translation has been prepared from the second part of a lecture entitled "Mystique et Humour chez Sohrawardi, Shaykh al-Israq" presented in Teheran, November 19, 1969, and which has been published in French in Collected Papers on Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism, (Institute of Islamic Studies, Teheran Branch, McGill University, Montreal), Teheran, 1971, pp. 16-38; this translation is of pp. 26—38. For further authoritative material on Sohrawardi, see the author's En Islam iranien, vol. II: "Sohrawardi et les Platoniciens de Perse", Paris: Gallimard, 1971.

Photo: Upupa epops, the Hoopoe, King Solomon's Bird.

Mysticism & Humor

And, most pertinent here is this poem from Rumi,

Longing for the Birds of Solomon

Is this stuff poetry? It's what birds sing in cages.
Where are the words spoken by the birds of Solomon?

How would you know their cries, if you heard them,
When you haven't seen Solomon even for two seconds?

Solomon's bird lifts his wings, one tip touches East, one West.
Those who hear the notes feel an intensity in their whole body.

The bird descends from the Holy One's bedroom door to earth.
And from earth it flies among light back to the Great Seat.

Without Solomon every bird is a bat in love with darkness.
Listen, oh mischievous bat, try to become his friend. Do you want to stay
in your cave forever?

If you go even three feet towards Solomon's mountain,
Others will use that as a yardstick to measure their lives.

Suppose your leg is gimpy, and you have to hop, what's the difference?
Going toward Solomon, even by limping, the leg grows whole.

Translation by Robert Bly, from 'The Rumi Collection' Edited by Kabir Helminski


  1. Tom, I hope you are entertaining the thought of editing a volume of Corbin's shorter/occasional/personal/meditative pieces. These recent things are great.

  2. Joseph - Glad you find them of use. I'll ponder the possibility. - Tom