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When he poked for more information about my note taking, I started filling in quickly, too. Not only was Sebastian one of Rumi’s passionate fans, but he also made an apt comparison, which had never occurred to me, with Whitman, likewise a poet of epic intimacy.

As we walked a few more steps together, he startled me even more by breaking into a flawless recitation of the opening of Rumi’s major poem, After slipping me his business card, he was gone, a silhouette riding his bike through many receding arches, past the shuttered shops of the spice and jewelry markets.

The map of Rumi’s life stretches over 2,500 miles, and I soon began to travel, trying to put a face and a place to this name and ecstatic style glowing in my mind.

I spent two summers—in Austin, Texas, and Madison, Wisconsin—in intensive Persian programs, getting closer to his native language, and beginning to translate his elusive poetry, as all the translations in this biography are mine in collaboration with the Iranian-American writer Maryam Mortaz.

Their vital connection as teacher and pupil, friend and beloved, is one of the world’s greatest spiritual love stories.

Yet I’d been in thrall to Rumi for much longer, beginning with the seductive lines of his verse.

I visited Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, the site of a traumatic siege during his boyhood.

I followed the old Silk Road into Iran, thinking of the adolescent Rumi, traveling west with his family, lulled to sleep by the tinkling saddle bells and Arabic love songs of the camel drivers on endless caravans.

I was penciling in an axial line for the straight street east to west, when a black-haired twenty-something-year-old, pedaling by on his bike, came to a sharp stop.

as he told me his name was, quickly filled in that he had been schooled in England and was now home helping his family with their carpet shop.

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He has been compared to Shakespeare for his outpouring of creativity and to Saint Francis of Assisi for his spiritual wisdom.