What is a “translation”?
I recently came across a reference to the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz (thanks, paulinelaurent!) who recommended the book The subject tonight is love, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Wanting to explore Hafiz further, I googled for some texts of his poems and found a few examples of the Ladinsky poems here. Here is one:
The fish needs to say,
“Something ain’t right about this
Camel ride –
Feeling so damn
[*disclaimer: I am thoroughly enjoying this particular Camel ride.—N]
Not satisfied with this snippet, I looked further in google books for a full (free) text, and found an assortment of Hafiz poems, translated by, of all people the Victorian adventurer Gertrude Bell. A version of the book published in 2004 available in preview has an interesting preface by Ibrahim Gamard about Persian poetry forms. Here is his transliteration of a ghazal that illustrates Hafiz’s internal rhyme:
Hafiz, you sang ghazals, and you pierced pearls with delicate skill, so come and recite sweetly! For the heavens will scatter the necklace knotted starry jewels of the Pleiades as your reward.
gha-ZAL GOF-TEE vo-DOR SOF-TEE be-YAA VO KOOSH be-KHVAAN HAA-FEZ ke BAR NAZ-ME toWAF-SHAA-NAD fa-LAK ‘AQ-DE so-RAY-YAA RAA
Several American poets who do not read Persian have published versions of Hafiz’s poems that are not accurate translations, remarks Gamard, but they have been successful in making Hafiz well known in our time. Gamard praises Bell’s translations for their accuracy, although he says some is lost in forming the rhymes. He also makes many informative observations about the imagery of wine in the Sufi mystical tradition and reproduces Bell’s 1897 introduction with headings that make sense of her seemlingly rambling remarks about Persian history.
Bell’s translations are not available for view in the Gamard edition, but fortunately, for those who care for Victorian language, the entirety of Gertrude Bell’s translations is here in full view. Here is a sample of one of the more readable ones:
My friend has fled! alas, my friend has fled,
And left me naught but tears and pain behind!
Like smoke above a flame caught by the wind,
So rose she from my breast and forth she sped.
Drunk with desire, I seized Love’s cup divine,
But she that held it poured the bitter wine
Of Separation into it and fled.
This is not quite what I had in mind. If Bell’s poems are accurate and Ladinsky’s poems are accessible, where is the real Hafiz?
So I turned to the readers’ reviews on Amazon, always good for losing an hour or two. This comment turned up some useful names: Dick Davis, “Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz” (can’t find this yet, but Davis has some other Persian translations here), and Jeffrey Einboden’s and John Slater’s “The Tangled Braid: Ninety-nine poems by Hafiz of Shiraz.” (with an academic quarrel in the reviews). Excerpts:
Should anguish form a death-squad to wipe out lovers
all of us at the wine-house would rebel, and yank the chair out from under them
My heart pumps blood through the memory of you
every moment: how, in the dark garden, the night wind loosened
the rose-bud knot of your robe….
And the person recommending these translators not only speaks Persian, but has a blog with some original translations and audio. Listen to him read it here. No really. He has a …haunting?…voice.
Ghazal 98: News From Abroad
Hafiz, translation by A.Z. Foreman
Last night, the wind brought wind of one I love who’d gone away.
I too shall yield my heart unto the wind, now. Come what may.
At length my love has come to this: I can confide in none
but blazing lightnings every night and dawn winds every day.
Defenseless in your deep curled locks, and out of me, my heart
never once said “Let me recall the body where I lay”
Today, I see my friends were wise to counsel against lovefall.
Elate my counselors’ souls, O Lord, for all the truth they say.
Remembering you, my heart was bloodstruck every time wind blew
open the rosebud’s robe out on the grass in gentle play.
My weakened being leaked out through my fingertips till dawn,
whose wind blew hope of you, and brought the life back to my clay.
Your spirit of good will, Hafiz, will earn you what you yearn for.
When good-willed men cry out, all souls are ransomed to obey.
Here is the original Persian:
دوش آگهی ز یار سفرکرده داد باد من نیز دل به باد دهم هر چه باد باد
کارم بدان رسید که همراز خود کنم هر شام برق لامع و هر بامداد باد
در چین طره تو دل بی حفاظ من هرگز نگفت مسکن مالوف یاد باد
امروز قدر پند عزیزان شناختم یا رب روان ناصح ما از تو شاد باد
خون شد دلم به یاد تو هر گه که در چمن بند قبای غنچه گل میگشاد باد
از دست رفته بود وجود ضعیف من صبحم به بوی وصل تو جان بازداد باد
حافظ نهاد نیک تو کامت برآورد
جانها فدای مردم نیکونهاد باد
Just for kicks, here is what Google Translate does with the Persian (it does some other languages a lot better). The similar sound at the end of each stanza seems to be the word “wind” repeated in different ways.
G ad will bear friend traveled to the heart of the wind I do what the wind Wind Wind
Intimates that it was my job to do every evening and every morning the wind power Lame
China edging my heart I never talked bleak housing Malvf remember the wind
Remember loved ones today, so I knew we Naseh or paste your mental happiness winds
Was blood shit I remember you all the para grass flower bud Qbay Mygshad Wind
There was a poor lost my Sbhm connect you to smell the wind died Bazdad
Hafiz Nick puts you estimate Kamt
People sacrificed lives Nykvnhad Wind
But by far the most interesting thing to come out of this search for Hafiz is a discussion about translating Hafiz, or rather “On Not Translating Hafez” by recommended translator Dick Davis.
Two kinds of problems for the translator of a literary text are well-recognized, and these we may call, for convenience’s sake: first, the linguistic and second, the cultural; naturally, the two often overlap.
The linguistic problem is the easiest to formulate. We know that exact synonyms do not exist between languages; idioms are even more challenging to the translator and a literal word-for-word translation will often convey virtually nothing of the originally intended meaning. Persian, for example, has some extremely inventive — one might almost call them Gongoristic — ways of cursing or threatening people, and a literal translation will convey very little of their intended force. One such locution means literally, “I will bring your father out,” a threat that seems at once mysterious and reassuringly mild in its implications. What it actually means is, “I will give you one hell of a hard time (either because you have already done X, or if you don’t in the future do Y).” Various origins for the phrase have been suggested, the most plausible perhaps being that it means “I will give you such a hard time that your father will rise up out of his grave in consternation.” Clearly, to translate the phrase — for example, as part of a character’s speech in a novel — one can only abandon literal translation altogether and search instead for some threat that carries equivalent force and menace in the target language. Similarly, puns can rarely be translated; only in English can one make Sidney Smith’s joke on two housewives yelling at each other from opposite houses: “They will never agree, for they are arguing from different premises.”
A millennium of classical Persian poetry: a guide to the reading & understanding of Persian poetry from the tenth to the twentieth century. Wheeler McIntosh Thackston – 1994 – Poetry – 186 pages. “The Persian metrical system and poetic forms are explained, and selections are given from the works of all major poets, from Rudaki in the tenth century to …” Google books preview. (Recommended by A.Z. Foreman)
New Nightingale, New Rose, 1903, tr. Richard Le Gaullienne, a member of the Rhymers Club and an associate of Yeats, Oscar Wilde, etc…Google books snippet view, but quite a few poems can be read.
Versions from Hafiz, tr. Walter Leaf, Google books full view of limited edition, introduction has lengthy discussion of meter, transliterated stanza at the beginning of each poem
“My Portrait of Hafiz” statement on Amazon review about “translations”
Love poems from God: twelve sacred voices from the East and West By Daniel James Ladinsky, Google books preview (several poems viewable)
I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy, Ladinsky, Google books preview
The gift: poems by the great Sufi master, Ladinsky, Google books preview
The subject tonight is love: 60 wild and sweet poems, Ladinsky, Google books preview
Wikipedia on Ladinsky’s spiritual mentor, Zoroastrian Meher Baba