2013 Grateful 3

In two days time, on 17 December, I wonder how many will remember the anniversary of the death of Mowlānā Jalāloddin Balkhi, known in Persia as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī and in the West simply as Rumi. He died hundreds of years ago, back in 1273.

In his introduction to his translation of Rumi’s The Shams, American Poet Coleman Barks wrote: ‘Rumi is one of the great souls, and one of the great spiritual teachers. He shows us our glory. He wants us to be more alive, to wake up… He wants us to see our beauty, in the mirror and in each other.’ What’s interesting about Barks is that although he doesn’t speak or read Persian, he’s considered one of the greats when it comes to interpreting Rumi and his ilk from that region. What he does is paraphrase other translations… most peculiar methinks…
I’ve had a few odd dreams this week that involved poetry and speaking in verse. Perhaps it’s the Christmas season and the over-indulgences that seem to come hand in hand with the holiday festivities. On a trawl through the site of the Academy of American Poets, I came across this:

What Was Told, That

by Jalal al-Din Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks

What was said to the rose that made it open was said
to me here in my chest. 

What was told the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane, 

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

And it reminded me, for the fifty millionth time, how important our words are. What we might think of as a throwaway comment could do untold good (or bad) to another. Innocent remarks repeated out of context can do serious damage. And quiet, thoughtful appreciation, if given voice to, can mend the most damaged of souls.

This week has been one of reflection – one where I am grateful to those who have shared their appreciation of me (and with me) – and in doing so lightened my load. Thank you.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

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3 Responses

  1. Credit where it is due, but can one really be said to translate a poem that one can’t even read? My Persian is nil, but I know that this is a ghazal and would have been in a strict metre with a rhyming scheme – are those of no importance? The translator must respond esthetically to the original, but at the same time must not mislead the target reader.

    1. He seems to have found acclaim doing just that Bernard – boggles the mind. But for philistines like me are not familiar with the original, or even original faithful translations, who is any the wiser? He might be better off were he to be categorised as an interpreter rather than a translator

      1. You must be familiar with the famous English version of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald – but have you ever seen the one by Robert Graves??

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