TRANSLATING IRĀQĪ

translating iraqiPoints Illustrated

More on the nature of Persian poetry: word play.

Irāqī

Fakhru'd-Dīn Ibrāhīm, better known as Irāqī, was born in Hamadan (Persia) but was drawn by a young dervish to Multān in India, where he became a devotee of Shaykh Bahā'u'd-Dīn Zakariyyā, in time marrying the master's daughter. At the Shayk's death, twenty-five years later, Irāqī travelled to Mecca, Turkey and Egypt, and finally to Syria, where he died, in Damascus, in 688/1289, being buried in the Sālihiyya Cemetery beside the great mystic Shaykh Muhiyyu'd-Din ibn'l-'Arabī. {1} Irāqī was a noted Sufi, and E.G. Browne's translation brings this out well: {2}

1. Save love of thee a soul in me I cannot see, I cannot see,
          An object for my love save thee I cannot see, I cannot see.

2. Repose or patience in my mind I cannot find, I cannot find,
          While gracious glance or friendship free I cannot see, I cannot see.

3. Show in thy face some sign of grace, since for the pain wherewith I'm slain
          Except thy face a remedy I cannot see, I cannot see.

4. If thou wouldst see me, speed thy feet, for parted from thy presence sweet,
          Continue life on earth for me I cannot see, I cannot see.

5. O friend, stretch out a hand to save, for I am fallen in a wave
          Of which the crest, if crest there be, I cannot see, I cannot see.

6. With gracious care and kindly air come hither and my state repair;
          A better state, apart from thee, I cannot see, I cannot see.

7. Some pathway to 'Iraqī teach whereby that pathway he may reach,
          For vagrant so bemused as he I cannot see, I cannot see.

Word For Word Rendering

A little old-fashioned now, but none the worse for that. To see how close is Browne's rendering, we start with a word-for-word translation. The Farsi:

And a word-for-word rendering:

1a. marā
juz
'ishq
jānī
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
me (Acc) of/to me
besides except save
love intensity of passion
thou
soul, cordially loved
not
I see
not
I see
 
 
1b. dāmrā
juz
jānānī
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
snare worldly illusions (Acc)
besides except save
thou
of souls
not
I see
not
I see
2a. bakhvad
sabrī
u
ārāmī
namī
yābam
namī
yābam
to/with/by oneself
patience
and
peace calmness repose
not
I find
not
I find
 
1524
2b. z
itghī
u
ihsāni
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
from
thou you
seduction error excessive
and
benefit favour
not
I see
not
I see
3a. z
rūy
binamā
rūy
ki
dardīra
ki
man
dāram
from of for with by
face appearance
show
face appearance expectation
who what while whereas
pain (Acc)
who what while whereas
I
have
 
3b. bajuz
rūy
darmānī
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
besides except save
face appearance expectation
thou you
medicine remedy
not
I see
not
I see
4a. bī āgar
khwāhīm
dīdan
ki
dūr
az
rūy
khūb
not if although
we want
to see
who what while whereas
remote far from
from
face appearance expectation
good beautiful firm
thou you
4b. baqā'ī
kwźsh
chandāne
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
immortality eternity of
one's self
of any amount
not
I see
not
I see
5a. bagīr
az
yār
dast
man
ki
dar
gird-āb / gurd-āb
uftādam
seize
from
friend
hand
I
who what while whereas
in
whirlpool wave
I fall
5b. ki
ānrā
hech
pāyāni
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
who what while whereas
him that to him to that
nothing never lost
of end limit
not
I see
not
I see
6a. z
rūy
itfa
u
dādāri
biyā
sāmān
kārman
kon
from
face appearance expectation
extinguish
and
distribution of justice
come
set in order belongings
my work
(make: kardan)
6b. ki
khwadra
sāmānī
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
who what while whereas
self (objective)
without
thou you
heavenly
not
I see
not
I see
7a. irāqīra
badr gāhat
rahī
benamā
ki
dar
ālam
. irāqī (objective)
without pathway
traveller
show
who what while whereas
in
world universe
7b.chū
ū
sar-gashta
hairānī
namī
bīnam
namī
bīnam
when in same manner since
he
perplexed
confusion
not
I see
not
I see

After drawing up the usual metre table to identify any izāfa, we get:

1. Of me except a love of you a soul not I see not I see.
          Except a love of you a snare of souls (not) I see, (not) I see.

2. With myself a patience and a repose not I find, not I find.
          From you excess and favour not I see not I see.

3. By face show appearance what pain what I have
          Except face of you remedy not I see not I see.

4. Although we want to see who far from face of good of you
          Of immortality of one's self any amount not I see not I see.

5. Seize from friend hand I who in whirlpool fall
          Who to that nothing of limit not I see not I see.

6. From face extinguish and justice-distribution come set in order my work
          What self without you heavenly not I see not I see.

7a. Irāqī without pathway traveller show who in world
          When he perplexed confusion not I see not I see.

A problematic phrase, used repeatedly, is nummī bīnam. Literally, it could be translated as anyone I see, only the prefix commonly indicates un- or without, so that the phrase carries overtones of uncertainty or not seeing properly. Browne's I do not see is therefore a very acceptable rendering, though rather stark and biblical where the Persian is deeper-textured and more ambivalent. A rendering in more contemporary English might be:

Except in love of you, a soul I cannot see or see.
          And love as snare for souls that I must see, must see.

Repose or patience in myself I do not find or find.
          But through excessive favour that I see and see.

Show kindly to me in your face what pain must be:
          No remedy beyond that face I see or see.

Far off, how distant is the goodness of that face:
          In me no immortality I see or see.

Clutch at this hand, my friend, lest in the whirlpool fall
          A one who only nothingness can see and see.

Come, set face to justice, put my work in place:
          No self without that heaven can I see or see.

Irāqī, without your guidance, in this world must travel:
          Perplexed continually, who does not see or see.

Rhetoric

I've tried not to overdo the internal rhyme, but the original does show much repetition of letter groups. Why do we have such excessive assonance as:

 2a.          bakhvad sabrīu/vaārāmīnamīyābamnamīyābam
                with oneself patienceandrepose notI find notI find

and:

3b.           bajuz rūytūdarmānīnamīnamnamīnam
                except face you remedy notI see notI see

Firstly, some of the internal rhyme is intended, was indeed admired, being called tarsī or tashtīr Secondly, the repetition (takrā or anaphora) of I do not see, I do not see, acts as a refrain, giving the poem structure and emphasis, although there is an expectation that the meaning should shift slightly if the words stay the same, or vice versa. {12} I have varied the translation a little for this reason. Thirdly comes decoration for its own sake. As Arthur Upham Pope notes in his Persian Architecture: "All the arts of Persia are closely interrelated and all express a common cultural inspiration. The great Islamic art of calligraphy, with its standards of rhythm, precision and expressive form, instructs and discipline other arts. Poetry, universal and indispensable in Persian life, together with philosophy, overt and implicit, nourish all cultural expressions. Analogies between Persian poetry and visual design are numerous: rhythm and rhyme, stress and resolution, surprise and fulfillment head a long list of characteristics." {13}

All are part of a rhetoric refined over centuries and far too complicated to summarize here. {14} {15} For the purposes of these short Persian translations, we might look at just two matters: imagery and what is called tajnīs, small changes in sound or letters to produce dissimilar meanings.

Imagery is found in all poetry, and the light in an earlier version of our complex lyric poem:

As ineluctable as all was then, who knew
what the dark trees carried in their train?
That love was inexhaustible but leaven
only in its gain.
Chaste and thin the light falls through
from that still moon in heaven.

refers both to understanding (shed light on something) and the actual light falling from the moon. Or would do if fall was not followed by through, which evokes failure (falling through).

Light is a stock image in the western tradition (light of His countenance, etc.) and in this Irāqī poem we have the whirlpool and beloved's face, both carrying mystical overtones but needing no explanation. But the Khusraw line:

3.           sabzahnawkhźzuhavākhurramubustānsarsabz
             verdurenewrisenandpassionfresh andgardenheadgreen


with its play on sar (head), sabz (green) and sabzah (greenery) is not so obvious. In fact, sabz also means dark when applied to the down of the beloved's lips, so that the beloved is identified with a garden — which is now silent/disgraced or its lover (nightingale or poet) is so:

Though leaves are new risen, passion is fresh, and the garden green,
          the nightingale is silent, from its sanctuary separated.

a theme picked up again with:

What would you think, that my soul would leave
          with the guardian and garden then so separated?

A little of the reference comes across in the translation (gardens being what lovers wander in) but the association is stronger in the Persian.

Suppose, to go back to our complex lyric poem, we changed the penultimate line to:

I wait beneath as weight falls through
from that still moon in heaven.

Is that an improvement? Certainly not. The Elizabethans were addicted to such quibbles, but to us they seem over-clever, contrived and insincere. Persian poetry abounds in such things, however, and in hemistich 8b of Hāfiz we find:

8b.          magarrasīmbāhganjīdarīnkharābābād
              perhapsleaving marks on the groundbe it sotreasureinthisruin desolation overcome by drinkcity replenished

where kharāb means both a ruin and to be overcome by drink.

Hafiz inherited centuries of ghazals, and his love poems combined the erotic and bacchic. The symbolic vocabulary could be read allegorically, and the beloved became a quest, physical or spiritual, or an imperfection or fault. Language becomes polysemous, open to varied or contrasting readings. From the lover's black curls come darkness, obscurity, snares, imprisonment, fetters, withdrawal of favour. Hafiz even combined allusively different genres within the one ghazal. Persian poets created a sort of "unspoken field" which allowed them to treat matters elliptically without losing their recognizable origins. {16}

Why don't we accept such things in English? Tradition, custom, what we have grown to expect. The New Criticism was right to look into the poem for sense, but forgot that we do so with culturally-bound attitudes and expectations. Deconstruction correctly notes that the meaning of texts is under-determined, but forgets that the social dimension supplies a meaning as we read and interpret the text. We read through extended codes, and those of Persian, the literary language of the Muslim world par excellence, are very different from the European.

Notes and References

1. E.G. Browne, Literary History of Persia (Munshiram Manoharlal, 1902-24/1997), III, 124-139.
2. Browne 1997, III, 131-2.
3. Annemarie Schimmel, A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry (Chapel Hill: Univ. North Carolina Press. 1992). Much useful material from a noted Sufi scholar.
4. List of Sufi-related resources on the Internet. Apr. 2004. http://world.std.com/%7Ehabib/sufi.html NNA. Very extensive.
5. Persian/English/Persian dictionaries. http://persian.dictionary.kamous.com/translator/reference.asp/. Several online dictionaries listed.
6. Online English - Persian Dictionary. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~safari/masood/cgi-bin/. Input as transcribed English letters: larger database.
7. Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/steingass/. Steingass online: includes literary Persian and common Arabic words: fascinating but more cumbersome to use.
8. E.H. Palmer, Simplified Grammar of Arabic, Persian and Hindustani (Dover, 1890/2002)
9. A.K.S. Lambton, Persian Grammar Including Key (CUP, 1953, 1979)
10. William Jones, Grammar of the Persian Language (A.B.I. Prints & Publishing, 1998)
11. F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary: Being Johnson and Richardson's Persian, Arabic and English dictionary. Revised, enlarged and entirely reconstructed by F. Steingass (Asian Educational Services, 2003 )
12. Julie Scott Meisami, Structure and Meaning in Medieval Arabic and Persian Poetry: Orient Pearls (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 285.
13. Arthur Upham Pope, Persian Architecture: The Triumph of Form and Color (George Braziller, 1965), 133.
14. Browne 1997, II, 46-89.
15. Meisami 2003, 244-403.
16. Meisami 2003, 418-430.

 

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