TRANSLATING AMIR KHUSRAW 1

translating amir khusrawPoints Illustrated

1. More on Persian prosody.

2. Choosing the right rhyme word.

Abu'l-Hasan Yamnuddin Amr Khusraw

Amr Khusraw (1253-1325) was born in the village of Patyali (Uttar Pradesh) to an Indian mother and a Turkish military nobleman. {1} His father had fled Transoxiana before the Mongol advance to serve the Delhi Sultans, but he died in 1262, leaving the son in the care of a rich maternal grandfather. The boy studied Persian at Maktab and produced his first collection of poetry "Tuhfatus-Sighr" in 1272. Thereafter Khusraw served as court poet to a succession of Delhi Sultans, from Balban to Mohammad bin Tughlaq, creating five divans and much occasional writing. He was also a soldier (captured by and escaping from the Mongols in 1285) and a gifted musician (laying the foundations for Indo-Muslim music and inventing several new instruments). {2}

Called the "parrot of India", Amr Khusraw was an extraordinarily fluent and voluminous writer, producing nearly half a million verses that included re-interpreted Persian classics and exquisite lyrics of his own. The Timurids of Herat and the Mughal Emperors especially prized his work, and his children's riddles are still popular in India.

Original

Amr Khusraw is not much translated, but there is a pleasing rendering by Hadi Hasan: the first five lines run: {1}

O you whose beautiful face is the envy of the idols of Azar
You remain superior to my praise.
All over the world have I traveled;
many a maiden’s love have I tasted;
Many a beauty-star have I seen; but you are something unique.

Word-For-Word Rendering

We undertake a word-for-word translation, using dictionaries {6} {7} {8} {9} and grammars as necessary: {10} {11} {12} Thackston's book provides the Farsi text, {3} which I have taken as correct ( Hasan's seems a shortened version.)

 

Ay
chihra
zb
t
rashk
butan
azar
1. O
face
beauty
you
jealousy
idols
azar
har
chand
vasfat
mkonam
dar
husn
az
n
zebatr
every
how much
descriptions
I make
in
beauty
from
that
much more adorning
2. hargaz
niyyid
dar
nazar
naqshi
z
ru'yat
khbatar
ever
? you blessed
in
sight
picture
from
vision
more beautiful
hri
nadnam
ay
pesar
farzand
dam
ya
par
houri
I not know
O
boy son
child son
Adam
unless
fairy
3. faq
ra
gar
ddaham
mihr
butan
varzdaham
horizon
(obj)
if
I see
love affection
idols
I experience try out
bisyr
khuban
ddaham
m
t
chz
dgari 
many
beauties
I see
but
you
thing
other
4. Ay
rhat
u
ram
jn
b
qadd
chn
sarvi
ravn
O
ease comfort
and
rest repose
life soul
not with-standing
tall-
how
-and elegant (cypress)
flowing /soul
znsn
marv/ ma rav
dman
kashn
kram
jnam
mbur
from this manner
go not
skirt -
pull in (avoid)
deed task
with my life
you escape
5. azm
tamsh -
kardah
hang
sabr
kardah
determination
spectacle
made
outset
waited
have
jn
u
dil
m
nast
rusam
dbar
life soul
and
heart
which whilst as long as
this is
custom
pomp
6. lam
hame
yaghmi
t
khliq
hame
shayad
ay
t
world universe
all/ assault
very plunder
you
very creator
all/assault
perhaps/fitting
O
you
n
nargis
ra'n
t
vurdah
ksh
kfir
that the former, moment
narcisus
freshness loveliness
you
professed
a religion
infidelity
7. Khusrau
gharb
ast
u
gad
ftdah
dar
shehr
shom
Khusrau
humble, stranger
is
and
beggar
befallen
in
city
you
bshad
ki
az
bahr
khuda
suyi
gharban
bangar
Would that it were/ ought to have
who
for
sake of
lord, God
towards/ direction
poor humble
for another

We now need to look at the verse structure.

Persian Metre

Why, when it's so complicated, should we bother with Persian prosody? Well, apart from the aesthetics, the pleasure of reading the poem properly, the sense often cannot be safely established without the scansion. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the normal word order is often inverted. Secondly, the possesive  izfa, the unwritten i syllable is counted in the scansion, which  tells us what refers to what. And thirdly, because the short vowels are not commonly shown, the same word as written can have different pronunciations and meanings, most particularly with verbs. In short, the word-for-word approach of the previous tables breaks down, and we can imagine ambiguities or meanings that do not exist.

A very brief summary of prosody follows, I hope sufficient to explain the table below. Readers who want more are referred to Wheeler Thackston's excellent treatment, from which these notes are taken. {3}

1. The sh ch kh etc. consonants count as one consonant. Likewise w and y in the diphthongs aw and ay. The n plus another consonant is counted as one consonant.

2. The a i and u vowels are short. The and vowels are long.

3. The word-ending a and the final u in tu or chu etc. can be long or short as the metre demands. The same flexibility applies to the izfa, and to the unemphasized a and u following words (enclictics).

4. The initial glottal stop ('a) may be elided or attach itself to the last consonant of the proceeding word and be counted as a full syllable. Glottal stops within words, or between vowels, are not elided.

5. Several syllables may be contracted, eg. vv to v, vagar to var, degar to digar, buguzarn to bugzarn, ki to k, ki-at to kat, pidar-ash to pidar'sh, a-a to a, the final h to ah, and khvst to khst. Rhyme can cause the last to be 'heard' as a double syllable when the st is followed by a short vowel.

6. Persian metres are patterns of long and short elements. The short element is a consonant followed by a short vowel: Cv. The long elements may be a consonant followed by a long vowel (CV) or consonant followed by short vowel followed by consonant CvC.

7. Anomalous elements not conforming to CV, CV or Cvc have to 'resolved' or treated in the following ways.

a. With CVC or CvCC, the last C is attached the vowel of the following word, or (where the following word starts with a consonant) an extra syllable is intoduced (nm-fatha, , unpronounced but sensed in the reading). Dast becomes das-t and dd becomes d-d.

b. With CVCC, the last C is attached to the initial vowel of the following word: CVCC v becomes CVC CV, and the penultimate C becomes C with a nm-fatha. The CVCC word then reads CV C CV If no vowel follows, however, the nm-fatha is added and the anomalous CVC simply treated as a long element: CVCC becomes CVC C.

c. An overlong syllable at the end of a hemistich is not resolved (but simply indicated as ).

8. Some 70 metres exist, all patterns of the three elements CV, CV and Cvc

Two final points. Lines are stand-alone independent entities in the ghazal or qasida. Poems therefore seem somewhat artificial, a series of short statements held together by form, meter and rhyme rather than by clauses or binding emotion. Secondly, Persian poetry was intensely conservative, even stereotyped, seeking refinement of existing convention more than innovation. Craftsmanship was emphasized, and its poets read and memorized thousands of lines before venturing to write their own. Our rendering has to reflect these matters.

Idols of Azar

Wheeler Thackston gives us the scansion for this poem. The first line runs:

'aychihrayizbayiturashkibutni'azar
--x   /-x-x   /x--x   /-x-

A decent grammar book {11} tells us which syllables are intrinsically stressed in Persian (the italics in the line above shows where these syllables may be both stressed or unstressed).

The name of the metre ( in fact muzri' akhrab slim makff slim) doesn't matter, but we can use it to correct any uncertainty or missed izfa because a. the metre has to be kept to, and b. pairs of hemistichs must have the same number of syllables. So:

1. 'aychihrayizbyiturashkibutni'azar
--x   /-x-x   /x--x   /-x-
harchandivasfarmikunamdarhusnaznzebatar
2. hargaznydiddarnazarnaqshiazru'atkhbatar
hrinadnamaypesarfarzandidamyapar
3. faqragariddahammihributanwarzdaham
bisyrkhubanddahammtchz chzigari
4. ayrhaturamjnbqadichnisarviravn
znsnmaravdmankashnkramjnambur
5. azmtamsh sh kardahh angsab r kardah
jnudilmnastrusamidbar
6. lamhameyaghmitkhliqq hameshayadayt
aninargisiranaituavardahkeshikafiri
7. Khusraugha rbastugadftdahshehrishom
bshadkazbahrekhudasuyigharrbanbangar

We have found a few izfas, and see that marv in line 4b is not the city Merv but the negative imperative of raftan: do not go. We start with a word-for-word rendering:

1. O face of beauty you jealousy of idols of Azar
every many descriptions I make in beauty from that much more adorning

2. Ever you blessed in sight picture from vision more beautiful
houri I do not know O youth son of Adam unless a fairy

3. Horizon if I see love of idols I experience
many beauties I see but you thing other

4. O ease and rest life notwithstanding tall and how elegant flowing
from this manner go not avoid task of my life you escape with

5. Determination spectacle made outset waited have
life and heart as long as this is custom of pomp

6. Universe all very plunder you very creator fitting O you
that narcissus of freshness you professed a religion of infidelity

7. Khusraw humble is and beggar befallen in city of you
ought to have who for the sake of God towards humble for another

A literal, semi-prose rendering might be:

1. You whose face makes jealous the idols of Azar
Whatever description I make your beauty exceeds.

2. You are a picture from a vision, unreal
and beautiful to sons of Adam as are the houris.

3. If I scour the horizon I see many beauties
and have known them: you are something different.

4. Continue in this manner, be my life-task, moving gracefully,
my ease and rest that you escape with notwithstanding.

5. From the outset my heart and life have been set,
a spectacle but as the custom is to splendour

6. You create the very universe you plunder, make
of narcissus freshness a faith in infidelity.

7. Khusraw is humble, fallen a beggar in your city:
for the sake of God you should be humble to another.


Translation

If we want to keep the 'singing' quality, and the aa ba ca da ea fa ga rhyme scheme, then Azar, Abraham's father and famous crafter of idols, suggests one possibility.

How envious of you are the idols of Azar
          whose face of loveliness my words will mar.

To Adam's son above him as the houris
          repaint your looks in each particular.   

Lost in mirages I ranged horizons,
          but in all there looked on nothing similar.

You are my life and life task, though your moving
            take me from contentment, rest and far.

From the outset patient, ever faithful,
          your splendour following as evening star.

Why does the fresh flower of the world you plunder
          stay not faithful to me, singular?

A stranger in your city, Khusraw pleads
        for God and pity, as his poor words are.

But that's a little contrived, and not close to the literal meaning. We'd do better with the 'face' rhyme:

Envious are Azar's idols of a face
          beyond all artistry of mine to trace.

You are a picture from a vision, real
          to men of Adam as our houri race.

For idols I have travelled wide horizons,
          but met, in much encountered, no such case.

From me go peace and comfort: you continue
          the more in elegance and moving grace.

From your high splendour my life is set, falling
          and following, as is the custom, you apace.

Let not the flower's white freshness you depict
          by faithlessness be pillaged, or disgrace.

Fallen, a stranger in your city, Kushraw begs
          for the sake of God you know another's place.

Notes and References

1. Amir Khusrau Website. Yousuf Saeed. Oct. 2005. http://www.angelfire.com/sd/urdumedia/index.html. Very useful site with biography, translations and resources.
2. The Great Turk Genius Amir Khusraw and his Accomplishments in Music. N.A. Baloch. Jul. 2005. http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?TaxonomyTypeID=13&TaxonomySubTypeID=-1&TaxonomyThirdLevelID=-1&ArticleID=526. Extended article.
3. Wheeler M. Thackston, A Millenium of Classical Persian Poetry: A Guide to the Reading and Understanding of Persian Poetry from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century (Iranbooks, 1994).
4. Amir Khusraw and the Genre of Historical Narratives in Verse. Sunil Sharma. 2002. http://www.cssaame.ilstu.edu/issues/22/sharma.pdf NNA. Scholarly article with much background information.
5. Persian and Indo-Persian background material for Urdu literature. Frances Pritchett. Oct. 2005. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00urduhindilinks/hu_persian_lit.html Short but useful listing of resources.
6. Persian/English/Persian dictionaries. http://persian.dictionary.kamous.com/translator/reference.asp/. Several online dictionaries listed.
7. Online English - Persian Dictionary. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~safari/masood/cgi-bin/. Input as transcribed English letters: larger database.
8. 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.
9. 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 )
10. E.H. Palmer, Simplified Grammar of Arabic, Persian and Hindustani (Dover, 1890/2002)
11. A.K.S. Lambton, Persian Grammar Including Key (CUP, 1953, 1979)
12. Easy Persian. http://www.easypersian.com/persian/New/Farsi_Lessons.htm. 75 free lessons: basic but a good place to start.
13. Persian grammar sketch. John Roberts. Aug. 2005. http://lingweb.eva.mpg.de/fieldtools/pdf/PersianGrammarSketch.pdf NNA. 85 page introduction: free and helpful, but linguistic/formal approach.
14. Amir Khusro. http://oldpoetry.com/authors/Amir%20Khusro NNA. Biography and short translations by several hands.
15. Amir Khusrau: Bibliography. http://www.angelfire.com/sd/urdumedia/biblio.html. References not online.

The final version is included in Diversions, a free pdf collection of translations published by Ocaso Press.

A 568-page free pdf ebook on practical verse writing is available from Ocaso Press. Click here for the download page.

 

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