To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Geoffrey Squires: from Hafez, translations and interpretations of the Divan

Again the nightingale


I have come, without realizing it, to think of Hafez more and more as a dramatist rather than a poet, in the sense that he stands somewhere behind his work, deploying his tropes and themes, elusive (but commanding) to the end.

Muslims     once I had a heart
which I consulted when difficulties arose

whose counsel helped me to regain the shore
when I fell into the whirlpool of sorrows.

who shared my pain     was a wise friend to me
and gave support to all the community of the heart
but which I lost in the street of my beloved

      O what a tugging of heart-strings there was then

art brings with it the dishonour of privation
but what thinking person was ever more deprived than me

be kind to this lost soul
for once it possessed consummate skill
after love had instructed me how to speak
my words were the talking-point of every circle

      but who now can speak of Hafez’ artistry
      for it has become clear to all and sundry
      he no longer cares about his poetry


Your musky curls make the violet twist with envy
your enticing smile tears the veil of the rosebud off

O sweet-scented rose      do not compel your nightingale
to burn himself out
for he prays for you faithfully night after night

I who would weary of the speech of angels
put up with the chatter of this world because of you

love of your countenance is my true nature
the dust at your gate     my paradise

passion for you is my destiny
in your happiness I find my repose

a beggar’s coat may have treasures up its sleeve
but whoever begs from you becomes a king

my eyes are the throne upon which your image sits
O liege of mine
I pray that you never leave your rightful place

of the ferment of love’s wine
my mind will not be free
till my lustful head is dust at your palace gate

      your cheek my cool meadow      in the springtime of beauty
      the eloquent Hafez      songbird of your house


See how one poem
traverses space and time

how this child of one night
accomplishes a year’s journey


For some time now
I have been of service in the tavern
in my humble attire
attending to those more fortunate than myself

I lie in ambush waiting for the chance
to catch some strutting pheasant in my snare

       he public preacher does not have
       even a whiff of the truth
       mark my words
       for I say them to his face       not behind his back

like the wind         fitfully
I make my way towards the street of my companion
asking my fellow-travellers
to help me realize my great endeavour

no longer will the dust of your alleyway
have to put up with my importuning
for you have shown me so many kindnesses
my love       that I will stop whining

the beloved’s hair
lies like a snare across our path
and that glance is shot like a bolt of calamity

remember       O heart        how often I warned you of this

O you who in your mercy        veils our faults
hide from the gaze of those who wish me ill
these audacious thoughts I have when I am alone

in public a divine
a drunkard in our private gatherings

my effrontery       observe
the artifice with which I fool the populace


O sovereign beauty       adress my loneliness
without you my heart begins to fail      come back

the garden rose does not stay fresh forever
while you have the power     help those who stand in need

last night I complained to the wind about your hair
it said you are wrong       dismiss that sombre thought

a hundred zephyrs play in the strands of those tresses
O foolish heart       these are your companions
do not pretend that you are some airy steed

separation from you has so weakened me
that I have little endurance left to draw on now

       O Lord to whom might I make the point
       that in this world
       that beauty which is all around       shows its face to none

without your face the rose-beds lack all colour
bring back the grace of the tree-top to the garden

the pain you cause me is my medicine
in my lonely bed
your memory my companion in my solitude

        in the compass of fate we stand at the axis of submission
        subject to what you in your wisdom decide

        true liberation is liberation from the self
        self-regard is apostasy in our religion

these blue enamel heavens have seared my soul
bring me wine so that I may
dissolve these problems in an enamelled bowl

        Hafez the night of separation is over
        the sweet scent of union here

        blessed be your joy       O my demented lover

pardē: a curtain, not covering a window but dividing two spaces, the inner and outer, demarcating the difference between the private, intimate, hidden world and the open, public realm; implying inclusion, exclusion

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE. Hafez is perhaps the best-loved but also most problematic of the great Persian poets. His Divan (collection) was not assembled until well after his death in about 1390 and textual variants abound. These translations are based on nos 249, 211, 403, 218, 344 and 484 in the Khanlari edition, which contains 486 ghazals in all. Persian editions are organised alphabetically but I have grouped my translations in a number of thematic sections to help bring out the various facets of the original; however, Hafez does not compartmentalise easily. While strict in form, his ghazals can seem disjunctive to the modern western reader, and there are arguments about whether one should treat the constituent couplet or the poem as the basic unit. I have tried to address this problem by translating a mix of both and also through layout i.e. spacing and indentation. The poems are also widely regarded as ambiguous or polysemous, allowing both a courtly reading and a spiritual interpretation; scholars still differ sharply on this issue. The writing itself is beautifully turned and highly stylized, employing a well-established repertoire of tropes and images. It is also densely allusive with an evident pleasure in play on words. I have added a layer of annotation (in italics) in the text as a way of bridging the inevitable distances of time and place, and also creating a more prosaic counterpoint to the richness of the verse. It is worth noting finally that by far the most frequent noun in the Divan is ‘heart’.


WAS said...

I’m a little lost at how the inventor of ghazals in Persian can be claimed to be more of a dramatist than a poet, with the only support for such a position a bunch of formless and non-literal translations. I assume Squires here is trying to illustrate (and secularize) for modern readers Hafez’ notion of the “rind,” that mystical Sufi version of the picaro, the darvish’s trickster/libertine/anti-zealot cousin, what Leonard Lewisohn, in The Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door, defines as “a righteous sinner, a blessed reprobate, a pious rake, a holy renegade from the faith.” The rind is the consummate outsider, who deliberately and continually places himself in opposition to any established social grouping, unyielding for all his seeming contradictions in his insistence that love cannot be divided from God and the real cannot be made visible.

The rind has no shortage of erudition or social skills, he merely refuses to budge from his internalized consciousness. As such, Hafez fits nicely into your grouping of outsider poetry, widening the concept beyond the parochialism of social status, level of training, piety and attitude toward audience. How well that purpose is served by having his language transmuted into the pieties of conventional academic poetry is another matter. There is literally nothing at stake in ghazal 218 the way Squires renders it:

See how one poem
traverses space and time

how this child of one night
accomplishes a year’s journey

Compare that pleasant truism with the radicalism of a literal (and formally correct) translation, from Australian Divan translator Paul Smith. In this version, we are given no exit from mysticism and no entrance into poetry as an individual act, no ambiguity or irony to shelter us from our own spiritual poverty:

Last night before dawn, freedom from all suffering They gave me;
In the darkness of night, Water of Life-everlasting, They gave me.

They overpowered me with the brilliance of the Divine Essence;
A drink from the goblet of Divine Light overflowing, They gave me.

What a fortunate dawn and joyful night was that Night of Power
When the Supreme Authority of God's Commanding They gave me.

When I swooned with awe and wonder from love for Love-'s Face,
The two goddesses Lat and Manat's true meaning They gave me.

If my longing is fulfilled and my heart is in bliss, what wonder?
All of this as rightful gifts, because I was deserving They gave me.

Now, together are my face and the mirror of the Glory of Beauty:
Beloved's Glory reflecting my true Self showing, They gave me.

All this honey and sugar that's pouring from my pen is the reward
For patience; and a branch of sugarcane for writing They gave me.

Angel Gabriel the invisible messenger, gave me the happiest news:
When tyranny and violence comes, patience enduring They gave me.

It's such a wonderful miracle to be the slave of the Perfect Master:
I became His dust and the rank of the highest rating They gave me.

The Master raised me that day to reach to life Eternal without end;
When the writing of freedom from death, everlasting, They gave me.

Hafiz said: "The moment I fell into the snare of the tip of Your hair,
Release from the chains of anguish and of suffering They gave me."

Because of blessings I received and wishes of dawn companions,
Freedom from Fate's sickness and Time's grieving They gave me.

Hafiz, rejoice, rejoice, then thankfully scatter the sugar of thanks:
Realization of the Divine Beloved, sweetly swaying, They gave me.

Rusty Kjarvik said...

I very much enjoyed both works on this particular Hafez piece, I think both works reveal interesting insights into the art of forsaken dualities in the perception of Mystery and the Beyond, I'm glad for both because they also reveal a uniquely idiosyncratic mind faced against the all-forebearing raw chains of the Islamic religion and the obscurity of human struggle in the sacred Act of the universe, now rent asunder through the visionary musings of a true seer as Hafez, whose mystic wine I feel in every one of his utterances throughout time no matter how waylaid by the discourse of history in the mirrored hall of our ever weary reflection down the foggy halls of time, especially as they stretch eastwards.

I have to say nonetheless, my favorite line is:

"The Master raised me that day to reach to life
Eternal without end;
When the writing of freedom from death,
Everlasting, They gave me."

The conceptual practice in "writing freedom from death" exposes for me an affirmed releasing of our notions behind "freedom," when interposed with "dream" from death, by meaning, for me, a need to die dreamlessly immersed fully in one's own death and feel the actual binding of mortality in order to understand what it is to be the "beggar" or even "rind" of Hafez himself!

I have to say as well, I do see a type of drama cast into this piece in both renditions as Hafez seems to be projecting his voice into the pungent air of the 'umma (Muslim community) in Rothenberg's post, and still pierces through the curtain of His potential awareness as the dramatist/poet becomes soliloquist within the form of his beautiful poetic form: ghazal.

With great admiration to the posting of both renditions.