In these pages I'll write what strikes me as interesting about translating and translations, about language, about Khayyaam and other poets, some Persian and some not-Persian.  I do look for parallel-to-Khayyaam passages, and viewers will already have seen several couplets of Hafez which share a common theme. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016, یک شنبه،۲ آبان ۱۳۹۵ 

This first entry starts with my rendition of the source-quatrain, Calcutta MS 346, for Edward FitzGerald's  Stanza XXI, 4th ed.  (The Stanza and details can be found in this website, No. 26.)

ای دوست بیا تا غم فردا نخوریم
وین یک دم عمرر را غنیمت شمریم
فردا که ازین دیر کهن در گذریم
با هفتهزار سالگان سر بسریم

Dashti's text, quatrain 64

Come, my love,
let sorrow go,
the sadness of tomorrow,
and the time-plundered moments,
spend them while life flows.
There will be tomorrow
when we leave old haunts behind
and travel side-by-side
seven thousand years in time.

I'd also like to say something about 7000 years of language but first let me give viewers some background. Several of us, Hossein Samei, Rafi‘ Junaid, and me, a couple of years ago when reading Hafez, began talking about dosh- prefix words in Persian. We were discussing the Persian word doshman, دشمن , "enemy" the opposite of دوست , dust, "friend" .  We knew, of course, that the prefix dosh- meant "bad"  (بد or زشت , zesht). Later, in Roland Kent's Old Persian, I found this information under the headword duš- (dush-): Avestan duš- (dush-) Sanskrit दुष्  (dush-"sh" is retroflexive/apico-domal), Greek δυσ- (dus-).  Add to these, English dys- as in "dyspepsia" -- " bad digestion" or worse, "dysentery", "bad insides", perhaps as a result of the former! English dys- will frequently show up in scientific words or words of medical usage: "dyslexia", for example.  And there is even "dysangelical", the opposite of evangelical, which is supported by Greek dusangelos, "messenger of ill". ( See Roland Kent, Old Persian: GrammarTexts, Lexicon, American Oriental Society, New Haven, 1953, p. 192, where word-examples in Avestan and Sanskrit are given).

dosh- then is a time-honored, Indo-European prefix, and the prefix dush/dus is often referred to as an inseparable prefix because it does not function independently as an adverb or preposition or another part of speech. 

I decided to look further.  The Greek adjective, dusmenês, "hostile, of bad intent" (cf., eumenês, "of good intent") is a pertinent example to lead us to the "second part" of doshman, to "man". 

Since Persian doshman means "enemy", dosh- "bad" combined with a noun or adjective following would signal a compound formation, and as such it suits the bahuvrihi (Skt. "having much rice") pattern, that is, a possessive-descriptive pattern, "having bad/evil ..." -- so what is man? And is man used in this manner in Persian?  Hossein Samei later on told me that man does not exist in New Persian, but finds itself in bahman, akôman and possibly ahriman, all of which are Avestan.

The three of us thought that doshman meant someone of bad  "actions", thus an enemy. That's close, since the Proto-Indo-European root *men, Sanskrit man, means "to think, believe, imagine," and the neuter Sanskrit noun manas, from man, means "mind" (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers -- my Sanskrit resource is Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary.)  When I just wrote "Sanskrit man, means" - "mean(s)" is the English cognate of Sanskrit man.  And so is "mind."

In doshman, we have gone back a long way in time.  Martin West, (Indo-European Poetry and Myth, p. 80) discussing compounds, cites "Sanskrit durmanas, Avestan dušmanah, Greek δυσμενής , all meaning 'ill-spirited' in one sense or the other..."  West notes "in the ancient languages many compounds came into being to serve commonplace needs."  Ill-spirited adversaries have had a long existence, which comes as no surprise.

And what about "man" (human being) and our human being of the mind, thought, spirit?  It makes sense if we say that the thinking mind belongs to humankind.  The relationship of the two words has not been established.  Possibly they have a common source, say, a good long while ago.

Ten thousand Years in Time!? A very, very long time but if we could travel back side-to-side, Sanskrit and Persian would be the same language. It wouldn't be too long a time. Take English and German -- "Upon inspection, the similarities in structure between English and German will be observed to be closer and very much more numerous than between English and Latin or English and Chinese. This is because English and German were the same language as recently as 2200 years ago, whereas English and Latin were the same language some 7000 years ago. (In both cases the dating is mostly a guess, but the difference in magnitude is trustworthy.) The innovations which created ever-greater differences between originally identical languages have been accumulating  for something like four times as long between English and Latin as between English and German.  And if English and Chinese were ever the same language in the first place, it was so long ago that the fact itself cannot be demonstrated, though there is no reason to think it impossible."  (Andrew L. Sihler, Language History: An Introduction, John Benjamins, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2000, p. 3-4.)

10,000 years ago? Hossein Samei wittily remarked that when English and Chinese were the same language they were spoken in Africa.



Sunday, April 23, 2017, یک شنبه، ۳ اردیبهشت ۱۳۹۶

I'd like to write a few things about myself.  This seems a good place now to do it.  

When I first decided to study Persian, I was partially enticed by the desire to find out how those lovely poems of Rumi's were expressed in Persian .  Many were forwarded to my email without the name of the translator, and others came to me as washed out copies.

My father had been living with me for several years, and as he had moved to Atlanta, I had much more time to devote to interests.  I was by virtue of age free from the business world where I had spent a good deal of time.  So, did I now wish to return to Greek and Latin? I had studied classics as an undergraduate and graduate student and over the years had some involvement in translating and editing.  I also thought about reacquainting myself with Sanskrit. But I decided on Persian, for Rumi's sake and by the kindness and encouragement of Dwight Stephens. Dwight was then coordinating the Persian program and other less well known languages at Duke, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina.  Dwight and I together read some Rumi quatrains and a few quatrains of Khayyaam.  It was fun and a boost to my beginnings.

My oral-aural competencies in Persian are not good -- I joke that as a Greek and Latin major, I tend to default to the text. Reading Persian has improved.  I get better, and through improvement, I'm promoted to a new level of incompetence. 

I have been lucky enough to find teachers to help me, and they will be the subject of another posting. I decided to read Khayyaam because I liked many of the quatrains attributed to him.  Their brevity and wit was another good reason to choose these poems.  The website is my effort to post certain well-known quatrains of Khayyaam  in Persian (and about twenty stanzas of FitzGerald).  As viewers will know, I offer the translation of others and translate some poems myself. I also translate the quatrains line by line, more or less literally.  There is comment and some discussion.

On average, the site receives about seven unique visitors each day.  I get feedback and enjoy the comments of site visitors who are learning to read Persian. A few of these new readers are of Iranian descent, who speak and understand Persian but are learning to read and write. This is exciting for me and makes the work  worthwhile.  

About translating Khayaam: it's difficult to translate or render a quatrain to my satisfaction.  I am not a poet. I don't, however, favor in my English renditions an imitation of the quatrain style, ending in the aaba or aaaa rhyme pattern.  Others may be successful in this, but when I have tried, I often feel I'm playing a word-game, working at being clever. I find I have to add what's not in the text to force a rhyme. So my attempts range from four lines to eight lines or more. In my opinion, the combination of Persianist and poet is needed to produce good renditions. Dick Davis does this well, and for Hafez, Geoffrey Squires.  And for Rumi, Frank Lewis, even though he may not think of himself as a poet.  Just to name three who currently translate Persian poetry.  Let me also mention Jawid Mojaddedi, for his ongoing translation of Rumi's Masnavi.  

But the poet and non-Persianist, Coleman Barks, is another example. Most of the Rumi I first saw had been copied from Barks' books. I had been critical of Coleman until I read some years ago an interview published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (December 9, 2007).  In that piece he averred he had never thought of himself as "faithful to the original" since he does not know Persian.  He further said that all translation betrays original meanings and "we're talking about degrees of faithlessness".  Rumi comes to Barks by way of English translations, and "Rumi's words" are Barks' interpretation.  Admittedly Coleman Barks' Rumi doesn't sound to me like Rumi, in the same way that  FitzGerald sounds like Khayyaam. But I admire Barks' honesty and above all, and he really has to be credited with this: Barks is the one who brought us to the dance.

Where many non-Persianist-modern poets fail is by "bringing Rumi's world to modern America" rather than "bringing modern English to the world of Rumi", as Franklin Lewis stated he hoped to do in his translations (Rumi: Swallowing the Sun). This tendency towards modernization has made for new-age Rumi, new-age Hafez. Ibrahim Gamard writes on his site specifically addressing translations of Rumi's quatrains: " The popular versions ... are so filled with inaccuracies and distortions, that these sublime quatrains are often stripped of their true religious  and mystical content, and replaced with a vague spirituality instead."  

There is something else here as well.  The popularists or interpreters often offer up renditions of what they wish the poet to say. They abandon thought over what the poet means in the English translation in front of them.