Thursday, April 11, 2019

On Best Translations of Hafiz—and a Controversy


From what I've determined, these are the best contemporary English translations of Hafiz to date: Peter Avery, Elizabeth Gray (my favorite selected), and Dick Davis. The 1892 translations of Gertrude Bell are still considered worthwhile although a little dated in style.

I'm currently reading the Peter Avery 30 poem selection which I am really really enjoying. He published a collected version of 400 poems but it seems to be out of print and the used copies start at like $90 so that one's on my wish list.

And here's what I'm wishing. First, Archetype should do a second printing of the Collected Lyrics of Hafiz. Second, there shall appear one used book seller not price-gouging such numinous words.

(jan 2021 update. avery's book is now available. paid $30 for a new copy.)

Meanwhile it appears Daniel Ladinsky is not a translator of Hafiz, nor even a transcreator, but offers his original poetry under the name of Hafiz, as if it were transmitted or guided correspondence. Unfortunately, many many many think this poetry is original Hafiz. Very not cool.

Here is Daniel Ladinsky's own defense published as a review of 'The Gift' on Amazon titled 'My Portrait of Hafiz:’ "based on my study of thousands of pages of stories and poems that are attributed to Hafiz...first offered to Penguin with the word VERSIONS on the cover rather than the word translations, for i have never claimed my work with Hafiz is a traditional -- scholarly -- translation"

As someone who has transcreated versions of Lal Ded and Han Shan based on others' translations, I understand his basic gist of trying to do justice to the poet's intent. Honestly, I feel Lalla and Cold Mountain both have not been completely understood by their translators.

This is not to say I necessarily do, but obviously I thought some nondual something was missing in the translations. Still, to take one's own writing and pass it on as the poet's is going down a slippery slope. Such is not a version, but at best an inspired writing, and at worst, a fraud.


More on Hafiz and other Sufi poets here:

But let’s end on a positive note. Here’s a translation of Hafiz by Peter Avery:


Again the garden has got the glitter of Spring:

The nightingale hears good news, for the rose is come.

Soft wind returning to the young plants of the meadow, Greet for us the rose, the cypress and the sweet basil.

They are spread for the wedding-feast of the wine-seller's son, And I'd sweep his floor with my eyelashes to win such grace.

For that amber-scented strand you draw across a moonlight brow

Has made a shuttlecock of my heart, and set it spinning.

I can't trust those who sneer at us drinking down to the lees: That is the kind of thing which gets a bad name for religion.

Let them learn to be friends with God's true friends; remember that Noah in his ark,

A speck of dust himself, cared not a drop for the deluge.

(a lowercase version of this review was first published spontaneously as tweets on @aumdada)

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