The clear mirror
Poems of Hafiz
January 10, 2001
For the past few years, I have been translating the ghazals of Hafiz,
hoping to preserve both the spirit and the form of the original poems in
English-- as much as the art of translation will allow such a rendition.
I realize that a complete, "whole," irrevocably unchanged
translation is impossible, even in the same language. When we talk about
poetry in English or in Farsi, we do render those poems into a translated
form to discuss their contents freely.
However, "wholeness" is not possible: even words like "bloody"
and "sanguine," although paraphrases (synonyms of sorts), are
hardly faithful translations of each other. Add the many words in the many
lines of a poem, and we have a monumentally impossible task of conversion.
Of course, this kind of "wholeness" is not necessary: any
good translation is a new poem in its own right, composed twice, once by
the original poet and once by the translator; and every time a poem is
read, it is also recreated by the reader -- thus, a poem is rewritten every
time it is read, and we all become co-creators of that poem.
Even though my translation (as the translations of Von Hammer, or A.J.
Arberry, or Nicholson, or Allen, or.) is not a word-for-word rendition,
I think it adequately measures the poetry of Hafiz in English.
Some scholars argue that the literature of a people remains only understandable
in the culture that has produced it, in its created language; I think,
however, any good poem becomes universal and will stand on its human roots
as much as its cultural roots, and Hafiz is a universal poet.
So, if readers find my translation lacking, they must forgive me and
generously accept it for the sheer reason that I have attempted to translate
Hafiz, an audacious undertaking.
Among others, my aim is to get younger Iranian Americans, who have lost
their fluency in Farsi, to read Hafiz and hear the beauty of his songs,
filtered as it might be. I hope eventually these ghazals will be published
in a book form.
One very obvious note: poetry is for the ear more than for the eye.
By choosing the poems of Molavi (Rumi) and Hafiz as the lyrics of the most
beautiful classical music of Iran, we have tacitly agreed that a poem should
be heard, not read. My suggestion is that these translations be read aloud
for both better comprehension and also for catching the music that is in
There are well versed and educated Iranian Americans amongst us who
can provide me with guidelines and offer their constructive criticism,
Translations of Hafiz poems
hair, sweating, a smile on her lips--drunk!...
Zolf aashofteh o khoy karedeh o khandaan lab o mast...
Wind, kindly tell that tender gazelle...
Sabaa belotf begoo aan ghazaleh ra'naa raa...
that Shirazi Turk behold our heart; then...
Agar aan torkeh shiraazee bedast aarad deleh maa raa...
mosque to tavern sauntered our guru--yesternight...
Doosh az masjed sooyeh meykhaaneh aamad peereh maa...
Sufi, see the clear mirror in the cup...
Soofi bi-yaa keh aayneh saafeest jam raa
Fill the golden cup--with joyous tidings...
Kheez o dar kaaseh zar aabeh tarabnaak andaaz...
not grieve: Joseph, lost, he returns to Canaan...
Yoosefeh ghom ghashteh baaz aayad beh kan'aan gham makhor...
long, our heart has yearned to possess Jamsheed's Cup...
Saalhaa del talabeh jaam-e jam az maa mikard...
Reza Ordoubadian holds a Ph.D. degree in English and linguistics.
He has held a professorship at Middle Tennessee State University and Visiting
Professorship at Umea University (Sweden). He has published numerous pieces
of fiction and poetry as well as scholarly articles and books on both sides
of the ocean. He was the editor of SECOL Review for 18 years.