Tag Archives: Persian poetry

“The Liberal mind is oversexualized…” says تاریخ خراسان

25 Dec

I agree. But the continued bowdlerizing of mediaeval Islamic poetry is a problem.

See: The beautiful “Shirazi Turk”-ish kid from the corny German commercial

Or, from one of my earliest posts on Persian poetry:

“The crucial surrender here, of course, is to ignore the full spectrum of interpretations – from the religious pedant’s to the equally irritating contemporary gay ‘reads’ (those of what Joseph Massad calls “The Gay International”) – about whether the flame is God or your spiritual master or a hot kid and really surrender the urge to interpret entirely, forget about metaphor, stop the transference, which is what “metaphora” means in Greek, something that the ghazal’s connected/disconnected structure is so conducive to and which gives it so much of its power  — and which probably leads to the common assumption of untranslatability.”

And here’s the full post:

Become a moth

20 May

Shajarian and a very young Homayoun perform the Molana-Rumi verse (with Alizadeh and Kalhor)

Perhaps the main reason I started my attempt to learn Farsi was pure spite (the other was to go to Afghanistan).  I had gotten tired of asking Iranians whether they liked this or that translation of Saadi or Hafez and being smugly told or categorically barked at: “NO! None of them; Persian poetry can’t be translated,” or reading some poor soul on You Tube gush: “My God, what beautiful music!  Can someone translate the lyrics, please?!!” only to be shot down by an Iranian: “you dont know all the metaphors references you won’t understand you cant translate poetry.”  Well, yes you can translate poetry, ‘cause if you can’t, you can’t translate anything else either.  Or you can create a set of reasonably analogous concepts that gives the other language-speaker a strongly analogous idea, at least, and just as strong a sensory feel.  In the end, the set of incommunicable ideas we’ve each got locked in our heads is pretty much as different as that between any two languages, so if you doubt translation you’re doubting the hope of any human communication really – which might, I understand, be a reasonable theory.  But we’ll forgive the Persians their snobbery because, as they say in Spanish in an expression I love: “tienen con que…” literally “they got what with…” meaning “they have reason to be” or “they a have a right to…”

But then there’s this sweet and very generous attempt of one You Tube reader to give an almost calque-like translation of this Rumi piece:

If you are going to the drunkards, become drunk

If you go towards the drunk, go drunkenly! Go drunkenly! (mastâne is a compound from mast (drunk) and the prefix -âne, which is_ a particularizer (pertaining to the qualities of X, in a X manner) e.g. from mard we have mardâne (men’s, for men; …

You should become all soul, until you are worthy of the spirits[?]

You should become all soul until you become deserving the sweetheart (beloved)

And then become the cup [?] that holds the wine of love

And then become a cup for the wine of love! Become a cup! (in English, if I’m not mistaken, one says “become a member of X” so I translated it as “become a cup…” rather than “become the cup”)

Make your heart like the [other] hearts [?], wash it seven times [till it is free] of grudges

Go and wash the chest of hatreds seven-water-ly like [real] chests (chest is the house of heart. I think, in English, one says “like a [real] chest”. Ancient people believed that washing something with water of seven seas makes it purely clean.)

And then come live with the lovers

And then, come [and] become homemate with lovers! Become homemate! (ham- = homo-, xâne = home -> homo-home like homo-phone but anyway: homemate)

Become a stranger to yourself, ruin your own home [destroy the_ nafs]

[both] make yourself alien (stranger) and make the house ruined (I think it means “desert your past and your belongings”)

And from the heart of the flame, come out, become a moth

And into fire, enter! Become a butterfly! Become a butterfly! (candle (šamë)

Abandon your deceit, O lover, become mad

O lover, abandon deceit! Become mad! Become mad! (hilat is Arabic_ form of hila -> hile. In Persian, we have sometimes taken an Arabic word as -at and sometimes as -a. Well, as for hilat, it’s not found in common Persian and we only say hila/e)

And a Farsi transliteration, not all included in the above performance:

Aan goushvaar-e shaahedaan, hamsohbat-eh aarez shodeh,

Aan goush-e aarez baayadat! dordaaneh sho, dordaaneh sho(2),

Chon Jaan-e to shod dar hava, zafsaneh-ye shiereen-eh ma,

Faany sho O chon aasheghaan! afsaaneh_ sho, afsaaneh sho(2),

Andiesheh-at Jaaie ravad, aangah to ra aanja barad

zaandisheh bogzar chon ghaza! pieshaaneh sho, pieshaaneh sho(2)

O Hielat Raha kon aashegha! divaneh sho, divaneh sho(2),

Vandar del-e aHam khiesh ra bigaaneh kon, ham khaaneh ra viraneh kon,

Vaangah bia ba aasheghaa! hamkhaaneh sho, hamshaaneh sho(2),atash dar a! parvaneh sho, parvaneh sho(2)

Ro sieneh ra chon sieneh ha, haft aab_ shoo az kieneh ha,

Vaangah sharaab-e eshgh ra! peymaaneh sho, peymaaneh sho(2),

The moth-and-flame is one of the most classic of those ‘untranslatable’ metaphors: the constant injunction to become a moth and throw yourself into the flame, surrender to the annihilation of love.  The crucial surrender here, of course, is to ignore the full spectrum of interpretations – from the religious pedant’s to the equally irritating contemporary gay ‘reads’ (those of what Joseph Massad calls “The Gay International”) – about whether the flame is God or your spiritual master or a hot kid and really surrender the urge to interpret entirely, forget about metaphor, stop the transference, which is what “metaphora” means in Greek, something that the ghazal’s connected/disconnected structure is so conducive to and which gives it so much of its power  — and which probably leads to the common assumption of untranslatability.  This is what Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry does so successfully in English.

That said, I’ve never seen a moth actually do this.  I’ve heard mosquitoes incessantly frying themselves on those machines on summer nights in the sweltering plains of northern Greece while I’m trying to enjoy a roast pig crackling, but not a moth actually burn itself in a candle or other flame — or maybe Persian moths are greater emotional risk-takers.  In my experience, whenever a moth runs into trouble around light it’s usually ended up like this guy who I found in my icon lamp.

And this is what I’ve found most contemporary humans’ experience of love to be too: stuck in a viscous mess, your wings oil-logged, pedaling frantically and unable to escape your slow suffocation till life picks you out with a paper-towel and squishes you.  Don’t we wish it were instant incineration; we’d save ourselves much pointless humiliation.  But our hearts just aren’t up to such sacrificial leaps into the abyss anymore.

“Whom the flame itself has gone looking for, that moth — just imagine!” – Bollywood song

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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The beautiful “Shirazi Turk”-ish kid from the corny German commercial

24 Dec

As if that German commercial of the Turkish family cooking for their sullen German neighbor (redundant? “sullen German”?) didn’t pull enough heartstrings, the family’s son, who has the idea of approaching the old man, is a knock-out.

Makes one think of Hafez. Yes, I know this particular poem is quoted to death, but it’s one of the first that really grabbed me when I first discovered Persian poetry:

1.

اگر آن ترک شیرازی به دست آرد دل ما را‎ به خال هندویش بخشم سمرقند و بخارا را‎

‘agar ‘ān Tork-e Šīrāzī * be dast ārad del-ē mā-rābe xāl-ē Hendu-yaš baxšam Samarqand ō Boxārā-rā

If that Shirazi Turk accepts my heart in their hand, for their Indian mole I will give Samarkand and Bukhara.

2.

بده ساقی می باقی که در جنت نخواهی یافت‎ کنار آب رکن آباد و گلگشت مصلا را‎

bedeh, sāqī, mey-ē bāqī ke dar jannat naxāhī yāftkenār-ē āb-e Roknābād o golgašt-ē Mosallā-rā

Wine-pourer, give the rest of wine, since in heaven you will not find the banks of the water of Roknabad and the rose-walk of Mosalla.

3.

فغان کاین لولیان شوخ شیرین کار شهرآشوب‎ چنان بردند صبر از دل که ترکان خوان یغما را‎

faqān k-īn lūliyān-ē šūx -e šīrīnkār-e šahrāšūbčonān bordānd sabr az del ke Torkān xān-e yaqmā-rā

Alas for these mischievous gypsies who do sweet things and make the town riot! they have stolen the patience from my heart like Turks at a banquet of plunder.

4.

ز عشق ناتمام ما جمال یار مستغنی است‎ به آب و رنگ و خال و خط چه حاجت روی زیبا را‎

ze ‘ešq-ē nātamām-ē mā jamāl-ē yār mostaqnī-stbe āb ō rang o xāl ō xat če hājat rūy-e zībā-rā?

Of our imperfect love the glory of the beloved is independent; what need does a beautiful face have for powder and colour and mole and line?

5.

من از آن حسن روزافزون که یوسف داشت دانستم‎ که عشق از پرده عصمت برون آرد زلیخا را‎

man az ‘ān hosn-e rūz-afzūn ke Yūsof dāšt dānestamke ‘ešq az parde-yē ‘esmat borūn ārad Zoleyxā-rā

I have learnt, from that daily-increasing beauty that Joseph had, that Love will bring Zoleykha out from behind the curtain of modesty.

6.

اگر دشنام فرمایی و گر نفرین دعا گویم‎ جواب تلخ می‌زیبد لب لعل شکرخا را‎

agar došnām farmā’ī * v-agar nefrīn do’ā gūyamjavāb-ē talx mīzībad * lab-ē la’l-ē šekarxā-rā

Even if you speak harshly, and even if you curse me, I am grateful; a bitter answer beautifies a ruby-red sugar-chewing lip.

7.

نصیحت گوش کن جانا که از جان دوست‌تر دارند‎ جوانان سعادتمند پند پیر دانا را‎

nasīhat gūš kon, jānā, ke ‘az jān dūst-tar dārandjavānān-ē sa’ādatmand pand-ē pīr-e dānā-rā

Listen to advice, my soul, since even more valuable than their soul youths who seek happiness hold the advice of a knowledgeable elder.

8.

حدیث از مطرب و می گو و راز دهر کمتر جو‎ که کس نگشود و نگشاید به حکمت این معما را‎

hadīs az motreb-ō mey gū * vo rāz-ē dahr kamtar jūke kas nagšūd o nagšāyad * be hekmat ‘īn mo’ammā-rā

Tell a tale of minstrel and wine, and seek the secret of time less, since no one has ever solved or will ever solve this riddle with wisdom.

9.

غزل گفتی و در سفتی بیا و خوش بخوان حافظ‎ که بر نظم تو افشاند فلک عقد ثریا را‎

qazal goftī o dor softī * biyā vō xoš bexān, Hāfezke bar nazm-ē to afšānad * falak ‘egd-ē Sorayyā-rā

You have completed your poem and pierced the pearl; come and sing beautifully, Hafez, that on your compositions Heaven may scatter the necklace of the Pleiades.

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“The most depressed country is Afghanistan, where more than one in five people suffer from the disorder.”

13 Nov

From Washington Post:  “The Middle East and North Africa suffer the world’s highest depression rates, according to a new study by researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland — and it’s costing people in the region years off their lives.”

Aside from the real conditions that might explain this — real conditions — there are some really big questions though on what depression means to people.  Is ‘sadness’ or Freudian ‘melancholy’ a recognized cultural trait in these regions, a way of seeing life, even an aesthetic sensibility and not at all a debilitating force? perhaps even an empowering one? Because then we’re talking about an entirely different set of issues that I think this study may have missed.

depression-rates

An American will always tell you his life is going great, no?  Meanwhile, we have Oum Kalthoum.  And if you want to find a suite like her stunning “El Atlal” a marker of depression, you’ve got the whole culture/s wrong.  And I did not use the word “empowerment” above lightly; when you’ve seen how the public reacts in footage like this, or at a South Asian or Afghan poetry session, or even in the ritualized grieving at a funeral in Epiros, you’ll see that the participants are not ‘debilitated’ or ‘depressed’ in the least by the  emotional mood that’s generated — quite the opposite.

(Note: again, as with all this music, this is a suite, with a musical narrative structure essential to appreciating it; not a 2:30 CD track.  When you have the time, give it a chance as a whole piece. And she was such a brilliant performer…  Here’s a go-to site for translation of Arab music: Arabic Music Translation)

“Al Atlal” by the way, makes a beautiful ‘appearance’ in Anthony Shadid’s moving House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East.)

Here are the lyrics in English and Arabic:

The Ruins

My heart, don’t ask where the love has gone
It was a citadel of my imagination that has collapsed
Pour me a drink and let us drink of its ruins
And tell the story on my behalf as long as the tears flow
Tell how that love became past news
And became another story of passion
I haven’t forgotten you
And you seduced me with a sweetly-calling and tender tongue
And a hand extending towards me like a hand stretched out through the waves to a drowning person
You seduced me with the saliva (of a kiss) that a night traveler thirsts for
But where is that light in your eyes?
My darling, I visited your nest one day as a bird of desire singing my pain
You’ve become self-important, spoiled and capricious
And you inflict harm like a powerful tyrant
And my longing for you cauterized my ribs (soul or insides)
And the waiting was like embers in my blood
Give me my freedom, release my hands
Indeed, I’ve given you yours and did not try to retain anything
Ah, your chains have bloodied my wrists
I haven’t kept then nor have they spared me
Why do I keep promises that you do not honor?
When will this captivity end, when the world is before us?
He is far away, my enchanting love
Full of pride, majesty and delicacy
Sure-footed walking like an angel with oppressive beauty and rapacious glory
Redolent of charm like the breeze of the hills
Pleasant to experience like the night’s dreams
I’ve lost forever the charm of your company that radiated brilliantly
I, wandering in love, a bewildered butterfly, approached you
And between us, desire was a messenger and drinking companion that presented the cup to us
Had love seen two as intoxicated as us?
So much hope we had built up around us
And we walked in the moonlit path, joy skipping along ahead of us
And we laughed like two children together
And we ran and raced our shadows
And we became aware after the euphoria and woke up
If only we did not awaken
Wakefulness ruined the dreams of slumber
The night came and the night became my only friend
And then the light was an omen of the sunrise and the dawn was towering over like a conflagration
And then the world was as we know it, with each lover in their own path
Oh sleepless one who slumbers and remembers the promise when you wake up
Know that if a wound begins to recover another wound crops up with the memory
So learn to forget and learn to erase it
My darling everything is fated
It is not by our hands that we make our misfortune
Perhaps one day our fates will cross when our desire to meet is strong enough
For if one friend denies the other and we meet as strangers
And if each of us follows his or her own way
Don’t say it was by our own will
But rather, the will of fate.

Al Atlal (الأطلال)

شعر: إبراهيم ناجي غناء: أم كلثوم ألحان: رياض السنباطي
يا فؤادي لا تسل أين الهوى كان صرحاً من خيالٍ فهوى
اسقني واشرب على أطلاله وأروي عني طالما الدمع روى
كيف ذاك الحب أمسى خبراً وحديثاً من أحاديث الجوى

لست أنساك وقد أغريتني بفم عذب المناداة رقيق
ويدٍ تمتد نحوي كيدٍ من خلال الموج مدت لغريق
وبريق يظمأ الساري له أين في عينيك ذياك البريق

يا حبيباً زرت يوماً أيكه طائر الشوق أغني ألمي
لك إبطاء المذل المنعم وتجلي القادر المحتكم
وحنيني لك يكوي أضلعي والثواني جمرات في دمي

أعطني حريتي أطلق يديا إنني أعطيت ما استبقيت شيئا
آه من قيدك معصمي لم أبقيه فما أبقى عليا
ما احتفاظي بعهود لم تصنها وإلام الأسر والدنيا لديا

أين من عيني حبيبي ساحر فيه عزُ وجلال وحياء
واثق الخطوة يمشي ملكاً ظالم الحسن شجي الكبرياء
عبق السحر كأنفاس الربا تائه الطرف كأحلام المساء
أين مني مجلسٌ أنت به فتنة…. س…وس..
ها أنا حب وقلب هائمٌ وفراشٌ حائرٌ….من كذا….

ومن الشوق رسولٌ بيننا ونديمٌ قدم الكاس لنا
هل رأى الحب سكارى مثلنا كم بنينا من خيالٍ حولنا
ومشينا في طريقٍ مقمرٍ تجد الفرحة فيه قبلنا
وضحكنا ضحك طفلين معاً وعدونا فسبقنا ظلنا

وانتبهنا بعدما زال الرحيل وأفقنا ليت أنا لا نفيق
يقظة طاحت بأحلام الكرى وتولى الليل والليل صديق
وإذا النور نذير طالع وإذا الفجر مطلٌ كالحريق
وإذا الدنيا كما نعرفها وإذا الأحباب كلٌ في طريق

أيها الساهر تغفو تذكر العهد وتصحو
وإذا ما التئم جرح جد بالتذكار جرح
فتعلم كيف تنسى وتعلم كيف تمحو

يا حبيبي كل شيء بقضاء ما بأيدينا خلقنا ضعفاء
ربما تجمعنا أقدارنا ذات يوم بعدما عز اللقاء
فإذا أنكر خلٌ خله وتلاقينا لقاء الغرباء
ومضى كلٌ إلى غايته لا تقل شئنا فإن الحظ شاء
فإن الحظ شاء فإن الحق شاء

Shajarian, Moshiri, “Khurshid-e-Arzu”

24 Jun

This is Khurshid-e-Arzu, the “Sun of my Desire,” a piece both composed and sung by Shajarian junior.  The lyrics are from a poem of Fereydoun Moshiri’s.  Moshiri is one of Iran’s great twentieth-century poets, credited with, if not ‘modernizing’ Persian poetry, at least creating a newer language that would get past the moth-and-flame, rose-nightingale, classical imagery (but every twentieth-century Iranian poet I learn about is credited with the same thing — such is the weight of their literary past I guess.)  This particular piece, at least, seems pretty traditional in its emotional tone, which is not in any way a negative assessment; I can’t tell how the language might be used differently.

This isn’t a ‘song.’  This is a composition, based on a mode like most of our music is.  It’s a suite — part of one, at least — meaning it has a structure, an architecture, a narrative arc.  If you don’t have twelve minutes to listen to it all in one piece (it’s already been cut from its original eighteen minutes) or twelve-minute’s worth attention span generally, then it’s best you don’t bother.  All you’ll hear is an “amanes*,” some ‘oriental wailing.’ *(See footnote to “Something Beautiful from Greece: Minore-tes-Auges-Rembetiko” June 17th)

The translation obviously leaves a bit to be desired I imagine.  But until we all get it together to learn Farsi, as any civilized man should, it’ll have to do.  Sorry, as well, for the hokey video.  It’s hard to find video of live performances.  Lyrics in Farsi and English below.  Enjoy.

بگذار سر به سینه ی من تا که بشنوی
آهنگ اشتیاق دلی دردمند را

شاید که پیش از این نپسندی به کار عشق
آزار این رمیده ی سر در کمند را

بگذار سر به سینه ی من تا بگویمت
اندوه چیست، عشق کدام است، غم کجاست

بگذار تا بگویمت این مرغ خسته جان
عمریست در هوای تو از آشیان جداست

دلتنگم آنچنان که اگر ببینمت به کام
خواهم که جاودانه بنالم به دامنت

شاید که جاودانه بمانی کنار من
ای نازنین که هیچ وفا نیست با منت

تو آسمان آبی آرام و روشنی
من چون کبوتری که پرم در هوای تو

یک شب ستاره ها ی تورا دانه چین کنم
با اشک شرم خویش بریزم به پای تو

بگذار تا ببوسمت ای نوشخند صبح
بگذار تا بنوشمت ای چشمه ی شراب

بیمار خنده های توام بیشتر بخند
خورشید آرزوی منی گرمتر بتاب

Lay your head on my chest to hear
The song of desire of a heart in agony,
Perhaps you would no longer favor, in the affair of love,
To hurt this ensnared startled bird.
Lay your head on my chest and let me tell you
What sorrow is, what love is, where grief is.
Let me tell you of this weary bird,
So long away from its nest in yearning for you.
So much am I sick at heart that if I see you,
I wish to forever cry at your feet,
So you might stay with me forever,
Oh love, you are not true to me!
You are the blue sky, bright and still,
I, like a dove flying in your air.
One night I will pluck your stars one by one,
And with my humble tears, I will pour them at your feet.
O sweet smile of morning, let me kiss you!
O fountain of wine, let me drink you!
I long for your laughter; laugh more!
You are the sun of my desires; shine more!


Fereydoun Moshiri

Homayoun Shajarian: enjoying a reluctant bit of a star moment…  But always dead serious about his music; this is a rare shot of him smiling…

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Become a moth

20 May

Shajarian and a very young Homayoun perform the Molana-Rumi verse (with Alizadeh and Kalhor)

Perhaps the main reason I started my attempt to learn Farsi was pure spite (the other was to go to Afghanistan).  I had gotten tired of asking Iranians whether they liked this or that translation of Saadi or Hafez and being smugly told or categorically barked at: “NO! None of them; Persian poetry can’t be translated,” or reading some poor soul on You Tube gush: “My God, what beautiful music!  Can someone translate the lyrics, please?!!” only to be shot down by an Iranian: “you dont know all the metaphors references you won’t understand you cant translate poetry.”  Well, yes you can translate poetry, ‘cause if you can’t, you can’t translate anything else either.  Or you can create a set of reasonably analogous concepts that gives the other language-speaker a strongly analogous idea, at least, and just as strong a sensory feel.  In the end, the set of incommunicable ideas we’ve each got locked in our heads is pretty much as different as that between any two languages, so if you doubt translation you’re doubting the hope of any human communication really – which might, I understand, be a reasonable theory.  But we’ll forgive the Persians their snobbery because, as they say in Spanish in an expression I love: “tienen con que…” literally “they got what with…” meaning “they have reason to be” or “they a have a right to…”

But then there’s this sweet and very generous attempt of one You Tube reader to give an almost calque-like translation of this Rumi piece:

If you are going to the drunkards, become drunk

If you go towards the drunk, go drunkenly! Go drunkenly! (mastâne is a compound from mast (drunk) and the prefix -âne, which is_ a particularizer (pertaining to the qualities of X, in a X manner) e.g. from mard we have mardâne (men’s, for men; …

You should become all soul, until you are worthy of the spirits[?]

You should become all soul until you become deserving the sweetheart (beloved)

And then become the cup [?] that holds the wine of love

And then become a cup for the wine of love! Become a cup! (in English, if I’m not mistaken, one says “become a member of X” so I translated it as “become a cup…” rather than “become the cup”)

Make your heart like the [other] hearts [?], wash it seven times [till it is free] of grudges

Go and wash the chest of hatreds seven-water-ly like [real] chests (chest is the house of heart. I think, in English, one says “like a [real] chest”. Ancient people believed that washing something with water of seven seas makes it purely clean.)

And then come live with the lovers

And then, come [and] become homemate with lovers! Become homemate! (ham- = homo-, xâne = home -> homo-home like homo-phone but anyway: homemate)

Become a stranger to yourself, ruin your own home [destroy the_ nafs]

[both] make yourself alien (stranger) and make the house ruined (I think it means “desert your past and your belongings”)

And from the heart of the flame, come out, become a moth

And into fire, enter! Become a butterfly! Become a butterfly! (candle (šamë)

Abandon your deceit, O lover, become mad

O lover, abandon deceit! Become mad! Become mad! (hilat is Arabic_ form of hila -> hile. In Persian, we have sometimes taken an Arabic word as -at and sometimes as -a. Well, as for hilat, it’s not found in common Persian and we only say hila/e)

 

And a Farsi transliteration, not all included in the above performance:

Aan goushvaar-e shaahedaan, hamsohbat-eh aarez shodeh,

Aan goush-e aarez baayadat! dordaaneh sho, dordaaneh sho(2),

Chon Jaan-e to shod dar hava, zafsaneh-ye shiereen-eh ma,

Faany sho O chon aasheghaan! afsaaneh_ sho, afsaaneh sho(2),

Andiesheh-at Jaaie ravad, aangah to ra aanja barad

zaandisheh bogzar chon ghaza! pieshaaneh sho, pieshaaneh sho(2)

O Hielat Raha kon aashegha! divaneh sho, divaneh sho(2),

Vandar del-e aHam khiesh ra bigaaneh kon, ham khaaneh ra viraneh kon,

Vaangah bia ba aasheghaa! hamkhaaneh sho, hamshaaneh sho(2),atash dar a! parvaneh sho, parvaneh sho(2)

Ro sieneh ra chon sieneh ha, haft aab_ shoo az kieneh ha,

Vaangah sharaab-e eshgh ra! peymaaneh sho, peymaaneh sho(2),

The moth-and-flame is one of the most classic of those ‘untranslatable’ metaphors: the constant injunction to become a moth and throw yourself into the flame, surrender to the annihilation of love.  The crucial surrender here, of course, is to ignore the full spectrum of interpretations – from the religious pedant’s to the equally irritating contemporary gay ‘reads’ (those of what Joseph Massad calls “The Gay International”) – about whether the flame is God or your spiritual master or a hot kid and really surrender the urge to interpret entirely, forget about metaphor, stop the transference, which is what “metaphora” means in Greek, something that the ghazal’s connected/disconnected structure is so conducive to and which gives it so much of its power  — and which probably leads to the common assumption of untranslatability.  This is what Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry does so successfully in English.

That said, I’ve never seen a moth actually do this.  I’ve heard mosquitoes incessantly frying themselves on those machines on summer nights in the sweltering plains of northern Greece while I’m trying to enjoy a roast pig crackling, but not a moth actually burn itself in a candle or other flame — or maybe Persian moths are greater emotional risk-takers.  In my experience, whenever a moth runs into trouble around light it’s usually ended up like this guy who I found in my icon lamp.

And this is what I’ve found most contemporary humans’ experience of love to be too: stuck in a viscous mess, your wings oil-logged, pedaling frantically and unable to escape your slow suffocation till life picks you out with a paper-towel and squishes you.  Don’t we wish it were instant incineration; we’d save ourselves much pointless humiliation.  But our hearts just aren’t up to such sacrificial leaps into the abyss anymore.

“Whom the flame itself has gone looking for, that moth — just imagine!” – Bollywood song

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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