Friday, April 29, 2005

translation quirks

original Persian

One day your mind will finally wear out;

They'll point at you and mock your feeble face.

If you're human, then make peace with the rest of us.

If you're an angel, then go; the sky's your place.

#586: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

As I woke the word finis bubbled up and the fin part yielded a poem with finally in its first line. However, when I looked it up at The Iranian, I found a quite different first line without the finally. I was quite puzzled by this. A little further searching (via Google) uncovered an earlier version of the translation that must have been used to set the first line for indexing purposes. Because it contains the finally, I've inserted it above as the version I am choosing here, but below is the version that appears at the index link. I've also included the original Persian script as this is the true starting point of this verse.

So badly have you battered my mind that
Men point at me and mock me to my face.
If you're human, then make peace with the rest of us.
If you're an angel, then go: the sky's your place.

I must say that, by and large, Zara Houshmand has translated these Rumi quatrains in a way that seems to flow very nicely in English. It's easy to forget that she's had to make difficult decisions with sometimes inevitably awkward results. This pair of alternative translations suggests that she found this verse difficult: perhaps it caused her poor mind to wear out or the puzzle seemed to batter her about. In the first translation, it is "your" mind that is wearing out; in the second, it is "you" who are battering "my" mind. The first "your" is, however, the generalized and inclusive pronoun so it reads just as well once changed to "my".

Still, there are subtle differences in meaning between the two translations. In the first, Rumi is simply stating that his mind is wearing out; it is in the second translation that a sense of accusation - "you battered my mind" - is made explicit. The "feeble face" in the first version suggests again that the fault or failing is inherent; in the second version, there is a more dramatic sense of confrontation implied. The second is certainly a stronger, more confident translation.

Rumi seems to be expressing a very human exasperation with his lot. He is clearly struggling with the spirit of Shams. He knows this struggle is making him look silly and he wants an end of it, some kind of resolution. A finis in fact.

This is something that we all crave in the stories that come our way. We want to know how things turned out "in the end". Even in on-going soap-operas, we expect neat resolutions of the smaller stories within the larger unending super-story (or context as Tim Boucher would describe it). Today's story has gone thus far and I have no idea how it will end this evening.


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