Tuesday, December 27, 2005

versions of #1359

You think that I am at my own command?

Or that I breathe one breath, one half a breath, at will?

I'm merely a pen in my writer's hand,

A ball at the mercy of my player's skill.

#1359: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've decided to "do" quatrain #1359 because I've found two other versions besides the one above by Zara Houshmand. The other versions appeared at the Sunlight site and are given below as they appear there:

Do you think I am in control here?
That for a moment, or even half a moment,
I can tell you what's going on?

I am no more than a pen in a writer's hand.
A ball smacked around by a polo stick.

-- Version by Jonathan Star
"Rumi - In the Arms of the Beloved"
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York 1997


Do you think I know what I'm doing?
That for one breath or half-breath
I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it's writing
or the ball can guess where it's going next.

-- Version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
Castle Books, 1997

Where Houshmand stays with the notion of self-control (or will), Star wanders from that to self-awareness (knowing what's going on) and Barks starts with self-awareness and ends with self-belonging, of having responsibility. Houshmand puts both the pen and the ball, paradoxically, under Rumi's control, as "my" writer and "my" player. Star writes of merely "a" writer and "a" polo stick, with no clear connection to Rumi. Barks goes one further and removes writer and player altogether.

I like the Houshmand version better because it readily lends itself to psychological interpretation and it maintains a crucial paradox that is so prevalent and so necessary, I think, in Rumi's writing. A certain amount of our libido or psychic energy is at our disposal, such that "I" can decide what to do with it and pursue a determined goal. Obstacles might arise of my own making and that is a sure sign that other functional centres of my psyche are not enthusiastic about this project that "I" set for myself. It is important, therefore, that "I" stay out of it as much as possible. It should be "my" writer, the writing potential in me, that writes and never the ego. It should be "my" player, the sporting and political potential in me, that engages in life's games.

When the ego is thus divested of its identification with various psychic functions it is left with very little to do. The tinier it gets, the more essential and the truer to its own nature. It's hard to see how one could wrest that kind of sense out of the more aesthetic forms presented by Star and Barks. And yet, I do feel that these two other separate angles on the verse have enriched it and have contributed to the teasing out of meaning. I think this is achieved by a breath of modern fresh air. Barks, especially, writes with an almost post-modern cryptic spin that makes the verses "cool", more alive for the current times.

I've made some hesitant beginnings at studying the Persian language. I'd rather not be quite so helplessly in the hands of translators. However, surely any Persian reader could tell me whether in fact Rumi spoke of "my" writer or did not.

Persian script of #1359 @ iranian.com

I've checked on this and "my" is rendered in Persian simply by adding the "m" consonant to the end of the word the "my" refers to. (This is the left hand end of the word since Persian is read from right to left.) It is clear from the above Persian script for this verse that every line has "my" at the end of it.


At Tuesday, 27 December, 2005, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Yes, subtle differences can lead to major shifts of meaning.


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