There is an entire section of the human experience unfortunately almost lost to most of us in "the West" in this our so tiredly polarized world, polarized along East-West lines. No longer East (USSR)-West (noncommunist countries), but East (Islam)-West (nonislamic countries). An entire Renaissance lost to modern experience. The "inner" Middle East - inner in both geographical and psychic meanings of that word - and the larger Eurasian landmass was home for almost a thousand years to thinkers, soulseekers, saints and holy fools, poets all, whom the rabid stereotyping in our modern world all but ignores and/or is ignorant of.
People have known a small piece, a very small piece, of Old Khayyam through Fitzgerald's admirable fantasia on that great Persian scientist - yes, scientist. More recently Rumi has been roped in by California zen as some generic pseudomysitcal dip into a watered down version of an anti-organized-religion quasireligion. Other than Rumi - and Rumi is, in my admittedly strong opinion, one of the blander representatives of these Eastern Renaissance souls - other than Rumi, an entire great literature, history, spirituality, shared human experience is denied us by the excessive and excessively biased representation of all the countries and their peoples past the eastern borders of Israel as rabid Islamic extremists, with no present and no past heights of soul, heart and mind. The equivalent would be (and maybe is) for "Easterners" to assume from the rabid politicoreligious extremism of Reagan and the Bushes that we never had Chaucer, Sir Thomas Browne, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth, Shelley, Emily Bronte, John Stuart Mill, Thoreau, Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Yeats, Sylvia Plath - and that's only in the English tradition, not even mentioning the Europeans who are unfortunately or not usually classified as "Western."
People have heard rumors and some free adaptations of someone called Hafiz, adaptations which usually present him as some selfprofessedly frivolous winedrunk soul (or is it womandrunk, or is it Goddrunk?). Hafiz, to put it bluntly, is not Hafiz. That people in the West do not dive into Hafiz as deeply as into their favorite Western writer lessens our lives. And Kabir. And Sadi. And 'Attar. And dozens of others.
Paul Smith has translated it seems close to a hundred books (or more) from the highly poetic languages of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Individual authors are represented in almost always complete works - which avoids the personal biases of the selective translators, who in my experience select - and translate - either to show how a foreign author "matches" our own way of feeling, or to show how a foreign author "challenges" our own way of feeling; such translations become, even in good intention, more a reflection of the translator's way of feeling than of the author translated. Paul Smith has also appended studies of these great writers to individual volumes of their works, and in stand-alone volumes such as this remarkable three volume work on the Life and Times of the Great Hafiz. He has translated both female as well as male poet-philosophers from these magical but also very real times. And he has also put together anthologies so an interested reader (in California I would probably write "interested seeker") can get a taste and then read the complete works of a soul that particularly appeals.
As well, he has made these volumes available in criminally inexpensive ebook formats, out of a passionate conviction to, bluntly, save trees. And for traditionalists, the print copies are hardly costly considering the completeness of what's in the covers.
I am as is obvious too old to hide my hobbyhorses, and one thing I lament, detest, and outrightly laugh at is the stereotyping discounting of an entire large segment of humanity, and we are lesser for it. Because of understandably thorny (but not insurmountable) political friction between - how I hate the use of the word "between" concerning human beings! - between the supposed West and the supposed East - the supposed democratic erstwhile Christian West and the supposedly monolithic Islamic supposedly ubiquitously terrorist Middle East and Eurasia, the world of the souls, hearts, and minds of both those in the West and in the East lose by refusing to look past politicians and into other pastimes of people such as putting our thoughts, feelings, desires, fears and laughter down on paper to delight and move and elevate posterity.
The thinkers, writers, poets Paul Smith has made available through what I would say is an almost superhuman and definitely altruistic effort are a corrective to our shrinking contact with others even as our world, as the cliche is, supposedly shrinks. They are us and we are them.
I will end this rather long and probably overly preachy comment by saying one thing these writers show is an absolutely incredible sense of humor at the base of this other tradition, and when such deep and at the same time accessible humor is apparent, it drives home - again - that we are, after all, all the same.
Please do yourselves a favor and sample these monumental treats, if not immerse yourselves. Paul Smith has many volumes on this Amazon website.
Paul Smith has a website with more information. It is: [...]