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New Nightingale, New Rose Paperback – 20 Nov 2003
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Hafiz of Shiraz was one of the very greatest Persian poets. The poetry of Hafiz is erotic yet spiritual, both sensual and symbolic, full of images of wine and the tavern, of the Beloved, of nightingales and roses. Bardic Press is proud to announce a new edition of Richard Le Gallienne's moving and poetic translations of Hafiz.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
For well over two hundred years the poetry of Hafiz has been appearing in English translation. The very first of these was the Persian Song in 1771, a baroque translation of the eighth poem in the Divan, by William Jones. Others followed and by now over a hundred different translators have tried their hands at Hafiz. The most notable recent translations are the very popular, very modern and exceedingly free versions of Daniel Ladinsky. Halfway between these two, published a century before the writing of this preface, Richard Le Gallienne produced a translation of one hundred of Hafizs poems. First published in New York in 1903, the poems went into several reprintings over the next twenty years, and must be counted among the most popular translations of Hafiz.
Richard Le Gallienne was one of the decadent poets, a member of the Rhymers Club that met in the Cheshire Cheese pub off Fleet Street in the 1890s. He was thus a contemporary and associate of such characters as W. B. Yeats, OscarWilde, Ernest Dowson, and Aubrey Beardsley, to name only a few. This was an age of exquisite lyrics and most of the poets of this time had a fine control over the musicality of English verse. Yeats dubbed the poets of the 1890s the tragic generation, since so many of them had died early deaths and lived life with a hopeless recklessness. This poignancy comes through in these translations of Hafiz, but Le Gallienne must have been a little healthier and more stable, or just luckier, than the others, since he outlived them all. His only daughter, Eva Le Gallienne, became a well-known actress.
Hafiz was born around 1320AD in Shiraz, Persia. He was a contemporary of other fourteenth century notables such as Chaucer and Petrarch and, in the Islamic world, of the infamous conqueror Tamerlane, and of the poets Ibn-I-Yamin
and Salman-I-Sawaji. Hafiz is a title for someone who has memorised the entire Koran: the poets given name was
Shams-ud-din Mohammed. Hafiz lived in a time of political commotion, of coups and upheavals, though Shiraz escaped the worst results of the invasions of the Mongols and the Tartars.
His father died when he was relatively young and he had two older brothers; between the three of them they supported the family. Hafiz was bright, yet he had to work first for a draper and then at a bakery. He is said to have written his first poem by completing a poem begun by his untalented uncle.
While there is little in the way of hard historical fact, a number of anecdotes are told of Hafiz, many of them with a legendary or symbolic quality. The most famous of them is as follows. When he was twenty-one, and working as a baker, Hafiz was delivering bread in a prosperous district of Shiraz.
While doing his deliveries, he saw a beautiful woman and, of course, fell hopelessly in love with her. He was not a physically attractive man, nor, as a bakers boy, wealthy, and had little chance of successfully wooing her. Hafiz began to write poems about her, and the poems circulated and became popular in Shiraz. He was still as hopelessly in love with her as before but, even though she knew of his poetry, the love was unrequited.
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If you like poetry, the book is equally bad. Take this: "You little Turk of Shiraz Town / Freebooter of the hearts of men / As beautiful, as says renown, / Are your free booting Turkomen." Or this: "On a journey she is starting / How can I the anguish bear? / Oh the pain of her departing! / May the peace belong to her." In short, the poetry is doggerel, made up of forced rhymes, twisted syntax and meaningless images.
Daniel Ladinsky's sometimes too-hip translations are far better than these 19th century jingles. Avoid them!