A Comparative Study of Molavi’s Persian translation jobs
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A Comparative Study of Molavi’s "The Song of the Reed" And Its English Translation

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Poetry translation has always been one of the most controversial and troublesome task for any translator. There has not been a consensus regarding the translatability of poetry. Many scholars believed that poetry is untranslatable since the translated version of a poem can not preserve both the meaning and the form of the poetic discourse, while others do not concur with this view; for instance, Boase-Beir and De Beauground cited in Connally (1991) believe that translation of poetry can be successful only if both style and content are transferred.

As Holmes (1970) believed while the translation of a poem is never equal to the original, any text including poetic one has many interpretation and therefore many possible translations. In the present study, a Persian poem entitled The Song of the Reed by Molavi along its English translation by Ibrahim Gamard (2000) will be studied and descriptively analyzed at both linguistic and extra linguistic levels.

This study aims at examining the formative elements of versified discourse in the source and target texts and to arrive at a tentative model of translation analysis which can serve as a measure for translation assessment of poetic genre.

Keywords: formative elements, poetic discourse, poetry translation, translatability, textual analysis, extra textual analysis


1. Introduction

1.1. Literary Translation

1.2. Poetry Translation

2. Methodology

2.1. Material

2.2.  Method of Analysis

2.3. Procedure

3. Data Analysis

3.1. Textual Analysis

3.1.1. Music

3.1.2. Rhyme

3.1.3. Tropes

3.2. Extra-textual Analysis

4. Results & Discussion

1. Introduction

Different definitions have been proposed for the term ‘translation’. Translation is the process of changing something into what it is not so that it will be itself, but for another audience, in another time. Translation of poetry is considered a very tedious task and in some people’s opinion it is somehow impossible. In general, there are a lot of methods in translating a text, but not all of them are appropriate to use in translating a poem. Andre Lafevere (in Bassnett-McGuire, 1980: 81-82) noted seven methods adopted by English translators in order to render poems: phonemic translation, literal translation, metrical translation, verse-to-prose translation, rhymed translation, free verse translation, and interpretation.

According to Newmark (1988) “the translation of poetry is the field where most emphasis is normally put on the creation of a new independent poem, and where literal translation is usually condemned” (p.70).

Poetry in translation simply adds to the sum total of human pleasure obtainable through a single language. It opens up new language worlds within our own tongues, as every good poem does. Lodge (1966) distinguishes between prose and verse in terms of an analogy with walking and dancing. He asserts that “Walking, like prose, always has a definite object. It is an act directed towards some object that we aim to reach. The actual circumstances regulate the rhythm of walking; prescribe its direction speed and termination while dancing is quite different. It is, of course, a system of acts, but acts whose end is in themselves. It goes nowhere. Or if it pursues anything it is only an ideal object, a state, a delight, the phantom of a flower, or some transport out of oneself, an extreme of life, a summit, a supreme form of being” (p. 11).

1.1.   Literary Translation

Not only can one regard translation as a connecting bridge between countries, but also he may be certain of the fact that translation has been the most integral part in shaping the global village. Literary translation forms the basis of most readers' acquaintance with world literature. According to Jackson (2003) “literary translation is a translational species in itself, but it differs in many important respects from the kind of translation practiced in a language class”.

Translating literary works is, perhaps, always more difficult than translating other types of text because literary works have specific values called the aesthetic and expressive values. It is these aesthetic values that guarantee the beauty of the work and the translator’s task is to try, at his best, to transfer them as close as possible in meaning and sense into the target language in order to provoke the same feelings in the target language reader as those aroused in the source text reader. According to Newmark (1988) “literary translation is the most testing type of translation” (p.162).

Among the various kinds of translation, literary translation in general, and poetry translation in particular, seem to be the most difficult ones since form and meaning in such texts have a very close relationship. The diversity between a SL and a TL and the differences in their cultures make the process of translating a real challenge.

1.2.   Poetry Translation

Translation of poetry should be viewed not only as the translation from one language to another, but also as a mediation between cultures. The translator then becomes a cultural and linguistic mediator, who needs to know specific cultural concepts reflected in both languages: the source and the target language of the translation.

Translation of poetry is known as a very hard and somehow impossible point in some translators' minds, so we must be aware of the problems concerning the translation of poetry. Pessimistic statements on the translatability of poetry are much more common than affirmative ones. “Poetry is what is lost in translation”, American poet Robert Frost famously remarked. It is a commonplace to reject any kind of translatability. As pointed out by Vahid (2004) “contrary to some critics' argument that poetry "loses" in translation or poetry is "untranslatable", there are others with the opposite standpoint that it can be preserved, illustrated and illuminated if a good job is done, because poetry is in large part found again and re-painted by the translator”.

Translators who undertake the task of poetry translation have always been confronted with a crucial and controversial point which is to translate a poem literally or freely. On the one hand stand the advocates of literal translation, such as Vladimir Nabokov, who believes that “the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase”. Translation should cover up the original as little as possible. On the other hand stand proponents of free translation, who aim to make the result more fluent, and thus more accessible to readers of poetry, than a literal translation could ever be. In order to translate a poem more accurately, Jennifer Liddy (2002) proposed some steps; for instance she believes that the translator must “know the poet” and Try and find out as much as he can about the poet's life or the translator should “Stay Close to the Poem” and read the poem again and again in order to be able to feel the rhythm of the poem.

2. Methodology

2.1. Material

The present study aims at the investigation of the translated version of Molavi’s poem by Ibrahim Gamard. In order to carry out this task one of translated version of Molavi’s poems namely, “the song of the reed” is chosen and it will be compared and contrasted with its Persian version at both textual and extra-textual level. The Persian version of the poem consists of 18 distiches riming between themselves and the translator attempted to preserve the style of the poem. The English translation of the poem also consists of 18 lines.

2.2. Method of analysis

The model of analysis adopted in this study is designed by Vahid (2008). The model focuses on poetry translation with attention directed to factors such as form, sound, words, images, tone, and content. In his own words these factors include the ‘look’ of the text, the ‘music’ of the text, the ‘lexis’ of the text, the ‘figure’ of the text, the ‘aura’ of the text, and the ‘message’ of the text. This model can be seen as one of those models which stress the importance of stylistics and textual analysis. 

2.3. Procedure 

Since the study is a descriptive-analytical one, the original text with its two English translations was comparatively analyzed as in the following steps: 

1. Perusing the original text and isolating the items under study

2. Categorizing and sorting out the data in tables in order to have a complete framework to compare the translated features properly.

3. Concluding from the data organized in the above manner to analyze the techniques used by the translators and to evaluate their accuracy as compared with the original.

3. Data Analysis

In this part, the poem will be examined in order to find out how effectively the translator has translated The Song of the Reed in terms of the factors Vahid (2008) proposed. In doing so, all of the 18 lines of the original poem will be compared and contrasted with its English translation.

3.1. Textual Analysis

Linguistic features are either spoken or written and has been defined as form. These forms constitute the structural part of language. In literary criticism, especially in poetry translation, form refers to patterns of rhyme, rhythm and lines. In this study the material to be studied is the well-known piece of poetry by Molana “نی نامه”. The focus of this study at textual level is on music, rhyme and tropes.

3.1.1. Music

In the first line of the Persian poem there are some uses of alliteration. The words حکایت (/hekayat/) شکایت (/shekayat/) and  می کند (/mikonad/) are cases of consonance. The vowel /aa/ is the case of assonanc in words (/hekaayat/) حکایت (/shekaayat/) شکایت and (/jodaaee/) جدایی. In the English translation, there are no alliterations.

In the second line of the Persian poem there are four cases of consonance: نیستان (/neyestan/) نفیر (/nafir/) ببریده اند (/bobride and/) نالیده اند (/nalide and/). The vowel /aa/is a case of assonance in words نیستان (/neyestaan/) مرا (/maraa/) and نالیده اند (/naalide and/), and the vowel /æ/ in words در (/dær/) مرد (/mærd/) زن (/zæn/) نفیر (/næfir/) and کز (kæz/) is another case of assonace in this line. In the corresponding English line there are three cases of consonance: “m” sound in men/women/lament, “f”sound in from/field. The vowel /∂/ is a case of assonance in have/lament and /i/ in my/cry.

In the third line of the Persian poem there are three cases of consonance: شرحه شرحه (/sharhe sharhe/) شرح (/sharh/) and اشتیاق (/eshteeagh/). The vowel /aa/ is a case of assonance in words خواهم (/khaaham/) فراق (/feraagh/) and اشتیاق (/eshtiaagh/). And the vowel /∂/ is another case of assonance in words از (/æz/) درد (/dærd/) and شرح (/shærh/). In the third line of the corresponding English translation there are three consonants: “p” separation/pain/explain. The vowel /a/ is a case of assonance in pain/explain.

In the fourth line of the Persian poem there are two cases of consonance: کسی (/kæsi/) and کو (/ku/). The vowel /u/ is a case of assonance in words کو (/ku/) دور (/dur/) and روزگار (ruzgaar/). Another case of assonance is /æ/ in words اصل (/æsl/) and وصل (/væsl/). Inthe English version the case of consonance is the /f/ sound in words far/from, and there is assonance in the vowel /i/ in words remain/his/return.

In the fifth line of the Persian poem there are four cases of consonance: من (/mæn/) نالان (/naalaan/) بد حالان (/bæd haalaan/) and خوشحالان (/khosh haalaan/). The vowel /aa/ is the case of assonance in words نالان (/naalaan/) بد حالان (/bæd haalaan/) and خوشحالان (/khosh haalaan/). In the fifth line of the English translation there are no cases of consonance and the vowel /a/ is the case of assonance in words gather/bad/happy.

In the sixth line of the Persian poem there are six cases of consonance: ظن (/zænn/) من (/mæn/) درون (/dærun/) نجست (/næjost/). In this line there are two cases of assonance in vowels /aa/ and /æ/. The cases of assonance of the /aa/ vowel are اسرار (/æsraar/) and یار (/yaar/) and assonance in vowel /æ/ is seen in words از (/æz/) من (/mæn/)  ظن (/zænn/) نجست (/næjost/) and اسرار (/æsraar/). In the English version of this line there is consonance; consonance in the /f/ sound in words friend/from and consonance in the /s/ sound in words seek/secret. There is assonance in vowel /i/ in words his/opinion/did along with another case of assonance in the vowel /ē/ in words he/seek/secrets.

In the seventh line of the Persian poem there are seven cases of consonance: من (/mæn/) ناله (/naale/) نیست (/nist/) آن (/aan/) and نور (/nur/). The vowel /u/ is the case of assonance in words دور (/dur/) گوش (/gush/) and نور (/nur/). There are two cases of consonance in the /f/ sound in words far/from and no assonance in this line of the English translation.

In eighth line of the Persian poem there are cases of consonance in sounds /n/, /s/ and /t/. Consonance of /n/ in words: تن /tæn/ جان /dЗan/ نیست /nist/. Consonance of /s/  مستور /mæstur/ نیست /nist/ کس /kæs/ دستور /dæstur/. The vowel /æ/ is the case of assonance in words: تن /tæn/ دستور /dæstur/ and مستور /mæstur/. In the English translation of this line there are two cases of consonance in the /s/ sound in words seeing/soul and the vowel /o/ is the case of assonance in words body/from.

In the ninth line of the Persian poem there are three cases of consonance: بانگ /baang/ نای /naay/ and نیست /nist/. The vowel /aa/ is the case of assonance in words: آتش /aatæsh/ بانگ /baang/ نای /naay/ باد /baad/ ندارد /nædaaræd/. There is no consonace in the English version, no assonance is seen either.

In the tenth line of the Persian poem there are two cases of consonance: جوشش /dЗushesh/ and عشق /eshq/. There is no assonance in this line. In the English version there are three cases of consonance in the /f/ sound in words fire/fell/ferment. Like the perisan line there is no case of assonance in this line.

In the eleventh line of the Persian poem there are six cases of consonance in the /r/ sound and three cases of /d/ sound. The cases of consonance in /r/ sound are words:  حریف /hærif/ هر /hær/ یار /yaar/ برید /borid/ پرده /pærde/ and درید /dærid/. Cases of consonance of /d/ sound are words: برید /borid/ پرده /pærde/ and درید /dærid/. The vowel /æ/ is the case of assonance in words: پرده /pærde/ and درید /dærid/. The case of consonance in the English version of this line is the /f/ sound in words from/friend. The vowel /ē/ is the case of assonance in words reed/severed.

In the twelfth line of the Persian poem there are three cases of consonance: دید /did/ and دمساز /dæmsaaz/. The vowel /æ/ is the case of assonance in words: زهر /zæhr/ تریاق /tæryaaq/ and دمساز /dæmsaaz/. There are four cases of consonance in /r/ sound in words remedy/reed/yearning/friend in the English version but no vowel assonance is seen.

In the thirteenth line of the Persian poem there are five cases of consonance: نی /ney/ خون /xun/ می کند /mikonæd/ and مجنون /mædЗnun/. The vowel /u/ is the case of assonance in words: خون /xun/ and مجنون /mædЗnun/. There is no consonance in the English version and the case of assonance is the /u/ vowel in words blood/love.

In the fourteenth line there are consonances of /m/ and /sh/ sounds. Consonance of /m/ sound in words: محرم /mæhræm/ مر /mær/ and مشتری /moshtæri/ and consonance of /sh/ sound in words: هوش /hush/ مشتری /moshtæri/ and گوش /gush/. The vowel /u/ is the case of assonance in words: هوش /hush/ and گوش /gush/. In the English version there are no cases of assonance and consonance.

In the fifteenth line of the Persian poem there are two cases of consonance in words: روزها   /ruzhaa/ and سوزها /suzhaa/. The vowel /u/ is the case of assonance in words: روز   /ruz/ and سوز /suz/. In the English version the case of consonance is the /l/ sound in words longing/like. There is no assonance in this line of the English translation.

In the sixteenth line of the Persian poem there are four cases of consonance: روز /ruz/ گر /gær/ رفت /ræft/ and رو /ro/. The vowel /o/ is the case of assonance in words: چون /chon/ تو /to/ and رو /ro/ and the vowel /aa/ in words: پاک /paak/ and باک /baak/. There are no cases of consonance but there is assonance in the vowel /ō/ in words go/no.

In the seventeenth line there are three cases of consonance in words: آبش /aabæsh/ شد /shod/ and روزش /ruzæsh/ and the vowel /ē/ is the case of assonance in words: سیر /sēr/ and دیر /dēr/. In the English version of this line there are three cases of consonance in the /f/ sound in words fish/food/finds. Unlike the Persian line there is no assonance in the English translation.

In the last line of the Persian poem there are three cases of consonance: پس /pæs/ سخن /soxæn/ and والسلام / væs sælaam /. The vowel /aa/ is the case of assonance in words: نیاید /nayaayæd/ حال /haal/ خام /xaam/ and کوتاه /kutaah/. In the English version there are two cases of consonance in words raw/ripe. There is no assonance in the English translation of the last line.

3.1.2. Rhyme




No. of rhymed terms in Persian

No. of rhymed terms in English




No rhyme




ببریده اند/نالیده اند


No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme





)naalaan/khosh haalaan)

No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme










پر خون/مجنون

(por xun/mædЗnun)

No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme






No rhyme




خام/ والسلام

(xaam/væs sælaam)

No rhyme



As it is seen in the above table, all Persian lines are rhymed. In the English translation, on the other hand, there is only one rhymed line whereas other lines are unrhymed.

3.1.3. Tropes

In all pieces of poetry literary devices are used by the poet to create novel images. Metaphor, personification, repetition and so on are examples of these devices. In this part the employed tropes in Persian and English texts are specified and then explained whether they are kept, changed or omitted in the translation.

The first line

This line includes tropes such as personification of “the reed” telling “stories” and metaphorical use of “separations” as separation from God. This line is a literal translation of the original poem. Words are simple, familiar and understandable. The one issue which is lost in the English version is that, pun between words شكايت/حكايت  was omitted in the English version.

The second line

In this line these figures of speech are seen: metaphorical use of “reed field” as an indicator of the “above world”, metaphorical use of “severed” as the sign of “creation of human” and finally metaphorical application of “men and women” as the “whole creatures of this world”.

This line is a literal translation of the Persian line and the choice of words for translated version consists of simple words. There is one point to be mentioned about the word “cry”. The word “cry” used in this line has less semantic load than the chosen equivalent (nafir) “نفیر”. The Persian word “نفیر” means a loud sad and painful moan and groan but cry has to with tears coming from eye.

The third line

In the third line of the original text there is alliteration of /sh/ sound and pun in words شرحه/شرح . The /sh/ sound refers to the tearing of flesh and refers to this fact that the lovers’ separation from the beloved can hurt the lover and that how much the lover seeks for a reunion. As can be seen in the translated version this alliteration is lost. Another thing is the omission of the pun between شرحه/شرح in the English version for which the translator used “torn and explain” respectively. This line is, again, a literal translation of the original text.

The fourth line

In this line we have use of following tropes: metaphorical use of “his roots” as a means of referring to God and allusion to Quranic verse: “انّا الله و انّا اليه راجعون. This line is a literal translation of the original poem. Words such as “remain”, “roots”, “time” and “union” show that the diction in this line is simple and easy to understand.

The fifth line

This line posses the metaphorical application in the phrase “bad or happy circumstances” as an indicator of those people who move either slow or fast in the path of God, but the words “happy” and “bad” do not convey the original text’s intended meaning at all. It would be better if the translator have provided explanations in a footnote about the meaning of these words. This line is a literal translation and again we see a simple choice of words.

The sixth line

In this line there is no use of figures of speech. It is literally translated and the translated sentence has a simple diction.

The seventh line

In the seventh line there is only one use of figures of speech. The word “light” is used as that knowledge that God posses. This word in the original text is “نور " and its equivalent is the neutral term “light” which seems to be a good choice. This line is translated literally and its diction is simple.

In the Persian text there is pun between words دور/نور , which is omitted in the corresponding line in the translation.

The eighth line

In the eighth line there is symmetry between words “body” and “soul” which is kept in the translation. We see pun between words مستور/دستور in the original text but this pun is lost in the translation. The method of translation is literal and words such as “soul”, “body”, “hidden” and “permitted” shows the simple diction of the translated version.

The ninth line

In this line we see the metaphorical application of “fire” as sufferings of a lover in finding the beloved. There is, of course, contrast between the words “fire” and “wind”. In the original version we have pun in words نیست باد but this pun as can be seen is lost in the translation. The translation of this line is a literal translation and like the previous lines the lexical choice of the translated line is simple and familiar.

The tenth line

In the tenth line a repetition in the word “عشق” in the original text and its equivalent in the English text as “love”. And there is the use of alliteration in the original version in the /sh/ sound but this alliteration is lost in the translated version. There is also pun between نی/می which is not seen in the translation. The tenth line is literally translated and the words used in the English version are familiar.

The eleventh line

In the eleventh line of the Persian poem there is an idiomatic application of the phrase “پرده دریدن” and we have the use of pun in this line in words “پرده”. This idiomatic phrase means “to reveal secrets” but the translator has done a literal translation and its meaning is not conveyed. The above-mentioned pun is lost in the translation. The English version is a literal translation of the original text. From a lexical point of view the diction is simple.

The twelfth line

In this line, the poet made use of no figures of speech. There is contrast and symmetry between زهر/تریاق. The method of translation is literal and the diction is familiar.

The thirteenth line

This line possesses the following tropes: metaphorical use of “the path full of blood” as “a path full of danger” or “the path of love”. A symbolic use of “Majnoon” as the symbol of the true love. We have allusion in the sentence “قصه هاي عشق مجنون مي كند”, which refers to the story of “Leili and Majnoon”. In the English version all these figures of speech are literally translated and the choice of word is simple in this line of the translated text.

The fourteenth line

The following tropes exist in this line: metaphorical use of “senseless” as a person who is overwhelmed with love and not some one ignorant. Metaphorical use of “tongue” as one telling the story of one’s love. Metaphorical application of “ear” as one empathizing with the story teller. These metaphors are all translated literally. A footnote would help the English reader have a better understanding of the poem. Like the previous lines, this line is translated literally with a simple diction.

The fifteenth line

There is no use of figures of speech in this line. A literal translation of the original text is seen and lexical items are simple.

The sixteenth line

In this line there are no figures of speech. This line is a literal translation of the original and the diction is simple.

The seventeenth line

The following tropes are used in this line: metaphorical use of “fish” as a symbol for the true love and the lover who never stops loving one’s beloved. Metaphorical use of “water” as the “sea of heavenly love”. Metaphorical application of “who is without food” as “a person who is devoid of love”. These expressions are translated literally and do not convey the meaning of the original text. This sentence is literally translated and its diction is familiar.

The eighteenth line

In this line there are three metaphorical expressions. Raw is used as metaphor for inexperienced in the path of love and the ripe is the experienced one in this path. There is a contrast between these two words ripe and raw. The translator could provide some explanation for these terms and make the understanding of the text easier. This line is translated literally and from a lexical point of view the diction is simple and familiar.

3.2.  Extra-textual Analysis

The previous part dealt with the textual level and for that reason music and rhyme pattern of the original and translated version of the poem were compared and contrasted. In this section, the poem will be analyzed at extra textual level. Cultural aspects of the source and target language text play a great role in this task. Moreover, the extra textual level mainly deals with the coherence and implicature.

It has been long taken for granted that translation deals only with language. Cultural perspective, however, has never been brought into discussion. According to Snell-Hornby (1988: 39), this exclusion of cultural aspect from the discussion of translation theory is due to the view of the traditional approach in linguistics which draws a sharp dividing-line between language and "extra linguistic reality" (culture, situation, etc.). The contemporary approach, according to her, sees language as an integral part of culture.

Nowadays according to Vahid (2008) it has been taken into account that “translation of a text inevitably involves at least two cultures”. Nida and Taber (1964) explain the process of translating as follows:

Translating consists of reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message, first in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style.

Following their explanation on "closest natural equivalent", however, we can infer that cultural consideration is considered. They maintain that the equivalent sought after in every effort of translating is the one that is so close that the meaning or message can be transferred well.

Translation, involving the transposition of thoughts expressed in one language by one social group into the appropriate expression of another group, entails a process of cultural de-coding, re-coding and en-coding, accordingly the translator who undertakes the tedious task of poetry translation should be familiar with both of the source and target culture and have some background knowledge about them in order to fully grasp and accordingly transfer the message of the source text into the target text. As translators we are faced with an alien culture that requires that its message be conveyed in anything but an alien way. That culture expresses its idiosyncrasies in a way that is 'culture-bound': cultural words, proverbs and of course idiomatic expressions, whose origin and use are intrinsically and uniquely bound to the culture concerned. So we are called upon to do a cross-cultural translation whose success will depend on our understanding of the culture we are working with.

Molavi’s poem consists of 18 lines and to some extent it is culture bound. This poem which as the first poem in Molavi’s work of art is entitled The Song of the Reed, and some scholars believe that Molavi wrote this poem because of the separation from his friend Shams Tabrizi. The theme of the poem is about a reed which refers to an impeccable person or even a saint. Molavi believes that the person who plays the reed is no one but the beloved, and the man, literally called the reed in the poem, who has reached the highest level of perfectness and impeccability, says and does whatever the beloved blows in him and orders him to do.

The first thing that comes to mind of a Persian reader regarding this poem is that the title of this poem itself shows that not only is this poem going to be sad and not a happy ending piece of poetry, but also the poet is going to talk about grief over separation from the beloved and about the rampant sorrow and despair in this world. The word "نی" (/nay/) in Persian is not as ambiguous as reed in English. The first image crosses a Persian reader’s mind regarding the word "نی" (/nay/) is a flute not a piece of straw. Since "نی" (/nay/) is a musical instrument which mainly plays sad songs, it connotes melancholy and sadness; This is the reason why a Persian reader who has enough background knowledge about the word "نی" (/nay/) will know the theme of this poetry and what it is going to be about, while the word “reed” does not have this clear-cut connotation in English, therefore it does not have the same effect on English readers as it does on Persian readers.

It must also be taken into account that Molavi was famous for being a pious person and he worshiped God in most of his works, moreover it has been said that:

" مثنوی معنوی مولوی  هست قرآنی به سبک پهلوی "

As pointed out by Qomshe’i, how can it be possible that when Molavi’s work of art is about longing to reach God, he did not begin hi work with the name of God? So, regarding the first line of the original poem, Qomshe’i believes that the letter "ب" (/b/) in the first word  "بشنو" (/beshno/) may stand for "بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم", but this point was not transferred into the target language. For instance, Jones (1772) translated it into “Hear”, Whindfield (1887) rendered it into “Harken” and Nicholson (1926) used the word “Listen” in his translation. In none of the above mentioned translations the point that Qomshe’i believed it to be true was not transferred correctly.

The word "بشنو" (/beshno/) in the first line connotes states of spiritual ecstasy which were induced in Sufi gatherings by listening to mystical poetry and music. During such a "mystical concert" literally called Sama, some dervishes would enter a spiritual state of consciousness and spontaneously begin to move. Sometimes they would stand up and dance or whirl, and the Sufi who did this kind of movement was literally called "سماکار" (/Samakar/). They would listen to the poetry or music as if they were hearing the voice of God, the Beloved. Such gatherings were controversial, were criticized by orthodox Muslim leaders, and were practiced by very few Sufi orders usually with restrictions and high standards for participants.

So, the word "بشنو" (/beshno/) has more connotations than its English equivalent “listen” and unlike English readers, Persian ones upon seeing the word "بشنو" (/beshno/) in the first line of the poem, recall those Sufi gatherings, thus this point contribute to the aesthetic value of the original poem.

 In the forth line of the original poem, Molavi is talking about reaching God at the day of resurrection, so the first point crossing the mind of Persian readers is the Arabic verse:  "انا لله و انا الیه راجعون" accordingly he will surely get the connotation behind this line, while the English translation by Gamard which is “Anyone one who has remained far from his roots, seeks a return to the time of his union” or the translation by Redhouse which is “Who’s from his home snatched far away, longs to return to some future day” may not connote as clear as the Persian connotation, hence the reduction of the effect as well as beauty of the poem in the mind of an English reader.

The ninth and tenth line of the poem alludes to the Greek myth describing a pretty girl living in a green field, who had lots of lovers. One day one of her lovers followed her and then she went to a reed field and hid there. Lest the boy found her, she disguised and turned herself into a reed. The true lover went inside the reed field and picked her. Then, he emptied the reed and made some holes in it and made a flute out of that reed. After fabricating a flute, he blew the fire of his love into that flute.

In Persian version this story is understandable and since the translator resorted to literal translation, if the target language reader is familiar with the allusion behind these lines he would probably get the meaning of fire in “the reed’s cry is fire” which refers to the fire of love of that true lover.

The word "مجنون" (/majnoon/) in the thirteenth line of the poem is a culture specific item referring to the mad lover of "لیلی" (/Layla/), and in Sufi literature this word is regarded as a type of mystical self-abandonment. Majnoon was a legendary Arab lover whose love for the beautiful Laylà made him crazy. Majnoon's love for Layla also symbolizes the perception of spiritual realities seen only by mystics. This "craziness" of being an ecstatic mystic lover of God is quite different from the craziness of being psychotic or mentally ill. Although the word "مجنون" (/majnoon/) has been translated literally, it sounds more familiar to a Persian reader than an English one, and for sure target language readers can not appreciate the aesthetic value in the same way that source text readers do.

In the last line of the poem, the words "خام" (/kham/) connotes to the spiritual state of the spiritually mature, experienced, and refined and "پخته" (/pokhte/) which contrasts to the state of the raw, has the connotation of being unripe, immature, inexperienced, uncooked, the one who bears no fruit. The words raw and ripe allude to Rumi's famous story of the man who knocked on the door of a friend, the visitor was asked who he was and he answered, "Me." He was told to go, for he was too "raw". The man was then "cooked" by the fire of separation and returned a year later. Asked who he was, he answered, "Only you are at the door, O beloved." His spiritual friend then said, "Now, since you are me, O me, come in. There isn't any room for two 'me's' in the house!" (Mathnawi I: 3056-63). Although the translator made use of literal translation, English readers may not perceive the image behind the last line and as a result of this the beauty of the poem will decrease for a target language reader.

4. Results and Discussion

The analysis of source and target texts were done both at textual and extra textual levels. Regarding the analysis at textual level, different aspects of form such as, music rhyme and trope were examined. With reference to the form, the translated piece is a prose translation of the original devoid of the most of the literary devices used in the original. Concerning the music of the text, the translator’s inability to create the images and alliterations is obvious. Regarding the figures of speech, personification was well-preserved in the translated text but metaphors and puns were literally translated causing the target text devoid of these literally devices.

Regarding the analysis at extra-textual level, since the translator resorted to literal translation for most of the culture bound terms in the poem such as Majnoon, he could not transfer the image as effective as the image of the original poem. If the translator had made use of footnotes for some of the culture bound terms, then target readers would have had some background knowledge about them and accordingly the aesthetic values of the translation would have been much more. So, it should be taken into account that whenever the translator does not consider the crucial factors in a poem, it leads to a translation which is less poetic and in which the style of the poet is not only ignored but distorted.


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The Song of the Reed


1- Listen to the reed (flute), how it is complaining!

It is telling about separations,

2- (Saying), "Ever since I was severed from the reed field,

Men and women have lamented in (the presence of) my shrill cries.

3- "(But) I want a heart (which is) torn, torn from separation,

so that I may explain the pain of yearning."

4- "Anyone one who has remained far from his roots,

seeks a return (to the) time of his union.

5- "I lamented in every gathering;

I associated with those in bad or happy circumstances.

6- "(But) everyone became my friend from his (own) opinion;

he did not seek my secrets from within me.

7- "My secret is not far from my lament,

but eyes and ears do not have the light (to sense it).

8- "The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from the body;

but seeing the soul is not permitted."

9- The reed's cry is fire -- it's not wind!

Whoever doesn't have this fire, may he be nothing!

10- It is the fire of Love that fell into the reed.

(And) it is the ferment of Love that fell into the wine.

11- The reed (is) the companion of anyone who was severed from a friend;

its melodies tore our veils.

12- Who has seen a poison and a remedy like the reed?

Who has seen a harmonious companion and a yearning friend like the reed?

13- The reed is telling the story of the path full of blood;

it is telling stories of Majnoon's (crazed) love.

14- There is no confidant (of) this understanding except the senseless!

There is no purchaser of that tongue except the ear [of the mystic.]

15- In our longing, the days became (like) evenings;

the days became fellow-travellers with burning fevers.

16- If the days have passed, tell (them to) go, (and) don't worry.

(But) You remain! -- O You, whom no one resembles in Purity!

17- Everyone becomes satiated by water, except the fish.

everyone who is without daily food [finds that] his days become long.

18- None (who is) "raw" can understand the state of the "ripe."

Therefore, (this) speech must be shortened. So farewell!

From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi. Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with gratitude for R. A. Nicholson's 1926 British translation)

نی نامه

بشنو از نی چون حکایت می کند    از جدایی ها شکایت می کند

کز نیستان تا مرا ببریده اند     در نفیرم مرد و زن نالیده اند

سینه خواهم شرحه شرحه از فراق    تا بگویم شرح درد اشتیاق

هر کسی کو دور ماند از اصل خویش     بازجوید روزگار وصل خویش

من به هر جمعیتی نالان شدم   جفت بدحالان و خوشحالان شدم

هر کسی از ظن خود شد یار من      از دورن من نجست اسرار من

سر من از ناله ی من دور نیست   لیک چشم و گوش را آن نور نیست

تن ز جان و جان ز تن مستور نیست   لیک کس را دید جان دستور نیست

آتش است این بانگ نای و نیست باد    هر که این آتش ندارد نیست باد

آتش عشق است کاندر نی فتاد    جوشش عشق است کاندر می فتاد

نی حریف هر که از یاری برید      پرده هاایش پرده های ما درید

همچو نی زهری و تریاقی که دید؟   همچو نی دمساز و مشتاقی که دید؟

نی حدیث راه پرخون می کند  قصه های عشق مجنون می کند

محرم این هوش جز بی هوش نیست    مر زبان را مشتری جز گوش نیست

در غم ما روزها بیگاه شد   روزها با سوزها همراه شد

روزها گر رفت گو:"رو باک نیست      تو بمان ای آنک چون تو پاک نیست"

هرکه جز ماهی ز آبش سیر شد    هرکه بی روزیست روزش دیر شد

درنیابد حال پخته هیچ خام    پس سخن کوتاه باید_ والسلام


Published - February 2010

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