Crawling from the wreckage

I’m in a funk. Something about this winter has conspired to quell even the occasional bursts of creativity which sometimes visit me. Maybe the planet took a deeper dip in its seasonal wobble and drew us farther into the cold and the dark, or some primal part of my brain became resurgent, urging me into hibernation. Anyway, I’ve been drawing a three-month long blank.  Ideas start in the brain, but they die in the gut. You should see me wallowing in existential angst. “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” is the sort of thing you might hear me say.

Lucky for me then that angst which is existential can by definition be dismissed through Direct Action. In my case, DA takes the form of translating obscure poems by dead poets from foreign lands. Funny, that. It reminds me of a letter I read recently in the Metro, a newspaper the value of which is paradoxically dependent entirely on the fact that it is free.  Some well-meaning chap declared his  sincere intention to take his puppet show to Haiti to offer the healing power of storytelling and puppets to the bereaved children. This is the quandary of the highly specialized individual – in times of crisis, you have only the one thing to fall back on.

Selfishly, I reserve the restorative powers of my single skill all for myself.  The subject matter is of no consequence – I’m counting on the work itself to urge me on to greater heights. So we’ll stick with some ghazals. The ghazal, I feel like I’ve said before, is a short poem originally derived from the longer qasida form. The Arabic qasida, in which I have little expertise, usually began by describing the poet visiting an abandoned campsite from which his beloved had just fled. The bulk of the poem was usually in praise of some bigwig. In Persian, the subject of the ghazal became more varied and eventually was split off the qasida altogether. Then the Sufis got their hands on it and that was that.  What’s important for my purposes is that its short.  Here’s one from, what the heck, Bahar. Not being a Sufi, he didn’t always delve into the “beloved as God” stuff, but the inherent ambiguity of the genre leaves everything open to interpretation and Bahar made good use of that fact. I think he wrote this one in jail:

Each night, I cry out to the stars in grief and longing for her

Patience, o heart, our night will end.

Even if I could bring daylight to this dark night of longing, what good would it do?

It would only mean the start of my black day.

Patience, o heart, though you burn from the wounds of your rivals

For this heart-melting tale shall in the end reach my king.

Though I have sinned, the fair king’s mercy is at hand

and on the final day will come glad tidings of my redemption.

There’s actually quite a bit going on in that poem. The “her” is the generic beloved of the genre – the cruel, untouchable beloved. The bit about the king is relevant to anyone sitting in jail waiting for a pardon, but the “final day” could also refer to divine judgement. Bahar is not known for his ghazals, but he obviously knew what he was doing.

There, I did something. Now to employ Phase Two of Direct Action, which involves distilled spirits and televised images. To the couch!

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About M.C. Smith

translatingpersian@gmail.com View all posts by M.C. Smith

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