Ghazal 1
Trans. Roger Sedarat

 

Hey wine boy! Keep giving us more to drink
Love’s not something we endure or outthink.

The musky flower’s perfume in the breeze
Buzzes bees blindly to its core to drink.

Bound to the world, my beloved jangles
Chains of existence to sever the link.

The holy man knows best. If he insists,
Paint prayer rugs with rags and wine-colored ink!

We who’d drown in love know the wave’s terror.
Those with closed hearts, safe on the shore, don’t sink.

My selfish verse made me notorious.
(Truth remains hidden when the liars speak).

Hafez, don’t run away from his presence.
When caught by him, release the world and sing.

 

The Persian ghazal is predicated on the turn between the first and second line of each contained couplet, empowering the recurring word/phrase and rhyme that concludes each stanza, often with surprise. This first ghazal by Hafez, the fourteenth-century Persian master of the form, best demonstrates the turn as tension between the material and spiritual worlds underpinned by the poet’s Sufism. The third couplet further foregrounds the importance of musicality in the tradition (as another ancient master put it, in Persian verse, “The poetry is in the rhyme”). The first line here forces the beloved—the worldly metaphor for the divine—to the earth. As in all good form, the constraint produces the beauty of her song. The second line paradoxically frees her from bondage, even as it further inscribes her in an all too heavy repetitious pattern found throughout the poem. To say the full extent of the turn gets lost in translation is a banal yet necessary cliché. The recreation in form into the English translation tries as much as possible to capture a trace of the multi-layered puns, as well as the sonorous delight of the music, found in the original. Needless to say, the more weighed down with such well-crafted rhetoric, the greater the verse, or “turn,” to use the etymology of the term, in the poem.

 

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Roger Sedarat is the author of Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP’s 2007 Hollis Summers’ Prize, and Ghazal Games (Ohio UP, 2011). His translations of classical and modern Persian verse have appeared in World Literature Today, Drunken Boat, and Cerise Press. He teaches poetry and literary translation in the MFA program at Queens College, City University of New York.

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