Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rumi meets Tammy Wynette

Okay, not really--though I like the idea of them running into each other as they travel the astral plane. Here on earth they just happen to be sharing this week's issue of Chapter 16. Click here to read Paul McCoy's interview with Wynette biographer Jimmy McDonough. I put a few questions to poet Coleman Barks about his 30+ years of interpreting Rumi for Westerners, and you'll find his responses here.

A Smile and A Gentleness

There is a smile and a gentleness
inside. When I learned the name

and address of that, I went to where
you sell perfume. I begged you not

to trouble me so with longing. Come
out and play! Flirt more naturally.

Teach me how to kiss. On the ground
a spread blanket, flame that's caught

and burning well, cumin seeds browning,
I am inside all of this with my soul.

Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. Text from Rumi Love and Ecstasy Poems.

Depiction of Adam and Eve from Manafi al-Hayawan, c.1295


chayaruchama said...

Ah, Toots.

All THIS, and no sniffer.

Thank goodness, your poor proboscis' memory is acute ;-)

jmcleod76 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jmcleod76 said...

Ack! posted the wrong link earlier. Let's try that again:

Now there's a heavenly dinner party I wouldn't miss for the world!

I've been a bit wary of Coleman Barks' Rumi translations ever since I read this a couple of years ago. Of course, all translations say more about the translator than the original text, anyway. That's nothing new. One only has to think of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, and so many other treasures we wouldn't even have if not funnelld through some other man's vision (it's usually a man, anyway). And, really, since Barks' Rumi is the one so many of us met first, perhaps he's no less real than the "real" one.

BitterGrace said...

That article is very good, Jaime, thanks for the link. I agree with you--we have to accept translations as having lives of their own and judge them by their own merits. It's not as if there aren't literal translations of Rumi floating around for people who want to read him without learning Persian. I understand why it's annoying to some Muslims that Barks's interpretation of Rumi has become so dominant in the English-speaking world, but he's very frank about what he's doing. He's not trying to fool anybody. And most people aren't reading the stuff for spiritual instruction anyway.

That said, I do get a little turned off by the way the historical and social context of Rumi's poems is just dismissed with a wave of the hand.

Alyssa said...

Mmm, yes, thanks for that Jaime. I was just about to ask -- so, without Persian, how does he do it? Just reads lots of literal translations and then comes up with his own version a la Pound and Li Po? I wish there were not such a lengthy tradition of similar Empire-driven cultural appropriation... Because I am really grateful to Colman's Rumi, whoever, and however he came to be.

Alyssa said...

Forgot to add -- great interview!