Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Just One of God's Funny Family"

By David Ian Miller - San Francisco Chronicle - SF, CA, U.S.A.
Monday, October 1st, 2007

Whether it's about God or the pangs of earthly love, the poetry of Rumi is often startlingly modern, partly due to those who have translated his poems from 13th century Persian into many of the world's languages.

Coleman Barks, the world's best known translator of Rumi's work, is credited with helping make Rumi one of the most popular poets in the United States — Barks' 18 books of Rumi poems have sold more than 750,000 copies. His newest book, "Rumi: Bridge to the Soul," in honor of the 800th anniversary of the poet's birthday, came out Sept. 18.

Rumi, born on Sept. 30, 1207, was a theologian and follower of Islam's mystical tradition of Sufism. He founded the Mevlevi Dervish Order, also known as the whirling dervishes, and wrote thousands of poems, many of them ecstatic expressions of the Sufi notion that all things can be seen as manifestations of the divine.

Barks, 70, a warm, open Southerner who describes himself as "just one of God's funny family," spoke by phone last week from his home in Athens, Ga., about Rumi's ageless attractions and how much of Coleman Barks makes its way into the Rumi poems so many of us have read.

I was surprised to learn that you don't speak Persian. How do you "translate" Rumi's work, then?
I didn't discover Rumi until I was 39 years old. I'd had this wonderful literary education at Berkeley and at North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but I had never even heard the name of the greatest mystical poet that ever lived!

At that point — and I'm lazy, as a matter of fact — it was hopeless to try to learn Farsi. So I depend upon scholarly translations and living scholars to give me word-for-word translations, and then I work with the English, trying to be as faithful as possible to the images that come through the words and the spiritual information coming through those images.

But I don't try to reproduce any of the musicality of the Persian. I translate it into American free verse.

So the word "translator" doesn't exactly describe what you do?
It's often called a second translation. Someone brings it from the source language sort of halfway to a literal translation and then someone else takes it from that stage to a poem in the English language. Scholarly translations don't try to do that.

How much of yourself is in these poems, and how much of it is Rumi, do you think?
Well, of course, the way I approach these poems has to be filtered through my own experience. He (Rumi) is an enlightened being, and I am not. And so there must be some distortion resulting from that.

The great Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan told me once: "Coleman, when you first started translating these in the 1970s, I heard a lot of sexuality in them." I said: "Well, there was a lot of sexuality in me." (Laughs.)

So it (sex) was getting in there. Gradually, as I've sort of understood these poems more and more, I hope they don't lose their sensuous delight in the universe, but there is less of a sexual feel to them.

I've heard several of your Rumi readings. Some writers don't particularly enjoy reading their work in public, but you obviously do.
I hope so. I think that's partly because he (Rumi) had a great joy in being alive. He said that just being sentient and in a body is cause for rapture. Whitman had that sense of wonder, very close to Rumi's, I think. And so did Emily Dickinson.

Does it seem remarkable to you that so many people today have an interest in this Persian poet from 800 years ago?
Yes, and I don't completely understand it. The poet Robert Bly says that in terms of Western culture, the Council of Nicaea in 325 expunged the ecstatic material out of the New Testament — the scenes where Jesus was dancing.

And he thinks that loss is being filled now by Rumi's poetry and that we have, for a long time wanted someone with an ecstatic vision, a mature human being.

Is that what you think, too?
I do. I think that's why people delight in him so, because he is showing us a vision of the world that we have wanted to have a spokesman for. And it's full of grief, too. You might even call it ecstatic grief — it's deeply grieving poetry but also delighted in the moment-to-moment story of our lives.

(...)

Do you have some favorite lines from Rumi?
There's a little quatrain that's sort of famous, it begins:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I'll meet you there.
A soul who lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make any sense."

1 comment:

irving said...

I'll meet you in that field too, dear Mus' :) A lovely post and interview with Barks.

Ya Haqq!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Just One of God's Funny Family"
By David Ian Miller - San Francisco Chronicle - SF, CA, U.S.A.
Monday, October 1st, 2007

Whether it's about God or the pangs of earthly love, the poetry of Rumi is often startlingly modern, partly due to those who have translated his poems from 13th century Persian into many of the world's languages.

Coleman Barks, the world's best known translator of Rumi's work, is credited with helping make Rumi one of the most popular poets in the United States — Barks' 18 books of Rumi poems have sold more than 750,000 copies. His newest book, "Rumi: Bridge to the Soul," in honor of the 800th anniversary of the poet's birthday, came out Sept. 18.

Rumi, born on Sept. 30, 1207, was a theologian and follower of Islam's mystical tradition of Sufism. He founded the Mevlevi Dervish Order, also known as the whirling dervishes, and wrote thousands of poems, many of them ecstatic expressions of the Sufi notion that all things can be seen as manifestations of the divine.

Barks, 70, a warm, open Southerner who describes himself as "just one of God's funny family," spoke by phone last week from his home in Athens, Ga., about Rumi's ageless attractions and how much of Coleman Barks makes its way into the Rumi poems so many of us have read.

I was surprised to learn that you don't speak Persian. How do you "translate" Rumi's work, then?
I didn't discover Rumi until I was 39 years old. I'd had this wonderful literary education at Berkeley and at North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but I had never even heard the name of the greatest mystical poet that ever lived!

At that point — and I'm lazy, as a matter of fact — it was hopeless to try to learn Farsi. So I depend upon scholarly translations and living scholars to give me word-for-word translations, and then I work with the English, trying to be as faithful as possible to the images that come through the words and the spiritual information coming through those images.

But I don't try to reproduce any of the musicality of the Persian. I translate it into American free verse.

So the word "translator" doesn't exactly describe what you do?
It's often called a second translation. Someone brings it from the source language sort of halfway to a literal translation and then someone else takes it from that stage to a poem in the English language. Scholarly translations don't try to do that.

How much of yourself is in these poems, and how much of it is Rumi, do you think?
Well, of course, the way I approach these poems has to be filtered through my own experience. He (Rumi) is an enlightened being, and I am not. And so there must be some distortion resulting from that.

The great Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan told me once: "Coleman, when you first started translating these in the 1970s, I heard a lot of sexuality in them." I said: "Well, there was a lot of sexuality in me." (Laughs.)

So it (sex) was getting in there. Gradually, as I've sort of understood these poems more and more, I hope they don't lose their sensuous delight in the universe, but there is less of a sexual feel to them.

I've heard several of your Rumi readings. Some writers don't particularly enjoy reading their work in public, but you obviously do.
I hope so. I think that's partly because he (Rumi) had a great joy in being alive. He said that just being sentient and in a body is cause for rapture. Whitman had that sense of wonder, very close to Rumi's, I think. And so did Emily Dickinson.

Does it seem remarkable to you that so many people today have an interest in this Persian poet from 800 years ago?
Yes, and I don't completely understand it. The poet Robert Bly says that in terms of Western culture, the Council of Nicaea in 325 expunged the ecstatic material out of the New Testament — the scenes where Jesus was dancing.

And he thinks that loss is being filled now by Rumi's poetry and that we have, for a long time wanted someone with an ecstatic vision, a mature human being.

Is that what you think, too?
I do. I think that's why people delight in him so, because he is showing us a vision of the world that we have wanted to have a spokesman for. And it's full of grief, too. You might even call it ecstatic grief — it's deeply grieving poetry but also delighted in the moment-to-moment story of our lives.

(...)

Do you have some favorite lines from Rumi?
There's a little quatrain that's sort of famous, it begins:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I'll meet you there.
A soul who lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make any sense."

1 comment:

irving said...

I'll meet you in that field too, dear Mus' :) A lovely post and interview with Barks.

Ya Haqq!