Ladinsky’s Ersatz Hafez

Translation is complicated in that the veracity of the work must be taken on faith if one does not know the original language. Thus good translators are careful to account for their approach to the craft and take seriously the need to educate their readership. This is especially the case with languages and traditions that are removed from European cultural experience and when translated for an English speaking public which is often monolingual.

Unfortunately, such is not the case with the several publications of Daniel Ladinsky that variously purport to be either translations or versions of the great and inimitable Hafez of Shiraz. Hafez is treasured by Persian speakers as the greatest poet of what is perhaps the world’s greatest poetic tradition. To misrepresent him so blatantly, thoroughly and consistently over time as Ladinsky has done, is breathtaking. His work in “translation” does not represent the ghazal form, is not based on the Persian text and can not be referred to existing English translations and versions.

The ghazal in Persian commonly has anywhere from seven to fourteen couplets with an aa, ba, ca, da etc rhyme scheme. The poet “signs” his ghazal with a pen name.  Each Persian line in English translation has, on average, about fourteen syllables. The following is my translation of a Hafezian ghazal to illustrate structure, rhyme and typical themes:

Ghazal #332, Khanlari

Although I seethe like a vat of wine from love’s ferment,
I drink blood with sealed lips that keep me silent.

It is the soul’s resolve to possess the beloved’s lips;
Look at me, whose struggle with soul has left me spent!

How can I be free from heart’s sorrow when each breath
The idol’s black curl rings my ear with the slave’s ornament.

God forbid that I fall in love with my own devotion;
This much is true: I drink a glass when the time is cogent.

I hope that on Judgement Day upon the enemy’s note,
The burden of His grace doesn’t leave me twisted and bent.

My father sold the green of heaven for two grains of wheat;
Why not sell for less this garden that blooms but a moment?

My wearing the dervish frock is not about religion;
It is a covering to conceal a hundred torments.

I who wish to drink only pure and filtered wine, what can
I do but remain with the wise Magian conversant?

If in this way our minstrel plays in the mode of love,
Hafez’s verse when heard will create astonishment.

 

The ghazal is a song composed of couplets which tells a story, one not based on linear narrative but rather on deeply associated themes. The most consistent theme in Hafez’s ghazals is the religion of love.

Ladinsky’s work on Hafez does not remotely resemble the ghazal in its Persian line arrangement, as illustrated above. Now, his work need not necessarily mirror the formal qualities of the Persian ghazal in order to convey the meaning and spirit of a given ghazal. However, the problem is much worse than that of form. Ladinsky does not work from the Persian but has claimed to work from various English translations, notably Wilberforce Clark’s literal, stilted, Victorian era crib of the Divan-e-Hafez. But since he does not “translate” whole ghazals, but fragments of ghazals, and does not identify what material is the basis for a given “translation/ version”, it is impossible to establish even an abstract connection with any text at all. When I read Ladinsky’s work, I am not reminded of Hafez in the slightest, and I have translated some eighty Hafez ghazals from the Persian. There is not even a faint echo of Hafez in Ladinsky’s work.

So where do Ladinsky’s “celebrated” translations come from? Fortunately, Ladinsky has himself supplied the answer. He has been compelled to explain, without the slightest hint of self contradiction or embarrassment, that what he refers to as translation and version is in fact the result of channeling, ie Hafez came to him in some kind of vision and supplied him with the spiritual and linguistic essence of his work.

This being the explanation that Ladinsky has supplied to account for his literary modus operandi, why did he and his publisher not publish his work as New Age spiritual transmission, or the like?

It is abundantly clear that the answer has more to do with marketing and sales than a gift for honest representation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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