A book I’m reading on how quantum field bridges time, space, miracles and beliefs, begins with three brief, beautiful lines from Rumi:
I have one small drop
of knowing in my soul.
Let it dissolve in your ocean.
There is no cited source for the translator of this short poem, which got me thinking about the American poet, Coleman Barks, who is most well-known for his English renderings of Rumi’s work, which were written in 13th Century Persian. The thing is, I remember the first time I heard Barks reading Rumi with his folksy southern drawl. It was at a symposium on the translation of poetry and an audience member asked at the end of the reading if Barks could speak about some of the technical challenges of working with a non-native language. “I wouldn’t really know,” came the reply (underlined with, I recall, a pair of smiling eyes), “I don’t read Persian.”
Undoubtedly like me, many of the students and younger scholars of language and literature in the auditorium where baffled if not put off by that admission. The other poets, artists and knowledgeable scholars of literary translation present were far more comfortable with that answer, I would learn later, because they understood that a single-minded focus on literality usually deadens the energy and intent of the original.
In fact, I would learn later that as a serious, if jovial artist, Barks always collaborated with others on his popular translations and reinterpretations of Rumi, most notably with John Moyne, the highly regarded linguist, computer scientist and scholar of Persian language, himself a poet. What often reads and sounds so earthy and gravity-free in their translations are, of course, many times worked and washed English language garments, fresh covers meant to honor and release the energy of the original. Here is a short piece they worked on from a collection titled Essential Rumi.
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.
Art hinges our experience into new and reclaimed discoveries of consciousness, personal and collective. Its power is not mainly the expression it gives to one person’s creativity but in the tremendous weight it may bear as it swings open our awareness and live-senses to something overlooked and/or inescapable.
/ = hinge
Love/poetry/consciousness/collaboration are choices against their opposites, I think. Make them in any order and they will lead to something better.
On that note let me finish with an original poem (whatever that means) by Coleman Barks.
In the glory of the gloaming-green soccer
field her team, the Gladiators, is losing
ten to zip. She never loses interest in
the roughhouse one-on-one that comes
every half a minute. She sticks her leg
in danger and comes out the other side running.
Later a clump of opponents on the street is chant-
ing, WE WON, WE WON, WE . . . She stands up
on the convertible seat holding to the wind-
shield. WE LOST, WE LOST BIGTIME, TEN TO
NOTHING, WE LOST, WE LOST. Fist pumping
air. The other team quiet, abashed, chastened.
Good losers don’t laugh last; they laugh
continuously, all the way home so glad.