Translation: The simplest actin the world, and the most difficult- making a literary masterpiece in one language readable as a literary masterpiece in another. Translating the exact words is just a beginning. You have to translate the meaning, the sense of the meaning, the structure, the syntax, the rhythm, the sound, the color, the tone the colloquial character, the connotations, the implications, the intellectual framework, the social context, the psychological source of the text.Your ultimate goal is to be left with the exact words again, only in another language.

This is always necessary and never possible. By definition, translation can never catch the whole original. It’s invariably a deceit to the reader and a disappointment to the translator; every European language has a catchphrase to say so: Traduire c’est trahir, traduttore traditore, übersetzen ist zerfetzen &c. In any language, translator= traitor.

May be so. At the same time, translation itself is a necessity. Like a human being, literature cannot live without the Other, and needs this alternative presence in as many and as varied forms as possible. If all nations spoke the same language, and kept in their national hearts the same select list f literary of literary works, it would be as if all the birds in the rainforest had become pigeons.

Fortunately that can’t happen: Wittgenstein proved that no two of us speak the same language anyway. The words I chose to make Rimbaud rhyme,or rebuild Kafka’s sentences on the framework of a different grammar, are not those another translator would have chosen, and the difference is offered to the reader in the belief that it itself is an illumination. Schegel’s German translation of Shakespeare is definitive- so definitive that a thousand translations have sprung up in its shadow.

The phrase “offered to the reader” reminds me of the most important thing about translation: That it is a sacred act, the literary equivalent of the Opening of the Ark, the Elevation of the Host, or some other ritual climax in which dead matter is spiritually made to live again. To readers of language B, the words of language A are a blank wall on the page; the translator opens the magic door in the wall, and invites readers or hearers into the secret garden.

Knowing this makes translation a magnificent task, an honor, lifting it above mere anguish and drudgery. The original authors spirit is there in the room while you work- correcting, complaining, clarifying, and all the while urging you to press on with the task, so he or she can reach out to meet new readers, new soul mates. What a privilege it is to have such a wonderful guest, and know that you are helping them to live again, in a new world.

Michael Feingold
It is too easy to attribute the unprecedented popularity of Jalaluddin Mohammad Rumi to the “spiritual hunger” of our time, and even more dangerous to believe that we need imported elements to satisfy such hunger. I trust that Man seeks spirituality at all times and places, and that a poet, with or without the cloak of mysticism is a spiritual leader. Rumi’s own poetry demonstrates that the answer to what a society seeks will be found in the same environment. Likewise a close look at the art, literature and music of contemporary Western culture would reveal an abundance of metaphysical work.

Hence, the most remarkable biographical information about Jalaluddin Rumi’s life is not the appearance and disappearance of the mystic Shams, but Rumi’s imperative and conscious decision to make a change in his career from a Sufi teacher to a poet. Here the medium is truly the message: the most successful Sufi teacher of all times with countless devoted followers chooses to communicate through the path of poetry. This masterful poet combines philosophy, mysticism and psychology in a language so piercing as to enter the realm of music. It is this element more than any other which has made Rumi’s poetry so irresistible to readers for almost eight hundred years, even through the filter of translation.  
What distorts rumi’s words therefore is not the process of translation, but the inability of translators to grasp all the requisite ingredients of his thinking. Humans are born translators. Autism notwithstanding, each time we speak, we translate abstract ideas from the brain into coherent, communicable words. Even though we are in the process of translating at all times, most people consider their own language untranslatable. We think of our native tongue as sensitively expressive and highly idiomatic. The delicate act of translation is thus to transport a set of sensitively expressive and highly idiomatic ideas from one language and deliver them safely into another sensitively expressive and highly idiomatic mold. To translate and still achieve total fidelity to the original text requires not only thorough knowledge of both languages, but the surrender of ego in reverence to the author who needs to be reborn in another language and the reader who who invests his sincere trust as he reads a book of poetry in translation.

I have been fortunate to see the visible face of that trust in the works produced by publisher Vincent FitzGerald and the nearly two dozen artists who have worked on Rumi’s poetry through my translations. Working with Rumi’s poetry and the magnitude of his thinking is a humbling experience. A sense of grave responsibility and honor surrounds the act of translating the masterpieces of such a writer. My hopes and aspirations have always been the simplest and the hardest: to arrive as close to the original writing as to make the translator an invisible messenger bringing to the reader a poet’s voice. Whether one delivers a secular or a sacred text, the act of translation remains a sacred act.

Zahra Partovi
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