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Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Time Event
11:07p
More than I really needed to know ...
Well, after that last book, I really needed some "mental floss" to get me back on an even keel, and if there's one thing that "Dover Thrift Editions" do as well as getting a book order up to that free-shipping promised land, it's providing a brief dip into a subject.

The subject at hand over the past couple of days has been Persian Poetry, specifically Hafiz. Now, most of the listings of The Garden of Heaven: Poems of Hafiz list "Hafiz" as the author, but I'm afraid that this is a bit mis-leading, as Gertrude Bell is much more the author of this book, not only did she (admirably) translate the poems, but she wrote a rather in-depth (if "dated") 30-page Introduction to them, as well as 25 pages of detailed notes on the 40 pages of actual poems. Personally, I was in this for the poems, so was somewhat put off (OK, "nodded off" on the train) with the excess of exposition wrapped around them.

As with most of these Dover books, this is a re-print of an old release, in this case a volume originally published over a century ago, in 1897! As such, I'm able to cut the author (who appears to have been quite an adventurer and scholar) some slack on what could be seen from a modern perspective as a rather stiff view of Sufism.

Frankly, by the time I'd gotten through the introduction, I was rather apprehensive of how the poems would be presented, as Gertrude Bell was certainly living up to certain clichés of a "Victorian", but I was rather pleased with how the poems flowed. I always have certain doubts about translations of poetry that attempt to maintain a rhyme scheme, as even composing in one's native language a poet frequently has to do violence to the meaning in order to fit the rhyme, so I would guess that this is not the best translation if one is looking for "subtle Sufi truths", but as poetry, it's quite nicely rendered.

My heart, sad hermit, stains the cloister floor
With drops of blood, the sweat of anguish dire;
Ah, wash me clean, and o'er my body pour
Love's generous wine! the worshipers of fire
Have bowed them down and magnified my name,
For in my heart there burns a living flame,
Transpiercing Death's impenetrable door.
If nothing else, Hafiz seems to have been remarkable in the way that he was able to keep afloat amidst the courts of a whole string of conquerors of his native Shiraz ... in fact, it would appear that for most of his life he was in demand, with various regional royalties almost "bidding" for his attendance.

Anyway, The Garden of Heaven is quite an interesting little book, providing a two-tiered window, one into Victorian scholarship, and the other into 14th century Persian politics and poetry. This is still in print, at the princely cover price of $2.00 ... which makes it one of those "in reserve" titles to add in on a twenty-three-something book order!


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