Saturday, November 12, 2005


Today I wandered into the local Chapters, just to kill a bit of time. I was actually going to get a coffee, and sit around reading for a while, but the coffee shop was crowded enough that I lost that desire.

Instead, I just browsed through the store, and ended up in philosophy. There, to my surprise, I found a translation of the Maarif, a.k.a. 'The Drowned Book', of Bahauddin Valad (1152-1231 AD), the father of Rumi. To say I was happy to find it was an understatement, since I didn't even know that it existed. So, I bought it and am now partway through reading it.

However, I have to admit I'm somewhat irked by the translation. Yet again, this book features the technique of 'second translation', where a poet will rework the text to make it 'better' than the straight, literal translation. You see this all the time with Rumi translations as well. Augh, I understand that this would appeal to some people, but what about the rest of us, that want to hear these works from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Why do I need someone who isn't Bahauddin or Rumi to 'improve' his works? Anyways, as I read, I always wonder what the truth behind the work is. Where does Bahauddin or Rumi begin, and Coleman Barks begin? At least include the original translation in an appendix or something... :(

Despite the problem I have with these translations, I think that in the current world-state, with interreligious strife due to the dominance of literal, soulless religion (think al Qaeda or the intelligent design people), people need to look back and critically evaluate current religious doctrine. In other words, once again nail some theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. The works of Mevlana and other sufis reveal a depth of understanding about life and belief far beyond current religious groups. Me, I'm not religious, but Rumi allowed me to understand why people believe, and to respect them for the sincerity of that belief. At the core of religion you should find 'love'. When this is not the case, religion has been perverted to benefit greed and anger.

Anyways, interestingly, in the notes on translation of The Drowned Book', the authors offer up Leonard Cohen's work as an example of modern sema. Hmm, they've got that right. Here's a Leonard quote that is pure sufi:

I asked my father
I said, father change my name.
The one I'm using now it's covered up
With fear and filth and cowardice and shame.
He said, I locked you in this body,
I meant it as a kind of trial.

That's from 'Lover Lover Lover' from 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony', where I swear that he is using lover in the sufi sense. To finish off this post, let me quote a passage from 'Hidden Music', one of my favourite Rumi translations.

I said, what about my eyes?
Keep them on the road.
I said, what about my passion?
Keep it burning.
I said, what about my heart?
Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said, pain and sorrow.
He said, stay with it.

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