Published by Salam Toronto
Nowruz is now officially an Ontarian and a Canadian day, enacted by the legislatures of both. A few weeks ago, Nowruz celebrations took place in Queen’s Park, Toronto. It was a charming and beautiful ceremony. One could witness a fact that is already widely known: fascination of many with Iranian culture and art. In an interview with Salam Toronto last week, Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Opposition, stated that he shares this fascination, especially after his trip to Iran.
During the Nowruz ceremony at Queen’s Park, Mr. Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, decided to take this fascination to a higher level reciting a poem of Hafiz that was faced with sheer applause by Iranians. Here is the poem:
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me”
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights the whole sky
Since it was uttered by McGuinty, numerous people have tried to find the original Persian verse, but they’ve failed. Many went through their Hafiz books a thousand times, but nothing was found.
Those who heard the verse from McGuinty and started a spree to find the original Persian version are not alone. This verse has appeared all over the place, from wall murals in the United States to greeting cards on the Internet. Afschineh Latifi even used it to title her famed memoir “Even After All this Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran”. Last week, Hojat Golpayegani, writing for Shahrvand, talked about how he has been searching extensively “But without any success”.
Well, I am going to end the agony.
It does not exist.
Those who have gone and searched their Farsi books of Hafiz shouldn’t have done so. That’s just not the proper way. They should have been looking for the English version of the poem to see who has translated it and what the sources are. This is especially necessary for Hafiz, since historically it has been shown that translating his work to English is a complex process for which no definitive, accepted version stands out.
The poem that Mr. McGuinty recited comes from a book called “The Gift: Poems by Hafez the Great Sufi Master” by Daniel Ladinsky, American Sufi poet. It was published in 1999 by Penguin Books and was commercially successful. However, this book has nothing to do with Hafiz. Ladinsky, a Sufi who has spent years with Mehrbaba in India, doesn’t even know how to read or write in Farsi. In fact, he claims that he has heard the poems from Hafiz himself in a dream. “I feel my relationship to Hafiz defies all reason” he says in the book’s introduction. “It is really an attempt to do the impossible, to translate light into words… About six months into this work I had an astounding dream in which I saw Hafiz as a never-ending, boundless sun (God), who sang hundreds of verses of his poetry to me in English, asking me to give his message to ‘my fellow artists and art seekers’ “.
This has been rebuked by a lot of critics who accuse Ladinsky of out-right fraud and deception. Murat Nemet-Nejat, a modern Turkish essayist and poet, asserts “Ladinsky’s book is an original poem masquerading as a translation… As God talked to Moses in Hebrew, to Mohammad in Arabic, Hafiz spoke to Daniel Ladinsky in English. Mr. Ladinsky is translating a dream, not a 14th century Persian text”. He continues “As such, the book is worse than a failure; it is a deception, a marketing rip-off of his name”.
The mystery is solved. There are no original Farsi versions of this poem. The verse that fascinated Mr. McGuinty so much actually comes from an American Sufi and his interpretation of “light”.
Translation of Hafiz into English is indeed an enormous task yet to be undertaken successfully by anybody. “The most important matter is about things like Metonyms that carry a lot of weight behind them and can’t be brought to English easily” Mostafa Azizi, Writer, Poet and a Hafiz expert, stated in an interview from Tehran. “The only way is for an acclaimed, great English-speaking poet to undertake the task of transforming Hafiz’s soul and concepts from a language to another”.
We don’t know whether that is going to happen anytime soon but if it were to happen, Canada would be the place for it. Poetry is more popular here compared to other English-speaking nations and there are a lot of Farsi-speaking Canadians around. Before such a poet arises, those who would want to read Hafiz and not a fake, “dreamy” version of it, better resort to what Fredrick Engels, 19th century social scientist did. In a letter to Karl Marx, he wrote “I have made use of the opportunity to learn Persian… it is, by the way, rather pleasing to read dissolute old Hafiz in the original language”.Follow me!