chapter  17
Living in lyric: the task of translating a modernist ghazal
BySAMAD ALAVI
Pages 11

To begin with the historical, in 1971 the preeminent professor and scholar of Persian literature Muhammad Riza Shafi’i Kadkani published a collection of remarkably radical poems. Dar Kūchah Bāgh’hā-yi Nishābūr (On the Garden Pathways of Nishapur) burst onto the poetic scene with an overriding spirit of

social engagement and revolutionary fervor, an optimism that overturned the previous decade’s looming sense of defeat and ushered in a new period of hope, idealism, and militancy in Persian verse. On the Garden Pathways of Nishapur heralds the demise of a spiritually corrupt, superficially “modern” sociopolitical order and pays tribute to those harbingers of its downfall, those activists who catalyze an imminent dawn. As critics like Muhammad Shams Langarudi have detailed, On the Garden Pathways of Nishapur forms one of the foundational works of the so-called jungle poetry that dominated Persian poetics in the 1970s, for the poems in the collection reference and celebrate armed guerrilla attacks against the monarchy in a coded social-symbolic mode.4 But the poems do not only voice support for contemporary armed struggles. Rather, the collection appropriates and reworks a vast tradition of classical Persian and Islamic poetic and mystical texts, from its opening injunction to “Recite!” to its constant incorporation of terminology, rhythms, themes, and even entire verses from canonical figures like Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz Shirazi and Jalal al-Din Mawlana Rumi, known and revered by virtually any Persian reader and probably many English readers as Hafiz, and Mawlana and/or Rumi, respectively. In translating any poem from On the Garden Pathways of Nishapur, then, the translator assumes the task of not only transferring some of that specifically prerevolutionary, guerrilla-inspired fervor, but, more dauntingly, of transferring the poet’s sustained dialogue with his literary-cultural past.