Sunday, February 22, 2009

An Exhibition of A Translation:

The role of a translation in popularity of a poet and his poetry in the West:
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám' in West,

"The Persian Sensation:The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the West" is a 6-month long exhibition that focuses on the earliest translations of Khayyam’s poetry in the West. 200 items are exhibited in The Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin from February 3rd to August 2nd, 2009. The exhibition is centered on Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat, which was first published in 1859 and is known to be the first English translation of Khayyam’s poetry in the West. FitzGerald has also translated a selection of the poems to Latin.

Although an amateur translator, FitzGerald’s works on Rubaiyat came to be the most famous translation of Khayyam’s work. He changed the order of Khayyam’s stanzas (four-line poems) to get to a clear narrative on the mystical message of Khayyam’s poetry that encourages all to cherish the moment they are living in. FitzGreald was criticized by many for not being devoted to the verses in his translation by rearranging the poems; some even called FitzGerald translation “The Rubaiyat of FitzOmar.”

The question of “what is a genuine translation especially when it comes to poetry?” has created many scholarly fights. As an amateur translator, I have often had problems with this question myself, especially growing up reading great translations by Beh-Azin (Mahmoud Etemadzadeh- محمود اعتمادزاده), Ahmad Shamlou and Mohammad Ghazi, whose manner of translation differed from one another, has brought me to the belief that depending on the literary text the translation can follow various styles; the best example perhaps is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which was translated to more than 100 languages. Look at Shamlou’s translation of The Little Prince: Shamlou practically re-wrote the book and God knows how poetic Shamlou made it. This translation was so poetic that people of my generation didn't hesitate to quote Shamlou’s Little Prince next to Persian love poems in their love letters. (The same book was also translated by Ghazi, who used a more traditional line of translation; some readers prefer Ghazi’s work to Shamlou’s. I certainly prefer Shamlou's.)

The Persian Sensation in Harry Ransom Center has developed four parts in answering this question: 'How and why did a translation of medieval Persian poetry become one of the most famous books in the West?' The sections are: "The Poets' Rubáiyát" concentrating on both Khayam’s poems and FitzGerald’s translation and the history of British presence in the Middle East. "The Cult of Omar" touches on the impact of Rubaiyat on Oriental objects. "Everybody's Rubáiyát” focuses on the popularity of Khayyam’s poetry in the world and "In Search of Khayyám" looks for the traces of Khayyam and his poetry in today’s Iran.

Interesting to know and related to this exhibition is Rubáiyát Film Series. (For the schedule visit here.) If you are curious to know how Titanic (the ship) is related to Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, check the link for the exhibition and pay a visit to Harry Ransom Center.

Poster for the Exhibition
The Persian Sensation:The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the West

Harry Ransom Center, Feb -Aug 2009

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by FitzGerald, First Edition


jsa said...

Fascinating post, Roja.

It would be interesting to me to see an English translation of the Persian translation of Le Petit Prince...

Though it might be like putting something through Babelfish twice!

Tameshk said...

Dear Jsa
Thanks for your comment. It is an interesting suggestion to re-translate The Little Prince; at least one can take parts of it and re-translate them to French for comparison.

Uma Maheswar Nakka said...

Dear Tameshk

Nice to read your article with further information about your impression on the translations of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in to English and Latin by Edward Fitgzerald. And wrote that he is amature. I read some poems along with some detailed meaning and description of the poems in various web site translated in to English by him and felt quite happy. Only thing is one needs to know a little about the Culture and traditions of that era.

If you feel the translations by him do not reflect the original meaning then it is better an attempt to translate it close to the original context is advisable.
That is all
Thanks and Blessings
Uma Maheswar Nakka