Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Poems for Dec. 26

This is a bit of a sneak preview for a very exciting library program entitled “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” — Look forward to hearing more about this in the new year!

Keep Searching -- from the Masnavi III: 1445-1449 Version by Camille and Kabir Helminski
Ghazal 322 (Rumi)
What! Out of senseless Nothing -- FitzGerald's translation from The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam
Discipline – George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633)
Ovid in the Third Reich-- Geoffrey Hill
Introduction to Philosophy by Carl Dennis

I started off showing the book "How Does It Feel to Be a Problem (Arabic: mushkilah): Being Young and Arab in America Paperback" by Moustafa Bayoumi. My son, Christophe knew him and it was a pleasure to have him visiting and able to read the title in Arabic for us. Bayoumi is a history professor at Brooklyn College and interested in finding stories which paint a non-monolithic view of the Arab world.

Each section of the book starts with a quote from a poem -- at poetry day in May we'll discuss some of these.
Choices by Nikki Giovanni (p. 83)
Reconnaissance by Arna Bontemps (p. 47)
Grand Army Plaza by June Jordan (p. 151)
Peace by Langston Hughes (p. 117)
from “Arabesque” by Fred Johnson p. 190
The Dancer by Al Young (p. 221)

What starts a conversation? Which kind of conversation? Are we not searching for something as we reach out to another? Perhaps as in the first Rumi poem, we start with an inkling, small as a tiny ant,
and look for someone else also seeking. Perhaps it brings us back to the importance of curiosity,
fundamental to our drive to understand what we label as divine.

Whether Rumi or Al Young (see above/below), it is an eternal quest.

The Dancer by Al Young p. 221
Ah, Allah,
that thou hast not forsaken me
is proven by the light
playing around the plastic slats
of half-shut venetian blinds
rattling in this room on time
in thie hemisphere on fire.

Notes to myself: the question that provided puzzlement : are conqueror and seeker the same? Whether looking at history of Solomon's wisdom, questions lead to inspirational thoughts, not answers and require persistence of faith.

The Ghazal: the translation will not do justice to the repeated last word in the couplet, the rhyming and meter. Most of the Ghazals, "couplets strung like pearls on the common thread of the last word",
run like a gazelle, were written by Rumi after he met Shams of Tabriz and are ecstatic in nature.

What do we need to know about a poet, his times, the cultural, religious and linguistic background?
Can we be moved 8 centuries later as non-Sufi readers? Some of the ideas brought up: just as a Christian would not consider a Mormon of the same faith, so it is with Muslim and Druze or Sufi. Who understands what? But this poem is not about sects, degrees of religious conservatism, but a sense of the possessiveness of the Beloved-- and the adoration the Sufi feels to be in true love with God.

The problem of understanding continues as we shift languages and centuries. What is the time period and just who and for what reasons is doing the translation? In the case of Omar Khayyam, many spurious attempts exist, and I pointed out the problem of the mid-19th century style of Fitzgerald. Different illustrations will also support,or not, the originals. Having a trilingual text from 1949 and a Persian friend helped me to see a sly satire in the verses:
What is heaven but just that moment of peace (ease) -- we bring upon ourselves an unnecessary torch of suffering. The illustration shows loving couple, but the man's hand motions to a jug from which all manner of people emerge like a smoke of genies. Are they unleashed by the woman's hand inside the jug?

The George Herbert brings us back to English and a recognizable conversational style. The lines in "Discipline" are short, monosyllabic, with the third line compressed to 3 syllables which seems to point to the jist of the poem: God, please use love as the great corrective!
O My God / I aspire/ But by book/ Yet I creep/For with love / ... (and can shoot/brought thee low)
Thou art God.

For the Geoffrey Hill title, the reader finds an odd juxtaposition between Ovid's metamorphosis and the Third Reich. The Epigram comes from Ovid's Elegy for the Dead Tibullus, referring to confession of fault and interrogation of God, as someone distant and difficult. It is up to us to avoid looking down on the damned.

What a relief to arrive in our own time with a poem by Carl Dennis, which takes us to a philosophy class.
Are the unlucky granted a second chance... and if not, what do we do?

The silence allows us to go back to seek better understanding...keep searching, says Rumi...

No comments: