Did you see a camel? No, you didn’t. (But Sa’di definitely did).

Sa’di in a Rose Garden

“Did you see a camel? No, you didn’t.” Shotor dīdī, nadīdī. This clever little saying is the modern Iranian way to say, “You saw nothing.” Believe it or not, not all that much of Persian/Iranian literature has to do with the desert and camels, but it just so happens that the poem I translated this month does. 

Referring to the 13th century Persian poet, Shaykh Sa’di of Shiraz, an Iranian friend once asked, “Is there anyone who doesn’t like Sa’di?” I like his work so much that I’ve translated his poetry previously on this blog. I have heard Sa’di compared to Mozart in music — his work seems simple, but is enchanting in a way that is nigh impossible to reproduce. This makes translating his poetry a perilous venture, maybe even a fool’s errand, which may explain why he has been so little translated up to now.

The following poem reminds me of Poe’s “The Raven” in the sense that it is stuffed full of internal rhyme. I tried to translate the poem with at least end rhyme, but as I’m no poet myself, I found the meaning was quickly distorted and gave up. Maybe some inspired poet out there will want to use my translation as a “pony” — a fairly literal translation of the poem which someone who doesn’t speak the language uses to produced a versified, metered, or otherwise more poetic version. Since I have been unable to reproduce most of the auditory effects, I’ll at least explain how this poem is unusually dense in terms of rhyme.

Normally the form of the ghazal (the name for this genre of poetry in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Turkish and other languages) is similar to that of the sonnet, except it has by definition monorhyme. So it goes as follows:

______________ A            ______________ A

______________                ______________ A

______________                ______________ A

And so forth.

What Sa’di has done here is approximately:

____A____A____A____ B               ______________A____ B

__________C_________ C             __________C_________ B

__________D_________ D            __________D_________ B

__________E_________ E            __________E__________ B


So you can see how the number of rhymes is quickly quadrupled.  A few of the lines even have:

__________B_________ B            __________B__________ B


The extreme number of rhymes is so impressive that when I recited the first line for a friend who knows no Persian, even she recognized it immediately. The ghazal has been sung many times, and it’s really difficult for me to pick just one version to share. So here’s three: Shajarian, Eftekhari, Googoosh.

And now, on to the poem!

O camel driver! Drive slowly — my soul’s tranquility departs.

With that heart-thief, the heart that once belonged to me departs.

I’ve suffered, far from her, wretched and ill.

You’d say exile’s sting has penetrated my bones.

I thought — I’ll hide my wound with magic and sorcery!

But it wouldn’t stay hidden — the blood flows freely.

Guard the cargo, O camel driver! Don’t hurry the caravan.

My spirit is sliding away for love of that gliding cypress.

She goes, tossing her skirts, while I swallow the poison of loneliness.

Seek no sign of me now, for my heart’s solace departs.

My disloyal friend returns, yet she lets me live in misery.

I’m a censor above the flame — smoke rising from the top.

Despite her cruelty and worthless promises,

Thoughts of her are in my heart, or on my lips…

Come back! Do what you will, O sweet beloved!

My distressed cries reach heaven from earth.

Dusk til dawn I rest not, nor heed anyone’s advice.

I’ll not be the messenger on this path; I’ve dropped the reins.

I thought — I’ll weep so much the camels mire in the mud.

But I can’t even do that, since my heart goes with the caravan.

Patience for union with my beloved, turning away from her —

I don’t attempt such things, as if I could.

People say much about the soul leaving the body.

I’ve seen mine depart with my own eyes.

Sa’di, what’s this complaining, disloyal one!

I have no tolerance for tyranny. My cry has been worthless!

Translation by: Michelle Quay 

ای ساربان آهسته رو کآرام جانم می‌رود

وآن دل که با خود داشتم با دلستانم می‌رود

من مانده‌ام مهجور از او بیچاره و رنجور از او

گویی که نیشی دور از او در استخوانم می‌رود

گفتم به نیرنگ و فسون پنهان کنم ریش درون

پنهان نمی‌ماند که خون بر آستانم می‌رود

محمل بدار ای ساروان تندی مکن با کاروان

کز عشق آن سرو روان گویی روانم می‌رود

او می‌رود دامن کشان من زهر تنهایی چشان

دیگر مپرس از من نشان کز دل نشانم می‌رود

برگشت یار سرکشم بگذاشت عیش ناخوشم

چون مجمری پرآتشم کز سر دخانم می‌رود

با آن همه بیداد او وین عهد بی‌بنیاد او

در سینه دارم یاد او یا بر زبانم می‌رود

بازآی و بر چشمم نشین ای دلستان نازنین

کآشوب و فریاد از زمین بر آسمانم می‌رود

شب تا سحر می‌نغنوم و اندرز کس می‌نشنوم

وین ره نه قاصد می‌روم کز کف عنانم می‌رود

گفتم بگریم تا ابل چون خر فروماند به گل

وین نیز نتوانم که دل با کاروانم می‌رود

صبر از وصال یار من برگشتن از دلدار من

گر چه نباشد کار من هم کار از آنم می‌رود

در رفتن جان از بدن گویند هر نوعی سخن

من خود به چشم خویشتن دیدم که جانم می‌رود

سعدی فغان از دست ما لایق نبود ای بی‌وفا

طاقت نمیارم جفا کار از فغانم می‌رود

غزلیات سعدی – شماره‌ی ۲۶۸


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