Monday, March 26, 2007

Sweet Sickness

They say translation is like kissing through a veil, and I say translation poetry is like kissing through a veil behind a window. A great poem can be less than ordinary when translated, especially when it is translated literally, and that's why I really can't read translated poems. I prefer reading them in their original language if I can, I feel it is like a disrespect to try and appreciate a translated poem in another language.

But sometimes there are a line or two of a poem (or in special cases the entire poem) that break this rule and become something (like an emotion) that can be appreciated in any language and in any environment.

The other day I read a poem of Mutanabbi, one of the greatest Arab poets in history. Like most of his work, it struck me for its beauty and elegance, so much so that I didn't get his intended meaning right away. But when I got its meaning later on, I became so obsessed with it that I started thinking of breaking my rule and translating it!

The poem was:
وزائرتي كأن بها حياء فليس تزور إلا في الظلام

My humble translation of it to English was:
She only comes in darkness
like a visitor with shyness

and my more humble French translation was:
Elle me vient en obscurité
comme une visiteure avec timidité

Although something was still lost in translation, I found both translations to be as beautiful. Since I am a big believer that a poem must rhyme, I had to tweak both of the translated ones to rhyme, even on the expense of meaning.

Anyway, like the English and French ones, the one in Arabic would seem to be about a female lover that only visits him in the night. As sweet as that is, I believe the real intention is even sweeter! What Mutanabbi meant with this female visitor is none other than the common cold (the one that gives you fever and makes you bed-tied.)

I get so many colds every year, no matter what I wear and what of my mum's recommended remedies and preparations I drink/eat/sniff. And looking back, I found it incredible that almost always I feel the wrath of the cold in the night. I'd be working/studying/playing during the day, and then feel the affects of the cold in the night.

That just made me appreciate this poem even more. Like a cold that only strikes slowly in the night, the lovely girl comes shyly only in the darkest part of the night.

Next time I am sick and bound to my bed, I will just remember this poem and pretend that the cold is nothing but a pretty girl that only spreads her magic in the night. That might get me to feel better quickly!

Picture courtesty of flickr


lawyer said...

اول شي حمدلله على السلامه
بصراحه و تبي الصج

اذا مستوى المواضيع راح يكون في هالمتعه اثناء الفلو او البرد ( الحمى)في اللغه العربيه

فبتكوون خوش فلوا

لان موضوع جدا ممتع

انا عن نفسي ما افضل ترجمه الشعر العربي الفصحى
و لا احب اقرا القصص الاجنبيه او الحكم اوو الشعر مترجم للعربي

بس مرات ما افهم شغلات فاضطر اني اقراها

لكن احس تفقد كثير من رونقها
اوووووو حلاوتها

مع تمنياتي لك بالشفاء العاجل

nachla said...

lovley post
مشكلتي اني بس اعرف انجلش وعربي
قريت قصة سمرقند بالعربي
وللاسف الترجمة كانت فعلا تعيسة
وبعد ما شريت كتاب مترجم لمترجم ثاني شفت الفرق
كتاب جميل جدا لامين معلوف
وترجمة رباعيات عمر الخيام لم تكن سيئة

عموما المتنبي من اروع الشعراء العرب
وما اقدر اتخيل شعره مترجم

يمكن انك تقدر تعرف القارئ الاجنبي فيه مع ترجمات بسيطة وحلوة

keep it up

Se Sentir said...


Allah yesalmech, but I am not sick right now. Actually, I haven't been sick since I read that poem. The funny thing is that I want to get sick to feel the poem's beauty and to see if the image works, but wishing sickness is never a good thing!

Thanks for passing by!


Thanks! Funny that you mentioned Omar Khayam's poems, because I had them in mind when I said that in rare occassions a translated poem may work.

Was the one you read Ahmad Rami's translation? I read few poems from his translation and they were beautiful. I am sure the fact that Rami was a good poet helped in making the translated poem effective.

About Mutannabi, it's a good idea, I may do it in the future inshallah!

Michomeme said...

i realy liked this post..
حسيت بي نوع من الفلسفة، وخاصة لما شبهت المرض بمعنى قصيدة رائعة..

Se Sentir said...


I am glad you liked it. About philosophy, hmmm, I think you are right, but it wasn't done on purpose. I wish I knew more about philosphy to say what kind of philosophy is involved!

Ghasheema said...

almutanabi is the greatest poet of all time to me...and even thought I agree with you that no matter how hard u try u just cant give the poem its true taste and meaning when translated..but I have to say that almutanabi's work deserves to be appreciated by all who appreciate keep on translating if u can :)

and good 4 u wallah ur trilnigual and I only can read english and arabic....even though I was schooled in Canada I still dont manage to speak French...cuz i hate it :(

Se Sentir said...

ghasheema, I am not trilingual yet, I still have a long way to go with French but I don't have time for it now :(

About French, lol, I don't know how can you hate it. But if you live in Quebec, then I don't blame you. With all due respect to them, their French does great harm to real French. Luckily, I was taught by French, Belgian, North Africans etc. and they spoke the real French. And ALL of them used to tell us that the Quebec French isn't the real one!

The Simper said...

j'ai sentir ton site web :) this is the limit of my french :D

first timer here.. nice blog.. i am not an avid poetry reader. but i do enjoy reading few poems once in a while.. both arabic and english..

almutanabbi is one of the greatest.. and i don't mind reading his translated poems in english.. not for any reasons.. but i would use the translation to understand an at the same time gauge the abilities of some on the translation issue.

Se Sentir said...

the simper, thanks for passing by. About the translation, I also think that translating classical arabic poems are very hard.

I mean nobody speaks such language anymore in daily life and alot of the words are hard to understand let alone translate.

Not that mutanabbi's language is hard, but I really like mu3alaqat, but I need an arabic translation just to know those hard and extinct words.