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Farzaneh Khojandi, and the English / Persian poetry relation

In November of 2012, we published a negative review of the pamphlet ‘Poems’ by Persian author Farzaneh Khojandi, which ended with a call for elucidations. This is the first article we have received in response, written for us by Maryam Fathollahi. The editors would like to thank her for her time and effort.

Can Persian poems be understood with effortless ease, and are their pleasures immediately accessible? They can and are with due time, but one must familiarise oneself with the culture, and mature works should be picked as a starting point. Let us discuss the issue with respect to the work of Khojandi, a contemporary poet from Tajikistan.

When I first finished the draft for this article, I forwarded it to a knowledgeable expert to have his opinion. After reading the paper, he told me “your article is full of Persian metaphors and beautiful figures of Persian speech, but translating it into fluent English would be a difficult, complicated matter. An article needs transparent and tangible words.” Our discussion on this subject encouraged me to research several aspects concerning poetry translation. First of all, it became apparent to me that poetry translators should have a strong understanding of the view, the emotion, and the culture of their readers. In addition to this, they should of course adhere to the original concepts presented in the source text and indeed they should try to reproduce the poetic form. Poetry translation is therefore much more challenging than the translation of ordinary texts.

Farzaneh Khojandi is a poet from Tajikistan; her last name derives from the name of her birthplace, Khojand. She has published several poetry books and is nowadays considered the head of poets in Tajikistan, primarily owing to her lyric poems; it is through these poems that she came to be known as “the Forough of Tajikistan”.

“Forough of Tajikistan” may refer to two distinct meanings. Firstly, “Forough” is a Persian word meaning brilliance, brightness, light and shining. It therefore signifies that Farzaneh Khojandi is like a sun shining over the literature of Tajikistan. On the other hand “Forough” reminds me of a female intellectual and prominent Iranian poet, Forough Farrokhzad, sometimes called “the Forough” in Iran.

Will Farzaneh Khojandi of Tajikistan become another Forough Farrokhzad? Will her works find a wide readership? Before tackling these questions, let us provide a brief overview on the relationship between the Persian and English languages.

In the late eighteenth-century Sir William Jones (Youns Uksfardi) noticed the existence of a close relation between certain Indo-European languages. In fact, some other scholars before Jones had already noticed that a family of languages (namely German, English, Persian, and others) share the same root. But how did they develop into their differences? I believe the primary reason has to do with their cultural evolution, relative to their individual nations. A good example of this is the interaction of culture for people who live in Iran and Tajikistan. However, Farsi is a principal joint.

Furthermore, the nineteenth-century saw the beginning of serious inspections of language. Studies of researchers show that language is a social intuition continuously altering. Given this premise, it follows that translation is a correspondently dynamic process. I tend to think that translation must import culture by conveying its concepts, but on the other hand, it will also deform the source poetry. As a result, it will mean a loss of the poetry’s original aesthetic vision.

It seems to me we need more to know about the process of translation behind Khojandi’s poems. Have the translators conveyed the meaning of her poetry under her judgement?! And have they thought of her English readers? It is necessary to hear her opinion on the matter because Iran is a land of civilization and great poets. In a not-so-distant past, many neighbouring countries of Iran – such as Tajikistan – were provinces of modern Iran. Farsi was thus the common language between them. Poets such as Rudaki, Khayyam, Ferdowsi, Rumi, Hafez and Saadi, as well as contemporary poets such as Nima Yooshij, Ahmad Shamloo, Forough Farrokhzad, Sohrab Sepehri are Iranians who have written Farsi poetry.

Of course, Farsi poetry consists of a variety of figures of speech. These include: rhyme, metaphor, imagery  symbolism, oxymoron, synaesthesia, personification, ambiguity, defamiliarisation and others. Through these, Persian poetry works like a painting or a film to allow readers to evince a lofty ideal from it. To be more precise, figures of Persian speech are the best aesthetic aspect of Persian poetry. And yet a correct translation of Persian poetry must be familiar with the culture and the background behind the use of certain words (in Farsi).

In the final analysis, although English is already an international language, we require an organization or an institution to include all of the world’s poets and translators in an effort to improve the process of translation. Moreover, it would be a good idea to produce an encyclopedia (by these very poets and translators) in order to simplify translation and decipher figures of speech with respect to the cultural diversity of their lands of origin. Therefore, there needs to be an endless communication with poets and translators of the world to start new studies and to better understand poetry from all countries, including the beauty of Persian poetry.

Maryam Fathollahi was born in 1982 in Tehran (capital of Iran). She has a BA and is currently studying French translation. She started writing poetry in 1997 and has won local competitions in Persian poetry in 2001 and 2005, in Tehran. Her first Persian poetry book was published in 2008, under the title The Beautiful Mares. She is also the author of a script that she completed in 2012. She is currently writing a novel and is editing her second Farsi collection, entitled The Expectation.

0 thoughts on “Farzaneh Khojandi, and the English / Persian poetry relation”

  1. Taking the opportunity – once again – to thank Maryam Fathollahi for her article, I'd like to step in to say just one thing. Maryam says: "Have the translators conveyed the meaning of her poetry under her judgement?! And have they thought of her English readers? It is necessary to hear her opinion on the matter because Iran is a land of civilization and great poets."

    I'm going to spare the PTC the effort of answering this, and say that Khojandi not only gave her opinion but was consulted throughout the drafting of the translation. She worked closely with Narguess Farzad and with Jo Shapcott, who translated the text together. Further details can be found in this podcast for The Guardian (which we linked in our original review):

    — The Judge.

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