Sep 20 2013
All Adam’s offspring form one family tree
English version by Ivan M. Granger
All Adam’s offspring form one family tree,
from the beginning, the same life and spirit and quality.
When one limb is bent with pain,
the entire living tree naturally feels the strain.
Thus he indifferent to the agony of another,
cannot be named human alongside his brother.
/ Photo by Isilmetriel /
I discovered the writings of Sa’di several years ago, and I fell in love with his wisdom and wit. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a really good English translation of his work. I’ve had to work, to really dig beneath the rather flat renderings I’ve found in English in order to catch glimpses of the real life shining within his writing. It can feel like linguistic archaeology. Sa’di’s Gulistan, for example, is a delightful collection of tales and wisdom fables, interspersed with pithy poems. The problem is that the English versions I’ve found were either translated during the Victorian era or they are more recent translations that still feel Victorian. To me, these translations come across as rather dusty and pedantic.
But I understand the difficulty. Sa’di’s short verses seem naked without some rhyming scheme and at least a suggestion of meter. This may be my own bias, but modern poetic English, when forced into strong structure and rhyme, often ends up sounding either awkward or archaic or a bit anemic. What’s a poor translator to do?
Today’s selection is my imperfect attempt to find a more satisfying balance with one of Sa’di’s most loved — and loving — verses.
(Other translators’ versions of this famous verse can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saadi_Shirazi. You rhymsters and wordsmiths, I’d love to read your versions of Sa’di’s verses.)
Sheikh Muslihu’d-Din, known as Sa’di, was descended from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Sa’di’s father apparently died when he was a boy.
Although Sa’di was born and died in Shiraz, Persia (Iran), during his life he traveled extensively. He is said to have traveled for thirty years throughout the Islamic world. Iran has filled the centuries with some of the world’s finest poets, but Iranians consider Sa’di to be one of the greatest.
Historians often divide his life into three parts. His first twenty-five years were spent studying in various countries, going to university at Baghdad. During the next thirty years he traveled widely, east to India and as far west as Syria. He made his pilgrimage to Mecca fourteen times. Finally, Sa;di returned to Shiraz where he devoted himself to writing and to teaching.
Sa’di was a disciple of the Sufi master Sheikh Shahabud-Din Sahrawardi.
Sa’di’s two best known works are the Bustan (the Garden), composed entirely in verse, and the Gulistan (the Rose Garden), in both prose and verse. He was particularly known for the wry wit he injected into his poems.
Sa’di is probably the first Persian poet to have been translated into European languages. A German version of the Gulistan appeared in 1654.
Sa’di’s tomb can be seen in the town of Shiraz. Lines from Saadi’s poems are still commonly used in conversations by Iranians today.