Tea Day

Tea Kam internetes boltjából, Hongkong, Kína
Kam, as it is attested by the welcome brainteaser of his web teashop, is a cheerful and meticulous person. The parcel sent by him from Hong Kong with not exactly two and half kilos of tea is covered, to all intents and purposes as a second protective layer, by a mosaic carpet carefully composed of seventy-five stamps of a total value of three hundred nine Hong Kong dollars equalling to some twenty-five euros. Fifty-one stamps of five dollars, twenty of two dollars and sixty cents, and he has even taken care to stick four pieces of fifty cents on the bottom of the parcel, to bind the carpet as it were.

Tea Kam internetes boltjából, Hongkong, Kína: 5 dolláros és 50 centes hongkongi bélyegek a csomagon
However, the quality of the teas is no laughing matter for Kam. He personally travels about all the tea-districts of China for his ware, following the harvest calendar that he also publishes on his site, including detailed description on the quality of each harvest and on the best way of preparation of each tea, for example like this:

2007 is a hot year, weather-wise. We are getting 30C temperature even in Oct. So Kam wasn't expecting good Autumn tea at all. First batch of 2007 Autumn TGY came out around mid Oct. but Kam found it very unimpressive. Then came the 2nd harvest. Kam test drank, and jumped out of joy through the roof!

This Tie Guan Yin Oolong – that is, half-fermented – tea is one of the standard brands we have been ordering for years in large quantities from Kam. It has a definite, elegant taste with a fine shade of orchid – or, according to others, orange-peel. Another fix item is Jasmine tea. This does not belong to the favorites of tea’s fools, but whoever is fond of it (for example us, boldly confronting the taste terror of Gyuri) is warmly recommended to order it from Kam, because his one is a thousand times more fragrant than anything you can get in Europe. The third brand that we have tried now for the first time is Qi Men Red, the only red tea that figures in the list of the ten most famous Chinese teas. It has a wonderful taste, like fine warm milk, perhaps with a little bit of chocolate. It is very similar to that Caspian tea we have brought from Iran (and about which I will write later).

Háromfajta tea Kam internetes boltjából, Hongkong, Kína: Qi Men Red, Tie Guan Yi King, Jázmin (Xian Pian)
Our fourth favorite is Dragon Well Before Rain. This is an easy, nevertheless very fragrant green tea. It reminds me of the scent of tender corn cooked together with its fresh leaves that I liked so much in my childhood. We have not ordered of it now only because green tea is the better the more fresh it is, and the new harvest is almost here. And as in Kam’s shop the price of the tea also includes shipping, it means no extra cost if we do not order everything at the same time.

All the four kinds of tea – as it is minimally expected of any good tea – lasts at least three or four boiling, the Qi Men even more. Therefore these teas are in the reality much less expensive than any tea sold in Europe for an apparently lower price. Or even less expensive than the cheaper teas of Kam himself.

Háromfajta tea Kam internetes boltjából, Hongkong, Kína: Qi Men Red, Tie Guan Yi King, Jázmin (Xian Pian)
It is always a festive day when the yearly tea delivery arrives from Kam. In this year the feast is further enhanced by the fact that two days later a new parcel arrives from the web teashop of Mrs. Jing Lu in Guangzhou. This is the first time we order of her. We do not know yet how it would taste. We will report on it. The package is promising anyway.

Tea Jing Lu internetes boltjából, Kanton (Guangzhou), Kína


Mallorca, the beach in front of the island of Dragonera, seen from San Telmo
Spring advances irresistibly from Persia, and it has already reached Spain. This is attested by a document sent by Wang Wei from Mallorca, from the beach near to San Telmo, in front of the island of Dragonera.

Along the way, spring has also dropped in Csömör.

Csömör, Hungary, spring with pansy flowers

Happy New Year, Persia!

Fruit seller in the bazaar, Isfahan, Iran
The advantage of having many kinds of friends is that you can celebrate New Year for three consecutive months. In January, shortly after our New Year we can already send Christmas and New Year’s greetings to our orthodox Russian friends in Novosibirsk, in February we celebrate the Lunar New Year with our Chinese friends in some good restaurant previously tested by them, and on March 20, together with the springtime, the Persian new year – or more exactly, “new day”, Noruz – sets in. In this year it coincides with Easter, thus we have greeted our Assyrian Christian friends in Tehran on both occasions.

I have always found it fascinating how stubbornly Persia – and not only now, but even under the shah, in the greatest fever of modernization – has followed her own calendar. The new year begins with the vernal equinox, and its months coincide with the signs of the zodiac, even bearing the names of the Zoroastrian archangels dominating them. Thus they are shifted to a different extent to each European month, so that in Iran we always had to count on our fingers what their dates mean in our calendary; we have even missed a concert for this reason. In addition, even the calculation of the years do not follow anyone else. Under the shah the years were counted from the foundation of the Persian empire, still adhered by the monarchist emigration, thus now they write 2567, while post-Islam Revolution Iran has returned to the calendar calculated from 622, the year of the Hijra. Nevertheless, in contrast to the Arabs they do not calculate with lunar, but with solar years, thus they even differ from the Muslim calendar which now writes 1429 while Persia only 1387.

Already King Darius had built the palace of Persepolis (on Wikipedia the French and Spanish descriptions are the most detailed) as a festive banquet hall for Noruz. In fact, the Persian empire was governed not from here, but from Susa. At the time of the vernal equinox the king and his court retired here for two weeks, observing at the dawn of the equinox how the rays of the rising sun shine through the Eastern and Western gates of the palace, and then receiving the gift-bringing embassies of the twenty provinces whose representation has survived on the reliefs accompanying the flight of stairs of the reception hall, offering a vivid impression of the many-coloured empire that used to stretch from the Bosporus to the Indus valley.

Modern Persians faithfully follow the example of their king. From the afternoon of Noruz on, life stops for two weeks in Iran. People retire in family circle, and as in Persia family means extended family, thus they ceaselessly visit each other throughout two weeks, celebrating together the various ceremonies prescribed for the different days of these two weeks. I found the best description of these ceremonies in Persian and English on an expatriate Persian forum, and as it has disappeared since then, I upload here its saved version.

Perzsa újévi (Noruz) terített asztal
The most important requirement of Noruz is the well-laid table which, apart from some other accessories – for example a volume with the poems of Hafez or Ferdowsi – must include the haft sin, the seven things beginning with “s” and symbolizing abundance. Iranians often joke about preferring to also try some day the haft shin, the seven things beginning with “sh”, but I cannot say what these seven things should be, apart from wine (sharâb). The name of the custom was originally haft chin, “seven china dishes”, referring to the seven vessels containing various seeds and fruits whose abundance they expected for in the new year, and only Persian imagination so fond of playing with sounds and metaphors has enriched it with further meanings.

The picture of the above Noruz table was taken from the beautiful photos of the Iranian Shiva in flickr, where several other people also upload the images of their own Noruz tables, and as Persians are very social beings, they abundantly cross-comments the photos of each other. It is worth to see, for example, the images by Bahar, Hamed 1 and 2, Sepideh, Rfeiz, DrZin, Leila 1 and 2, David or Sinak, together with the pictures of others added in their commentaries. I especially like the minimalist solution of the expatriate Amir Fathir complaining about his solitude, with the daffodil and the plastic dinner-carrier.

Andalusian Holy Week

A nagyheti körmenetek plakátja, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
On the El País web forum in which I also participate, this is already the second year that web guru and olive planter porrozillo has published the photos of the Holy Week processions in Úbeda. This year he only sent a short video, but it reminded me to publish here the photos of the previous year to demonstrate that there are places where they still do it properly.

The Andalusian Úbeda, on Unesco’s World Heritage list, is famous for its olive plantations and its Holy Week processions. These latter have been organized by the city’s eighteen religious confraternities active since the Middle Ages. The ceremonies start already at the beginning of Lent with posters, advertisements and publications, daily festive Stations of the Cross, pageants presenting the holy images and statues with the partecipation of thousands of persons, as well as public rehearsals of the bands on the main square. The common blog of the confraternities publishes illustrated daily reports on all that. By the way, the series of Lenten and Holy Week feasts is only the biggest among the ten similarly generous feasts organized throughout the year by the confraternities, and in addition there are also yearly four flamenco and old music festivals in the city. After all, one has to fill out with something the dead time between the pruning of the olives and the harvest.

The Holy Week ceremonies start on Palm Sunday with the entrance of Christ in Jerusalem. This is organized by the Borriquillo (Ass’s colt) confraternity from eleven in the morning until the fireworks of nine in the evening.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
On Monday the confraternity of Our Lady brings forward with all solemnity the statue of the Virgin from the church of Santa María de los Reales Alcázares, so that she would also start her all week long way to the Golgota, accompanying the image of Jesus in every other procession.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
On Tuesday night from ten o’clock celebrations of Tenebrae, and then a night procession with the Cross throughout all the city.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
The Wednesday procession on the vigil of the Last Supper was washed out by a downpour, but the commemoration was nevertheless celebrated.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
On Thursday morning, prayer on the Mount of Olives.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Then a series of processions follow throughout all the day, each celebrated by a different confraternity: that of the Column, of the Flagellation, and, already at the dawn of Friday, the Sentence.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
On Friday, at sunrise starts the procession of the Road to the Calvary, organized by the Jesus Nazareno confraternity of the guild of the oil pressers since the 1400s. The commemoration of each of the three Falls under the Cross are taken over from them by other processions. At three o’clock in the afternoon starts the procession of the Death on the Cross.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
After the procession of the Descent from the Cross, at seven o’clock in the evening starts that of the Vigil or of the Pietà. This is the largest one among all, organized with the participation of all confraternities, twenty processions with forty-nine images all in all.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
Finally, the series of Holy Week commemorations is closed on Sunday morning with the High Mass and the procession of the Resurrection.

Krisztus bevonulása Úbedába, 2007, Úbeda, Spanyolország
If you are curious of videos and more photos, have a look at the blog of the Úbeda confraternities, where you can also read the reportages on the Holy Week of this year.


where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
where there is error, I may bring truth

I am standing in the queue for the Easter confession at the Franciscans, reading the verses of the prayer of Saint Francis on the wall of the corridor, and I realize that these two things are so much contrasting to each other that in fact only God can realize both simultaneously. At least this is my experience, especially recently. When one stands for truth where there is error, be sure that soon there will be discord as well. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Mt 10:34-36)

On the other hand I see that most people I know – unfortunately especially the Christians – aspire at any cost to the appearance of harmony, and in exchange they give up without hesitation the representation of truth, the clear distinction between good and bad, the straight speaking. “Let there be peace above all.”

I am still ruminating on this when – tolle, lege – I read this in Augustin, chapter 1.8. of The City of God, as if he wrote it as an answer for me:

For often we wickedly blind ourselves to the occasions of teaching and admonishing them [who do wrong], sometimes even of reprimanding and chiding them, either because we shrink from the labor or are ashamed to offend them, or because we fear to lose good friendships, lest this should stand in the way of our advancement, or injure us in some worldly matter, which either our covetous disposition desires to obtain, or our weakness shrinks from losing. ... Because it is a sin, that they who themselves revolt from the conduct of the wicked, and live in quite another fashion, yet spare those faults in other men which they ought to reprehend and wean them from.

At the same time I also experience that all the odium – losing people, doors being closed, being branded as “unloving” and “hating” or, in another dialect, “intolerant” and “fanatic” and the rest – that accompanies the representation of truth, is not just an accidental “risk” that can be avoided with some tact and sense of diplomacy, but a necessary consequence of this behavior. The more so the more straightforwardly and consequently one represents the truth. In an extreme case, to the point that was foretold by Plato in his Republic (361e) four hundred years before Christ:

The just man with this kind of soul ... will be scourged, racked, bound, will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be crucified: Then he will understand that one does not have to aspire to be a just man, but to seem only.

And with this we are here at the object of the feast of today. Blessed Easter!

Khayyam’s Russian illustrations

The monumental Russian edition of the quatrains of Omar Khayyam translated by Igor A. Golubev (Омар Хайяам, Рубаи. Перевод И. А. Голубева, Москва: РИПОЛ Классик 2007, 528 pages, 1305 rubaiyat), just quoted by us, is also decorated by eighteen full-page illustrations by V. N. Belousov. I cannot resist publishing them. The nice symmetric grid of four times four has room only for sixteen of them. On the two images left out I will write in two next posts (the first is here).

V. N. Belousov: Omar Khayyam illusztrációi, az I. A. Golubev-féle orosz fordításból
These images recall a beautiful slice of my childhood, the enchanting illustrations of those cheap Russian booklets of fairy tales sold at those times in the late Gorkij bookshop that endeared to me the Russian language. This magic and naive visual world that emerged, in the last instance, from the cloak of the great Russian Art Nouveau fairy tale illustrator Ivan Bilibin, at that time completely dominated and made unmistakably Russian not only the graphics of these books, but also the envelops printed with small naive pictures of the letters coming from the Soviet Union, the wrapping papers or the decorations of the pioneer feasts as well. I am delighted to see that it has not completely disappeared in its native land. And also that I am not alone with this nostalgy. When I asked for this book in the library, the Mongolian librarian dipped into it and then she screamed: “How beautiful!” I think she probably grew up on similar illustrations in the Mongolian People’s Republic.

At the same time there is in these pictures something anguishing, something tight and determined as well – just like in my childhood. Something so coarsely earthy and material, so self-satisfied and suffocating as in the whole popular literature, journalism and the complete mentality of that period.

It is worth to compare how different traits of Khayyam’s poetry are highlighted by the illustrations made by Endre Szász for the Hungarian translation of Lőrinc Szabó. The Russian illustrator is captivated by the “carpe diem”-motif in Khayyam, the satisfaction with wine, embraces and music. It is interesting that, as we have seen, the Russian translation too shifts the message of the poems in this direction. In contrast, the illustrations of Endre Szász, just like the translations by Lőrinc Szabó, emphasize the existential doubts and struggles of Khayyam.

These attentive and bitter old men are totally different from, let us say, that laughing old man playing the philosopher with a glass of wine in his hand on the second image in the lowest row of the Russian images. This latter keeps reminding me the vulgarly jovial paternalism of the corpulent provincial party functionaries of the eighties. I even have a fancy of hearing that well known, unnaturally drawling, orotund apparatchik tone. To my great surprise, I have recently heard this voice again in a collection of jokes that I received on a Russian audio CD. It seems that it has not completely died out in its native land either.

Through a veil, darkly. Translations of a poem by Omar Khayyam

Asrâr-e azal-râ na to dâni o na man
win harf-e mo'ammâ na to khâni o na man
hast az pas-e parde goftogu-ye man o to
chun parde baroftad na to mâni o na man

Recited by Ahmad Shamlou (1'03")

In my own literal translation:

The mysteries of eternity are known neither to you nor me
the enigma can be read neither by you nor me
behind the veil a discourse goes on about me and you
when the veil disappears there remain neither you nor me

The untranslatable beauty of the Persian original comes in the first place from its refined musical structure. A solid frame is set by the rhymes dâni - khâni - mâni “[you] know – read – remain” alternating in the construction na to... o na man, “neither you... nor I” repeated in three lines. These lines are dominated by the vowels “a” and “â” (long closed ‘a’) and by the consonants “r, l, m, n” which give the poem a deep, resounding and fatal tone, as if we were listening to the lines of the One Ring (by the way it seems to me that Tolkien borrowed a lot from Persian to create the language of Mordor). The third line stands in sharp contrast to the other three, its vowels abruptly becoming high and sharp and its consonants hissing and pattering, and also the construction “neither you nor me” becomes the opposite “me and you” (man o to).

There are two problematic points in the interpretation of this poem. A minor problem is that in place of harf-e mo'ammâ (“enigmatic writing/word”), appearing in the second line, several versions have hall-e mo'ammâ (“the solution of the enigma”). This is how we hear it in Shamlou’s voice in the above recital. The verb that follows, khândan (“read” or “recite”) allows for both possibilities. Recent editions prefer harf, so I follow them. However, the translation of this expression is also ambiguous: it can mean both “reading the enigmatic script” and “reciting the secret word.” Francesco Gabrieli, Khayyam’s Italian translator (1944, in his edition, the poem is numbered 193), for example, opts for the latter:

I segreti dell’eternità né tu né io conosciamo
Quella parola misteriosa né tu, né io sappiam profferire
Di dietro un velo si svolge il tuo e mio parlare:
quando cade il velame, né tu né io ci siam più.

(The laws of eternity are not known either by you or me
That mysterious word cannot be pronounced either by you or me
From behind a veil goes our discourse:
when the veil falls, there are neither you nor me any more.)

In the note appended to this expression he even explains that “that mysterious word” is „la chiave del mistero dell’universo”, that is, the key to the mystery of the universe. This idea is interesting, but entirely groundless. In the Sufi tradition no reference is made to such an all-powerful word. This is why I translated it rather as “reading the secret script,” but I have yet to verify the tradition of this metaphor in Sufi poetry.

However, the real difficulty lays in the third line. In fact, this can be translated in several ways, but with each translation there is some problem.

A literal translation of this phrase would be: “from behind a veil is the discourse of me and you.” So the simplest way would be to translate it as “you and me speak with each other from behind a veil.” This is how we find it in Gabrieli who immediately attaches a second misleading commentary to the word “veil,” identifying it with human body: as if after discussing the mysteriousness of the universe, Khayyam switched to the problem that we cannot even understand each other while living in the flesh here on earth. This Wittgensteinian problem, however, did not interest the Sufis. We find no allusion to it in their writings. They are concerned only with the possibility of a direct relationship with God and the this-worldly limits of such a relationship. Such limits were referred to by them with the topos of the “veil.” The widespread use of this topos is highlighted by the fact that the recently deceased (2003) great Islamic scholar Annemarie Schimmel also gave the title As through a veil: mystical poetry in Islam to her standard work on Sufi poetry.

However, this metaphor assumes that we are in front of the veil hiding the mystery from us. How can our discourse then come from behind of the veil?

One of the most recent and most exact English translations of Khayyam was published in 1979 by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs. According to the foreword, it is “as literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit”. The third line of poem number 7, in the spirit of this compromise, strives to reconcile the “behind” of the Persian original with the “in front” of the traditional veil metaphor by attempting to translate “from behind” as “this side”.

Neither you nor I know the mysteries of eternity,
Neither you nor I read this enigma;
You and I only talk this side of the veil;
When the veil falls, neither you nor I will be here.

Igor A. Golubev, in his monumental Russian edition of 2005 – where he collected and translated from Persian more than 1300 quatrains of Khayyam – allows himself an even larger poetica licentia. In this poem, numbered 996 in his edition, we do not speak behind the veil, but about the secrets hiding behind the veil. A more reassuring, more sober and more materialistic solution indeed, with the only flaw is that it is not supported at all by the Persian original.

Покрова с вечных тайн ни ты не снял, ни я:
Неясным письменам ни ты не внял, ни я.
Гадаем мы с тобой о скрытом за покровом...
Но упади покров – ни ты б не встал, ни я.

(Neither you nor I pulled down the veil from the eternal secret
Neither you nor I understood the unclear script
We are just guessing about the secrets behind the veil,
But drop the veil – and neither you will stand up, nor I.)

Another solution to the dilemma is that it is not we who speak behind the veil, but that there is something spoken about us, it’s only that Khayyam left out the preposition دربارۀ darbâre-ye “about” from before man o to for the sake of a flawless rhythm. On this presupposition are based a number of authoritative versions, like the English Khayyam-translation (1882 and 1883, where this poem is number 389) by the eminent Persian philologist Edward Henry Whinfield (1836-1922), who also composed the first copiously commented translations of Hafez and Rumi:

Nor you nor I can read the etern decree
To that enigma we can find no key
They talk of you and me behind the veil
But, if that veil be lifted, where are we?

Such ellipsis is also supposed by the Persian poet and homme de lettres Karim Emami (1930-2005). His anthology of Khayyam, published in 1988 under the title The Wine of Nishapur, accompanied by the calligraphy of Nassrollah Afje'i and the photography of Shahrokh Golestan, is the first English translation of Khayyam undertaken by a Persian translator.

Eternal secrets are not for you and me to share
Cryptic letters are not for you and me to read.
Behind the curtain there is a muffled discussion of you and me,
And when the curtain falls, there will be no longer a you or I.

Ten years later, another Persian man of letters, the Vancouver-based Shahriar Shahriari, prepared some nicely ringing and faithful English translations which he published together with the Persian original, together with the English version by Fitzgerald, and an anonymous German translation on the site okonlife.com. What is more, in the vein of a charming medieval Persian custom, he also added a short quatrain to each poem to unfold their respective moral lessons. In the third verse of this poem, he also endorses the interpretation of Whinfield and Emami, while in the second verse, in contrast to them, he accepts the alternative hall-e mo'ammâ. Comically enough, the German translation published in parallel with this poem follows the pedestrian solution of Golubev.

The secrets eternal neither you know nor I
And answers to the riddle neither you know nor I
Behind the veil there is much talk about us, why
When the veil falls, neither you remain nor I.

In vain we scream, in vain shout
And try our best to find out
And when it’s end of our route
What’s left is simply naught.

Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883), who was the first to publish, in four editions between 1859 and 1879, an English translation of altogether 114 quatrains, thus launching the European cult of Khayyam, admittedly treated his material in quite a free manner. His translations reflect much more his own taste and that of his Victorian age than the original message of the poems. In this quatrain (number 32 in the first, third and fourth editions, but number 35 in the second one) he gets around the problem of the interpretation of the third line by isolating the topos of the veil and shifting it up in the second line – omitting from there the “enigma,” and also replacing the “secrets of eternity” in the first line with a self-coined metaphor. Thus he separates from it the obscure discourse about “you and me,” as if it were whispered by marsh-fires around us on the moorland right before retribution overtakes us. A nice gothic solution indeed, but has not much to do with its original.

There was a Door to which I found no Key
There was a Veil past which I might not see:
Some little talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seem’d – and then no more of THEE and ME.

At this point I badly needed a thorough Persian commentary of Khayyam. I only managed to get a relatively laconic version – but even so about 500 pages long – in Tehran, with the title ترانه های خیام Tarânaha-ye Khayyâm, that is “Songs of Khayyam,” compiled by Mohammad Baqer Najafzadeh Barforush (Amir Kabir Publisher, 2004). Even this was not easy to obtain, because most bookshops only have pocket editions of Khayyam. Finally I found this one in the shop of the ثالث Saless publisher on Kharimkhân-e Zand Avenue, where the bookshops with the richest choice line up: the outstanding edition of Hafez by Mohammad Estelami was also on sale only here. This commentary quotes from the discussion written by the Rumi scholar Mohammad Taqi Ja'fari (1923-2007) on the last two verses of this poem. He too interprets this line by assuming that the discourse goes about us behind the veil:

با دقب کافی در این رباعی، می بینیم، چند علم در این رباعی ادعا شده است: علم یکم: واقعیات در معرفت بشری بر دو نوع است. نوع اول، روشن، آشکار و قابل فهم. نوع دوم، تاریک و معما و غیر قابل فعم، علم دوم: عالم هستی بر دو رویه تقسیم می گردد: ۱) رویۀ پشت پرده. ۲) رویۀ ظاهری پرده. علم سوم: گفتوگویی دربارۀ من و تو در پشت پرده در جریان است. علم چهارم: اگر پرده برداشته شود نه تو خواهی ماند و نه من (که البته این علم چهارم دارای احتمالاتی است.) ی

Let us observe how many experiences [Khayyam] gives account of in this rubai. The first experience is that reality is present in human knowledge in two ways: in a clear, obvious and understandable form on the one hand, and in a dark, mysterious and unintelligible form on the other hand. The second experience is that the wise man distinguishes two faces of the things: 1. the face behind the veil and 2. the one outside the veil. The third one is that the discourse about us goes on behind the veil. And the fourth one is that if we draw the veil away, there remains neither you nor I (this fourth experience is of course only of a contingent nature).

But who might speak about us behind the veil? The God of Islam is a lonely God, not the Christian Trinity between whose Persons an eternal dialogue goes on. His absolute majesty excludes His “conversing” with His creatures. He gives commands only to spiritual beings of the highest rank, and he also contacted Mohammad only through the medium of an angel. Even the Sufi who strives after the most complete proximity to Him can only speechlessly dissolve and lose himself in Him “as the butterfly in the flame of the candle.” And it would be in fact quite pretentious to think that such a God, even if conversing with someone, converses precisely about us, however great a satisfaction this would give the Pascalian reed.

I hope that by the time I know better the mystical poetry of Islam, and perhaps also will have found a more detailed commentary to Khayyam, I will understand more profoundly this line as well.

In the meantime let us see for a moment how the Hungarian translators of Khayyam coped with this quatrain.

József Rippl-Rónai, Portrait of Lőrinc Szabó (1923)The Hungarian tradition of Khayyam was established by the renowned poet Lőrinc Szabó (1900-1957) who translated his quatrains from the English of Fitzgerald in three versions, in 1920, 1930 and 1943. He introduced the first edition of 1920 with a foreword (also published in another version in the prestigious literary review Nyugat), in which he exalts the discovering and pioneering merits of Fitzgerald – and thus, indirectly, himself – who has wiped the dust of seven centuries’ oblivion off the – rather unworthy – poems of Khayyam:

Because there lived an Omar Khayyam, far, far away, somewhere in Persia, a long, long time ago, at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries [...] completely abandoned and misjudged, in great misery, until he finally died in Nishapur. His tomb is exhibited there even today. [...] His poems have not survived. I mean there are some thousand rubaiyat left under his name, but who knows whether it was really he who wrote them. Some of them probably yes, but even this part is impossible to identify. [...] It produced no effect when these short poems were deciphered on the recently discovered papyrus rolls. [sic!] It seemed as if Omar Khayyam was definitely lost for the world. The forgotten poet was waiting in vain for being discovered right until the middle of the last century. It was then, in 1859 that the English translation of Edward Fitzgerald saw the light of day.

However, if he already knew about the tomb of Khayyam in Nishapur, it would have not been a great effort to look up the chapter on Nishapur in the highly popular travelogue of the Hungarian Islam scholar Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913), Vándorlásaim és élményeim Perzsiában (My wanderings and experiences in Persia). Vámbéry, who traveled extensively all over Persia in the same years of the publication of the first translations of Fitzgerald, wrote this note on Nishapur:

The other poet whose corpse lays in Nishapur, Khayyam, stands in sharp contrast to the other [Attar]. [...] Nevertheless, the poems of Khayyam are just as widely read as those of the other.

And the situation is the same even today, more than a hundred years later. Whoever saw the film The wind will carry us, by Abbas Kiarostami, will certainly remember the episode when the old district doctor of the tiny Kurdish village and the engineer visiting the village rush off on a shaky small motorbike on a white dirt road meandering in the wonderful Kurdish landscape, reciting in unison by heart the poems of Khayyam.

Abbas Kiarostami, The wind will carry us - the doctor and the engineer recite the poems of Khayyam while riding a motorbike in Kurdistan
In the editions of 1920 and 1930, Lőrinc Szabó translates the quatrain like this (with numbers 30 and 33, respectively):

Volt egy Kapu: de kulcsa elveszett;
volt egy Fátyol: nem tépte szét kezed;
ma még miénk a hír s holnapra már
kiejt rostáján az Emlékezet!

(There was a Gate: but its key was lost
there was a Veil: your hands did not tear it
the fame is still ours today, but by tomorrow
Memory will let us fall through her sieve.)

It is quite understandable that the young and ambitious Lőrinc Szabó was much more concerned about the problem of the transitoriness of fame than either Khayyam or Fitzgerald in their original versions. However, by transposing the subject of the “discourse about us” from behind the transcendent veil into the world, he extirpated from the rubai even the last remnants of the Sufi mystics left behind by Fitzgerald, making it just as materialistic as Golubev’s version. I don’t know whether he realized this, his thirst for recognition abated in the following twenty-three years, or he just simply gave a more attentive reading to Fitzgerald’s original, but the fact is that in the third edition of 1943 with number 32 already this version figured:

Volt ott egy Kapu, kulcsa elveszett;
volt egy Fátyol, látni nem engedett;
mondták, hogy ÉN meg TE, de azután
a TE meg ÉN elnémult, vége lett.

(There was a Gate there, its key was lost,
there was a Veil that did not let to see
they told ME and YOU, but then
the YOU and ME fell silent, came to an end.)

Apart from Lőrinc Szabó it is worth mentioning only one more Hungarian translator of Khayyam, Dezső Tandori (1938-), and even him only because he made his translations not from the English of Fitzgerald, but on the basis of the rough translations made from the original Persian by the Islam scholar Róbert Simon (1939-). However, he could have prepared them from anything else; the result would have been the same one hundred percent Tandori instead of Khayyam, just like any other translation by this genius of contemporary Hungarian literature.

Titkát az örökvalónak éljük – s mire van?
Rejtély ez az írás, sose értjük, mire van.
Színmű, hol a függöny épp a lényeg veleje,
felmegy, lemegy, és bár soha nem kérjük – van.

(We live the secret of eternity – but what is it for?
This writing is a mystery, we never understand what it is for.
A drama where the curtain is the nub of the essence,
it rises and it falls, and although we never ask for it – it is.

The first two lines he could bear with some attention, but by the beginning of the third, he has arrived at the end of his tether. Until that point there was no sparrow, horse or bear – the obligatory topics of the Master – in the poem, on hearing the word “veil” or “curtain,” he nervously snorted: “from here I will continue.” And he has. True, Khayyam would not thank him for this, but Hungarian literature will thank him for the idiom “the nub of the essence” which cries out to be cast in bronze. It is just as worthy a match of the genial trouvaille “the secret of the enigma”, coined by the Hungarian humorist Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938) in the title of his parody of Stephen Leacock, as is Tandori’s entire translation a match for that famous quote from another parody by Karinthy where the poem of Endre Ady, which begins with “I came from the shore of the Ganges”, is transformed in the hands of a number of translators into “In the salami by Herz the salt is extremely dense.”

Nevertheless the blunder of Tandori is crowned by the anthology of Khayyam A mulandóság mámora (The rapture of transitoriness, Terebess 1997) selected by Ágota Steiner from several Hungarian translators. Steiner in number 47 – obviously attracted by the buzzword of “curtain” – hastily included Tandori’s version as a translation of that quatrain which figures in the 1943 edition by Lőrinc Szabó with number 52 like this:

átvillan az Örök Színpadon és
megint a Homály Függönyébe vész,
mely körülömli a Drámát, mit Ő
maga rendez, játszik és maga néz.

(Flashing through the Eternal Stage and
getting lost again in the Curtain of Darkness
which surrounds the Drama that is
directed, played and watched by Himself.)

Curtain, curtain. Anyway, every poem of Khayyam speaks about one and the same thing, wasn’t this already stated by Fitzgerald? But the intricate question of how any curtain or director comes to a Persian stage of eight hundred years ago, should yet be the object of the translation and analysis of another quatrain of Khayyam.

Each has spoken according to his humor
No one can define the face of things.