The house of the friend

The book and wine shop Biblioteca de Babel opened in July in the old town of Palma, in Calle Arabí. The name of the street recalls the memory of the great Andalusian Sufi poet Ibn al-Arabí, and it was perhaps no coincidence that as soon as we entered with Wang Wei, we immediately stumbled upon a Persian book of poetry. The slim volume included a selection of the poems of three 20th-century poets, Nimâ Youshij (1896-1960), Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980) and Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000) in Spanish translation. They were, together with Forough Farrokhzad and the already mentioned Mehdi Âkhavân-Sâles, the reformers of modern Persian poetry and elaborators of the Persian free verse which pulsates in the rhythm of the breath.

“The one I liked the most of the three was Sepehri”, writes Wang Wei who finished the book yesterday, “but here they translated only his long poem The footsteps of water. I wish to read more of this author. He has a way of seeing that attracts me, because he has a deep respect for everything he names. Something similar to Persian music, the same attentive, calm and especially respectful seriousness.”

Sohrab Sepehri, who was a precursor of modern Persian painting as well, also uses images for building his poems, images that are rooted in the Persian tradition and at the same time reveal something shockingly new. Like in his poem of 1967 quoted below: “Where is the house of the friend?” This first verse of the poem was borrowed seven years after the death of Sepehri by Abbas Kiarostami to his moving film in which a little boy is looking for the house of his friend among the mountains of Iran. By doing so, he paid a tribute not only to the memory of his friend but also to the master who with his poems and pictures had taught the first great generation of Iranian filmmakers how to see.

The title of the poem is not easy to translate. It should be “address”, but neshâni also means “indication, sign, memento”. For Wang Wei it will be easier to translate it to Spanish, as dirección does include a number of these meanings.

I have already written that one of the most important tools of Persian poetry is the music of the language which does not easily come through in the translation. Thus whenever I manage to attach a recording of the poem, it is well worth to listen to it and to combine it in the imagination with the translation. Like now.


خانه دوست کجاست؟ در فلق بود که پرسید سوار
آسمان مکثی کرد
رهگذر شاخه نوری که به لب داشت به تاریکی شنها بخشید
و به انگشت نشان داد سپیداری و گفت:
نرسیده به درخت
کوچه باغی است که از خواب خدا سبز تر است
و در آن عشق به اندازه پرهای صداقت آبی است
می روی تا ته آن کوچه که از پشت بلوغ، سر به در می آرد
پس به سمت گل تنهایی می پیچی
دو قدم مانده به گل
پای فواره جاوید اساطیر زمان می مانی
و تو را ترسی شفاف فرا می گیرد
در صمیمیت سیال فضا، خش خشی می شنوی
کودکی می بینی
رفته از کاج بلندی بالا، جوجه بردارد از لانه نور
و از او می پرسی خانه دوست کجاست؟


Khâne-ye dūst kojâst? dar falagh būd ke porsīd savâr
âsemân maksī kard

rahgozar shâkhe-ye nūri ke be lab dâsht be târīkhī-ye shenhâ bakhshīd
ve be angōsht neshân dâd sepidâri o gōft:

nareside be derakht
kuche bâghī’st ke az khâb-e Khodâ sabztar ast
be dar ân eshgh be andâze-ye parhâ-ye sedâght âbī’st
miravi tâ te-ye ân kuche ke az posht-e bolūgh, sar be dar miyârad
pas be samt-e gol-e tanhâyi mipichi
do ghadam mânde be gol
pâ-ye favvâre-ye jâvid-e asâtir-e zamīn mimâni
va to-râ trasī shafâf farâ migirad
dar samimiyyet-e sayyâl-e fazâ, khesh khesi mishinavi
kudaki mibini
rafte az kâj bolandi bâlâ, juju bardârad az lâne-ye nūr
va az ū miporsī: khâne-ye dūst kojâst?

Sohrab Sepehri: Neshani, recited by Mahvash Shahegh


Where is the house of the friend? the rider asked in the twilight.
The sky stopped short.

The pilgrim bequeathed the branch of light that sprang from his lips
to the darkness of the sand
and by pointing to a poplar, he said:

Before the tree
there is a garden alley, greener than God’s dream
where love is as blue as the wings of truth.
Go down the alley that starts from the adolescence
then turn to the flower of loneliness
and just two steps before the flower
stay by the eternal fountain of earthly legends
where a transparent fear comes upon you.
In the flowing sincerity of the space you hear some rustling.
A child you see
he has climbed a tall pine to take a chick from the nest of the light.
You shall ask him: Where is the house of the friend?

Although this poem is surrealistically modern, nevertheless the images taken from classical Persian poetry also allow for an interpretation according to their traditional meanings. Just like it was done by Maryam Dilmaghani who in 2007, forty years after the original poem and twenty years after the film of Kiarostami, translated it to English as a beautiful Sufi religious poem.

At the first light of the dawn
the loner knight asked:
"Do you happen to know
the abode of The Beloved?"

The skies went silent
save their mourning clouds,
save their falling stars.

The pilgrim gave up his glowing twig
to the gloom of the sands
and replied:

“Don’t you see that poplar tree?
Well, right before the tree,
There is lane that you’ll reckon, I deem.
For it is greener than a heavenly dream.
For it is generously shaded with the deep blues of love.
Well, If you See.

So walk down that lane
You’ll arrive to the garden of sense
Turn to the direction of the loner lake
Listen to the genial hymn of leaves
Watch the eternal fontain
that flows from the spring of ancient myths
till you fade away in a plain fear.

When a rigid noise clatter into
the fluid intimacy of the space
you'll find a child
on the top of a tree,
next to the nest of owls
in hope of a golden egg.
Well, if you See.

You may be sure: the child will show you the way.
Well, If you just ask about
the abode of The Beloved.

Shahab Tolouie: Tango Perso. From the Persian-Flamenco CD Tango Perso (2009).

7 comentarios:

Julia dijo...

Who's the first translation?
It's so beautiful!

Studiolum dijo...

It's mine, of course. But it has no merit in itself, being just a verbatim translation. It is the beauty of the original that shines through it.

Julia dijo...

Well, that's true, pure beauty...

Pero tuyo es el enorme mérito de transmitirnos tan bien esas imágenes; imagino que no serás vos quien niegue el valor de la mediación!

Y el Tango Perso / Flamenco es fantástico.

TC dijo...

Julia has kindly sent me to this beautiful post; I am grateful to her and to you.

(Here is my post on the same poem and movie, which caused her to direct me here.)

Julia dijo...

Al menos cumplo funciones de "relaciones públicas" para los amigos que hacen cosas valiosas... Siempre es un consuelo servir de algo.

Muy amable de parte de TC mencionar mi labor en las sombras.

Anónimo dijo...

Hi, thank you for the english transliterations and translations. I was wondering if you would also be able to explain the poem?

Hanna dijo...

Beautiful poem, I loved reading it and thanks for the translation.