Persian Sonnets: A Translation of Rumi


Mowlānā Jalāl al-Din Muhammad Rumi, also known simply as Rumi, was the preeminent Sufi mystic and poet. Born in 13th-century Persia, he composed a wide variety of poems about the themes of sacred love, beauty, and the eternal longing to be united with the Divine. In addition to the Masnavi, his revered six-volume poem, Rumi is most famous for his Divân-e Shams-e Tabrizi, which includes over 3200 ghazals.

The ghazal is a form of traditional Persian poetry that is often compared to the Western sonnet, due to its strict formalistic requirements. In the original Farsi, a ghazal comprises five to fifteen couplets, each ending with a refrain, which first appears at the end of both lines of the first couplet. The final couplet usually includes a reference to the poet in the third person, communicating more directly with the reader. Unlike sonnets, however, each couplet remains independent in meaning—a poem in itself—united to the others only in its form, rhyme, and meter. This sonnet from Divân-e Shams-e Tabrizi is widely considered Rumi’s final composition, addressed to his son while on his deathbed in 1273.

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Jorge Guillén: An Original Translation

Jorge Guillén was a member of the Generation of ’27, a group of avant-garde Spanish poets who continued meeting until the Spanish Civil War. “Unos amigos” references the group’s initial encounter in Sevilla, in December 1927, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the death of Baroque poet Luis de Góngora. The poem was published in Guillén’s collection “Y Otros Poemas” in 1973. The manuscript, in Guillén’s original handwriting, can be found in Harvard’s Houghton Library. No English translation has been published.

Some Friends

December 1927

Is that moment already a myth?
Myth collecting a firm core
Thus it does not evaporate, mythical
Its workdays clear with hope.
Hope in action, so jovial,
Without posturing, academic or theoretical,
Without youth’s arrogance bursting in,
Redemptive among the shards,
The enthusiasm visible
Diluted in light, in the atmosphere
Of fervor and of friendship.

The keepsake of a journey
Lingers in our memories.
We went to Sevilla.

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On Translating Vergil

Taken together, the first five lines of Vergil’s Eclogues are the most beautiful lines of poetry in the Latin language. It seems people don’t make claims like that very often anymore and, sometimes, I think that’s a shame.

Why is it that translators are so often driven to attempt precisely those passages that seem so perfect in their original language, so untranslatable? Perhaps it is because translation feels most necessary when it is most impossible.

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