Joseph v. Hammer Purgstall’s (10), German Translation of Hafez’s Divan and Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan


by Mahsa Kalatehseifary

The next distich reads:

A drunk without bottle and shambles,

is better than a malicious in monastaries.

In this distich Hafez confronts his antagonist, the “piety-seller”, again with his protagonist rend, although he does not mention the latter directly.  A prose translation of Hafez’s line reads: “a wine drinker, in whom there is no face and hypocrisy, better than a piety-seller, in whom there is face and hypocrisy” (my translation). As this literal translation shows, the second clause is repeated exactly in the second hemistich of the line in the original, which is an example of the rhetorical device of repetition.  The lengthy employment of this device contributes greatly to the semantic as well as the metrical quality of the original, which is omitted by Hammer’s free translation.

The next distich reads:

What is true we want, and not making anyone mad,

The rest is our say: It is permitted. 

This rendering shows a free reproduction by Hammer, uninfluenced by Sudi’s commentary.  In fact, the clause “and not making anyone mad” is the only part of the translation that corresponds with the original. A literal translation of this distich displays a noticeable deviation from the original: “we do God’s command and don’t do anyone ill / and what they say is not allowed, we don’t say is allowed”.  By using “It is permitted” Hammer preserves the deeper meaning while altering the surface meaning.  Hammer’s semantic deviation from the original did not create the acoustic quality crafted in the original, however.  Hafez created an internal rhyme between the rhyming halves of both of the lines, enhancing their prosodic quality further through the use of consonance (examples highlighted): farze izad bogzaarim-o be kas bad nakonim / v-anche gooyand ravaa nist nagoo-im ravaast.  In the second hemistich, he also uses the phono-semantic play of eshteghag, paronomasia, between the third-person plural and first-person plural of the verb goftan [to say].

  Joseph v. Hammer Purgstall’s (9) German Translation of Hafez’s Divan and Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan


3.1.2. Rend’s Advocacy of Love and Wine

Love, in Persian lyrical literature, has two significantly different manifestations:  physical and spiritual.  The interconnectedness of spiritual and earthly worlds within some Hafezian poems has been a controversial topic among scholars and is a matter that Hammer felt compelled to address in his foreword. 

Hammer refers here to the hermeneutical problems of some metaphysical aspects of Hafez’s poetry.  He encourages his reader to trust his/her own understanding with feet on the ground and head in the heavens while interpreting polemical poems.  Elsewhere in his foreword, Hammer renounces any spiritual or mystical aspect of the poems, perhaps in part because of the influence of Sudi, and in part because of the lack of German semantic equivalence.  In his reading, detached from spiritual connotation, he delighted in Hafez’s earthly pleasures of love with his mistress.

The mass of natural images and sensual responses that Hammer heaps together in his lines is a remarkable example of the physical and erotic emphases in much of Hafez’s poetry, which point as well to his philosophy of hedonism. In this view, and in the face of a transient world, he appreciates every moment of being with his beloved physically or imaginatively and thus bends the moment to his enjoyment.  

The following examples all focus on the physical, worldly dimension of Hafez’s poems. Ghazal sixty-seven of the group Ta is one of many poems in which the poet sings praise to the beauty of his beloved and expresses his desperate yearning for a reunion after days of separation.  Hammer breaks the two-line distich of the original into four lines in his rendering without preserving the rhyming pattern, as evidenced in the first distich: 

  آموزش آشپزی: سوپ کدو حلوایی

Always I am drunk

From the breath of your tresses, 

Always I am disturbed

From the looks of your magical eyes.

Semantically, the rendering succeeds in transferring the content of the original. 

As opposed to the antinomian function of rend in the one poem, another poem reveals the humble and slavish side of this character, whose boundless love to his beloved contrasts with reason.  Based on this examination, the translation of the poem does convey the main thematics of the original poem as there was no direct mention of rend.  In the poem “Die Fasten fist”, however, the exclusive representation of this character through terms related to drinking and his presence solely as a drunkard eliminated the essence of Hafez’s rend and overshadowed the key connotative function of this figure; that is, his hatred of petty ritualism.  To grant the reader insight into other dimensions of this multi-functional character, a literal adoption of the term into the target language is necessary, particularly because the reader is already familiar with other personified entities and elements such as Kalender, Huris, Derwisch, etc. through both forewords and their emergence in the renderings.  Touching upon Hafez’s mythopoeia and exemplifying a few of Hafezian mythopoetic creatures not as active as rend, Hammer could have welcomed this character into his German version of the Divan comfortably, and thus his distortion of the figure remains unclear. 

In the these analyses, one can also observe that the translation fails to reproduce Hafez’s original euphonic qualities.  Indeed, semantic features appear more frequently preserved than acoustic qualities as well as rhetorical devices derived from them in translations.  In part, this is an inevitable consequence of the transformation of the original letters and trying to preserve their sounds.  Hammer’s limited access to German semantic equivalences with the same endings justifies the lack of overall rhyming matches in the translations, which caused critics to rightly call his translation “rhymless” and, even,  a “prose rendering”.   My analysis also showed Hammer’s spiritual reading of some lines which would disagree with those who would criticize him for completely omitting the mystical implications of the poems.

  Joseph v. Hammer Purgstall’s (7) German Translation of Hafez’s Divan and Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan

Despite these negative aspects, and considering the bulk of his translation, Hammer’s accomplishment is deserving of its frequent citation as the inspiration of many later German works in the field of Persian poetry.  The emergence of Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan further magnified the importance of Hammer’s pioneering work. In fact, Goethe’s Divan bore testimony to Hammer’s accomplishment by introducing a short account of Persian classical literature in the body of Hafez’ Divan.  Hammer’s rendering earned Goethe’s productive reception, which resulted in his subsequent poetical reaction. Goethe’s genius in reproducing such an alien poetical universe through his expertise and combining it with his native poetical elements is evidence of his successful acquaintance with Persian love poetry through Hammer’s version.

 To be continued…

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