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

by Mahsa Kalatehseifary

Mahsa Kalatehseifary

Introduction (2)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749- 1832), among the great Weimar literati, regarded Hammer’s translation as a pioneering work despite the controversy over its accuracy. In spring 1813 through Hammer’s translation he gained access to Hafez’s entire body of work, whose poems had already captured his attention prior to the appearance of Hammer’s version. He read Hammer’s renderings uncritically and treated them as a model for his acquaintance with Persian poetry, and as a result could say: ”Indeed what we were hoping to access before that is the poetical art of Persian poetry is now abundantly delivered to us through [Hammer’s] valuable work”. Soon after reading Hammer’s translation, Goethe began to versify poems in an Hafezian fashion. He compiled his poems in his anthology West-Eastern Divan, published in 1819. He used Hammer’s translation as the foundation of his work and invited his readers to do the same in the prose section of his Divan, where he said: “without a doubt we now own a foundation upon which our understanding of Persian literature can be clearly established, whose model can be used by other literatures ”. The literary relationship between Goethe and Hammer has not captured great attention in the scholarship on either’s work. The fact that the actual relationship between the two was limited to just a few letters has permitted readers uninterested in the connection to undermine its importance and conclude that “Geothe never desired to approach Hammer, and there remained a noticeable distance between the two”. Hammer’s critics and readers of the West-estern Divan believe this work to be a product of Goethe’s own genius, but his profound understanding of Hafez was achieved through the veil of Hammer’s version, as Paul Horn in his History of Persian literature states: “It is unbelievable how subtly Goethe was able to extract Hafez’s genius from Hammer’s translations. In addition, Goethe expanded his knowledge of the Orient through other resources, such as Saadi’s Golestan and Bustan in Adam Olearius’s translation, William Jones’s Poesis Asiatica, Edward Scott Waring’s Travel to Shiraz von Dieze’s translation of Book of Kabus as well as travelogues by Pietro della Valle, Tavernier and Chardin, all of which enabled him to reflect his original source through the two hundred and thirty nine poems that he versified in the twelve books of his Divan, his direct access to the ghazals of Hafez, however, remained through Hammer’s translation, a work he described as “a very deserving work, and of remarkable importance to him”. Goethe’s appreciation of Hammer for his translation is reflected in his notes, a document to which the readership of Hammer’s translation has largely remained inattentive. Despite this oversight, Goethe’s notes remain an indication of the great literary communication between these two personalities. Process of selecting the poems The first step in selecting poems for close analysis in my thesis was to read all of Hammer’s Divan translations and compare them to Hafez’s poems. I then focused on those that have parallels in Goethe’s Divan. Here, relying on my native knowledge of Persian culture, language and history, I underlined words, names, metaphors, phrases and motifs which are associated with the Orient and which gave signs of having given Goethe some inspiration linked to the original Persian version. This resulted in a list of approximately ninety names, words, phrases or themes. I then tracked these in Hafez’s Persian Divan. Then I expanded the examination to the contexts of the words and phrases on my list by examining them in greater detail in Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan. From this process of contextualization, a number of typically Hafezian themes emerged, so I began to prioritize those words and phrases on my list which were associated with them. Further, while reading Goethe’s Divan in German, supplemented by a comparison of his poems with the first translation of them into Persian by Shojaeddin Shafa (1949), which provided a secondary check of context, I made a list of the overall context of each poem. During the process of re-reading all of Goethe’s Divan poems, I had the assurance of understanding the entire cycle. As a result, I listed about forty themes that in my mind reflect the inspiration from Hafez, passed on to Goethe. Given the formal constraints of my thesis, I decided to focus on ten of these to make my case, and reduced the number for intensive consideration (as listed below), with lesser reference to the others. I also make occasional reference to single lines from other poems. The first chapter of the thesis introduces Hafez, explains the origin of his lyrical form ghazal and describes its formal aspects. The chapter addresses the sociopolitical circumstances of Hafez’s time as well as indications of his personal life reflected in his ghazals.Complicating factors of his poetry, such as the question of formal unity and mystical implications of the poems, are discussed. In this regard, the discussions underline the controversy of whether the unity of the ghazals lies in their formal characteristics or semantic structure.

The proposers of the latter theory are those who like Jan Rypka see “each verse…”

To be continued…

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