Preface to Khaijamin lauluja, transl. Kiamars Baghbani and Leevi Lehto, ntamo 2009 (Finnish)

A quick draft translation by Make Copies

This translation project has been in the works for quite long already – at least since Fall 2007, when Kiamars Baghbani and I translated a passage from the beginning of Iran’s national epic, the Shahnama by Ferdowsi for Kiamars’ selection of translations from the Persian poetic tradition, Ymmärryksen ylistys (”Praising the Reason”, ntamo 2007). I’ve been dabbling with Kiamars’ prose translations from Khayyam since Spring 2008, but it was only in this summer when I got to the actual work of putting them into Finnish verse – mainly during the morning hours in the sunny Hanko, in the very South of Finland.

My work proceeded in three phases. First, I gained an understanding of the (syllable-based) measure of the Persian tarane (of which more later), projecting that to the Finnish language as a preliminary rule: never use more than two short syllables in a row. Following this – initially surprisingly hard – constraint, together with the rhyme schemes[1] of the originals, I then produced the first Finnish verse versions, which Kiamars and I then went through, trying to improve the correspondences on the sense level[2]. At this time, we also recorded Kiamars’ reading of all the 125 songs in Persian; after which, in my third phase, I always worked with headphones on my ears, with the intention of making the sound of the Finnish version to correspond as much as possible to that of the originals.

I don’t hesitate to say that in this, crucial, phase I was in for a couple of small wonders. Committing myself to the impossible, even irrational, maxim of sonic correspondence did not make the work more difficult, rather the opposite. Thus, on the third line of the famous Song 9 (in our sequel), I had tried in vain to find a rhythmically acceptable and perspicuous enough wording to render a Persian expression for the handle of the wine jug; now, ”این دسته که بر” (gärdäne u mibini [translitterations here are free and mainly into Finnish alphabet]) would give ”kaulalla leilini”, a Finnish variant which I (perhaps because of its old-fashion clang: ”leili” is Biblical for the wine jug) did not have come to consider earlier. Or, in the very first quatrain, the rhyme words, ”فردا را” and ” سودا را” (färdaaraa, soudaaraa) helped me to find the Finnish verbs, ”varmistaa” and ”harrastaa”, which I tend to see as accurate reproductions of the sense in the original – and ones that no emphatic poetic intuition or even the most arduous searching for ”how do we actually say it in Finnish” could never have produced. On another – and more important – level, the meeting with the originals in their sonic images (and only that) both really made possible and justified the attempt to implement the original’s metric structures in the translation: when, say, the ironical pathos of a simple line like, ”nyt, kuuntele, kun kerron tarinan loppuun” [”now, listen when I finish the story”], will in the last instance hang on its quotidian, matter-of-fact intonation and rhythm, an attempt to reproduce this rhythm in the target language almost naturally led to choosing sound patterns that imitate the original. Now, following the metrical pattern was no straight-jacket any more; I composed mainly by the ear, using free association, only to realize that, returning to unravel the syllabic schemes of an individual lines or quatrains, they had moved closer to the ones in the original. At the same time, a certain trochaic monotony typical for my early versions started to give way to more melodious – not to say more jazzy – rhythm patterns. (I urge the readers to consult to the accompanying audio/video disc, where Kiamars and I read all the tarane of the book both in line per line and poem per poem versions. There’s also a recording of Saara Lehto’s dance, in her own choreography, to a couple of Khayyam songs in the South-Iranian ”Bandari” style, with this writer ”singing” along in Finnish.)

Nyt, kuun-te-le | kun ker-ron | ta-ri-nan lop- | puun. Kiamars in his preface above emphasizes that though the tarane were sung already before the Arabic conquest during Seventh Century, robaii is an Arabic, syllabic-based measure. Somewhat jokingly, one could say that my choosing to attempt at a metrical correspondence with the Persian originals reproduces this situation: I have wanted to allow the traditional Persian measure to attack the Finnish language and its traditions.

Pit, pit-ly-ly | pit pit-pit | ly-ly-pit pit- | pit. Here, ”pit” (for pit[kä] = long), replaces the long syllables in the above quoted line, ”Nyt, kuuntele…”, ”ly” (for ly[hyt] = short), again the short ones – and at least in this happy case the analysis will yield a result complying with the Iranian prosody: four ”feet”; in the first three, three long ”beats” (”pit pit pit”) in each, with the proviso that one of them may be replaced by two short ones (”ly ly pit pit”, ”pit pit ly ly”, ”pit ly ly pit”, ”ly pit pit ly”); then the final foot of one long beat. Following the example of the earlier Finnish experimentators in the syllabic measures – like Otto Manninen, Toivo Lyy (though not in his Khayyam translations form the 1920’s and 1940’s), and Anna-Maija Raittila – I have considered the syllables ending in consonants, long vowels, and diphthongs (”mis”, ”et”, ”taa”, ”voi”, ”huo”), to be long, and those ending in single vowels (”si”, ”nä”) to be short. From these predecessors, I also got the libel to occasionally replace a short vowel with a long one – so that in my example line, we could have ”ver-si-on” for ”ta-ri-nan”, but the enchanting ”ju-tun” suggested by Kiamars’ prose translation should actually be rejected. From Khayyam and other real masters of prosody (incl. Otto Manninen[3]) I, again, got a permission to doubt this formal division into long and short vowels: beside the fact that the syllabic structure of Finnish is not unambiguous (i.e. ”ai-no-as-taan” versus ”ai-noas-taan”, or even ”ä-lä-kä” versus ”älä-kä”: and would ”älä”, here, be long or short?), the actual length of syllables will vary more freely, and always depend on other rhythmical factors, too. And vice verse: although the variation in the extension of syllables evidently contributes to the rhythm, this will obviously happen in interaction with other factors such as stress, rhyme, sound, etc. – in a way that, although the poem evidently ”has a rhythm”; it will be impossible to anyone to tell, what exactly constitutes it – which is also why there can be no ”right way” to read or sonorize a poem. Supported by these uncertainties – that closely correspond to the ones of the Khayyamian cosmos, the ”big blue wheel” – I ended up also freely breaking up with the schemes already once mastered. The most serious ”Un-Persian” features[4] of the Finnish versions tend to come in the lines’ opening and closing syllables, which you’d never supposed to make short. Yet I believe that, say, rendering the rhyme words of Song 3 here, ”گریست.”, ” زیست” and ”کیست!” (gärist, zist, kist) with the Finnish ”suruisas-ti”, ”totises-ti”, ”ponnis-ti” does justice to them – and that the double consonants, ”st”, though exterior to my syllable analysis, is rhythmically dominant in both languages.

The uncertainties of the Khayyamian cosmos. Starting from the FitzGerald’s ”adaptive” translations, at the latest, the Western view of Khayyam has tended to be that of an exotic, even childish singer of the ”naive” East – or, alternately, following the centuries-long domestication strategy in the East, one of a Sufi mystic, for whom even ”wine” would just be a symbol for a union with the godhead. During our work, I have come to know another Khayyam altogether: a strict intellectual, a polymath, and a superb mathematician who fearlessly challenges the certainties of the surrounding religious culture with the Absolute of his own uncertainty principle. I like to think that the man who solved cubic equations three hundred years before this was achieved in the West, and showed the impossibility of proving the parallel postulate of Euclid seven hundred years before the birth of non-Euclidean geometry, will in his poetry, too, be a master of form and relations. When reading even the most simple lines in this edition against the suggestion by Kiamars above to always think of them in terms of their internal dependencies, I’m tempted to see them as ”convergent straight lines” that ”intersect and it is impossible for [them] to diverge in the direction in which they converge” (Khayyam in his Explanations of the Difficulties in the Postulates of Euclid (1077)). Khayyam is often uncompromising and markedly straightforward, but the gist of his critique, to me, is doubt: the most important metaphysical certainty is that there is no certainty. ”Tulppaani kun kuihtuu, ei enää kukoista” [for FitzGerald’s ”The Flower that once is blown for ever dies”]: this poetry implies a challenging of the basic salvation narratives of both Western and Eastern metaphysics seven hundred years before Keat’s ”Negative Capability” and nine hundred hundred years before Derrida’s ”différance”. And, when Khayyam sings, ”each one is telling his own imaginations / how it is? who ever could say this!” [adaptively from our Finnish], he comes close to the Paavo Haavikko who wrote (in a quatrain, by the way): ”Speech flows in a flowing world / and you have to know almost everything by yourself.”

Thus, when speaking about ”challenging the religious culture”, I do not only mean Islam or even the 72 variants of it referred to in Song 72; these meditations will resonate vis-a-vis our own Christian-Technological culture as well. This is one reason to bring this edition out. Another one is that it can help unravel certain simplified conceptions about the so called dialogue of cultures. Khayyam is a figure of an early, aborted Islamic Renaissance, preceding the one we know; at the same time, he is an important inspirator for a cultural fight for freedom that goes on both there and here. Therefore, for my part, I want to dedicate this volume for my own ”tulip-faced one”, Kirsi Poikolainen, and for all those Iranians who even during this Summer continued to work and fight for a world where all people could live and enjoy life in full.

Even if ”the right way is not here, and is not there”.

Hanko, Finland, Sept. 11, 2009

1 Khayyam’s rhyme scheme is most often aaba, at times aaaa. This corresponds to the two first couplets of the Old Persian forms like the Ghazal – Ghazal’s scheme being aa ba ca da… Often even the end words of the first hemstitches will rhyme, and there’s plenty of other, more free assonance as well. The line-ending rhyme may extend over three or more syllables, and simple repeating even longish words in the rhyme position is common as well.

2 I also made use of other translations – incl. those by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila – but mostly only to find more clarifying questions to Kiamars. Most beneficial in this respect proved the legendary ”old-modish” prose translations into Swedish by Eric Hermelin (1928) and the prose translations into English by Edward Herron-Allen (1898). Prosodically, I got most inspiration from the English versions by Richard De Gallienne (1897).

3 Manninen, by the way, is a predecessor also in importing Persian measures – his splendid poem, ”Kultaiset torvet” (from Virrantyven, 1925) may be the only Ghazal in the Finnish tradition. I don’t know anything about his influences; Goethe’s Öst-Westlicher divan with its Hafez influences could be one source. Interestingly, ”Kultaiset torvet” makes heavy use of the variation of syllabic extension, even seemingly complying to my ”no more than two short vowels in a row” rule: ”Rivi jälkiä vain – yli ratsue ylhäinen / meni, riensi, ja kultaisten torvien toitahus soi.”

4 There are ”Persianisms” in the translation that do not have a direct correspondence in the original – like many coined compound words (”nuo-jotka-lähteneet”), used by the implied permission of the Persian language’s alleged syntactic tendency to retort to similar constructions.