Literal Translation by Catherine Mansfield

[From Saghi Nameh]

Clara Janés

Song of the wine waiter[1]


The Shiraz[2] roses still reach[3] my poem

and the song of that God’s madman[4] beside the well[5] as the day was drawing to a close[6]

and the poet’s enamelled cup[7] reaches my hands.

As in Jamshid’s[8], the whole cosmos slips[9] in its wine

and the constellations flash[10], and their dance traces the harmony

between man and stone, animal and plant,

and those leaves, which in Padua’s orto indicate metamorphosis.[11]

The little bells of the caravans state[12] that everything changes and times escape

but the mind of the one who contemplates and thinks gallops in translation[13]

as “a word’s a fan!”[14], and tells of the rosary of love and of science.

Serve, wine waiter, serve me another cup!, so I can see in detail

all the reflections, and alongside the beloved and the wise texts,

read the universe with active docility[15], as when I look at them I believe them.

As in the atom, where the electrons dance around the positive charge,

and in the cosmos the wave function extends[16] an endless weave[17],

the loops[18] of a beloved secret reveal the hidden ties[19]

between what exists, erasing chasms between subject and object.

All this is summed up, in an exhalation, by the roses of Shiraz

whose love is perfume and a tablet of the first alphabet

that still proclaims in Persepolis the dignity of man.[20]

Yes, as the day draws to a close and that God’s madman sings, beside the well,

I receive the flame of the fire of knowledge from the hand of the poet

and I exclaim with him one more time: “Let my only joy be to touch you, nature!”[21]

[1] “Escanciador” literally means “person who pours or serves drink”, particularly in relation to wine or cider (for example, the term is widely used to describe the waiters who pour cider in the traditional manner in Asturias in northern Spain). Another translation could be “cup bearer” or “wine bearer”.

[2] Shiraz in modern day Iran is the birthplace of Hafez (or Hafiz), the renowned 12th century Persian poet, who Goethe admired and translated. The city is famous for nightingales, poetry and roses. It is also the site of Hafez’s tomb, which is raised up on a dais amidst rose gardens.

[3] “Llegar” (here and in line 3) also means “to arrive”. Therefore, line 3 could also read “the poet’s enamelled cup arrives in my hand”.

[4] This could be interpreted as a religious fanatic or a holy fool.

[5] “Alberca” is usually a manmade pool, such as a well, water tank, reservoir or swimming pool.

[6] “Declinar”: to decline, draw to a close, tail off, come to an end.

[7] “Esmaltado” can also mean embellished or adorned. “Copa” usually refers to a wine glass rather than a cup, but I have put “cup” here to highlight the connection to Jamshid’s cup in the next line.

[8] “The Cup of Jamshid is a cup of divination, which in Persian mythology was long possessed by the rulers of ancient Greater Iran… it was believed that all seven heavens of the universe could be observed by looking into it.”

[9] “Deslizarse” means to slip, slide, glide, sneak into something.

[10] Destellarse can mean to flash, blink, glint, twinkle, sparkle.

[11] This seems to be a reference to the leaves of the Mediterranean Palm, which Goethe frequently visited at the Orto Botanico di Padova (a botanical garden in Padua), and which inspired him to describe his evolutionary theory in his “Essay on the Metamorphosis of Plants”, published in 1790:

[12] “Enunciar” means to express an idea briefly in words, e.g. to outline, summarise or sketch out. It also mean “to formulate” in mathematics.

[13] “Traslación” can be used to mean linguistic translation but it is not the usual word for this. Its primary meaning is to move from one place or thing to another, and it is also used in astronomy to mean “revolution” (i.e. movement e.g. around the sun). It can also be used to refer to the translation of meaning from one thing to another, as in a metaphor.

[14] Goethe, “Das Wort ist ein Fächer”, Westeastern Divan. In English translation:  “One simple sense a word has not. / A word’s a fan. The fan’s a veil, no more, whose fine / Substance may keep the face in shade, / But cannot hide from me the maid.”

[15] “Mansedumbre”: Meekness, tameness, docility, docile nature.

[16] “Expandir”: to expand, extend, spread.

[17] “Trama” refers to interlacing threads (i.e. weave), but is also used to describe storylines or plots, as well as things than come together, such as connections, links and correlations.

[18] “Bucles”: this can also refer to curls or ringlets (in hair), as well as loops, circuits or closed circuits in motors or physics.

[19] “lazos”: bond, ties; also snare, trap; also bow (for hair).

[20] This appears to be a reference to early forms of writing which were written on clay tablets, many of which have been found in and around the ruins of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire:

[21] Goethe, “Sei es mein einiges Glük, dich zu berühren, Natur!”, Epigramme (Venedig 1790), nº 77.


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