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11/10/10 By Darius KADIVAR Reporting from Paris, France

Suzie Ziai and Iraj Adibzadeh's take on Shafii Kadkani's contemporary poetry put to music and translated for English speaking lovers of Persian Poetry

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Poetry is the most notable and celebrated art of the Persian people. Although the works of the great classical poets of Iran, such as RumÔ, Sa'adÔ, H‚fiz and Khayyam, among others, have  often been translated into various languages, contemporary Persian poetry, which bears it's own special nuances and characteristics, has for the most part not been translated with the excellence it deserves.

As a matter of fact this observation applies to poetry in Persian as in any other language.  As the American poet Robert Frost once said " poetry is what gets lost in translation ".  Often the musicality of poetry is the hardest to render from one native language to another.  Yet even when translated with the best of intentions, one would hardly expect an Englishman to appreciate the most brilliant translations of Shakespeare into French. Similarly despite the international appeal of the works of Moliere ranging from " L'Ecole Des Femmes " to " Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme " few if none have been translated to the entire satisfaction of any Frenchman to date.  And which Persian could bear to read H‚fiz in any other language?

But it is Not always so for the reader of translations who is not a native speaker.

One could reply to Robert Frost that poetry is what is discovered in translation. Else why would we (translators and foreign readers) bother to make and read them?

Poetry is a powerful and universal medium which can travel through time and space much better than we can, in our roles as native speakers.

Probably the most famous and popular attempts to introduce Persian Poetry in the west was Edward Fitzgerald's Translation of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. Yet Despite its strong appeal amongst Western amateurs of Poetry to this day it remains highly controversial amongst Persian connoisseurs who are critical of Fitzgerald's shortcut interpretation.

Probably the most famous and popular attempts to introduce Persian Poetry in the west was Edward Fitzgerald's Translation of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat.
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Western knowledge and interest in Persian culture in all it's forms be it music, cinema, painting or poetry have considerably enhanced since those early days partly thanks to the emergence of an Iranian Diaspora in the past 3 decades that have followed the Islamic Revolution of 1979, thirsty to share and communicate it's heritage with non Persian speakers.

This has been specifically true for contemporary Persian Poetry which has tried to bridge the gap between different generations of Iranians and is now reaching out to the non Persian community and specifically the English speaking world. 

One such example is the work done by former News Anchor of Iranian Television prior to the revolution, Mrs. Suzie Ziai whose passion for the Arts and Persian Poetry in particular has led to produce a beautiful collection of read poems put to music and compiled on CD (*) in both English and Persian. Based on the translations of Pari Azarm Motamedi (also a painter) and aided by fellow colleague and friend Iraj Adibzadeh the duet brings to vivid vocal interpretation the recordings of nearly 49 poems of contemporary poet Mohammad Reza Shafi'i Kadkani. Mrs. Ziai took charge of reading the English Version and Mr. Adibzadeh the original Persian version of this double CD recording. (*)

Prof. Mohammad Reza Shafi'i Kadkani, renowned poet and academic (Nishapur, Razavi Khorasan, Iran; 1939) is a celebrated Persian writer, poet, literary critic, editor, and translator. Shafiei-Kadkani graduated from Tehran University with a doctorate degree in Persian literature. He was a student of prominent figures as Badiozzaman Forouzanfar, Mohammad Moin, and Parviz Natel-Khanlari.

In August of 2009 Shafiei-Kadkani left for a one-year study opportunity at Princeton University after having taught for many years as professor of literature at Tehran University where he was known for his works on literary criticism and modern Persian poetry and decided never to return to his homeland. Although no explanation was given officially but the decision of not returning was most probably due to the recent upheavals in his homeland (See Related News).

In the Poems of Shafi'i Kadkani, elements and rhythms of nature are symbols that express at a profound level all that is real and important in life: compassion, non violence, appreciation of beauty, respect for the environment, spiritual contemplation and connection.

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The essence of all the great teachings over centuries is conveyed through the most simple, sensitive images from nature. Many of the poems selected here may be seen as belonging primarily to a genre of nature poetry, though they are hardly just that at all. Poetry which addresses nature would appear to be universal, yet nature is elsewhere so different. Persian bahar (i.e. spring) is so altogether different from the English spring - that almost imperceptible stirring that gradually surfaces in the English landscape. The English autumn is never a death-blow to summer, unlike Persian paeez with it's blood of autumn' khun-e khazani (in the poem 'With the Green Sprouted Wheat of Changiz'), but an invisibly slow ageing process of several months. Persian seasons are so much more distinct, vivid and regular: In a poem 'In the Realm of Autumn' (nį 16 in CD) about the old English oak tree, written in Oxford in 1974, Kadkani observes that it is 'half-autumn and half-spring', where autumn has given up half way up the stem. Persian baran 'rain' is something so contextually different from English rain as to be almost its symbolic opposite, and so, similarly, are abr 'cloud', migh 'mist, fog ' etc. Yet, in Kadkani's poetry, nature is so acutely observed, and his relation with nature is so poignantly expressed that he coveys, often at one and the same time, both the interior experience of the individual and of Persian Society at large. The poet's thought leaps over the barriers of language: although the poetry is rooted in the earth of Persian literature and tradition, it draws upon his knowledge of a vastly wider world literature. His imagery is so strong and elemental that half the task of the translator is already done!

The 49 selected poems presented in two languages (English/Persian) come from four books within two collections of poems, 'A Mirror For Sounds' and 'The Second Millennium of the Mountain Deer'. The translators Alan Williams and Pari Azarm Motamedi have tried to retain something corresponding to the rhythms of the originals when possible, and have not forced the English translation to dress up in meter lengths of Persian Robes so to speak. Even more they have resisted the temptation in all but one or two instances to use end-rhymes in the English. The reason being that to the modern English ear, end-rhymes too often consign the line to the sing-song of the nursery, or, no better to the smirk of the satirist. On the other hand they have tried to remain as faithful and literal as possible, trusting the English reader to soldier on through any obscurity in the sure expectation of clarity to come. They have therefore stuck closely to the stanzaic layout. Some alteration of line order has been necessitated by the different grammatical orders of Persian and English; lastly they have punctuated the English more as English, not as Persian, does which adds to the fluidity of the English reading.

Shafii Kadkani ©

Canadian Iranian Translator Pari Azarm Mohemedi who currently resides in Vancouver best describes Mohammad Reza Shafi'i Kadkani's poetry:

 'It emanates from a profound humanity and a vast and encompassing knowledge of the historical and cultural heritage of Iran. Simple, sensitive images from nature become symbols for the expression of layers of apparent and hidden meanings concerned with universal questions of existence, spiritual insight, and socio-political concerns as well as personal experiences of compassion and respect for the environment. The selection presented here includes examples dealing with such concerns, giving us the essence of all the great teachings through a symbolic language of boundless beauty.'

Poems recorded on this compact disc were published in an anthology entitled 'In the Mirror of the Stream' published in 2008 by Sokhan Publishing.

About Suzie Ziai:

Suzie Ziai, a graduate of political science and management,  was the first Iranian television newscaster in the English program of the National Iranian Radio and Television.
She has worked with several international news agencies such as the" American Broadcasting Company" and "News Week Magazine". Suzie moved to France in 1980 and has lived in Paris ever since. She taught in Paris Business schools until 2005 when she started working with Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam as the president of his company Nakissa.

About Iraj Adibzadeh:

Iraj Adibzadeh, is a Radio France International reporter and former Iranian Television Sports commentator.

Recommended Reading:

A Night at La Comťdie FranÁaise with Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam by Darius KADIVAR

Author's Notes:

(*) Shafii Kadkani poems in Persian and English , the first double CD of Iranian contemporary poetry on sale on

About the Author:
Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.


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