Sunday, February 04, 2018
Some context for Rumi's bawdy poems by an unnamed Rumi scholar:
LATIN TRANSLATION OF THE MATHNAWI (courtesy of 'Ordinary Sparrow"). She forgot to include the author of this article.
We have the greatest respect and admiration for Professor Nicholson who devoted a lifetime to the translation of the Mathnawi into English. He has chosen, however, to render some 133 out of 25,700 couplets into Latin. His reason he explains in his Introduction to Volume II of the Mathnawi (translation of Books I and II). Rumi, he thinks, 'is too outspoken for our taste' on certain' topics 'and many pages' of the Mathnawi 'are disfigured by anecdotes worthy of an Apuleius or Petronius but scarcely fit to be translated.’ Form a total of about 4000 verses (4855 to be exact) the translator takes exception to nine odd couplets which in his view are not fit to be translated into English.
The Maidservant and the Ass is by far the most provocative story in the Mathnawi, were one to accept the yard-stick applied so far by the translator. He uses the blue pencil even in the prose heading of the story which begins with the following verses rendered into Latin [Vol. Vi, p.82.]:
A passionate, pleasure-loving maidservant had trained an ass to perform the sexual functions of a man. The crafty woman had a gourd which answered the measurement of the male, so that at the time of intercourse only half of it could penetrate. Had the whole member gone into her, her womb and intestines would have been in utter ruin.
The story is allowed to proceed. The ass was becoming lean, and his mistress was worried, but no ailment could be discerned in him. She began to investigate on earnest until one day, through a crack in the door, ‘she saw the little narcissus sleeping under the ass’ [V, 1343.]:
The ass was treating the maidservant exactly in the same manner as a man takes a woman. [V, 1345.]
The mistress became envious and said: ‘Since this is possible, then I have the best right, for the ass is my property.’ The ass had been perfectly trained and instructed and the mistress decided to take advantage of him. Feigning to have seen nothing, she knocked at the door. The maid with a broom in her hand opened the door. The mistress treated her like an innocent person. Later one day she sent her away on an errand. The crafty maid, whilst she went on her errand, knew exactly why she was being sent away. She was saying to herself: ‘Ah, mistress, you have sent away the expert. You will set to work without the expert and will foolishly hazard your life. You have stolen from me an imperfect knowledge and you are ashamed to ask about the trap.’
After the maid is gone the narrative lapses into Latin:
She was happy at the (anticipation) of the pleasurable passion. She closed the door behind her and said (to herself): ‘Now I can shout my thanks! Now I am free from all worries: (I have perfect uninterrupted privacy).’ Out of pleasure her vagina (was singing like) a nightingale. She was impatient for the flame of passion. Having reached the height of excitement it was no wonder she was already feeling dizzy.
Lustful desire, goes on Rumi, makes the heart deaf and blind, so that an ass seems like Joseph, fire like light. Cupidity causes foul things to appear fair. Sensuality has disgraced a hundred thousand good names. Its spell made dung seem honey to you, it caused an ass appear like Joseph. And then we are allowed a peep into the room where the mistress is now closeted with the ass, and of course it is Latin again:
That woman closed the door and dragged the ass and undoubtedly she enjoyed herself. Slowly she pulled him into the house and slept below the big ass. In order to achieve her and she stood on the same chair as she had seen the maidservant use. She raised her legs and the ass penetrated her. From his member he set her on fire. The ass politely pressed the lady up to his testicles until she was dead. The member of the ass burst her liver and tore apart the intestines. She did not utter a word and laid down her life. The chair fell on one side and the woman on the other. The courtyard of the house was smeared with blood, the woman lay prostrate. Without doubt the calamity had come. Such a bad end, O reader; have you ever seen a martyr to the member of an ass!
Immediately after this scene the moral follows:
Hear from the Qur’an (what is) the torment of disgrace: do not sacrifice your life in such a shameful cause. Know that the male ass is this bestial soul: to be under it is more shameful than that (woman’s behavior).If you die in egoism in the way of the fleshly soul, know for certain that you are like that woman. [V, 1391-93.]
When the maid returned she found that her worst fears had come true. Addressing the dead mistress she says:
You only saw the member which appeared so tempting and sweet to you, but in you greed you omitted to see the gourd. Or else you were so absorbed in you love for the ass that the gourd remained hidden from your sight.
The following verses which bring out the moral of the story have been rendered into Latin:
The Master of domesticated animals cut off the head of the fools and invited the wise ones to his assembly to eat them. Their flesh alone is useful while the wise ones (have many uses such as) humble prayer and sincere supplication. The maidservant then came in from the little creek of the door and saw the lady dead below the ass. ‘O stupid lady!’ she said, ‘what is this? Did your teacher ever provide you with the proper picture? You saw only the appearance and the secret remained hidden from you. You simply opened a shop without mastering the tricks of the trade!’
A story which may seem saucy and scintillating in parts has to be read in its entirety and judgment suspended until after the author has concluded it. Any court of critics would concede that Rumi is by no means a pedlar in pornography and yet parts of the story being singled out, irrespective of the context, for translation into Latin tend to create an effect which is perhaps entirely opposite to the one intended by the translator. The censored part, like all forbidden fruit, becomes more delicious and one is apt to exaggerate rather than digest it within the general framework of the narrative. Keeping this essential requisite in mind we make bold to relate another story which the translator seeks to obscure by his peculiar technique. If the very mention of sex can cause a flutter in some petticoats, the remedy does not lie in cloaking words which merely reflect a fundamental fact of life. The Sufi, Rumi has stated time and again, is like a highly polished mirror. He only reflects your own reality. If you see an ugly face it is you; and if you see a beauteous visage, it is you. The reader, who makes a powerful, penetrating breach into the island of the Mathnawi, will see nothing but light and spiritual fervor. There is a point, therefore, in seeking to liquidate the mystery created by the lavish use of Latin in Book V...
This article does indeed provide some context for Rumi's use of bawdy narration, but I still am offended and grieved to find such vulgar passages in his poetry. As for the writer of the above, I am bothered by his condescending attitude suggesting that only prudes would object to such materials: "If the very mention of sex can cause a flutter in some petticoats, then...". He lays a double trap. If you object to such material, you are by (his) definition a prude and a puritan. Whatever you say can and will be used against you. As I may have mentioned earlier, this entry disturbs me as much as if Mother Teresa suddenly started telling dirty jokes.