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Customer Review

211 of 231 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Work of Spiritual Opportunism, August 26, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Gift (Paperback)
Living in Iran years ago, I first encountered the poet Hafiz as a beloved Iranian folk figure. I have read with pleasure and an open heart many versions of his poems, both in Persian (Farsi) and in English. It was with high expectations because of reviews that I bought this book, only to find Mr. Ladinsky's poems literally unrelated to the original Hafiz. Instead, based on his own explanation, they appear to be simply a product of his imagination. The author has no background in Iranian culture and speaks no Persian. Instead, he obviously uses the commercially successful style of Coleman Barks (of Rumi notoriety) by reading someone else's word-for-word translation and then creating new verses, the intent being to "capture the spirit" of the original. But these verses are so distant from Hafiz that one wonders how they qualify even as "renderings," an amorphous term for Mr. Barks' practice that allows the bypassing of usual literary standards.
Rendering is much less demanding intellectually than translating as well as an easier way of becoming published, and it contains a built-in literary defense mechanism (the plea of subjectivity) against criticism for poor scholarship or inauthenticity. Rendering is not new. Before the Iranian Revolution, one task of Iranian academia was the separation of authentic work of Hafiz from a mass of imitation poetry falsely attributed to him. Now comes this work that bears substantially more resemblance to the tone of Mr. Barks, its apparent stylistic model, than to Hafiz. Even giving the author the benefit of the doubt for sincere devotion and industry, this book and his other two similar works best fit into the category of "spiritual opportunism."
This phrase, "spiritual opportunism," appeared recently in a national article about several authors (Andrews, Rampa, Morgan, et al.) who have written about mystical customs (Native American, Tibetan and Australian Aboriginal) in such a way that they now are accused of appropriating other cultures' spiritual traditions, either through ignorance or for the purpose of personal gain. Mr. Ladinsky's work seems to take appropriation even further than the others. Not only does it superficially represent a spiritual tradition of a subjected foreign culture, it actually offers self-created verse as representative of a specific poet. Even though Iranians lack a voice to make their great poets known in an authentic manner within the current culture of pop spirituality, no amount of commercial success can disguise the truth that this book is a misrepresentation of the poetry of Hafiz and that it does a grave disservice to Iranian poetry and spiritual traditions.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 1, 2008 10:05:57 AM PST
B. Rawdin says:
Which translation would you recommend?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 31, 2009 11:25:27 AM PDT
B. Rawdin, the point is that "The Gift" is not a translation of Hafez at all.

The other major translations are by: (1) Wilberforce Clarke, in the bilingual edition generally available in Iran. This translation is a trot and does not really attempt to be poetry. (2) Gertrude Bell. Not bad, but seriously incomplete. This one tries to be poetry. (3) A. J. Arberry, perhaps the best and the most honest. Seriously incomplete.

Please note that I have completely skipped the question "Is this possible?" Usually I find that poetry can be translated fairly well, but Hafez is so mannered and complex that I suspect learning Persian would be easier than trying to translate this man.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2009 9:16:18 PM PDT
A. Z. F. says:
I would suggest the following:

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2009 10:10:11 PM PDT
Alexander, this is a really GREAT example of how poetry should be translated and published. Not only are the Persian and English provided, there is a great recording of someone reading the original Persian! Everyone should look at this site and play the recording and look through the translation --- at the very least you will see how fraudulent Ladinsky is. This is the real deal; THIS is Hafez!!! :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 8, 2009 10:34:36 PM PDT
A. Z. F. says:
Why, thank you. The translation and reading are mine, btw.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 5, 2010 8:07:11 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 20, 2015 8:53:11 AM PDT
Joe Marfice says:
In reply to an earlier post on July 31, 2009 11:25 AM PDT
Geoff Puterbaugh says:
B. Rawdin, the point is that "The Gift" is not a translation of Hafez at all.

So, Geoff, you're saying Hafiz cannot be translated, so this book that looks to be (to the casual observer) a translation of his works, but is in fact "not a translation of Hafez at all", is acceptable?

If not, what is your point?

EDIT: Thank you for clarifying. I get your point now. If I may: "Such a translation is incredibly difficult, and necessarily imperfect, but this book doesn't even try - it just pretends to be a translation to ride on the popularity of Hafiz' name."

I posted this below, but I think editing this comment makes it clearer.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 5, 2010 9:22:45 PM PDT
I don't understand what you're asking, because I can't tell what you mean by "this book."

My point is extremely simple. Hafez is very difficult to translate. Some consider the task impossible, but life can surprise us. Daniel Ladinsky's book has no relation to Hafez; it is a complete fraud. So it's easy to set up two sorts of Hafez translations: (1) the fraudulent ones, done by people who cannot even READ the original (2) the genuine attempts, done by people who are familiar with Persian and are in fact doing their best to translate Hafez. If you want to get some idea of the actual poetry of Hafez, avoid Ladinsky like the plague.

I listed some alternatives. Since then, Peter Avery has translated the entire divan into English prose

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 5, 2010 9:52:10 PM PDT
Joe Marfice says:
Geoff, first, thanks for the reply & explanation. It really wasn't clear; sounded like you might be defending "The Gift" by Ladinsky...

... which is, of course, what I mean by "this book". This discussion thread is about that book.

Glad to hear that you agree: Ladinsky's book is a fraud, perpetrated on the readers.

Posted on Mar 14, 2013 6:04:30 AM PDT
PakiEngr says:
Even though I do not like to pass judgement (with my limited knowledge of mystical writings), I do tend to agree that works of great Eastern mystics / poets cannot be fully translated. As is true for the Koran as well. Having grown up in Pakistan, I can tell you that there is a wide gap between Eastern and Western spiritual awareness and growth. This manifests itself in writings. The closest that I have come to pure spirituality in the Western world is via the Unity Spiritual (new thought) movement. This is my 2 cents.

Posted on Jun 1, 2014 7:34:48 AM PDT
darvish khan says:
Ladinsky's several books of poetry published by Penguin falsely claim to be either translations, versions or renderings of the poet Hafez; in fact, they are not based on the Persian text nor are they based on existing English translations or versions.

This literary misrepresentation was first perpetrated by Penguin fifteen years ago with the publication of The Gift. Three other volumes have since followed. This relentless misrepresentation of the greatest poet in the thousand year tradition of Persian poetry is breathtaking.

Poetry for Persian speakers is not a pastime. It's not like watching TV or having a barbecue. There is perhaps no poetic tradition in the world that holds the same intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual importance for its speakers than is the case with Persian poetry.

There are many, many great Persian poets. To appropriate the name of the greatest among them and make him sound downright silly and trite- but promote it to the world as genius, is truly remarkable and, in the eyes of Persians, unforgivable. It is much worse than an instance of cultural theft; it's more like an extraordinary rendition in which torture effects a lobotomy, and with the abductee then propped up before the cameras for the nightly news.

Persians have come to realize that America simply does not have a learning curve about the Middle East in general and Iran in particular. The 1953 CIA coup against the first democratically elected leader of Iran and his replacement with the despotic Shah has set the tone for an antagonistic relationship with this country. The ongoing sanctions against Iran have succeeded marvelously in punishing Persians for their legitimate national aspiration of producing nuclear reactor fuel. And now, Penguin's best selling Hafez in English translation is spouting New Age inanities as medieval Persian spiritual truths.

Ladinsky is a pile of contradictions: he has variously claimed that his work is either translation, version or rendering on the one hand, and that his work channels the Spirit of Hafez on the other hand. But there is no textual relationship to the Divan-e-Hafez in Persian or to English translation in any case. He has not been able to account for why his work deserves to be considered anything other than his very own pretentious verse. He has wrapped his tragic literary success in his relationship with his spiritual master, Avatar Meher Baba, for whom honesty was paramount and whose favorite poet was Hafez because of the beauty and veracity of his verse; yet, at the same time, he can not properly identify his literary efforts as nothing but products of his own imagination. How sad.

But what about Penguin? They have no end of editors whose job it is to check the integrity of manuscripts submitted for publication. This is not only sad, this is fraud!
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