Posts Tagged ‘translation’

3 beautiful and profound short poems by Hafiz about the nature of God within us

October 23, 2014

Hafiz reveals the brilliant, compassionate nature of God within us

Here are 3 beautiful and profound short poems by Hafiz that reveal the hidden compassionate nature of God within us, and in a God-realized person. Published in “A Year With Hafiz: Daily Contemplations,” and translated by Daniel Ladinsky, each poem is for a specific day of the year.


Even the shadow of God is brilliant, so brilliant,
so much so even God has trouble looking at
Himself as that . . . unless He is more disguised,
hidden in illusion, hidden as He can be, in us.

May 19, page 155

* * * * *

It Is My Nature

It is the nature of this world to share
its burden with you.

And it is my nature to remove it from
your back.

August 19, page 255

* * * * *

Once A Young Woman Said To Me

Once a young woman said to me, “Hafiz, what
is the sign of someone who knows God?”

I became very quiet, and looked deep into her
eyes, then replied,

“My dear, they have dropped the knife. Someone
who knows God has dropped the cruel knife

that most so often use upon their tender self
and others.”

January 31, page 33

Other beautiful poems by Hafiz are also posted here: Hafiz’s poem, God Pours Light, awakens the soul and frees the mind from debating words about it | Winding up the year with inspiration from Hafiz | Hafiz via Ladinsky describes the spiritual transformation of loving deeply within himself | For Hafiz the role of an enlightened poet is to connect humanity with the joy of the divine | Hafiz said to leave something in the marketplace, and Jesse Winchester sure did before he left us | Hafiz, via Ladinsky, reminds us when we love those in our care we are brought closer to God

Fishing For Fallen Light: A Tanka inspired by David Lynch and Pablo Neruda

July 28, 2013

I thought of David Lynch and his book, Catching the Big Fish, when I read a particular poem by Pablo Neruda in The Sea and the Bells. Both deal with the search for illumination; finding and clarifying a creative idea.

In this video David answers a question about his creative process, describing where ideas come from and how they coalesce into a finished product: David Lynch: ‘Ideas Are Like Fish.’ He says ideas are like fish and the deeper you go the more powerful, abstract and beautiful they are. Your desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook. When you catch one, others get attracted to it. Lynch sometimes gets a part of an idea and others come along. He writes them down. He advises that you have to stay true to the initial idea as it begins to form, even in ways you may not have anticipated, until it all comes together and you get it right. He describes how a script for a film can come about in this way.

The last line-stanza in Neruda’s poem uses the same idea, described here as sitting on the rim of a well of darkness fishing for fallen light.

Talk about transcending and patiently waiting to catch the big fish, an idea that will illuminate the mind and inform a work of art!

Here is that poem by Pablo Neruda in The Sea and the Bells (pp. 82/83):

Si cada día
dentro de cada noche,
hay un pozo
donde la claridad está encerrada.

Hay que sentarse a la orilla
del pozo de la sombra
y pescar luz caída
con paciencia.

If each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.

We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
with patience.

Here is my tanka inspired by David Lynch and Pablo Neruda:

Fishing For Fallen Light

Catching the big fish
will illuminate the mind
and inform the work

Look within to find the light
ideas are swimming there

More information on David Lynch and his book:

This audio book review provides a clear synopsis of David’s book and the ideas expressed in it. See Inspiring excerpts – David Lynch: Catching the Big Fish – Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, which lists quotes by topic posted on You can listen to Catching the Big Fish (FULL AUDIOBOOK) on YouTube. Excerpts by topic can be found on YouTube, for example, the notion of suffering to create.

David Lynch says meditation has allowed him to remove stress and access deeper more beautiful ideas he falls in love with and translates into film, painting, sculpture or music. In this talk filmmaker David Lynch describes his experience of the creative process in the light of his practice of Transcendental Meditation at the Majestic Theater in Boston. He says, “It’s a great thing for the filmmaker.”

See Inspiring excerpts – David Lynch: Catching the Big Fish – Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.

Found in translation: Local literary legend finds her voice by interpreting the words of others

November 12, 2012


Local literary legend finds her voice by interpreting the words of others

Margaret Peden has spent her career translating Spanish and Latin American works into English. Ryan Henriksen | Buy this photo

By Jill Renae Hicks

Sunday, October 28, 2012

“We who have attempted a translation often disagree in both meaning and expression. I believe nevertheless that there is a perfect translation, and that it lies among the lines of all the versions produced by diligent and sincere ‘readers,’ ” said Margaret Sayers Peden, professor emerita of Spanish at the University of Missouri, in the introduction to one of her works. Near the end of a decadeslong career translating Spanish and Latin American literature into English, Peden was recently awarded the prestigious PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation. She traveled to New York City to accept her award this week, surrounded by such authors as E.L. Doctorow, Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Nussbaum. Only a handful of translators have been recognized with the award since its inception.

Peden, known by many simply as “Petch,” was born in West Plains and attended MU for her degrees in Spanish. She began her translation career somewhat by chance in the latter part of the 1960s. At the time, she was working on her Ph.D. and came across a small novel by the playwright Emilio Carballido. She told her husband, English Professor William Peden, how interesting it was.

“And he said, ‘Well, you know I can’t read Spanish. Why don’t you translate it?’ ” she remembered. She did — “and I found I loved it, so I just kept doing it.” Peden has translated some 65 books, including most of Isabel Allende’s novels and nonfiction works, books by Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz, the writings of intelligent and progressive 17th-century nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Juan Rulfo’s novel “Pedro Páramo,” and, most recently, Fernando de Rojas’ “Celestina,” a turn-of-the-16th-century work of Spanish literature second in cultural significance only to “Don Quixote.”

That work, published by Yale University Press in 2009, earned Peden the Lewis Galantière Award, sponsored by the American Translators Association. “Celestina” was one of the more complicated works she has translated, Peden said, because of the centuries-old language and the Spanish history she had to research. But she appreciated the challenge of immersing herself in the world from which the tome emerged, and the resultant English translation remains complex in its tragicomic ironies yet is accessible to today’s readers. In comparison, another work Peden said is one of her favorites is Allende’s contemporary memoir “Paula,” which tells the story of her daughter Paula’s coma and subsequent passing, mixed together with vivid, poetic stories of Paula’s and Isabel’s own history and ancestry.

When Peden first began her translation work, she was teaching Latin American literature at MU. Translation courses at universities were not very common, and she did much of the work on her own time. Later she would strive to teach her own students to unearth the true essence of each text while translating, rather than simply switching the language word for word. “I tried to teach my students this: You have to scrape off the words, get down to an under-level. … That’s where the meaning is, below the words,” she emphasized. Gregory Rabassa, a friend and fellow translator, said in Peden’s PEN award statement that her translated characters “speak as they would have had they been born to English and their authors likewise acquire a style in their transformed tongue that is true to what they say or are trying to say.”

Peden will often rewrite five to 10 pages of a work in Spanish at a time, using a combination of both Spanish and English. Then she returns to the beginning and revises, looking up the words she doesn’t understand, and revises again. By the time each book is published, she has pored over it numerous times. She has another hard rule that she judges her work by, a telling aphorism Rabassa passed on to her: ” ‘You can’t commit the sin of improvement.’ That’s not the point. If it’s a bad book, it has to be a bad book!” she reasoned with a laugh. “Though I try not to ever get one.”

Translating a work is a constant solving of puzzles, Peden noted. “And that’s one of the nice things I love about it, is that you don’t get bored. You can’t get bored.” Often she does as much as or more research than academic writers and critics for the works because she must learn everything she can about a book’s historical and cultural contexts, the way the Spanish language is used in those contexts, and the specific vocabulary and voice of each author — not to mention the voices of all the author’s characters, if applicable. “I don’t have a writing style except the ones I pick up from the books I translate,” Peden explained. “I have done a lot of writing, but that’s not my thing. I’m just better at hearing what somebody else writes.” Indeed, Roberto González Echevarría, Yale professor of Hispanic and comparative literature, praises her ability to nearly turn “herself into” the writers she translates. In his introduction to “Celestina,” he said Peden “is today the most accomplished active translator of Spanish-language literature into English.”

People don’t typically realize how dependent they have been on translations, Peden mused about the often-overlooked role of a translator. “Look at our Western civilization. It came to us in translation: the Greeks, the Bible, all these things.” She is proud to be part of that long tradition and recognizes that she has gained other benefits from walking the “road less traveled” of her chosen career, including a greater tolerance for elements of other cultures she might have felt impatient with before. But Peden added perhaps the best part of her journey has been the relationships she has gained — with her authors, with translators and with other readers who love and respect good literature as much as she. “I’m lucky, the people I’ve met,” she said.

Jill Renae Hicks has previously written arts features for the Tribune and now works as a freelance writer, editor and illustrator. She is interested in the local literary and writing scene and how it connects to the rest of the arts and the greater Columbia community.

Reach Jill Renae Hicks at 573-815-1714 or e-mail

This article was published on page C5 of the Sunday, October 28, 2012 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune with the headline “Found in translation: ” Click here to Subscribe.

You’re probably wondering why I’m posting this well-written article on Margaret Peden, legendary literary translator. There is a personal connection here. Petch is my sweetheart Sally Peden’s step-mother. Petch will be celebrated for her lifetime achievements in translation at Missouri University this Friday, November 16, 2012. I asked her if there was an article about it and she mentioned this one, which came out two Sundays ago. Petch is a great lady, and its always fun being around her and husband Robert Harper.

UPDATE: Sept 2, 2020: I received a call from a family member that Petch had passed away this summer. I had been wondering how she was doing since it had been several years since we had spoken. Her obituary was posted online July 12, 2020 in The Columbia Daily Tribune, Columbia, MO. You can read it here: Margaret “Petch” Sayers Peden, 1927-2020.

I saved it as a PDF with the photo, which I cropped here. You can download it below to get a fuller appreciation for this incredible woman. Here are some of the professional highlights:

Margaret “Petch” Sayers Peden, professor emerita of Spanish at the University of Missouri and renowned translator of Spanish-language literature, passed away at her home on July 5, 2020, surrounded by loved ones. She was 93.

Petch was among the preeminent scholars in the field of translation and one of its greatest champions, working to propel it as a creative effort in its own right.

During and after Petch’s teaching career at the University of Missouri, she continued translating literary works from Spanish to English. She was considered to be one of the leading translators of her time. As a perfectionist, she felt that words could be “unreliable,” “slippery,” “stretchy, treacherous.” She once said, “We [translators] should be evaluated as an actor or opera singer is evaluated, as performing a previously established text.” This acknowledged the complexity of her job as translator, that it was never just finding the English word for the Spanish one, but getting underneath to the essence, or soul of a work. This genius of elucidation is why she was asked to translate works by Carlos Fuentes, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, as well as bringing to life her personal hero, the 17th century nun Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, who, like Petch, was “a woman of genius.” Her deft approach resulted in numerous literary awards including the PEN Translation Prize in 2004, the Lewis Galantiere Translation Prize in 2010 and the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, a lifetime achievement award, in 2012, among many others.

Singing Image of Fire, a poem by Kukai, with thoughts on language, translation, and creation

January 2, 2012

We read in Genesis that creation came into being with the first utterance: “Let there be light.” So sound came first, then light, followed by forms. Interestingly, the seemingly nonsensical phrase, abracadabra, a magician says when performing a trick, derives its meaning from the ancient biblical language, Aramaic: abraq ad habra, which means, “I will create as I speak.” I discovered that on page 170 of Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words, a delightful book on finding and writing poetry in many creative simple ways, by Susan Wooldridge, writer, poet and teacher.

This poem by Kukai says a lot about language, creation, consciousness, and our integral relationship to things.

Singing Image of Fire

A hand moves, and the fire’s whirling takes different shapes,
Triangles, squares: all things change when we do.
The first word, “Ah,” blossomed into all others.
Each of them is true.

This poem on language, translation, and creation, the pictorial/written representation of vocal sounds and meanings, was written by Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師 The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching), 774–835, a Japanese monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, artist, and founder of the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism. He allegedly developed the system using Chinese characters to write Japanese words. The word “Shingon” is the Japanese reading of the Kanji for the Chinese word Zhēnyán (真言), literally meaning “True Words”, which in turn is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word mantra (मन्त्र). The concern was to be as true as possible when translating texts, to have and use the right word when describing something. The Sanskrit language had this perfect one-to-one correspondence between name and form.

The poem was mentioned in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997) by Jane Hirshfield, a classic collection of essays about the mysterious ways poetry comes to us. In her chapter, The World is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation, she highlights this theme with What Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator.

When I read that line in Kukai’s poem, about the first word, “Ah,” blossoming into all others, and each of them being true, it reminded me of what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says about the first sound of creation, “A”, how it represents infinity collapsing to a point, “K”, and through its own sequential self-interacting dynamics, creates the whole alphabet, words, verses of Rk Veda, the whole Vedic literature, and their subsequent forms, the universe. This is part of Maharishi’s Apaurusheya Bahashya, the unwritten commentary of the Veda, unfolding itself and commenting on itself to itself. Apaurusheya Bhashya: Rk Veda is said to be nitya, eternal, and apaurusheya, uncreated. Maharishi explains that the sequential unfoldment of Rk Veda is its own uncreated, or unmanifest, commentary on itself, rather than that of an individual making an ‘external’ commentary on Rk Veda. See Maharishi’s Apaurusheya Bhashya.

In his Introduction to Maharishi Vedic University, Maharishi gives us a comprehensive cosmic perspective on the role Sanskrit, the language of Nature, plays in the process of creation. Through the self-interacting dynamics of pure consciousness, the Self, or Atma, reverberates within itself and creates the eternal uncreated sounds of the Veda, its own language, which in turn express themselves into forms—the individual body, Sharir, and the cosmic body, Vishwa. The eternal Silence and its own inherent Dynamism, evolve all parts of itself constantly referring them back to their source. He says it’s a start-stop process of Infinity collapsing to a point, referring it back to Itself, and evolving the next sound, and subsequent form. Full realization, or enlightenment, comes when one comprehends all of creation: Atma, Veda, Sharir, Vishwa, Brahman, or Totality, as the full potential of one’s own consciousness. Aham Brahmasmi. I am totality.

On Page 65 Maharishi writes, “The basic process of change, this basic process of transformation, continuously maintains the momentum of evolution of different levels of expression, creating different levels of manifestation upholding the process of evolution.

“It is this that promotes the eternally self-referral dynamics of Samhita into the sequential evolution of sound, speech, forms of speech in alphabets, words, phrases, verses etc., with corresponding material forms. This process continues eternally, resulting in the ever-expanding universe.” (Samhita is the togetherness of Rishi, Devata, Chhandas; knower, process of knowing, and known.)

I’ve written a poem about this process in Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Universe, (into haiku forms).

To learn more about the source of words, creation, both literal and literary, and their connection to consciousness, read: The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language.

Also see: Before He Makes Each One by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Nine years later I posted: Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka.

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