NABOKV-L post 0014405, Sat, 16 Dec 2006 14:47:19 +0100

Re: From ck to A. Bouazza on translation
From ck to A. Bouazza on translationDear Carolyn,

As is well known (to use a Russian phrase), the Quatrains of Omar Khayyam
(better known as mathematician and astronomer in his lifetime) were
published anonymously in 1859 and FitzGerald was revealed as their
translator only in 1875. It was ignored until a price reduction, after which
Dante Gabriel Rossetti discovered it and gave copies to Swinburne, Browning
and Ruskin, who received it enthusiastically -the Omar Khayyam craze was
It would be fair to say that FitzGerald's version, which he revised five
times, was inspired by or based on rather than rendered from. Perhaps a
Victorian reincarnation of sorts? It does not give an accurate idea of the
original (the original in this case being disparate poems), but will always
retain its place in English literature because of its poetical charm and
elegance; it contains 110 quatrains of which it is possible to identify some
forty as being paraphrases from the original Persian, and it would be futile
to look for the original of the remainder as it would be futile to search
for the Arabic original of "Aladdin", which simply does not exist. For
various reasons, among them the introduction and footnotes, I would
recommend John Payne (1842-1916), that remarkable polyglot, translator (of
Villon, Heine, Hafiz, Bandello, Boccaccio) and founder of the Villon
Society, whose translation of the 1001 Nights Sir Richard Burton plundered
for his own; see his The Quatrains of Omar Kheyyam (Villon Society 1898),
limited to 500 copies (mine is #416). Payne aptly describes FitzGerald's
Quatrains as a "méditation sur des motifs d'Omar Kheyyam," which reminds me
of Vladimir Ashkenazy, who once said about Maurice Ravel's famous
orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" that it was
a "combed and spruced Mussorgsky."
More faithful versions followed, even one by Robert Graves in collaboration
with Omar Ali Shah, although it is believed that their version is based on
forged manuscripts, which Anthony Burgess reviewed; and VN alluded to his
review when he wrote:

"Anthony Burgess in Encounter has suddenly and conclusively abolished my
sentimental fondness for FitzGerald by showing how he falsified the 'witty
metaphysical tent-maker's' *actual metaphors..." "Reply to My Critics,"
Strong Opinions p. 246.

It is of course preposterous to claim that FitzGerald is superior to
Khayyam, one's preference is purely subjective and depends on what one is
looking for, and to answer your question, yes, like you, like Payne and VN,
I too have a sentimental fondness for FitzGerald (as I do for Galland, for
Browning's Aeschylus, for Burton's Camões) having to do perhaps with the
fact that I greatly enjoyed it when I was too young and callow to be
critical of the translations I devoured.

*Khayyam means tent-maker.

A. Bouazza.

-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU]On Behalf
Of Carolyn Kunin
Sent: 15 December 2006 16:24
Subject: [NABOKV-L] From ck to A. Bouazza on translation

> nice to know that Zubaidy fashioned his ³Bride¹s Crown² from the jewels
> Firuzabadi's "Al-Qamus al-Muhit", in other words, Zubaidy's is a vast
commentary on Firuzabady¹s 15th
> century multi-volume dictionary.)

Dear A. Bouazza

Since the subject of translation is on the table and I assume you are able
to read Omar Khayyam in the original, which do you prefer - - the original
or the Fitzgerald? Isn't this one instance in which "profanation of the
dead" might not apply? Or does it? The Fitzgerald is certainly a
metamorphosis of some sort. I am rather fond of it and though it's hard to
imagine, I wonder if I should prefer the original?


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