The Poetry of Miraji

Geeta Patel in Dawn:

Miraji204112012_cmyMiraji was very young when he wrote many of his essays on poetry that he could have encountered only through such “travels”; some of them, collected in Mashriq-o-Maghrib ke Naghmain, were composed when he was 18 years old. So from the inception of his first forays into writing the lovely nazms, geets and ghazals for which he became famous, he translated. And these translations were seminal for him as a poet.

A few poets have acknowledged how important translation is for their own composition. Perhaps Rilke in his ninth elegy alluded to the centrality of translation. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, moved by the Sanskrit play Shakuntala and the profound lines of Hafez, sought out translation as inspiration for cycles of lyric. Kenneth Rexroth, in his essay “The Poet as Translator,” characterised translation as a kind of going beyond oneself in the act of voicing someone else’s lyric: “The translation of poetry into poetry is an act of sympathy — the identification of another person with oneself, the transference of his utterance to one’s own utterance … to transmit it back into one’s own idiom with maximum viability.” But Rexroth ventures further than this when, in discussing the British poet HD’s translations from ancient Greek, he calls her process and her verse “the story of her own possession by the ghost of Meleager”. For Rexroth the skimpiest understanding of translation is the common one: translation as a process of turning a text from one language into a text in another. Here the translator is almost absent, treated as a transparent funnel or conduit who enables what is most important — the new text. And usually what people look for when they think of translation in this way is fidelity, how close the translation is to the original. Rexroth brings the translator back into view, not just as someone who has to feel their way into the original by overcoming a self, but as someone who, in the process of translation, is taken over by the words that they are translating. They become something or someone else, and the two languages in their hands absorb these transformations. To explain the place of translation in Miraji’s life and work I would go even further. Adrienne Rich, in the United States, comes the closest to exemplifying what I want to say. Her poetic voice changed after she worked on Ghalib and she found in ghazal a form of lyric that made it more possible for her to enunciate love as loss. Miraji sought after different kinds of speaking when he translated; these then became his voice. But he also became another person through translation. And I am not sure how many poets have, like Miraji, held onto the spaces between translation and composition, composition and reading, reading and translation, as though they were as necessary as breath.

More here.