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Translating the Divan-e Shams: Poetics, Politics, and Pedagogy
As part of this panel's goal of honoring Franklin Lewis's contributions to the fields of Rumi studies and Persian-to-English translation, this paper situates Lewis's translations of the Divan-e Shams, contained within his 2007 volume Swallowing the Sun, within the larger history of translating Rumi's lyric poetry into English, ranging from the work of R. A. Nicholson (1898) to Haleh Liza Gafori (2022). Through this survey, the paper explores the ways different translators have grappled with the distinctive aspects of form, sonority, content, and allusion in Rumi's verse, as well as the perennial question of "whole" vs. "partial" representations of the ghazal. It emerges that one of Lewis's most enduring contributions to these challenges is his radical approach to iconicity, using the possibilities of the printed book to reproduce Rumi's dense sonic patterning in a visual rather than sonic manner. This shift, of course, speaks to the completely different context in which poetry is encountered "as poetry" in modern English, in comparison with Rumi's milieu. The paper concludes with a discussion of the political and pedagogical implications of this shift—visible not only in Lewis's, but in other modern translations—in which students primarily encounter Rumi through their eyes, rather than their ears.
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