Persian Ear Rings and ‘Fragments of a Vessel’: Transformation and Fidelity in Hammer-Purgstall’s Translation of Two Ghazals by Hafiz

Shafiq Shamel


The ideal literary translation, as it has been articulated by various thinkers in early nineteenth century, including Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Goethe, strives to retain the ‘otherness’ or ‘foreignness’ of the ‘original’ text. This article examines the practice of such a theoretical paradigm based on the translation of two ghazals of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz by the nineteenth-century Austrian diplomat-scholar Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall. The article offers an elaborate analysis of both adaptation and transformation of formal and semantic aspects of textual transfer. Walter Benjamin’s notion of ‘mode of signification’ constitutes the conceptual framework for evaluating the relationship between the Persian poems and their German translation as to determine tendencies of ‘fidelity’ and transformation. In considering instances of formal adaptation in translation, the article shows how translation affords the possibility of new compositional forms and plays a significant role both in increasing the expressivity of language and flexibility of thought. (ShSh)

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