Page images
PDF
EPUB

in your letters to Madame de Vaucluse. I must acknowledge that I feel not a little proud of them; but still more that an interview of a quarter of an hour has procured me the honour of your friendship. I should be most happy to cultivate it, if my plans allowed me to remain longer in this country, or if I could, at least, see you at Oxford, which I purpose visiting before I Leave England. I hear, with pleasure, that you have undertaken to publish a Treatise on Oriental Prosody. As I am convinced that you will perform this task most ably and successfully, I anticipate with satisfaction the mortification of all our European poets, who must blush at the poverty of their prosaic language, when they find that the Oriental dialects (independently of rhyme, which is of their invention) have true syllabic quantities, as well as the Greek, and a greater variety of feet, and çonsequently the true science of metre and prosody.

Į take the liberty of sending you a rough sketch of one of my latest translations from Hafez, with whom I sometimes amuse myself in a leisure hour. You are too well acquainted with the genius of the Persian language, not to perceive the rashness of my attempt. I do not, indeed, pretend to give the beauty of the original, but merely its sense, simple and unornamented. I have added to it a very free paraphrase in verse, in which, however, the greatest deviation from the text consists in the occasional substitution of mistress for mignan, either to give a connection to the stanzas, which in this kind of composition is never preserved, or to make it more conformable to our European taste. The Persian poet, indeed, speaks of his mistress in the first verse.

You will find, in the margin, several quotations from the Greek and Latin poets, which occurred to my recollection whilst I was reading Hafez, expressing the same sentiments with the Persian. I hope to have the satisfaction of seeing you here before I leave England, assuring you, with truth, that I consider the honour of your acquaintance among the greatest advantages attend. ing my visit to this country.

I am, &c...... * C. Reviczki to Mr. Jones,

SIR,

London, Feb. 24, 1768. I received your learned and obliging letter on the same day on which I wrote to you; and I read it with the greatest pleasure, though I could have wished that it had been more just to your own merit, and less flattering to me. I will not, however, take your expressions literally; and, notwithstanding your declarations, the taste and judgment which you have displayed, in the passages quoted by you, evidently prove that you have advanced far in Oriental literature. I must, however, beg quarter for the Greek and Latin; for admitting, what I am not disposed to deny, the perfection, and even the superiority, of the Orientals, particularly the Persians, in some species of poetry, I would, without hesitation, renounce all knowledge of the three Eastern languages for that of the Greek alone. I rejoice that you have made so much progress in your work, and that I may hope soon to see it published; but how to assist you

advice I know not, as I have not with me a single treatise upon the subject of Oriental prosody.... It is, in truth, an ocean; and such are the abundance and variety of measures used by the Orientals, that no memory can retain them.

I am very anxious to learn under what head you class the Kasidah, a species of composition highly admired by the Arabs, and very successfully cultivated by them.

with my

* Appendix, N. 3.

It has a nearer resemblance than any other kind of poetry to the Latin elegy, but its construction partakes of that of the Gazel,* with this difference, that the latter is restricted to thirteen couplets, whilst the number of those in the Kasidah is unlimited; and secondly, that in each distich of the Gazel, the sense must be complete and finished, whilst, in the Kasidah, the sentiment is continued through successive lines.

Of this species of composition 'I do not know a more perfect specimen than the poem on the death of Mahommed, so celebrated throughout the East, that every man of letters can repeat it. It is one continued allegory, but admirable and pathetic, and begins, if I rightly remember, thus :

Does memory recal the blissful bowers
Of Solyma, the seat of many a friend?
That thus, thy grief pours forth such copious showers,
And bursting sighs thy lab'ring bosom rend.

With respect to your doubts, on the supposed allegory of Hafez, much may be said. I am rather inclined to believe, that the mystical exposition of this great poet, by the Mahommedans, may be imputed to their veneration and respect for his memory; and that their object in it is to justify his conduct as a poet, by representing him equally irreproachable in his morals and compositions. Most of the commentators, as Shemy, Surury, and others, labour to give a mystical interpretation of his verses on wine, youths, pleasures, and a contempt for religion, so discreditable to a good mussulman; but the ablest of them all, the learned Sadi, disclaims this mode of illustration, and professes to give a literal exposition of the text of Hafez, in opposition to the

* Amatory Poem. It is not restricted to thirteen couplets, as Reviczki writes, but to seventeen, and generally contains about seven or eight.

opinions of other commentators, and without questioning the purity of their intentions. It may not be amiss to communicate to you an anecdote, which I have read, somewhere, respecting Hafez.* After the death of this great man, some of the religious were disposed to deny his body the right of sepulture, alleging, in objection, the licentiousness of his poetry. After a long dispute, they left the decision to a divination in use amongst them, by opening his book at random, and taking the first couplet which occurred. It happened to be this:

Turn not away from Hafez' bier,
Nor scornful check the pitying tear ;
For tho' immers'd in sin he lies,
His soul forgiv'n to Heav'n shall rise.

This passage was deemed a divine decision; the religious withdrew their objections, and he was buried in Mosella, a place rendered famous by his own verses. This anecdote, I think, is related by Kaleb Celebi. As to myself, although I am disposed to believe that, when Hafez speaks of love and wine, he has no recondite meaning, I am equally willing to declare, that his writings are not disgraced by those obscenities, nor those gross and filthy expressions, which so frequently occur in Sadi.

* This aneclote is quoted by Sir William Jones, in the 9th chapter of his Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry, where he states the respective arguments in support of a literal or mystical interpretation of it. Without pronouncing a positive decision, he gives an opinion in favour of a literal interpretation as the most probable.

in an essay on the mystical poetry of the Persians and Hindus, composed some years afterwards in India, (Works, vol. i. page 445.) he thus expresses himself on the subject: “It has been made a question whether “the poems of Hafez must be taken in a literal or figurative sense; but " the question does not admit of a general and direct answer; for even “the most enthusiastic of his commentators allow that some of them are “ to be taken literally, and his editors ought to have distinguished them. “ Hafez never pretended to more than human virtues, and it is knowa " that he had human propensities....After his juvenile passions had sub“sided, we may suppose that his mind took that religious bent, which appears

in most of his compositions ; for there can be no doubt that “the following distichs, collected from different odes, relate to the “ mystical theology of the Sufis, &c."

1

Nor can I avoid considering him a free thinker; and a hundred passages might be quoted, in which the poet ridicules the prophet and his Coran; as for instance,

when he says,

Wine, that our sober Seer proclaims
Parent of sin, and foul misnames,
With purer joy my soul beguiles
Than beauty's bloom, or beauty's smiles.

As to the Turkish poets, I confess I do not read them with the same pleasure, although I am willing to allow that some of thein have merit. In my opinion, Ruhi, of Bagdat, is the most agreeable of them all; he has written some adinirable satires. Perhaps you are not acquainted with him. The Turkish poets, in general, are no better than slavish imitators of the Persians, and often deficient in taste and harmony.

I cannot comprehend how you have discovered an indelicate meaning in these beautiful lines of Mesihi:

Send me not, O God, to the tomb, before I
have embraced my friend....

Unless you annex an idea of obscenity to the expression of embracing a youth, a subject which perpetually occurs not only in Oriental poetry, but in Greek and Latin. I send you a recent translation, with a request that you will return it when you are tired with it, as I have no copy. I am, with the greatest esteem and veneration,

Sir, &e.

6

« PreviousContinue »