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Judy Croome: Author on the Prowl

Judy Croome lives, writes and reads in Johannesburg, South Africa.  A novelist & poet, Judy loves cats, exploring the meaning of life, chocolate, rainy days and cats (who already appear to have discovered the meaning of life.) Visit Judy on www.judycroome.com or join her on Twitter @judy_croome

The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing - Coleman Barks, Rumi The problem with translations is that one never knows how much of what one is reading is the translator’s voice, and how much is the original artist’s voice.

Banks is credited with “popularising” Rumi’s works in America. That’s the essence of the difficulty I had with this translation. To “translate” a work, one “expresses the sense of (a word, book etc) in another language”, while to “popularise” a work is to “present a specialised subject in a popular or readily understandable form”.

In his note on the translation, Banks admits that in “translating Rumi into American” he may have distorted what Rumi searched for in his poems: the ecstasy of Divine Love.

Having watched both live and DVD performances of the Whirling Dervishes (a spiritual meditative dance based on the teachings of Rumi), I approached this volume with the expectation of experiencing that same sense of immersion in – or union with – the Divine beloved. Instead, I was left with a weird sense of dislocation.

While Banks’ intentions in attempting this translation were clearly a sincere attempt to express the ecstasy he has found in Rumi’s original words, this reader was unable to share in that lyrical ecstasy.

Contemporary images celebrated sexual union, but not ecstatic union. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating sex, Rumi celebrates sex in the same way that Kabbalists would on a Sabbath: as a ‘tikkun’. In this translation, the idea of “sex as Divine union with the Other” was lost in modern crudity. For example, “Is this the way a man prays, with his balls? Does your penis long for union like this? Is that why her legs are so covered with this stuff?” [Pg 85] Stuff? Stuff?

The modern language, too, was conveyed without any mystical rhythm. In musical terms this would be the steady cadence of a liturgical chant (the exquisite sound of the Gregorian or Benedictine chants). In seeking to convey the lightness of the mystical trance in simple, modern (popular!) terms, the language in this translation became heavy and, with a few notable exceptions, left me sadly earthbound.