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What is it with Sufi poetry in English translation and lack of academic rigor?

After the funny thing that happened the last time I tried to read some Sufi poetry, I wanted to, you know, actually read some Sufi poetry. We have a fair bit of it lying around in the house. So I picked up The Illuminated Rumi and Googled the translator.

He had a respectable career as a college professor and was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Tehran and does a lot of PBS specials, so I read the book. Upon double-checking afterward, I find that he doesn't speak or read Persian. I am prepared to accept these poems as actual versions of Rumi, given Barks's public recognition and that I am told, and believe, that it is possible to produce a good version of a poem in translation by collating and rephrasing other versions. But at this point, I just want something with some notes. By someone who reads the language they're translating from. Is this so much to ask? Really?

Also, I would be much more comfortable with this book if Barks did not, in his introduction and interspersions, sound exactly like the first guy whose "translation" I read. Like, with the random capital letters, and cryptic allusions to things in his own life, and occasional anecdotes about his personal Sufi teacher. This book is from some strange universe in which the only difference between total lunacy and complete respectability, in terms of editorial content, is the publisher. It's illustrated, too, and the illustrations are sometimes genuinely beautiful and sometimes remind me very much of that guy who does Celestial Soul Portraits, which, well. I think that link speaks for itself.

The poetry here, however, is much, much better than Ladinsky's. Ladinsky's Hafiz is full of generalizations and cryptic allusions and capital letters; this is full of specific single details, cultural allusions to things that are actually things the poet would allude to, and correct grammar. The poetry here has a weight to it that I like, multiple meanings packed into it, a density. I gather Barks is an award-winning poet in his own right: fair enough, this is very good. I do suspect it of actually being Rumi.

But I'd kind of like to confirm that, so can anyone recommend me an edition or a translator of Rumi or Hafiz or any other major Sufi poet that is not going to make me start muttering about how the properly annotated bibliography is one of the great and major works of human civilization and how you're never going to catch me translating poetry from the Mongolian unless and until I learn Mongolian? Thank you.


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