- Reflections on the Work of E.D. Blodgett as Poet and Translator1
If Love reveals Her Face, take Her home.Should She loosen Her Hair, become Her comb.How long a pawn or a half a rook in size,How long like a queen move crookedly? Be wise.Before you gave gracious billet-doux,Forget the gifts, now the gift is you.Once the elements you were, and beast,Then human soul, now be soul, at least-Rumi, "Ghazal 779" (23-30)2
Since I was approached to write this brief article on the work of E.D. (Ted) Blodgett as a poet and translator for this issue of CRCL/RCLC, I have been lamenting where and how to start discussing succinctly and expeditiously a poet with two Governor General's Awards, among other honours, to his credit. I have been bemoaning how to do justice to a literary giant, whom I have been fortunate enough to call a supervisor, an advisor, a co-translator and co-author, a mentor, and, above all, a friend, in a limited space. Leafing through his multiple poetry collections sitting tall and proud on the shelf in my study, I have been looking for a sign, a secret hint, an inspiration to discuss intelligently and comprehensively his poetry and translations without repeating what has already been written about him before and since his passing on Saturday, November 15, 2018. I finally settled on limiting this piece to my own experience working with him on four poetry collections as translator (of Najvā, his selected poetry in Persian) and co-translator (of Speak Only of the Moon: A New Translation of Rumi), and also as editor of Mingling Voices, the poetry series in which he published two of his fairly recent collections, Poems for a Small Park and Praha.
When my husband and I visited Ted and his lovely wife, Irena, last May in the beautiful garden of their home in South Surrey, BC, he asked me again to consider [End Page 534] earnestly his proposal to co-translate with him Hafiz, the fourteenth-century Persian bard, whose work he and I had often talked about in various contexts, including the literary. If only the demands of my career as an academic and administrator had not stood in the way, today a volume on Hafiz would be complementing the work that we joyously collaborated on in translating selected ghazals and poetry of Rumi3 into English.
Anyone even remotely familiar with Rumi knows that translating his poetry, and any other Sufi work for that matter, is not simple because, without exception, these works by their very nature are multilayered and highly allusive. A question that must be asked, then, is why Rumi and Hafiz? What made Ted so keen on reading these poets and choosing to render them into English? Even a cursory look at his poetry reveals stark similarities with the spiritual poetry of the Sufis. Let me illustrate this point with one or two examples. One of the recurrent motifs in the Sufi doctrine of love is observing silence for the dual purpose of distancing oneself from the mundane and achieving spiritual refinement. In other words, in the world of the Sufis, speaking less is a virtue. It is through silence and self-reflection that the individual in search of Truth can find him/herself and look for the right path toward the Beloved:
Die and die again in what you areAnd love: and dead you will live in all you are.
Die, o die, there is nothing to fear,Earth will fall away, heaven appear.
Die, o die, come out from under the cloudAnd like the moon shine without a shroud.
Try silence, since silence seems deathBut death where I lament is living breath.(Rumi, "Ghazal 230" 1-5; 12-14)
The juxtaposition of silence and death in these lines connotes a rebirth, a life akin to one portrayed in many of Ted's poems. In the poem that follows, silence plays a central role not just in unifying the speaker and the addressee, but also in accompanying the persona alongside his journey of self-exploration: