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August 2004

Chapters And Verse: Religious Literature, Part II

This "new testament" of our two-part summer retreat featuring international literature on religious themes begins with Guido Monte's multilingual account of Creation. Persian poet Abbas Saffari provides a witty, romantic retelling of the Quranic version of the story of Adam and Eve. Rafi Zabor and translator Angela Jaffray introduce us to Sufi master Ibn 'Arabi and his mind-expanding "Epistle on Cosmic Unification." MuXin explores the difference between religion and ritual, reverence and reward in "The Moment When Childhood Vanishes." Adolfo Albertazzi lets loose a mischievous Italian spirit in "The Devil in the Decanter." Poets from a variety of traditions and languages--Yiddish, Greek Orthodox, and Nahuatl (Aztec)--wrestle, plead, worship, doubt, and glory in the divine. And in an extra-canonical addition to material posted in part one, translator Christi Merrill contributes an essay on Vijay Dan Detha. If you were on vacation in July, click back to Speaking in Tongues.

A Song
In the Jewish parliament The walls are burning. People are learning Talmud, arguing over commentaries. Suddenly–quiet, please! A gentile comes in And says in gentile-ese: Gentlemen, That's the…
Translated from Yiddish
The Happiness of Also Refusing Happiness
The happiness of refusing happiness The joy of refusing joy Passionately keeping passion back Proudly breaking pride in ecstasy. Night in the forest on trouble's path All rustling has become one tree…
Translated from Yiddish
“Will nothing of my earthly fame endure?”
By Miguel León-Portilla
Will nothing of my earthly fame endure?Not even flowers, not even songs!What can my heart do?In vain we have sprung forth,we have come to be on earth.Let us enjoy ourselves, my friends,let us embrace…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris
By Witold Gombrowicz
1In 1930, in September, on a boat trip to Cairo, I fell into the Mediterranean Sea; I fell with a mighty splash, since at the time the sea was smooth, unruffled by any wave. Nevertheless, my fall was…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston
The Devil in the Decanter
By Adolfo Albertazzi
In the noble city of Burgfarrubach, a small, malicious spirit had been playing a curious prank for quite some time. Whenever a priest was called in to expel him from the house he was turning topsy-turvy,…
Translated from Italian by Traci Andrighetti
Whenever I Sit at a Bar Drinking Like This, I Always Think What a Sacred Profession Bartending Is
By Ryu Murakami
Whenever I sit at a bar drinking like this, I always think what a sacred profession bartending is. The bartender, with the stained-glass shelves of many-colored bottles behind him, moves precisely about…
Translated from Japanese by Ralph McCarthy
Epistle on Cosmic Unification
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Blessings upon our master, Muhammad, and upon his family and companions. . . . From my insufficiency to my perfection, and from my deviation to my…
Translated from Arabic
Genesis (Creation)
In principio diviserunt Elohim coelum et terram and the land was left barren et les ombres noires enveloppaient les profondeurs bade korgolœdei dar ruie oghionusoh parmisad (et aura divina super…
Translated from Italian
Our Story
“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,” Said then the lost Archangel, this the seat That we must change for Heaven? this mournful gloom For the celestial light? Be it so, since He…
Translated from Persian
Seclusion (from the poem “Kotzk”)
When the decadent genius of Chasidus Comprehended what the secret of the Jew is, He lived by himself for many years. The Jew is loneliness. His sole belovèd is The world's alone one, the Creator.…
Translated from Yiddish
“Will nothing of my earthly fame endure?”
Will nothing of my earthly fame endure? Not even flowers, not even songs! What can my heart do? In vain we have sprung forth, we have come to be on earth. Let us enjoy ourselves, my friends, let us embrace…
Translated from Spanish
Of the Tree and its Four Birds
It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Not a single one of His creatures…
Translated from Arabic
“O, giver of life”
O, Giver of Life, you write with flowers, you give color with song, you make shade with song, for those who must live on earth. Later, you will destroy the eagles, the tigers for here on earth we live…
Translated from Spanish
The Oracles of the Virgin
Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.–Oscar Wilde Buried inside us were the sounds of the words our parents managed to utter in the moment of intercourse before they fell silent…
Translated from Greek
However many times I now set out on the road of return the distance between us never lessens. My only hope of seeing you again is to also rise definitively to the glory of utter stillness. Athens, 11…
Translated from Greek
What Is a Translator’s True Calling?
To begin answering one riddle, you first have to consider another. In this case, the riddling starts with me, a translator, and a story I have translated into English from a story Indian author Vijay…
Arm Wrestling in Chebachinsk
By Aleksandr Chudakov
Grandfather was very strong. When he was working in the kitchen garden or whittling spade handles (for relaxation, he would always whittle handles-there were enough of them piled in a corner of the barn…
Translated from Russian by Timothy D. Sergay