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Speaking In Tongues: Religious Literature

July 2004

For the high travel season, WWB will take you on some inward as well as outward journeys. The divine is perhaps the oldest source of literary inspiration, and many-tongued. Yet our idea of religious literature has been cheapened by pious equivalents of pulp fiction. WWB offers renewal. Vijay Dan Detha’s True Calling makes us think twice about true and false holiness; Paola Capriolo’s Brothers retells the story of Cain and Abel with modern psychological insight; David Hinton’s translations of Wang Wei and the late Jerome W. Clinton’s translations of Sohrab Sepehri display the rich allusiveness and delicacy so abundant in the Buddhist and Sufi literary traditions, respectively. Peter Cole’s translations of three medieval poets, Moshe Ibn Ezra, Yehudah HaLevi and Avraham Ibn Ezra, speak from the mystical heart of Judaism. In V. Y. Mudimbe’s Shaba Deux, a young nun in Zaire struggles with faith in the midst of personal and social chaos. Not to ignore religious conflicts while we celebrate the harmonies, Richard Murphy translates and introduces a contemporary Pakistani sermon about the battle of Karbala, the decisive event in the rift between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. 

By Paola Capriolo
“What? Are you still scheming against the sun? As sure as you live, as sure as I am, in the world to come the sun will possess sevenfold the light that it now possesses.”
Translated from Italian by Lawrence Venuti
Mourning Meng Hao-jan
By Wang Wei
Now, if I look for old masters here, / I find empty rivers and mountains.
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
Karbala as Court Case
By Sayyid Nasim Abbas
After the first night, I was a regular: the men in the front row called me “dear brother” and saved room for my recording gear and me.
Translated from Urdu by Richard McGill Murphy
By Sohrab Sepehri
A cloudless sky,no breath of wind,I sit beside the courtyard pool.The slow stirrings of the goldfish,the radiance and I,the earth and water—Life clusters in a fresh washed bunch. My mother…
Translated from Persian by Jerome W. Clinton
By Voltaire Oyzon
Three or four days / he hangs out in our house.
Translated from Waray by Merlie M. Alunan
By Moshe Ibn Ezra
If He kills me still I will trust in Him.
Translated from Hebrew by Peter Cole
A Dove in the Distance
By Yehudah HaLevi
she flew up, flustered, hovering, / circling round her lover. 
Translated from Hebrew by Peter Cole
By Sohrab Sepehri
In it there is love as wide as the blue wings of true friendship.
Translated from Persian by Jerome W. Clinton
In Reply to Vice-Magistrate Chang
By Wang Wei
In these twilight years, I love tranquility / alone.
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
On Returning to WheelRim River
By Wang Wei
Frail water-chestnut vines never settle, / and light cottonwood blossoms fly easily.
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
Adrift on the Lake
By Wang Wei
Crystalline waters quiet settling night. / Moonlight leaving idleness everywhere
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
Mourning Yin Yao
By Wang Wei
Returning you to StoneTower Mountain, we bid farewell
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
BirdCry Creek
By Wang Wei
In night quiet, spring mountains stand
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
In Reply to P’ei Ti
By Wang Wei
Autumn rains darken azure-deep skies.
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
In the Mountains, Sent to Ch’an Brothers and Sisters
By Wang Wei
Dharma companions filling mountains, / a sangha forms of itself: chanting, sitting
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
In Reply to Su, Who Visited My WheelRim River Hermitage When I Wasn’t There to Welcome Him
By Wang Wei
When you came on twisted rocky paths, / who welcomed you at my mountain gate?
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
A True Calling
By Vijay Dan Detha
Like mosquitoes, the courtiers didn’t need to find any excuse to bite.
Translated from Rajasthani by Christi A. Merrill & Kailash Kabir
From “Shaba Deux: Les Carnets de Mère Marie-Gertrude”
By V. Y. Mudimbe
In the quiet of my room, I tackle the problem again, in vain; all I find is the line of my inauthenticity as a sin.
Translated from French by Marjolijn de Jager