Ali Noori on translating Mohammad Ali Bahmani

Ali Noori

on translating Mohammad Ali Bahmani

“Crossing” is a translation of an untitled ghazal in Persian. The ghazal is a poetic form central to many languages and poetic traditions, including, but not limited to, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, and Arabic, since at least the ninth century. The past few decades have seen a surge in English ghazals. The ghazal is defined by two sets of characteristics. First, the form: the “aa-ba-ca” rhyme scheme is the most recognizable formal feature of the ghazal; there are also rules governing meter. Second, the content: the ghazal tradition comes with a cluster of themes, images, devices, and conventions.

“Crossing” places separation, a typical ghazal theme, in an urban setting. Using a curious combination of contemporary and archaic Persian, it invokes the expected characters of a ghazal, namely the beloved and the lover, through several less-expected juxtapositions, like the “with” and “without” prefixes. It culminates in a moment of self-reflection. Bahmani’s phrasing and style that result in a dense poem, riddled with allusions to elements from the ghazal tradition as well as his playful use of different registers of Persian, are not transportable into English. Nonetheless, this translation has attempted to draw out and highlight dynamic characteristics of the poem — the aforementioned juxtapositions for instance — that do lend themselves to translation into English.

about the author

Mohammad Ali Bahmani (b. 1942) is an Iranian poet and songwriter. Beyond that, his biography is irrelevant to this particular translation. It might be worth mentioning that Bahmani is known, among other things, as a proponent of the postmodern ghazal movement in Persian poetry.

about the translator

Ali Noori is a doctoral student in religious studies at Penn. He likes ghazals.His dissertation is titled "Pious Praise Poetry: Emotions, Piety, and the Making of Medieval Islamic Subject."

photo by Ali Noori