Translations from the Persian

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Translations from the Persian 1

           for Turner and Suzanne


If that full moon were true and good,
how would that be?
And if he feared God as he should,
how would that be?

I’d like to stay with him a while -
If he decided that I could,
how would that be?

I long to kiss his lovely lips,
And if he said he thought I should,
how would that be?

And if that idol I pursue
Pursued me too, and understood,
how would that be?

Or if one day that king should glance
At where this helpless beggar stood,                                                 
how would that be?  

If wisdom followed me around,
Or if I’d sense and hardihood,
how would that be?

If happiness should lead Obayd
To him, supposing that it could,
how would that be?

                                                Obayd-e Zakani (14th century)

Well once upon a time, in dribs and drabs,
Income turned up for me, throughout the year;

I’d dry bread and fresh herbs to hand, in case
A friend should unexpectedly appear;

And sometimes there’d be wine to drink, for when
A pretty boy or sweet young girl came here.

But now I’m getting on in years my life
Has suddenly become much more austere;

I’ve neither dry to eat, nor wet to drink,
And all that’s in my house is me, my dear.

                                                            Obayd-e Zakani



Last night, my love, my life, you lay with me,
I grasped your pretty chin, I fondled it,
And then I bit, and bit, your sweet lips till
I woke  . . . It was my fingertip I bit.

                                                Princess Jahan Khatun (14th century)


My friend, who was so kind and faithful once,
Has changed his mind now, and I don’t know why;

I think it must be in my wretched stars –
He feels no pity for me when I cry.

Oh I complain of your cruel absence, but
Your coming here’s like dawn’s breeze in the sky;

That oath you swore to and then broke – thank God
It’s you who swore, and is foresworn, not I!

I didn’t snatch one jot of joy before
You snatched your clothes from me and said goodbye; 

I didn’t thank you, since I wasn’t sure
You’d really been with me, or just passed by.

How envious our clothes were when we lay
Without them, clasped together, you and I!

Your curls have chained my heart up; this is right –
Madmen are chained up, as they rage and sigh.                    

They say the world’s lord cherishes his slaves;
So why’s he harsh to me? I don’t know why.

                                                            Princess Jahan Khatun (14th century)


1 Dick Davis is currently working on a selection of poems by three 14th century Persian poets—Hafez, Obeyd-e Zakani, and Jahan Khatun--for his forthcoming book, The Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz (Mage, June 2010). These three contemporary poets from Shiraz almost certainly knew one another personally. The poet-princess Jahan Khatun is the only Persian medieval woman poet whose complete works has come down to us.