I am a purist!
Certain things in life are so rich, so complete, and so beautiful that they don’t need any alterations. To me, Rumi’s poetry is one of those precious things in life.
I have to admit how grateful I am for all that Coleman Barks has done in familiarizing the Westerner with Rumi’s magical works. There is no doubt about that. But not many people in the West know that Coleman Barks neither speaks nor reads Persian and that his work is instead his poetic interpretations of Rumi’s work than translations.
It is evident for all of us who are multilingual that many things are lost in translation. But more are lost in interpretations. Since Rumi’s work, in essence, is so complete, any decent interpretation stemming from its roots will move any reader to tears and touch their hearts. This has more to do with the work itself than the alteration.
Persian poetry is filled with cultural, religious, spiritual, and historical analogies and metaphors. To understand Persian poetry, one needs to familiarize oneself with such details that by themselves are poetic and sweet.
Here’s one popular poem that has been making rounds on the web for many years now. It’s a ruba’i by Rumi. Ruba’i is a poetry style. It is used to describe a Persian quatrain (a stanza or poem of four lines), or its derivative form in English and other languages
Interpreted by Coleman Barks:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
Original and more accurate translation:
از کفر و ز اسلام برون صحرائیست ما را به میان آن فضا سودائیست
عارف چون بدان رسید سر را بنهد نه کفر و نه اسلام و نه آنجا جائیست
Beyond Islam and faithlessness, there is a desert plain.
For us, there is an intense yearning amid that expanse.
The Āref, upon reaching that beyondness,
surrenders his/her head entirely in prostration,
For there is neither faithlessness nor Islam nor any ‘where’ in that place.
Here, the words and meanings of ‘Islam’ and ‘heresy’ are crucial to the purpose of the entire poem. Also, the concept of ‘beyond’ hinting at the nonduality and the paradoxical nature of the path is also an important one. In my opinion, not including Islam, Aref, and the concepts of beyond, midst, nonduality, and paradox, leaves the interpretation void of any essence. Furthermore, wrongdoing and rightdoing fall short in replacing heresy and Islam in this context.