Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bunting, Persian, and Davis' 'Shahnameh'.

I’m reading Dick Davis’ translation of the Shahnameh. Partly because it is the subject of one of my favorite Bunting stories, partly to find out what impressed him so much about Ferdowsi, the author.

And it rolls. I had meant to dip into it and just read about Iraj and his death, the subject of one of Bunting’s poems. and then leave it for a later time when there weren’t piles of ‘things’ that have to be read.

The pile can wait. I haven’t had this much fun since I first read Malory in Vinaver’s edition of the Winchester Mss.

In “Descant on Rawthey’s Madrigal” Bunting relates how he was looking for second hand books along the quay at Genoa where he had previously found the Italian source for his poem “Chomei at Toyama” :

“I found a book-tattered, incomplete-with a newspaper cover on it marked ‘Oriental tales”. I bought it, in French. It turned out to be part of the early 19th century prose translation of Firdausi and it was absolutely fascinating. I got into the middle of the story of the education of Zal and the birth of Rustam-and the story came to an end. It was quite impossible to leave it there, I was desperate to know what happened next. I read it, as far it went, to Pound and to Dorothy Pound, and they were in the same condition. We were yearning to find out, but we could think of no other way. The title page was missing. There seemed to be nothing to do but learn Persian and read Firdausi, so, I undertook that. Pound bought me the three volumes of Vullers and somebody, I forgot who, bought me Steinglass’s dictionary, and I set to work.”

It's British understatement at its best. "There seemed to be nothing to do but learn Persian..." As though it were just a matter of making up one's mind and getting on with it with a minimum of fuss.

There’s a coda to the story. Bunting’s Persian translations didn’t impress Pound, and he doesn’t say if they read the end of the story of Rustam together. But his classical Persian took him to Persia. During the second world war he applied for a posting there:

“I didn’t hear a word of it spoken until I arrived in Persia and was called upon to interpret for a court martial. You can imagine how difficult that was. I hope they put the right man in Jail. Very fortunately it wasn’t one of those case [sic] where it would require shooting or hanging.”

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