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The Bustan by Sadi
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The Bustan

by Sadi

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http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1863191.html

I got hold of a nineteenth-century English translation facing the original Persian, not only of Būstān [بستان, The Orchard] but also of Gulistān [گلستان , The Rose Garden], the two great works by the thirteenth century Persian poet normally known in English as Saʿdī or Saadi, but referred to in my edition as spelt in my subject line above. He was an exact contemporary of Rūmī, whose work I had greatly enjoyed earlier this year, and my expectations were consequently high.

I'm sorry to say that they were not met. Unlike Rūmī, comfortable in his literate and fairly sessile urban merchant lifestyle, Saadi is obsessed by the micropolitics of the court and the caravan. The two books are somewhat different in style - Gulistān mainly very short incidents and reflections, while Būstān is generally longer pieces, in both cases gathered together in chapters on various themes of life as an upper-class medieval man. Often there is an intriguing bit of autobiographical reflection at the start of each piece, followed by some vaguely relevant philosophical rambling and a final poetic quote which may have been a real zinger in the original Persian but is lost in the English. I found Saadi's political philosophy rather unattractive, with no real ethical compass as far as I could tell other than the need to stay alive under a despotic ruler and if possible preserve one's self-respect; like Machiavelli without the humour, or indeed like Confucianism without the sense of tradition.

Oddly the one area where I did feel moved by Saadi's prose was in his occasional reflections on love, quite explicitly his own love for cute young men; there is a passionate chapter in Būstān where he imagines himself as a beggar captivated by a young prince which I found really evocative of the passion of erotic attraction, and that was simply the best of several passages. In general, lust for young men is not my own usual preference, but Saadi took me into his own world very effectively. The flip side is, sadly, that women are annoying distractions and irrelevant to the business of being manly in Saadi's world.

One other thing I did enjoy was trying to spot the rhyming schemes in the poetry. Usually it is rhyming couplets:
بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی

But sometimes there are more complex rhyming schemes. It's quite fun to try and spot these things in a language where I barely know any of the letters.

Anyway, the fault may lie with the translation - I think that Rūmī has been very well served by Coleman Banks, and perhaps Saadi simply hasn't been discovered by an English writer with the right sympathy for him yet. But I fear I would need some persuasion to try again. ( )
  nwhyte | Dec 17, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sadiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ruste, ArneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tilla, Toxti HajiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toussaint, FranzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zandjani, NinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0863040349, Hardcover)

Saadi's Bostan is one of the greatest of all Sufi Classics. Together with his Gulistan, these two books are regarded as supreme accomplishments of both literature and Sufi thought. They contain a richness of material and beauty of poetry that are almost unparalleled.

The Bostan is a mine of proverbs, quotations and practical wisdom. But like the Gulistan (The Rose Garden) it contains far more than moralistic aphorisms and teaching stories. The Bostan is recognized by eminent Sufis as containing the whole range of the deepest Sufi knowledge that can be committed to writing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:34 -0400)

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