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A New Divan

A New Divan


A Lyrical Dialogue between East & West

edited by Barbara Schwepcke and Bill Swainson

Format: Royal Hardback
Published: June 2019
Pages: 187
ISBN: 9781909942288

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A unique publication celebrating original poetry and poetic translation

Published in honour of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the 200th anniversary of the first publication of his West-Eastern Divan (1819), A New Divan contains outstanding new poems by twenty-four leading poets, twelve from the East and twelve from the West, and presents a truly international poetic dialogue inspired by the culture of the Other and Goethe’s late, great work. Writing in Arabic, English, French, German, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Slovenian, and Turkish, each pair of poets has responded to one of the themes of the twelve books of Goethe’s Divan. Working either directly with the original poets or via a bridge translation, the twenty-two English-language poets have created poems that draw on the poetic forms and cultures of the poets taking part. Three pairs of essays enhance and complement the poems, mirroring Goethe’s original ‘Notes and Essays for a Better Understanding of the West-Eastern Divan’.

Bill Swainson is a freelance editor and literary consultant. In 2015 he was awarded an OBE for services to literary translation.

Dr Barbara Schwepcke is the founder of Gingko and the chair of its board of trustees. In 2003 she founded Haus Publishing.



Adonis                                                                                     Khaled Mattawa

Khaled Mattawa

Abbas Beydoun                                                                       Bill Manhire

Durs Grünbein                                                                         Matthew Sweeney

Iman Mersal                                                                            Elaine Feinstein

Homero Aridjis                                                                        Kathleen Jamie

Amjad Nasser                                                                          Fady Joudah

Don Paterson

Reza Mohammadi                                                                    Nick Laird

Antonella Anedda                                                                    Jamie McKendrick

Fatemeh Shams                                                                        Dick Davis

Gilles Ortlieb                                                                           Sean O’Brien

Mourid Barghouti                                                                    George Szirtes

Jaan Kaplinski                                                                         Sasha Dugdale

Nujoom al-Ghanem                                                                Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Raoul Schrott                                                                           Paul Farley

Mohammed Bennis                                                                 Sinéad Morrissey

Aleš Šteger                                                                               Brian Henry

Gonca Özmen                                                                          Jo Shapcott

Angélica Freitas                                                                       Tara Bergin

Hafez Mousavi                                                                        Daisy Fried

Clara Janés                                                                               Lavinia Greenlaw

Fadhil Al-Azzawi                                                                     Jorie Graham

Jan Wagner                                                                              Robin Robertson


Sibylle Wentker                                                                       Rajmohan Gandhi

Robyn Creswell                                                                       Narguess Farzad

Stefan Weidner                                                                        Kadhim J. Hassan


Click here to learn about the complete, annotated new translation of Goethe’s original West-Eastern Divan by Eric Ormsby, including Goethe’s ‘Notes and Essays’ & the unpublished poems.


A New Divan is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Additional information

Weight 0.600 kg


Publisher’s Note

Foreword by Daniel Barenboim

Foreword by Mariam C. Said xvi


The Poet

Adonis / Khaled Mattawa

Khaled Mattawa


Abbas Beydoun / Bill Manhire 8 Durs Grünbein / Matthew Sweeney


Iman Mersal / Elaine Feinstein

Homero Aridjis / Kathleen Jamie


Reza Mohammadi / Nick Laird

Antonella Anedda / Jamie McKendrick


Amjad Nasser / Fady Joudah

Don Paterson


Fatemeh Shams / Dick Davis 50 Gilles Ortlieb / Sean O’Brien

The Tyrant

Mourid Barghouti / George Szirtes

Jaan Kaplinski / Sasha Dugdale


Nujoom Alghanem / Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Raoul Schrott / Paul Farley

The Cup-Bearer

Mohammed Bennis / Sinéad Morrissey

Aleš Šteger / Brian Henry


Gonca Özmen / Jo Shapcott

Angélica Freitas / Tara Bergin


Hafez Mousavi / Daisy Fried

Clara Janés / Lavinia Greenlaw


Fadhil Al-Azzawi / Jorie Graham

Jan Wagner / Robin Robertson

Sibylle Wentker: Bringing Persia to Germany.

Joseph von Hammer and Hafiz

Rajmohan Gandhi: Goethe and ‘the East’ of Today

Robyn Creswell: Playing a Part: Imru’ al-Qays in English

Narguess Farzad: Hafiz and the Challenges of Translating Persian Poetry into English

Stefan Weidner: The New Tasks of the Translator Kadhim J. Hassan: On the Translation of

European Poetry into Arabic Culture

Notes on the poems

Notes on the essays

Editors’ Note 166 Acknowledgements  Biographical notes

Index of poets

Index of poems




Hafiz, Goethe and A New Divan

It all started with Goethe’s poem ‘Gingko Biloba’, which the late Anthea Bell beautifully translated in memory of Werner Mark Linz when the pain felt at the loss of this inspirational man was still raw, and which appears as the epigraph to this book.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe sent this poem to his beloved friend Marianne von Willemer as a token of his affection. He pasted two dried, crossed leaves from this ancient tree below the three stanzas and dated it 15 September 1815. Goethe, Germany’s greatest poet and polymath, natural scientist, statesman and true cosmopolite, had picked the Gingko leaf as a symbol of hope, long life and, above all, deep affection. The poem was his ode to friendship and symbolised the union between old and young, man and woman, human and the Divine, literature and scholarship, East and West – a union which in his mind was inseparable.

The poem became part of his West-Eastern Divan, which Goethe was inspired to write when he read the first German translation of the divan composed by the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz. Goethe called Hafiz his ‘twin’ and decided to enter into a lyrical dialogue with ‘the Other’. In Islamic cultures divan means a collection of poems and Goethe proceeded to assemble his own divan of twelve books of poetry, calling them nameh, the Persian word for ‘epic poem’. He added a second part, ‘Notes and Essays for a Better Understanding of the West-Eastern Divan’, which included a section on a ‘Prospective Divan’. Considering his own Divan ‘incomplete’, it was his suggestion of how a divan might be attempted by poets and scholars of the future.

The West-Eastern Divan, published in 1819, was Goethe’s very personal attempt to broaden the horizons of readers both ignorant and fearful of the Islamic world. From the time of the Persian Wars the Orient had been seen as alien, as a threat to the West – a threat, how- ever, that was central to the formation of Western identity.

Two empty chairs, cut from one single block of granite, stand in Weimar, facing each other. They represent Goethe and Hafiz, divided by centuries and cultures, but united by poetry, which is woven into the carpet-like bronze base. The German president Joachim Rau, who with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami inaugurated the monument, chose the following lines from the West-Eastern Divan:

Know yourself and in that instant Know the Other and see therefore Orient and Occident
Cannot be parted for ever more

‘To everything there is a season!’ These words from the Book of Ecclesiastes open the scholarly essays that form part of the West- Eastern Divan. Today we face another era in which the West feels threatened by Islam, by the ‘Other’, by the unknown, which, whilst understanding very little about what this means, is all too often equated with religious fundamentalism. ‘To everything there is a season!’, Goethe said, and the season now seems right to attempt a divan for our times: a New Divan.

Thus, on 15 September 2015 – exactly two hundred years after Goethe sent his poem to Marianne – flanked by Narguess Farzad and Joachim Sartorius, my advisors of the first hour, I outlined the roadmap of this ambitious endeavour. I mainly addressed my words to people in the audience without whom this project would never have come to fruition: Bill Swainson, my co-editor of this volume, and Mena Mark Hanna, the Dean of the Barenboim–Said Akademie in Berlin, where the two- hundredth anniversary celebrations will culminate.

We would invite twenty-four leading poets – twelve from the ‘East’ and twelve from the ‘West’ – to metaphorically take a seat on the empty chairs in Weimar and continue the lyrical dialogue Goethe started with Hafiz 200 years ago. In addition six essayists would be invited to explore

the differences and similarities between Eastern and Western poetry and discuss the challenges of literary and cultural translation. Their contributions to this volume enhance and complement the poems, and mirror Goethe’s original ‘Notes and Essays for a Better Under- standing of the West-Eastern Divan’.

On the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of the West-Eastern Divan, the ‘Dichter und Denker’, the poets, scholars and translators, will assemble at the Barenboim–Said Akademie in Berlin for a three-day festival; Gingko will not only bring out a new bilingual edition of the West-Eastern Divan but also this volume, of which the German edition is published by Suhrkamp. The festival will be a celebration of poetry and music, drawing on the interwoven traditions of one art form inspiring the other and one culture enriching another. It is our firm hope that A New Divan will continue the mission of the West-Eastern Divan, that of trying to bridge the perceived divide between Orient and Occident. The greatest accolade of the two- hundredth anniversary of the West-Eastern Divan, however, would be if this lyrical dialogue, which Goethe started with Hafiz, were to continue for another 200 years.

Barbara Haus Schwepcke London, 18 March 2019


‘The multilingual delights of A New Divan, published 200 years after Goethe’s, are inspired by the inspiration Goethe took from Hafiz, and his passionate vision of common humanity across cultural difference. The editors, publishers expert in translated poetry and fiction, summoned more than 50 poets, translators and scholars, commissioned new poems in English, Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Slovenian, and asked English-language poets to make versions of them. Twenty-four poets — 12 from the east, 12 from the west — respond to Goethe and Hafiz, and also to the east-west relations of today. Six brilliant essayists meditate on the process, nature and aims, past and present, of translation between east and west.’

– Ruth Padel, Financial Times


‘…The Gingko poets seem to use the Divan not as a bustling street market of imagery but as a lens to look at our times’.

– Brian Morton, PN Review


‘…The volume enacts a meeting of West and East very much in Goethe’s spirit.’

– Ritchie Robertson, TLS


‘…How exhilarating and enjoyable it is to read a book that combines such strikingly different kinds of artistic excellence and such diverse perspectives with the underlying coherence that comes from the shared reference to Goethe’s original cycle.’

– Edmund Prestwich, Acumen


‘Goethe believed an East-West dialogue would continue long after him, and this was the challenge taken up by Schwepcke when she announced a new divan on September 15, 2015, the 200th anniversary of Goethe’s letter to Willemer. Schwepcke recruited Swainson, a renowned editor in literary translation who has worked with writers such as Amin Maalouf, Juan Gabriel, Delphine de Vigan and Matthew Sweeney […] They believed translated poems should both reflect the original work and stand on their own merit. A New Divan has the Arabic, Farsi, Turkish or Slovenian poem printed across the page from its English version. Poets were assigned themes that had been used by Goethe as titles for the 12 books in West-Eastern Divan, including The Poet, Love, Faith, Paradise, Proverbs and The Tyrant. “The challenge was to commission new poems from the best poets we could persuade to take part,” says Swainson. “They had either to be familiar with Goethe or to respond to his ideas. We wanted them to speak to the world we are in now.”

– Gareth Smyth, The National


‘UK-based publisher Gingko has produced an admirable and elegant volume that is also an act of homage: A New Divan: A lyrical dialogue between East & West (£20) that is itself a celebration of artistic sensibility transcending geographical and ideological or religious boundaries. Edited by Barbara Schwepcke and Bill Swainson the volume contains poems by 24 authors, East and West, in nearly a dozen different languages, with English translation on the facing pages. The act of translation is itself at the heart of the project, as most of the poems in English are renderings by an English mother-tongue poet based on a more literal translation by a third party. To emphasize the importance of the nature and art of translation even more, there are three essays (among a few others) which follow the poems and which give added food for thought. The poems themselves are to be read and reread, some raising a smile, others a wince of pain, all inviting the reader to enter into the poet’s state of consciousness. Beautiful, certainly; troubling at times, particularly when one considers the traumas that the whole of the Middle East and North Africa has been going through in recent years. I think Goethe would have been intrigued, and I hope Hafez would have been proud — knowing that seven centuries after his birth, under the fiery reign of Timur/Tamerlane, his influence persists.’

– Jonathan Fryer