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English Translations of the Texts Set to Music
This page reproduces the texts set to music by Sorabji in the translations made by the late Charles Hopkins, first published in the liner notes to the Centaur CDC 2613 recording (2002) by Elizabeth Farnum (soprano) and Margaret Kampmeier (piano). The texts of L’heure exquise, Hymne à Aphrodite, L’étang, Le mauvais jardinier, and Arabesque are also included in the introductions to Marc-André Roberge’s editions published by the Sorabji Archive in 2006. In October 2005 Hopkins had kindly sent to Roberge, who was then preparing critical editions of several Sorabji’s songs, a file containing his translations, except that for Le mauvais jardinier, which was provided by Alistair Hinton on 8 June 2006 from a copy received from Hopkins. These translations contain discrepancies when compared with the versions published in the liner notes, and thus represent a second version.
In addition to the texts included in the Centaur recording, Hopkins translated the texts that Sorabji set for a male voice. The poems used in Trois poèmes du “Gulistān” de Saʿdī (1926, rev. 1930; 16 pp.), for which the composer had used Franz Toussaint’s French translations from the Persian, were translated in 1995, and those forming the Cinque sonetti di Michelagniolo Buonarroti (1923; 40 pp.) in 2002. If only to show how free and creative these translations appear to be, his versions of the texts for the first work are preceded by those by the Hungarian-born Orientalist Edward Rehatsek (1819-91), originally published in 1888, which have been offered on this page since the Sorabji Resource Site was inaugurated. The full text of Rehatsek’s translation will be found on the Internet Archive. We do not know which translation Sorabji might have read, but this one is a likely candidate. The text of Benedizione di San Francesco d’Assisi (1973; 2 pp.) is found on many websites.
The texts are presented in the order in which Sorabji set them. Formatting has been modified from the run-in style used by Hopkins to block format by deleting slashes; furthermore, the initial letter of each verse has been capitalized.
All the texts set by Sorabji, in the original language, can be found in Appendix 1 (“The Texts of Sorabji’s Vocal Music”) of SCC, 460-79. The texts are reproduced in alphabetical order by title, disregarding an initial definite article.
Thanks to Poom Pipatjarasgit, all texts are now also found, along with translations, on the LiederNet Archive, a website that makes it possible to see the other composers who have set the same texts as well as translations in several languages. The main page for Sorabji offers two lists: one lists the texts found in song cycles and collections, symphonies, etc., the other offers all the titles in alphabetical order. This database includes the texts that Sorabji set in English in The Poplars (1915; 3 pp.), Music to “The Rider by Night” (1919; 54 pp.), and Symphony [no. 2], “Jāmī”, for Large Orchestra, Wordless Chorus, and Baritone Solo (1942-51; 826 pp.).
When the time comes that my cup is full,
Goddess, spare me the sight
Of Father Time at my bedside belatedly, and with neither tears nor regret,
Cutting the tiresomely drawn out thread of a life too long.
Instead, arm Love; Alas! He has always despised me
And I know too well his cruelty in wishing
That from my heart, as its crowning achievement,
May already have flowed my life’s blood on to the reddened earth.
But no! As I approach the evening of my life,
Let my Youth, with its laughter, appear to me, quietly, naked and lovely!
May she hold a rose, whose petals she might pull off into the water;
I shall listen to the spring waters weeping their farewell
And, without there being any need for arrows or scythes,
I shall close my eyes for the subterranean night.
Until night rises in the sky, the world belongs to us, and to the gods. We go from field to spring, from dark wood to forest glade, wherever our bare feet lead us.
Tiny stars shine just enough for the tiny shadows that we are. Sometimes, under the low-hanging boughs, we discover hinds asleep.
But more engaging than anything else is night. It is a spot known only to us and which entices us into the forest: a mysterious rose bush.
For there is nothing so divine on earth as to compare with the scent of roses in the night. How is it that when I was alone I did not feel intoxicated by it?
The moon shines,
White, in the woods;
From each branch,
A voice comes
From beneath the bough
The pool gives off a reflection,
A reflection of depth,
The silhouette of the black willow
Where the wind weeps
Let us dream, this is the moment,
An all-embracing tenderness
Seems to descend
From the firmament, that the star makes iridescent .
This is the moment of ecstasy.
The moon grew sad. Dreaming of weeping seraphs,
Amid the stillness of gossamer flowers, bow in hand,
Playing faint viols, their white sobs slipping over the blue of the corollae
— It was the blessed day of your first kiss.
Loving to torture me, my reverie
Knowingly intoxicated me with the fragrance of sadness
That without regret or heartbreak
Itself lets the plucking of a Dream belong to the heart that plucked it.
I was wandering[,] then, my eye fixed on the old cobbles
When[,] with the sun on your hair,
And in the evening light of the street, you appeared to me[,] laughing,
And I thought I had seen the fairy[,] whose head was garlanded with light[,]
That long ago passed over the enchanted dreams of my indulged childhood,
Ever letting white Bouquets of perfumed stars fall like snow from his half-closed hands.
Aphrodite, immortal goddess of joyous laughter,
Who takes pleasure in the mournful songs of the woodpigeon,
The hearts of men sing for you like lyres,
While your arms make even the whiteness of the apple-tree grow pale.
Hail[!], August dispenser of life,
Beneath whose yoke the wild beasts submit,
Who makes lip fly to lip in ecstasy.
Hail[!] Pale Cypris, queen of sensual delights!
It is through you that, in the evening, under the propitious myrtle,
Blissful bands fall gently into the embrace of each other’s arms,
And that beside streams and at the cliff’s edge,
Young lovers sob in the night.
It is through you that, burning with rapture, quivering,
The wild rose covers itself in the perfumed blood of its dye,
And that the virgin, blushing with happiness,
Brings her crown and her heart to the arms of her beloved.
It is you who, in imparting rhythm to the stars in the heavens,
Causes the heart of the universe to flutter with love,
So that the harmony in which you reveal yourself
May show men of pure heart how to compose verses.
I beseech you, mighty and venerable goddess,
May it be that, as you glorify the burgeoning rosebush,
Under the flowering lilac tree and in the maple groves,
You smother the dreams of Adonis with kisses;
May it be that harsh Ares chain you to his victory,
Or that, subduing the waves, O mother of loves,
The Cyclades in bloom may hear your story:
My incense will always rise up to your feet.
Protect me from boredom, from the squalor of old age,
Protect me, if ever hope touched your heart,
O queen who supports and governs the world,
Before all else, protect me from loathsome ugliness!
Ensure that I fall while I still have my strength and my youth,
That my dying gasp has a powerful resonance,
And, so that one day my soul may be born again bathed in glorious sunlight,
That, like Ovid and Sappho, I may die of love.
Full of aged fish struck with blindness,
The pool, beneath a lowering sky rolling with muted thunder,
Disperses between its centuries old rushes
The lapping horror of its murky depths.
Down there, water-sprites act as lighting
For a swamp blacker than black, sinister and fearsome;
Nothing emerges from this desolate place
But the hideous din of its consumptive toads.
Whereas the moon[,] which rises just at this moment
Appears to regard herself so eerily,
One might say, as she catches sight of her ghostly form there.
Her flat nose and the strange ripple of her teeth,
A death’s head illuminated from within
That would come to be reflected in a mirror of darkness.
In the winter gardens of bizarre florists
Malign plants spread stealthily,
Plants whose teeming stems soon become entwined,
Like drowsy snakes on the muddy edges of ponds.
Their fearsome flowers, unusual and magnificent,
From which stream heavily-scented, intoxicating fragrances,
Proudly offer up their bowls of venomous blossom.
Death blooms in their savage splendour.
Their sumptuous aromas ruin one’s health
And it is through having indulged too much in their beauty
That pallid queens are to be seen languishing in their palaces.
And as for me, I am just like you, perverse gardeners!
In the precocious minds where I have cast my seeds,
I watch the poison of my poetry flourish.
Painted and made up as if part of some rural idyll,
Frail amid the profusion of bows and ribbons,
She passes, beneath the shadowy boughs,
along the pathway made green by the moss of old banks,
With a thousand airs and graces[,] a thousand simpering mannerisms,
Of the sort one normally reserves for precious budgerigars. Her long dress with its train is blue, and the fan[,]
Which she crumples between the bony fingers encrusted with rings[,]
Is livened up by erotic pictures, so faded
That they make her smile, dreaming about them all the while in the minutest detail.
— In short, the blonde. The cute nose with the blood red lips, luxuriant with an unconsciously divine arrogance,
— Furthermore, more subtle than the fleck
That brings backs the slightly silly glint in the eye.
The sky so pale and the trees so gaunt
Seem to smile at our bright costumes
Which float weightlessly,
Like wings fluttering with a nonchalant air.
And the gentle breeze ruffles the surface of the lowly lake,
And the glimmer of sunlight
That softens the shadows beneath the linden trees on the avenue
Reaches us blue and deliberately fading.
Stylish deceivers and charming coquettes,
Tender hearts, but unburdened by honour,
We converse exquisitely
And lovers caress their beloved,
Whose imperceptible hand knows
Sometimes to deliver a slap, to be exchanged
For a kiss on the furthest tip
Of the little finger, and as the matter is
Hugely exaggerated in its intensity,
One is punished with a dismissive glance,
In contrast, incidentally,
With the gentlest pout of the lips.
There! I kill myself at your knees!
For my anguish is never-ending,
And the dreadful Hyrcanian tigress
Is a ewe-lamb at your price.
Yes, here and now, cruel Clymene,
This two-edged sword that, in many a battle,
brought down so many Scipios and Cyruses,
Is to bring my life and my sorrow to an end!
Do I need it
To go down to the Champs Élysées?
Did love not pierce my heart with sharpened arrows
As soon as your eye lit upon me?
Nature is a temple[,] in which living pillars
sometimes let out a confusion of words;
Man passes through it across forests of symbols
that watch him with knowing glances.
Like extended echoes which merge with one another far away
to become a murky deep oneness,
as vast as darkness and light together,
the scents, the colours and the sounds relate each to the other.
There are fragrances[,] fresh like the flesh of children,
mellow as oboes, green as meadows,
— and others, corrupted, rich and triumphant,
With the expansive power of infinite things,
things such as amber, musk, benjamin and incense,
which voice the rapturous ecstasy of the mind and of the senses.
Memory with the Twilight turns red
and trembles at the fiery horizon
of Hope in flames, subsiding
and then surging like a mysterious barrier
behind which many a blossoming flower
— dahlia, lily, tulip and ranunculus —
shoots up and winds itself around a trellis,
amid the sickly exhalation
of heavy, warm scents, whose poison
— dahlia, lily, tulip and ranunculus —
drowning my senses, my soul and my reason,
mixes together[,] in a huge swoon[,]
Memory with the Twilight.
Pierrot[,] who has nothing about him of a Clitander[,]
Empties a bottle without a second thought,
And opens up and makes a start on a pâté.
Cassandra, at the bottom of the road,
sheds a quiet tear
for her dispossessed nephew.
This creature of Harlequin contrives
In the abduction of Columbine
And pirouettes four times.
Columbine dreams, surprised
To sense a heart breaking
And to hear voices in her own heart.
A little flute arabesque unfolds[,]
Sad and nostalgic[,]
Setting out in its subtle curves
An array of nameless desires and unheard-of delights.
You know that I know, my lord, that you know
That I come to have the pleasure of you closer to hand,
And you know that I know that you know who I am:
What purpose then in continuing not to acknowledge each other, even now?
If the hope that you give me is real,
If the great desire that has been granted me is real,
May the wall that has risen up between the one and the other be broken down,
Since concealed woes have a double force.
If I love in you, my dear lord,
Only that which you love most in yourself, do not be scornful,
Since it is simply the one spirit loving the other.
What I long for and find in your fair countenance,
And what is misunderstood by mundane intellects,
Is that whosoever wishes to know this must first die.
I do not know if it is the longed-for light
Of the one who first created it that my soul senses,
Or if[,] in my recollection of past acquaintance[,]
Some other beauty shines in my heart;
Or if reputation or imagination brings a vision of someone
Before my eyes, or places him in my heart,
Searing an indelible brand I know not how to describe[,]
Perhaps it is this that causes me to grieve.
What I feel and what I search for[,] and who may lead me to it[,]
Are not within my grasp; And I am unable to see clearly
Where I may find it, although it would appear someone is leading me.
This, my lord, is what has befallen me, from when I saw you,
A bittersweet delight, a yes and a no[,] moves me:
Indeed[,] it is your eyes that have brought this about.
What point is there in still giving vent to my intense longing
With tears or sad words,
If heaven, which dresses the soul,
Neither late nor early spares one from such a fate?
What point is there in my weary heart bidding me to languish more,
If all must die? The last hours, then[,]
Ill trouble my eyes less;
Nothing else is to any avail compared with all my suffering.
So[,] if I cannot ward off the disappointment that I rob and steal away,
Inasmuch as it is destined,
Who will intervene between sweetness and sorrow?
If, as one vanquished and taken prisoner, I should be blessed,
It is no wonder that[,] defenceless and alone[,]
I remain the prisoner of a knight in arms.
I see in your fair face, my lord,
What in this life I can but ill describe;
My soul, still decked in flesh,
Has many times already risen with it to God.
And if the common herd, wicked, stupid and evil,
Attribute and ascribe to others only what they themselves feel,
My intense longing is no less cherished,
Nor my love, constancy and honest desire.
More than anything else[,] Every beauty that is to be seen
To those that are wise resembles
That merciful spring, from which everything draws life;
Nor do we have any other example or other fruits
Of heaven on earth; and he who loves you faithfully
Rises up to God and holds death sweet.
As a person’s heart is to be seen in his face through his eyes,
I have no clearer sign
Of the flame that burns inside me; so now let this suffice,
My sweet lord, to plead for mercy.
Perhaps your spirit, with greater faith
Than I give it credit for, seeing the true fire
That consumes me, will show me mercy and soon,
Like grace abounds for those who earnestly pray for it.
O happy that day, of this one can be sure!
May the passage of time itself cease at that very moment,
The day and the sun in its age-old path;
In order that I may have, while not through my own deserts,
My sweet longed-for lord
Forever in my unworthy[,] yet eager arms.
I remember that one night a dear friend of mine entered when I jumped up in such a heedless way that the lamp was extinguished by my sleeve. A vision appeared in the night and by its appearance the darkness was illuminated.
I was amazed at my luck exclaiming whence this felicity?
He took a seat and began reproving me saying that when I beheld him I extinguished the lamp. I said: “I thought the sun had risen and wits have said:
When an ugly person comes before the lamp
Arise to him and pull him into the assembly
But if it be a sugar-smiled, sweet-lipped one
Pull him by the sleeve and extinguish the lamp.”
One night, my friend came into my home. I got up with such a start that my lamp fell. My friend heaped reproaches on me, saying:
“Why, as soon as you saw me, did you put the lamp out?”
I replied: “I thought the sun had risen…”
I have seen in my dreams one whose beauty would light up the darkest night. On awakening, I have thought: “From where does this joy come?”
If some tiresome individual should place himself in the way of your lamp, leap up and strike him down. But if, on the other hand, the newcomer has honeyed lips and a smile as sweet as sugar, take him by the arm and put out the lamp.
I had a companion with whom I had travelled for years and eaten salt. Boundless intimacy subsisted between us till at last he suffered my mind to be grieved for the sake of some paltry gain and our friendship closed. Despite of an this, however, mutual attachment of heart still subsisted between us because I heard him one day reciting in an assembly the following two distichs of my composition:
“When my sweetheart enters sweetly smiling
She adds more salt to my bleeding wound.
How would it be if the tip of her curls fell into my hand
Like the sleeve of the bountiful into the hands of dervishes?”
Some friends bore witness not so much to the gracefulness of these verses as to the beauty of my conduct which they approved; and among the rest, the said friend likewise added his share of praise, regretting the loss of our former companionship and confessing his fault so that his affection became known. Accordingly I sent the following distichs and made peace:
“Was not there a covenant of friendship between us?
Thou hast been cruel and not loving.
I once tied my heart to thee, disregarding the world.
Not knowing thou wouldst turn back so soon.
If thou yet desirest conciliation, return
Because thou wilt be more beloved than before.”
I recall that, long ago, a young man and I were as inseparable from each other as two kernels in the same almond. One day, fate decreed that I should leave. Years passed and on my return this friend fiercely rebuked me, complaining:
“Why have you never written to me, why have you never taken pity on my sadness?”
I replied: “I was unwilling for your beauty to captivate the heart of the messenger…”
Oh! My old friend, be lenient with me! If you knew how jealous I have been, how much I have suffered thinking of strangers able to feast their eyes on you until they had had their fill… But I was wrong. That was impossible, for no-one can ever tire of a sight beyond words to describe.
I had a companion with whom I had traveled for years and eaten salt. Boundless intimacy subsisted between us until at last he suffered my mind to be grieved for the sake of some paltry gain and our friendship closed. Despite all this, however, mutual attachment of heart still subsisted between us because I heard him one day reciting in an assembly the following two verses of my composition
When my sweetheart enters sweetly smiling
She adds more salt to my bleeding wound.
How would it be if the tip of her curls fell into my hand
Like the sleeve of the bountiful into the hands of dervishes?
Some friends bore witness not so much to the gracefulness of these verses as to the beauty of my conduct which they approved; and among the rest, the said friend likewise added his share of praise, regretting the loss of our former companionship and confessing his fault so that his affection became known. Accordingly I sent the following verses and made peace:
Was there not a covenant of friendship between us?
You have been cruel and not loving.
I once tied my heart to you, disregarding the world.
Not knowing you would turn back so soon.
If you yet desire conciliation, return
Because you will be more beloved than before.
For some years I had travelled with a particular friend, and on many occasions we had shared bread and salt together. I say this to demonstrate the total intimacy of our friendship. One day, however, wishing to get the better of me, he allowed himself to cause me distress, and we became less close. Despite this painful episode we still remained friendly, and I later learnt that he had, in company, recited this qasidah of my composition:
“When my friend, smiling, crosses the threshold of my home
He sprinkles salt on the open wound of my love.
What should happen if a lock of his hair were to brush my forehead
Like the alms of a rich man dropping into the palms of one less fortunate?”
Several of those present applauded the sentiment of this verse, and my old companion was especially effusive in his praise. He had been deeply saddened at losing my affection, and unhesitatingly accepted that he had been to blame... I realised that he was eager for a reconciliation and addressed the poem which follows to him as a mark of my forgiveness:
“We were once true to one another. It was you who were unjust.
I could not have foreseen that you would distance yourself from me,
Since I had given my heart to you...even though there
Were a good many others to whom I was close!
Come back, and you will be loved again as never before!”
An Idea, a Form, a Being
Parted from the azure and fallen
Into a muddy, leaden Styx
Where no eye of Heaven penetrates;
An Angel, an unwary traveller
Drawn by a fascination with the misshapen,
Thrashing about like a swimmer
In the deep throes of a vast nightmare,
And struggling, in deathly anguish,
Against a gigantic whirlpool
Which carries on singing like madmen
And pirouetting in the gloom;
A poor wretch under the evil eye
In his pointless fumblings,
In order to escape from a place crawling with reptiles,
Searching in vain for the light and the key
A condemned man without a lamp making his way down
At the edge of an abyss whose choking stench
Betrays its dank depth,
Unending banisterless stairways,
Where slimy monsters keep watch[,]
Their great phosphorescent eyes
Making the night blacker still
And nothing but them visible;
A ship held fast in the arctic ice,
As if in a web of crystal,
Trying to find by which fatal Strait
He came to fall into this gaol;
— Clear symbols, a complete picture
Of an irremediable destiny,
Which leads one to think that the Devil
Always makes a good job of whatever he does!
What a sombre and lucid exchange takes place
In a heart that has become its own mirror!
A well of Truth, clear yet black,
Where trembles a pallid star,
An ironic, infernal beacon,
A torch of satanic favours,
Unique deliverance and glory,
— Consciousness in Evil!
An old terracotta faun
laughs in the middle of the lawn,
no doubt foreseeing a bad outcome
to these moments of calm
That have brought both you and me,
to this hour[,] whose passing
swirls around to the sound of tambourines.
Fervent lovers and austere scholars alike,
in their fuller years, love powerful yet gentle cats, the pride of the household,
who[,] like them[,] feel the cold and lead sedentary lives.
Friends of scholarship and sensual delight,
they search out the silence and horror of the hours of darkness;
Erebus would have engaged them as messengers of gloom,
if they could bring themselves to lower their pride to servitude.
As they muse they take on the noble airs
of those great sphinxes stretched out in total solitude,
appearing to sleep in an endless dream;
Their fruitful loins filled with sparks of magic,
with gold dust, like the finest sand,
the pupils of their eyes flickering with the mystical light of distant stars.
For a good while we have been apart,
my dear ladies and gentlemen,
rather like a separation in marriage,
and then, our delights were too sweet.
No remorse, no real regret, no disaster!
It is frightening to contemplate the affinities
we share with the sheep
that the worst verse-monger festoons with ribbons.
We were a little too absurd
with our expressions as though butter would scarcely melt in our mouths.
The God of love willed that one should take breath,
and he was right! And this is a young God.
We have been apart, I tell you once more.
O, that our overly bleating hearts,
from this day forth, cry out just as clamorously
to set off for Sodom and Gomorrah!
The Lord bless you and keep you.
May He show His face to you and have mercy.
May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace.
The Lord bless you!
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