A wonderful gathering, an evening with a young author, and talks that I wished would never end, have left me thinking. Once again, the author Gina Nahai succeeded to gather many book lovers, writers, and lovers of Iranian culture for an author talk by Delphine Minoui and a discussion of her memoir titled “I’m Writing You From Tehran.”
Honored to be among the guests, I happily drove the long distance from San Diego to L.A., even though it would mean driving back close to midnight. For an evening so meaningful, I would do it all over again.
I am currently enjoying the book and learning much from it, but haven’t finished yet, so please stay tuned for more on this wonderful memoir. But a verse from Hafez, mentioned by the author, has kept me thinking to the point that unless I pour it out on the page, I doubt I could write about any other subject.
After a lovely reception and book signing, when we had cooled down with a glass of wine – or a cup of tea – and enjoyed bites from a delectable spread, everyone gathered to hear the author.
The guest speaker was introduced as follows:
“Delphine Minoui is an award-winning author and journalist whose work focuses on Iran and the Middle East. Born in Paris in 1974 to a French mother and Iranian father, she moved to Iran in 1999. She has been a correspondent with Le Figaro since 2002 and France Info and France Inter since 1999. She is currently based in Istanbul. You can read some of her reporting at
In her eloquent speech, Delphine spoke of her childhood, youth, and being raised in Paris as a true French as well as her experiences as a journalist in the Middle East. She also spoke of her strong ties to her Iranian grandparents and the love of an unknown land that took her to Iran for a short visit and kept her there for ten years! On his last days in Paris, her grandfather introduced her to her a particular verse by Hafez. This verse regarding a “Wave” later became her muse and it has stayed with her throughout her adult life.
As expected, the following Q & A circled mainly around Iran, the way she had found it, the controlling powers, and what she thought future may bring. Intriguing as the discussions were,, I found my mind stuck in “the wave” and in need to know more. So I asked her to recite the verse in Persian, which she did slowly, sweetly, and with a hint of French accent.
شب تاریک و بیم موج و گردابی چنین هایل
کجا دانند حال ما سبکباران ساحلها
I recognized this to be the fifth couplet of the first Ghazal in the book of Hafez. Over the past few days, I’ve been searching for a perfect translation, and while finding several good ones, the Hafez lover in me could not help the disappointment over one word or the other! Here are some examples:
– The dark midnight, fearful waves, and the tempestuous whirlpool
How can he know of our state, while ports house his unladen ships?
– But traveling light, what can these land-lubbers know of it —
Black night, our fear of the waves, and the horrible whirlpool?
– Who safe on land, light-burdened, looks for threat
of wave or whirlpool in obscurities?
It is universally agreed that a perfect translation of Hafez is impossible. The difficulties are many because should a translator stick to the meaning, the rhythm and tone may be lost and vice versa. Some have translated it by scrambling the entire verse and changing its order. Others select words that lack true meaning. For example, “Traveling light” in this verse is the Persian expression to mean unburdened and care-free. “Fearful waves” is actually “the alarming wave.” In simple Persian, the meaning of the verse would be,
“A dark night, an alarming wave, and the horrible whirlpool ahead
How could the carefree living ashore know how we feel?”
This is but a childish and simple interpretation and I can’t see anyone putting the meaning of Hafez into verse in the perfect style that only the master could. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the entire verse is a metaphor referring to the turbulent times in which he lived.
And so I begin to understand Daphne’s fascination with this verse. We, too, live in turbulent times, and while some of us have joined “the carefree living ashore,” our gatherings and expressions of sympathy fail to help us fully understand those who remain facing the dark night, its alarming waves, and the horrible whirlpool ahead.