I came across this translation of a poem:
YOUR FACE AND THE TOLLING OF BELLS; by Ayten Mutlu
it was just like spring to laugh with you
and to touch the chimes of your face
lecherous and tranquil like a naked pomegranate
your face was the intimations of forenoon
at the meeting place of autumn
in the closed seas of your face
the birds flew like poisoned arrows
the summer blindfolded at the bottom of a wall
what is left of your face, a rusty shadow
the receding forest, the flower in mourning
pieces of broken glass the colours of spring
how do birds get accustomed to losing a sky?
ah, I’m late in getting to know the rain
like a naked pomegranate I am defeated and offended
where like the deteriorating autumn your old face
vanished with the tolling of the bells
(Translated by Suat Karantay)
(The Turkish PEN, 1995)
You can translate a poem but can you translate the meaning? From this poem I will take one symbol, the “naked pomegranate”. Coming from Ireland we have no symbology associated with this fruit. It made an appearance every year at halloween as an exotic, something out of the ordinary. Most Dubliners called it a “Wine Apple”.
In more recent years the pomegranate has been more widely available and has crept in to a more regular role as an ingredient or a garnish in cookbooks. But it has no deep meaning for us.
If you speak to people educated in the classics they may remember the tale of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who was whipped off by Hades to his kingdom where she ate six seeds of a Pomegranate and hence we are condemned to 6 months of growth and 6 of death and winter was born. This Greek tale begins to hint at a deeper symbology to the fruit. The fact that the seeds represent a calendar, a marker of time or age.
The symbology of the pomegranate in the middle east runs very deep. Because the tree is evergreen it was used as a symbol of immortality by the ancient Persians. I can imagine middle eastern children playing a game of counting the seeds of a fruit to represent the years of their life.
Iranian mythology celebrates the ancient hero Esfandiyar who is easily a match for the DC Comics or Marvel superheros. In one tale he eats a pomegranate and gains super strength like an ancient version of Popeye with his spinach.
The pomegranate appears in ancient Jewish architecture as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. The fruit was one of the seven species brought by the 12 spies to Moses as proof of the fertility of Canaan. It has been used as a teaching tool by Rabbis who say the fruit contains the number of mitzvot, 613.
Islam adopted the Jewish symbology of fertility. Muslims consider the tree one of the four holy fruits along with dates, figs and olives and they depict it in representations of the garden of Eden.
In modern day Turkey as part of new year celebrations a pomegranate is cracked on the floor in a blessing ritual for prosperity in the coming year. At wedding a bride may be asked to throw a whole pomegranate on the floor and will bear as many children as the seeds that fall out.
The Prophet Mohammed told his wives to eat the fruit so they would bear beautiful children. From this hadith arises the notion that the fruit is a symbol of beauty.
So when the Ayten Mutlu speaks of a naked pomegranate in her poem she brings a rich weight of symbology of the fruit as a marker for beauty and for the hope of a new beginning and the disappointment of the declining of a life in the winter of years.
Unless you come from the Middle East, or do a lot of research into symbology, it is very difficult to grasp the meaning the poet is trying to convey. Language and culture erect barriers that are very difficult for the translator to surmount. Google can translate words, it takes a poet to translate meaning.
Ayten Mutlu is a Turkish Academic, Poet, Writer and Women’s rights activist. Born this day in 1952.