… I was surprised to learn that you don’t speak Persian. How do you “translate” Rumi’s work, then?
I didn’t discover Rumi until I was 39 years old. I’d had this wonderful literary education at Berkeley and at North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but I had never even heard the name of the greatest mystical poet that ever lived! At that point — and I’m lazy, as a matter of fact — it was hopeless to try to learn Farsi. So I depend upon scholarly translations and living scholars to give me word-for-word translations, and then I work with the English, trying to be as faithful as possible to the images that come through the words and the spiritual information coming through those images. But I don’t try to reproduce any of the musicality of the Persian. I translate it into American free verse.
So the word “translator” doesn’t exactly describe what you do?
It’s often called a second translation. Someone brings it from the source language sort of halfway to a literal translation and then someone else takes it from that stage to a poem in the English language. Scholarly translations don’t try to do that …