Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Translation of "Gurindam Fasal yang Kelima" from Raja Ali Haji's "Gurindam Dua Belas"

In my earlier post in honour of the late Capt. Yusof, I quoted part of Raja Ali Haji's Gurindam Dua Belas. Gurindam are words of wisdom set in verse, usually in the form of couplets.

For the benefit of readers from elsewhere, I tried Googling for an English translation, but in vain. Until one is found, may I offer this attempt at bringing these words of an eminent scholar, historian, poet and alim to a wider audience.

Translation of Gurindam Fasal yang Kelima, from Raja Ali Haji's Gurindam Dua Belas

If the well born you would identify,
look for their kindness and courtesy

Those who are happy and prosper,
waste and idleness do foreswear

If the noble you would perceive,
look you at how they behave

if it's ones with knowledge you require,
of questions and learning they never tire

As for the wise, it's easy to tell,
in this world, for the next they provide well

If the good natured are whom you seek,
when they're with company you must peek

I am not a scholar of Raja Ali Haji's works, nor am I of the literati; I will therefore defer if any of them wish to disabuse me of my literary pretensions.

If it were solely up to me, I would have translated the third verse to read:

If the noble you would perceive,
learn you for what they strive

However, as translators must always remind themselves, "I can decide what a line should mean when I write poetry of my own."

There is a Dutch translation somewhere out there, done by Elisa Netscher, a colonial official and historian who collected, transcribed and translated Malay manuscripts. If you have it, or come across it, would you send me a copy? I would be most grateful to you.

I humbly dedicate this translation to A.A.

Malaysian Heart

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