Allusion and intertextuality in Magtymguly’s poems: Lost in translation?

Gulshen Sakhatova

Allusion and intertextuality in Magtymguly’s poems: Lost in translation?

(66th Annual Meeting of the PIAC Göttingen, 2024)

The paper discusses the concepts of allusion and intertextuality in the poems of the Turkmen classical poet Magtymguly (1724–1790?). His poems, which were translated into German in 2023 by Kohrs Kegel & Kohrs (2023), are used as linguistic data. Magtymguly’s work has long been held in high esteem in Central Asian countries, especially in Turkic-speaking regions. It has been translated into various languages around the world, including Kazakh, Uzbek, Russian (translated by Tarkovsky, Schengely, Neumann), Azerbaijani, and Turkish, with the latter being the most recent translation. In contrast, the work of Magtymguly in Western Europe, even in academic circles, has remained largely unknown. The first effort to translate his selected poems was made by Vambery in 1879. Moreover, the history of research in Western Europe with its rich literary heritage is relatively brief (to mention Brett (ed.) 2014).

The translation of the poems into Spanish from the original Russian and English versions served as a model for the German translation (Kohrs Kegel & Kohrs 2023). The translators emphasise the retention of the original verse metres, particularly the end rhymes, rhythms and repetitive choruses and conclusions.

The paper therefore begins by examining the question of whether it is sufficient to pay attention only to these primarily technical poetic features of the original. This is because Magtymguly’s verses reflect a multitude of influences from the Persian and Arabic literary heritage, which can be observed in his traditional oriental verse forms, such as the ghazal. Furthermore, there are references to both mythological heroes and Sufi historical figures, as well as intertextual allusions to Quranic content and historical locations. To gain a preliminary understanding of this phenomenon, we will examine an excerpt from the original text and its translation, in which several Sufi personalities are mentioned:

Bady sebani görsem Den Wind fühlen möchte ich
Dehistanyň baýrynda
Bady-sabany görsem.
Bahaweddin Mirkulal,
Zeňňi Babany görsem.
Auf den Hügeln von Dehistan
Den Wind fühlen möchte ich
Zengi Baba, Bahaveddin,
Und Mirgala sehen möchte ich.

The paper will demonstrate further how Magtymguly employs the stylistic device of allusion in a creative manner to present a complex issue in a concise manner. For instance, the names or places mentioned above in the extract are examples of this. However, readers of translated texts may be challenged by the allusions to Sufi religious practice and its sense, as they presuppose that the reader is aware of the context being alluded to. The paper will conclude with an attempt to classify stylistically allusions and intertextual concepts in Magtymguly’s poems, following the classification proposed by Ben-Porot (1976) and Irwin (2002).


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