A vast amount of Persian prose literature, in fields ranging from history to philosophy, was produced during the pre-modern period. This prose literature Literature 69 certainly has its value, and much of it is in print and read by Iranians today. However, it is fair to say that it is mostly of interest to specialists and academics of one sort or another rather than to any general audience, and there is no particular need to discuss it here. The greatest achievement by far of classical Persian literature was rather in the fi eld of poetry, and it is this poetry which still resonates most vibrantly and extensively with contemporary Iranian audiences. No survey of Persian culture and customs which ignored the role of poetry would be adequate. An appreciation of classical Persian poetry requires taking into account three major factors that have infl uenced it. First, this poetry developed against the background of the Arabic poetic tradition, which was based on a very complex and rather rigid theory of prosody and on very specific genres, the qasideh or panegyric ode being the most important. So far as can be determined, pre-Islamic Persian poetry was a popular, oral art which had neither a formal system of prosody nor sharply defi ned genres. The Persian poetry of the Islamic period, however, tried as far as possible to adapt the theory, technical vocabulary, and practice of the Arabic model to its own needs. This applied in the first instance to the rhythm of the poem: The metrical units were not based on stress, as in English poetry, but on the alternation of long and short vowels (or their metrical equivalents as determined by a rather complicated system of prosody), as in Arabic. Specific patterns of vowels, for example short-long-short-long-long, constituted the foot and meter of the poem. These were assembled into the key building block of the poem, the bayt or verse, itself composed of two units of equal length (the mesra‘ or hemistich). Each bayt needed to express a complete thought and could stand independent of the bayts which preceded and followed it. The convention in Arabic was for the final words of each hemistich of the first verse to rhyme with each other, and the last word of each subsequent verse to match that rhyme throughout the entire poem, which could be quite long. Monorhyme was also the case for certain genres in Persian, especially the qasideh and the shorter ghazal, or lyrical ode. However, Persian poetry also readily accepted poems with multiple rhyme schemes, most famously the masnavi or “couplet,” where the rhyme only had to be kept between the hemistichs of each verse, as well as genres such as the robâ‘i or “quatrain” (actually two verses where three or all four hemistichs rhyme). In any case, systematic meter and rhyme became essential qualities of Persian poetry. A second factor of great importance was the role of court patronage in the production of Persian poetry, or rather one very specific type of Persian poetry. The symbiotic relationship between certain rulers and poets was very clear. A bevy of poets was a normal accoutrement of any court worth the name. The poet produced a poem of praise, the qasideh, which celebrated the 70 noble qualities and great accomplishments of the ruler and served to spread his fame far and wide. The ruler reciprocated by lavishing gifts and coin on the poet. If he did not, he would likely fi nd himself the object of scorn, not praise, in a satirical qasideh penned by the poet from the safety of a rival court. The panegyric had to conform to a strict format, both in terms of prosody as discussed above and in content: The poem was expected to begin with an appeal to emotion (the nasib, usually an amorous lyric, and tashbib, an effort to win the sympathy of the listener) and then proceed to a section of praise (madh) which would eulogize the patron and encourage him to be generous. Given these constraints, one qasideh tended to distinguish itself over another through the use of the most refi ned and extravagant rhetorical devices, obscure words and allusions, and so forth. As a result, the Persian qasidehs, like the Arabic ones, can be very tedious poems, although some did transcend the genre to make statements of great import and beauty. They are also often of considerable historical interest since they were composed to commemorate important events such as military campaigns or court ceremonies and festivals. Finally, classical Persian poetry in its maturity became so deeply steeped in the tradition of mystical Islam, Sufi sm, that the two are almost inseparable. The origins of Sufi sm are obscure, its manifestations are variegated, and its doctrines are diffi cult to describe—which may well be why poetry is a prime vehicle for its expression. Essentially, Sufi sm, like all forms of mysticism, holds that God is the supreme truth or reality of the universe, and everything that is good and beautiful comes from Him. All extant beings are His creations and part of His reality; temporally separated from Him and trapped in physical form, they long to know Him, to escape the bonds of matter, and to be reunited with His Unity (vahdat), annihilating the self in His oneness. The Sufi was thus above all one who loved God and whom God loved. Through his efforts at devotion, which could take many forms or “paths” (tariqât), a Sufi might attain that desperately desired goal of an actual spiritual contact with God, a knowledge of Him directly without the intermediaries of prophet or scripture. For many Sufi s, such a desperate seeker of God need not be bound by ordinary religious practices, and one who gained communion with God might be liberated entirely from their constraints. As a result, the behavior of many Sufi s was, to say the least, nonconformist, which got some of them in serious trouble with the authorities. Their sentiments could, however, easily be expressed in veiled form through poetry, with its themes of the lover and the beloved, its celebration of beauty, its metaphors about wine and intoxication or music and dancing, and its mockery of staid religious conventions. By the twelfth century, this was established as a main current in Persian poetry, and its infl uence has extended far beyond itself due to the popularity among non-Persian audiences of poets like ‘Omar Khayyâm and Rumi. Virtually all the major poets of the early era, during the Samanid, Ghaznavid, and Saljuq periods, worked within the court tradition. They included such masters as Rudaki (d. 940?), Daqiqi (d. ca. 976); ‘Onsori (d. 1050?); Farrokhi (d. 1038?), and Manuchehri (d. 1041?). In their hands, the qasideh was not at all the tiresome and overly refi ned vehicle of fl attery it later became. Their language was fresh, clear, and direct, and their mastery of the techniques of metaphor and simile superb. Although they maintained the traditional elements and framework of the Arabic qasideh, they made it Persian in spirit as well as language. This is perhaps most obvious in the opening part of the poem, where they typically celebrated the beauty of nature as found in Iran rather than the conventional descriptions of deserts and caravans typical of the Arabic equivalents. These lyrical sections or fragments of the qasideh could often stand on their own as independent poems, much like a ghazal.
As an example, one might cite a few lines from a famous qasideh by Farrokhi on an occasion in the spring when the ruler’s horses were being rounded up and branded:
Gardens all chameleon-coated, branches with chameleon whorls, Pearly-lustrous pools around us, clouds above us raining pearls! On the gleaming plain this coat of many colours doth appear Like a robe of honour granted in the Court of our Amir. For our Prince’s Camp of Branding stirreth in these joyful days, So that all this age of ours in joyful wonder stands a-gaze. Green within the green you see, like stars within the fi rmament; Like a fort within a fortress spreads the army, tent on tent. Every tent contains a lover resting in his sweetheart’s arms, Every patch of grass revealeth to a friend a favourite’s charms. Harps are sounding midst the verdure, minstrels sing their lays divine, Tents resound with clink of glasses as the pages pour the wine.
The greatest poem of this era, however, was written by a poet who broke almost all the norms of Persian poetry as we have just described them. Abo’l-Qâsem Ferdowsi (d. 1019 or 1025) did write some qasidehs and short poems, and he did try to seek out the patronage of the famous ruler Mahmud of Ghazna, but he devoted his life and work above all to writing a great epic poem which would preserve the stirring legends of pre-Islamic Iran (completing a task which had been begun by Daqiqi). This masterpiece, the Shâh-nâmeh or “Book of Kings,” took over 30 years to fi nish and ran to some sixty thousand verses, written in masnavi form (rhymes between the hemistichs of each verse) and the popular motaqâreb meter (scanned in each hemistich as short-long-long/short-long-long/short-long-long/short-long). The basic outline of the “Iranian national history” on which the Shâh-nâmeh is based has been described earlier and need not be repeated here. The diversity of the stories which make it up prevent the Shâh-nâmeh from being the kind of intense, concentrated epic one fi nds in the Iliad or even a sprawling epic story of a single hero like the Odyssey (although the cycle of stories about the great Iranian champion Rostam resembles that genre in some ways). The unity of the Shâh-nâmeh rather derives from its sweeping moral vision of a continuing struggle of good against evil and order against chaos, coupled with its fervent devotion to the land of Iran. Ferdowsi came from the social class of the dehqâns, the proprietors of small landed estates who had traditionally been responsible for the defense and fi scal administration of Iran at the village level. They had played a role of inestimable importance in keeping alive the culture and customs of pre-Islamic Iran, and the Shâh-nâmeh clearly represents their outlook on the world. The tales of the Shâh-nâmeh are the stories of their heroes, who face their dilemmas and challenges. The social mores refl ected in the poem, especially those pertaining to the business of “fi ghting and feasting,” are theirs. The fundamental sadness of the poem, shown in its frequent allusions to an Iran that has finally been beaten down by its enemies and that has lost its past grandeur, no doubt is rooted in the despondency of this warrior class as it realized it was gradually fading away. The art of the poem, however, transcends these social norms; few poets have ever excelled to such a degree as Ferdowsi in the ability to describe the clamor of battle and the tragic turmoil of human existence. Unlike other types of poetry, there was no Arabic prototype for a work such as the Shâh-nâmeh; the many stories it contained were Iranian in origin, and Ferdowsi wanted it to be pure Persian even in language, using as few words of Arabic origin as possible (some say none at all). This patriotic aspect of the poem is perhaps its most enduring and endearing feature, and Iranians often quote from it to express their love of country: One of its most popular lines is the declaration na-bâshad be-Irân tan-e man ma-bâd, “were it not for Iran, I myself could not exist.” During the intensely nationalistic period of Pahlavi rule in twentieth-century Iran, not surprisingly, this aspect of the poem and its place in Persian literature was both exalted and exploited, not least in how it was misrepresented as an apology for monarchy and blind obedience to foolish kings. This produced something of a reaction against the poem following the Islamic revolution, but that has largely passed. Indeed, such a line may resonate even more for many secularized Iranians, both inside and outside of the country, who have become frustrated with the theocratic government in Iran. To combat the Islamic rule, which ultra-nationalists view it as an extension of Arab rule and culture, such Iranians still tend to exalt the Shâh-nâmeh as a book representing their national identity. As a grand epic, though, the Shâh-nâmeh ultimately transcends politics and validates the author’s own assessment of his legacy. Those final lines of the poem may be cited here as a sample of the poet’s craft:
az ân pas namiram keh man zendeh-am keh tokhm-e sokhan man paragandeh-am har ân kas keh dârad hosh o ray o din pas az marg bar man konad âfarin
Henceforth, I shall not pass away, I will live on; For I have sown the seeds of my speech. Anyone who has intellect, insight, and faith, Will, after I die, say blessings for me.
The recitation in collective settings of verses from the Shâh-nâmeh or stories based on it (Shâh-nâmeh-khvâni or naqqâli) became an important part of entertainment in traditional Iranian society. Such recitations might take place either in private homes or in public settings. For example, parts of the Shâh-nâmeh would be read out in the traditional sports facilities known as the zur-khâneh (“house of strength”). In teahouses, the recitation was often done dramatically by an individual (known as a naqqâl) who might utilize a drum, hand clapping, singing, and pictures on curtains hung on the wall to enhance the story. It was not unusual for these naqqâls to embellish the original stories for dramatic effect. They were narrator, actor, and director at the same time, recreating and animating scenes while engaging the spectators. Although the art of naqqâli has been declining in Iran, its elements have been revived in modern theatrical performances and still can be seen in some traditional settings. Recently, a type of restaurant based on traditional forms of dining has emerged in Iran, known as a sofreh-khâneh, in some of which naqqâli is offered as a form of entertainment to the customers. Two other masters of classical Persian poetry, beloved in Iran and famous around the world, are Mosharref-od-Din Sa‘di and Shams-od-Din Hâfez. Both lived in the fabled city of Shiraz, the heartland of Persian culture; Sa‘di (ca. 1213–92) at the beginning of the Mongol period, and Hâfez (ca. 1325–1389) toward the end of that era. Shaykh Sa‘di, as he is known, wrote many fi ne poems, including a highlyregarded collection of lyrical odes (ghazals). His greatest accomplishment, however, lay in two rather unusual long poems, the Bustân (“Herb-Garden”) and the Golestân (“Flower-Garden,” which mixes prose and poetry). The titles of these works are most appropriate as indicators of their organization and content. Like a bouquet of useful herbs or beautiful fl owers from a garden, the poems are anthologies of what is often referred to by the cliché of “wisdom of the East.” Moreover, Sa‘di lived in a very troubled time, when the Muslim lands were being ravaged by the Mongols, but he was fortunate enough to fi nd safe haven in Shiraz—much the way a garden is for Iranians a tranquil refuge from the anxieties encountered beyond its walls. His poems are collections of ethical advice on how, fi guratively speaking, to make that spiritual garden one needs in order to cope with living in such a turbulent world; they are often drawn, or so he claims, from the experiences of his own life and travels. They are thus best described as didactic or moralizing poetry, using short versifi ed anecdotes and stories to make a philosophical point, yet thanks to Sa‘di’s poetic touch they are largely free of the tiresome tone such a rubric implies. The poems are defi nitely Sufi in spirit, especially the Bustân. In its opening lines, it emphasizes both the majesty and the compassion of God:
The heads of kings, neckexalting, Are at His court, on the ground of supplication. He does not instantly seize the froward; He does not drive away with violence those excuse bringing. And though He becomes angry at bad conduct, When thou didst return He canceled the past circumstance in the book of sins. The two worlds (this and the next) are like a drop in the sea of His knowledge; He sees a crime, but in mercy covers it with a screen… He places the ruby and the turquoise in the backbone of the rock; The red rose, on the branch of green color. From the cloud He casts a drop toward the ocean; From the backbone of the father He brings the seed into the womb. From that drop He makes an incomparable pearl; And from this He makes a form of man like the lofty cypress. The knowledge of a single atom is not hidden from Him, To whom the evident and the hidden are one. He prepares the daily food of the snake and the ant; Although they are without hands and feet, and strength. By His order He portrayed existence from nonexistence; Who, except He, knows how to make the existing from the nonexisting?
Sa‘di’s Sufi sm, however, has a light and decidedly pragmatic touch, teaching, for example, that telling a lie that does good is better than telling a truth that does harm. Indeed, the stories often skewer the false piety of the hypocritical or misguided ‘âbeds (ostentatious worshippers) and darvishes (mendicant Sufi s). Sa‘di’s view of the proper Sufi attitude is suggested in this anecdote from the Golestân:
A gang of dissolute vagabonds broke in upon a darwesh, used opprobrious language, and beat and ill-used him. In his helplessness he carried his complaint before his ghostly father, and said, Thus it has befallen me. He replied: O my son! the patched cloak of darweshes is the garment of resignation; whosoever wears this garb, and cannot bear with disappointment is a hypocrite, and to him our cloth is forbidden.
A vast and deep river is not rendered turbid by throwing into it a stone. That religious man who can be vexed at an injury is as yet a shallow brook. If thou art subjected to trouble, bear with it; For by forgiveness thou art purifi ed from sin. Seeing, O brother! that we are ultimately to become dust, Be humble as the dust, before thou moulderest into dust.
Significantly, both the Bustân and the Golestân open with chapters on kingship and good government. They were clearly intended as admonitions to rulers to act in a spirit of justice grounded in Sufi values. A good example comes from the Golestân:
A king ordered an innocent person to be put to death. The man said, Seek not your own hurt by venting any anger you may entertain against me. The king asked, How? He replied, The pain of this punishment will continue with me for a moment, but the sin of it will endure with you for ever.
The period of this life passes by like the wind of the desert. Joy and sorrow, beauty and deformity, equally pass away. The tyrant vainly thought that he did me an injury, But round his neck it clung and passed over me. The king profi ted by this advice, spared his life, and asked his forgiveness.
Finally, one of the delights of reading Sa‘di’s stories is fi nding that they can also be playful or humorous in nature, and the verses which adorn them like proverbs—even though some contemporary Iranians, using modern standards, view these as sexist and old-fashioned. For example, there is an anecdote in the Golestân of a man whose beloved wife died young but who was required by the terms of his marriage contract to continue to take care of the unpleasant mother-in-law. Thus he complained to his friends:
They plucked the rose and left me the thorn;
They plundered the treasure, and let the snake remain.
To have our eye pierced with a spear were more tolerable than to see the face of an enemy.
It were better to break with a thousand friends than to put up with one rival.
Hâfez, a pen name meaning “one who has memorized the Koran,” is the supreme master of the ghazal genre of poetry. Virtually all literary critics, Iranian and non-Iranian, express their admiration of the exquisite, gemlike quality of his verses, and there is really no doubt that his lyrical odes are unsurpassed in both their technical perfection and the depth and subtlety of their expression. Even though Hâfez often uses some of the most hackneyed metaphors in Persian literature—the garden, the rose and the nightingale, the beauty of the city of Shiraz, the wine cup, the tresses of the beloved—they always seem fresh and appropriate in his poems. Hâfez’s ability to employ color and striking images can make a poem seem like a miniature painting. An exquisite example is the ghazal beginning with the line raftam be-bâgh sobhdam- i tâ chenam gol-i/âmad be-gush nâgahan âvâz-e bolbol-i, ably translated into English by Arthur J. Arberry:
I walked within a garden fair At dawn, to gather roses there; When suddenly sounded in the dale The singing of a nightingale. Alas, he loved a rose, like me, And he, too, loved in agony; Tumbling upon the mead he sent The cataract of his lament. With sad and meditative pace I wandered in that fl owery place, And thought upon the tragic tale Of love, and rose, and nightingale. The rose was lovely, as I tell; The nightingale he loved her well; He with no other love could live, And she no kindly word would give. It moved me strangely, as I heard The singing of that passionate bird; So much it moved me, I could not Endure the burden of his throat. Full many a fair and fragrant rose Within the garden freshly blows, Yet not a bloom was ever torn Without the wounding of the thorn. Think not O Hafez, any cheer To gain of Fortune’s wheeling sphere; Fate has a thousand turns of ill, And never a tremor of good will.
Hâfez’s themes are among the most profound in literature, complex and inexhaustible in the ways they can be interpreted: the anguish of unrequitedn love, the capriciousness of fate, the transience of life, disillusionment with the world, the mystery of existence. In such poetry, the inherent peculiarities and ambiguities of the Persian language become great assets. For an example, one need look no further than the opening lines of what is probably Hâfez’s most famous and often discussed ghazal:
agar ân tork-e shirâzi be-dast ârad del-e mârâ/be-khâl-e henduyesh bakhsham samarqand o bokhârârâ.
This was first translated into English by Sir William Jones as a conventional love poem:
Sweet maid, if thou would’st charm my sight And bid these arms thy neck infold; That rosy cheek, that lily hand, Would give thy poem more delight Than all Bocara’s vaunted gold, Than all the gems of Samarcand.
But of course Persian has no gender, and it is not all that clear who is being addressed or why. Literally, the verse says “If that Shirazi Turk would take our heart in his/her hand, for the mole on his/her face I would give Bokhara and Samarqand.” Thus some critics might read this as an actual love poem addressed to a young lass (or lad), while others would take it as a Sufi allegory or even a political appeal to the Turko-Mongol ruler of Shiraz. This kind of quandary runs throughout his poems: When Hâfez speaks of taverns and wine drinking, are these just Sufi metaphors for the world and the intoxication that comes from the love of God, or do they refl ect a real celebration of libertinism? When he mocks pious zealotry, is he following the conventional Sufi disdain for formal religion or was he a genuine agnostic? Guessing at what lies so elusively behind Hâfez’s incomparable artistry is a major component of his appeal. That is why Hâfez’s poems can be used equally by religious leaders to support their religious views, by Sufi s to support their love of God, by secularists to denounce clerical hypocrisy, by musicians as lyrics for both mystical and romantic music, and, recently, by Iranian homosexuals as historical evidence for the existence of homosexuality in Iranian culture. Quite apart from the literary signifi cance of his work, the importance of Hâfez in Iranian culture, even at the popular level, cannot be emphasized too much. For example, his divân, or collection of poems, is one of the books, along with the Koran, most often used for the purpose of taking an omen (fâl), letting it fall open and taking advice from a randomly selected verse. Many secular Iranians use a copy of the Divân, instead of the Koran, on the special table they prepare in celebration of the Iranian New Year (see the chapter on holidays and festivals). Beyond that, the affection and respect which Iranians have for Hâfez is shown quite well in a personal anecdote related by Manuchehr Farmanfarmaian, formerly an offi cial with the National Iranian Oil Company and Iranian ambassador to Venezula. On returning in 1954 via Pakistan from a trip to the United States, he found himself being harassed a bit by a border guard at Zâhedân, who started rummaging through his baggage: Suddenly he gave a start as he saw a little volume of poetry by Hafez that I always traveled with. “You have a Hafez?” he asked. I nodded dumbly. I had become addicted to Hafez and could not sleep at night without reading a passage or two. I was not alone in this appreciation. The guard took the book reverently in his hands and, opening it, read a page silently to himself. His eyes shone as he looked back at me. “You may close your bags now, sir,” he said with respect, handing the book to me on the fl at of his rough, cracked palms. For a moment we stood looking at each other, such vastly different men who nonetheless were brothers through the love of poetry.7 Apart from these great masters, Iran produced a vast number of other poets in the classical period. The tazkerehs, or biographical dictionaries compiled by various literary authorities, record the names of literally thousands of these poets, but most are now largely forgotten or known for just a memorable line or two. Others are quite important, though not on a level with Hâfez or Sa‘di. The most famous outside Iran is undoubtedly Omar Khayyâm, thanks to the superb adaptation of his poetry into English by Robert Fitzgerald. Prior to that, Khayyâm was more highly regarded by Iranians as a mathematician than as a poet. He was, of course, a competent poet, being quite skilled at the genre known as the robâ‘i or do bayti (a kind of quatrain). Anvari (d. 1191?) and Khâqâni (d. 1199) excelled at the writing of qasidehs. Nezâmi (b. 1141?) wrote very fi ne long narrative poems that blended the epic tradition of Ferdowsi with the mystic outlook of a Sufi masnavi; fi ve of these were combined in his work known as the Khamseh: a mystical and philosophical introductory poem (Makhzan al-asrâr); the story of the romance of Khosrow and Shirin; the love story of Majnun and Layli; the stories told to King Bahrâm Gur by seven princesses (Haft paykar); and an Alexander romance. Farid-od-Din ‘Attâr (d. 1230?) was a mystic poet almost on a par with Rumi. These were all very serious poets, but it should not be overlooked that Persian poetry, like Persian culture, also had a comic side that reveled in the display of wit, humor, invective, and ribaldry. The undisputed master of this style of poetry was the inimitable ‘Obayd-e Zâkâni (d. 1371). It is a delicious irony that he, probably Iran’s most brilliant and impertinent humorist, lived in the era of one of its most dour and humorless rulers, the ruthless Timur ( Tamerlane). The last truly great poem of the classical period was Nur-od-Din Jâmi (d. 1492), who wrote in many of the established genres but is best known for a collection of seven masnavi poems known as the Haft awrang. Poetry continued to be produced in Iran after the Mongol period and right down to contemporary times but in generally diminishing quality if not quantity. There are many possible reasons for this decline. For example, in the Safavid period—otherwise such a brilliant chapter in Persian history and culture—it is fairly clear that patronage for poets had dried up in favor of the writing of religious literature, so that many of the best Persian poets decided to pursue their careers at the far more lucrative courts of the Moguls in India. Beyond that, it seems that the traditional genres and topics of Persian poetry had been pretty well exhausted by the previous masters, and it would be particularly diffi cult for anyone else to breathe something fresh and lively into them. In that sense, it was not until the concept of poetry itself began to change that prominent new poets could appear. That process began in the nineteenth century under the Qâjâr rulers. Some poets of that time looked back to the earliest generation of Persian poets as models of clear and simple language that should be emulated, as opposed to the ornate and highly polished language of the later classical period. Others, such as Qâ‘âni (d. 1854), probably the greatest of the Qâjâr poets, began to bridge the gap that had developed between the literary language and the language of the people by writing in ways that used Persian as it was actually spoken. Still others began to be infl uenced by non-Persian, specifically European, poetry, which was refl ected in the unconventional topics and expressions they used. Ultimately, this led in the twentieth century to the development of wholly new modes and genres of poetry in Persian. Against the background of the Constitutional Revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century (1905–1911), Iranian poets also began experimenting with new ideas. Poets like Malek-osh-Sho‘arâ Bahâr, Iraj Mirzâ, ‘Âref, Mirzâdeh ‘Eshqi, Abo’l-Qâsem Lâhuti, Taqi Raf‘at, and ‘Ali-Akbar Dehkhodâ all tried to advance the quality of the poetry by transposing rhymes, creating new expressions, and introducing new themes. The most dramatic changes in Persian poetry emerged along dramatic changes in the Iranian society after the World War II when poets unhappy with the rigid structure of traditional style dispensed with the rhyme and consistent meter and adopted a free verse language. Works of this group are known as she‘r-e now (“new poetry”). The father of this new genre was ‘Ali Esfandiâri (1895–1959), who used the pen-name Nimâ Yushij. Born in Yush, a village near the Caspian Sea, Nimâ first received traditional schooling and then went to a Roman Catholic school in Tehran where he received instruction from a lyric poet, Nezâm Vafâ (1883–1960). Nimâ’s early attempts at imitating classical poets like Jâmi, Rumi, and Khayyâm were unsatisfactory. As time passed and he became more familiar with new poetic devices and the culture of urban life, he found old devices too self-limiting for the free fl ow of his ideas. While working with rhythm and rhyme, he soon stopped bothering with the conventional Arabic meters and the limitation they put on the length of his lines. He found it useless to break the continuity and integrity of a thought, or idea, by the fi xed pattern of rhymes in a bayt. Thus, he wrote poems centered on an idea, rather than form, with lines of varied length. For him, the length of a line was to be determined by the depth of the expressed idea. In 1937, adapting the vers libre of French symbolists, he wrote his first free verse, Qoqnus (“The Phoenix”). These innovations did not go well with traditionalists and Nimâ found himself isolated, ridiculed, and unnoticed. But time was on his side. As the country was going through rapid modernization under the rule of Rezâ Shah, young poets were becoming tired and unhappy with classical devices. Nimâ’s innovations in form and style, coming as they did at the same time as the innovations in prose by the master Iranian novelist at the time, Sâdeq Hedâyat, attracted young poets of his time and brought him respect and recognition. What became particularly attractive to these young poets was Nimâ’s symbolism, allowing them to use ordinary words as symbols representing deeper and hidden meanings. Experiencing the oppressive policies of a young shah, words like “night” and “dawn” became respectively symbols of tyranny and enlightenment. Soon, young poets were experimenting with a form of poetry full of political symbolism—a tradition which has continued until today. Nimâ’s most important works include Afsâneh-ye Nimâ (“Nima’s Fable”), Shahr-e shab, shar-e sobh (“City of Night, City of Morning”), Nâqus (“Bell”), Mâkh Ulâ, and Mâneli. An important poet who appeared in twentieth century Iran, one who was recently declared a “national poet” by the government, was Sayyid Mohammad-Hosayn Behjat-Tabrizi (1906–1988). He used two pen names, Haydar Bâbâ in Turkish (from the name of a hill near poet’s native village, Khoshknâb, in Tabriz) and Shahriâr in Persian. An Azeri Turk, Shahriâr composed poems in both the Persian and Turkish languages and followed the traditional poetic forms. Having composed the first and most famous Turkish poetry collection ever written by an Iranian, Shahriâr is regarded by Azeris as one of the first contemporary poets exposing the potentialities of Azerbaijani poetry and its importance in shaping Azeri identity. The simplicity of his words and frequent use of slang and colloquial Persian make his poems both accessible and memorable among ordinary people. Though he mostly wrote lyrical poetry, he also composed quatrains, couplets, odes, and elegies in both Persian and Turkish. A contemporary poet whose works resembled those of Shahriâr and received widespread attention among the public was Fereydun Moshiri (1927–2000). Moshiri composed poems in both classical and modern forms and bridged the gap between traditional bayts, with equal strength and length, and the modern poetry’s emphasis on thematic integrity. A humanist in perspective and modern in outlook, he avoided sensationalism, worked on diffi cult themes, and yet kept his poem accessible to broader audiences. Several important poets followed Nimâ Yushij’s thematic and expressive style and became infl uential and important in their own turn: Nâder Nâderpur, Fereydun Tavallali, Esmâ‘il Khoi , Yâdollâh Royâ‘i , Nosrat Rahmâni, Ebrâhim Golestân, Ahmad-Rezâ Ahmadi, Mohammad-Rezâ Shafi ‘i Kadkani, Siâvash Kasrâi, Mas‘ud Farzâd, Manuchehr Âtashi, Yâdollâh Maftun Amini, Hushang Ebtehâj, Manuchehr Nistâni, Mohammad-‘Ali Sepanlu, Sa‘id Soltânpur, M. F. Farzâneh, ‘Ali Bâbâchâhi, and Mahmud Kiânush. Called “New Wave” poets, they wrote prose poems and experimented with Dadaism, automatism, formalism, futurism, surrealism and other trends. Mahdi Akhavân-Sâles (1928–1990) is one of those poets who started with classical poetry and became an important heir to Nimâ. Like Ferdowsi, Akhavân-Sâles’ forte was epic and his poetry contained a complex set of metaphors, symbols, and far-fetched similes. He was one of the contemporaries whose poems are widely interpreted as political. A disciple of Akhavân-Sâles is Esmâ‘il Khoi, who divides his verses into very long hemistiches. Khoi is one of the bestknown political and philosophical Persian poets living in exile today. A poet of this same generation who has tried to create a synthesis of various styles in modern poetry is Mohammad-Rezâ Shafi ‘i Kadkani. Infl uenced by classical poets such as Hâfez and Rumi, and modernists such as Nimâ and Akhavân Sâles, Kadkani composes lyrical poems, but they also often refl ect the social and political environment. The most popular, and for that same reason controversial, contemporary Iranian modernist poets are Ahmad Shâmlu and Forugh Farrokhzâd. Shâmlu (1926–2000) started his career as a journalist and began writing sentimental, lyrical, and patriotic prose poems. Having experimented with a variety of styles, Shâmlu soon abandoned the traditional forms of rhythm and rhyme and wrote poems with the natural music of the Persian language. Deeply infl uenced by Paul Eluard, Garcia Lorca, Luis Aragon, and the great Turkish poet, Nazim Hekmat, he found his own style by using soft and harmonious words in manner different from ordinary prose. A playwright, translator, broadcaster, and literary historian, Shâmlu’s career exposed him to much larger audiences than other contempory poets and made his views and poems, especially those with political overtones, very controversial. He was seen a threat by both the government and the traditionalist poets who resented his rise to fame among the educated youth. Forugh Farrokhzâd (1935–67) is arguably one of the most original and infl uential of modern Persian poets. One of her earliest volumes of poetry, published in 1957, was entitled ‘Esyân (Rebelliousness), a quality well represented in both the unconventionality of her life and the originality of her art. She quit school early, married at 16 against her parent’s wishes, got divorced three years later, briefl y entered a psychiatric hospital, once attempted suicide, and engaged in a series of what were by Iranian standards of the time scandalous romantic affairs. Not only was she equally unusual in being a woman who gained recognition in a fi eld that had been so thoroughly dominated by men, everything about her poetry was iconoclastic. First of all, she followed Nimâ Yushij by breaking completely with the Persian classical tradition to write in a style comparable to that of free verse in modern Western poetry. Beyond that, she wrote about subjects and themes, often clearly drawn from her own personal life experience as a woman, that were virtually taboo in polite Persian discourse. The rebelliousness drew from her awareness of the pains of existence. Much of her poetry thus spoke of her frustration with the place assigned to women in Persian society, her own search for love, and her disappointment and bitterness at men who were incapable of moving beyond physical passion. Moreover, no amount of rebellion could dispel the feeling that she was, in fact, trapped, as suggested by the titles of her other early volumes of poetry, Asir (The Captive) and Divâr (The Wall). True liberation, the subject of one of her last collections of poetry (Tavallod-e digar, “Rebirth”), came only through realization of one’s individuality and the solace of art. Yet even this was tempered by a sense of the fragility and brevity of life, expressed in her poetry by references to “the sucking mouth of the grave,” a “cold season,” a “young pair of hands buried beneath the falling snow.” These now seem almost like premonitions of her own tragic and untimely death in an automobile accident in 1967. As a female rebel challenging conservative social norms, Farrokhzad’s poetry was banned for more than a decade after the Islamic Revolution. Eventually, the government could not resist her popularity anymore and allowed her works to be openly circulated again, albeit only with modest pictures of her. Today, an industry has developed in Iran around collections of her poetry, books and movies about her life and art, recordings of her voice, and a short documentary film she made on leprosy called Khâneh siyâh ast (“The House Is Black”). After her death, Forough became an infl uential role model for a generation of young female poets: Shâdâb Vajdi, Maymanat Mir-Sâdeqi (Âzâdeh), Zhâleh Mosâ‘ed, Minâ Asadi, and Simin Behbahâni. Behbahâni (b. 1928) has established herself as one of the most distinguished contemporary female poets. She has written poetry in both modern and traditional forms and has produced her own style of lyrical ode (ghazal). What distinguishes her poetry from those of past poets is her ability to incorporate theatrical subjects as well as contemporary issues into her poems. She is a political activist, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997, and was awarded the Carl von Ossietzky Medal in 1999 for her struggle for freedom of expression in Iran. Finally, mention should be made of Sohrâb Sepehri—an important contemporary modernist poet whose popularity inside Iran has increased after his death. Sepehri (1928–1980) had a very close relationship with nature and maintained a solitary life. He was painter as well and his poetry is often in dialogue with his painting. His verses are full of images, symbols, and the music of nature. They represent conversations with nature in a style blending Islamic mysticism, Zen-Buddhism, and even pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism. Some of his poems, along with those of Nimâ, Akhavân-Sâles, and Shâmlu have been used in musical productions and are listened to by many contemporary Iranians.