Persian literature

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Kelileh va Demneh Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, from Herat, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the Lion astray
A scene from the Shanama describing the valour of Rustam

Persian literature (Persian: ادبیات فارسی‎) is one of the world's oldest literatures. It spans two-and-a-half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its sources have been within historical Persia including present-day Iran, Iraq and the Caucasus, as well as regions of Central Asia where the Persian language has historically been the national language. For instance, Molana (Rumi), one of Persia's best-loved poets, born in Balkh or Vakhsh (in what is now Afghanistan or Tajikistan), wrote in Persian, and lived in Konya, then the capital of the Seljuks. The Ghaznavids conquered large territories in Central and South Asia and adopted Persian as their court language. There is thus Persian literature from Iran, Mesopotamia, Azerbaijan, the wider Caucasus, Turkey, western parts of Pakistan, Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia. Not all this literature is written in Persian, as some consider works written by ethnic Persians in other languages, such as Greek and Arabic, to be included. At the same time, not all literature written in Persian is written by ethnic Persians or Iranians. Particularly, Indic, Caucasian, and Turkic poets and writers have also used the Persian language in the environment of Persianate cultures.

Described as one of the great literatures of mankind,[1] Persian literature has its roots in surviving works of Middle Persian and Old Persian, the latter of which date back as far as 522 BCE (the date of the earliest surviving Achaemenid inscription, the Behistun Inscription). (Persian literature was considered by Goethe one of the four main bodies of world literature.[2]) The bulk of surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of Persia circa 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power (750 CE), the Persians became the scribes and bureaucrats of the Islamic empire and, increasingly, also its writers and poets. The New Persian literature arose and flourished in Khorasan and Transoxiana because of political reasons – the early Iranian dynasties such as Tahirids and Samanids were based in Khorasan.[3]

Persians wrote in both Persian and Arabic; Persian predominated in later literary circles. Persian poets such as Ferdowsi, Sa'di, Hafiz, Attar, Nezami,[4]Rumi[5] and Omar Khayyam are also known in the West and have influenced the literature of many countries.

Classical Persian literature[edit]

Pre-Islamic Persian literature[edit]

Very few literary works of Achaemenid Persia have survived, due partly to the destruction of the library at Persepolis.[6] Most of what remains consists of the royal inscriptions of Achaemenid kings, particularly Darius I (522–486 BC) and his son Xerxes. Many Zoroastrian writings were destroyed in the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century. The Parsis who fled to India, however, took with them some of the books of the Zoroastrian canon, including some of the Avesta and ancient commentaries (Zend) thereof. Some works of Sassanid geography and travel also survived, albeit in Arabic translations.

No single text devoted to literary criticism has survived from pre-Islamic Persia. However, some essays in Pahlavi, such as "Ayin-e name nebeshtan" (Principles of Writing Book) and "Bab-e edteda’I-ye" (Kalileh o Demneh), have been considered as literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1959).[7]

Some researchers have quoted the Sho'ubiyye as asserting that the pre-Islamic Persians had books on eloquence, such as 'Karvand'. No trace remains of such books. There are some indications that some among the Persian elite were familiar with Greek rhetoric and literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1947).

Persian literature of the medieval and pre-modern periods[edit]

While initially overshadowed by Arabic during the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphates, New Persian soon became a literary language again of the Central Asian and West Asian lands. The rebirth of the language in its new form is often accredited to Ferdowsi, Unsuri, Daqiqi, Rudaki, and their generation, as they used pre-Islamic nationalism as a conduit to revive the language and customs of ancient Persia.

In particular, says Ferdowsi himself in his Shahnama:

بسی رنج بردم در این سال سی
عجم زنده کردم بدین پارسی

"For thirty years, I endured much pain and strife,
I awaken the Ajam by this Persian [language]."

Poetry[edit]

So strong is the Persian aptitude for versifying everyday expressions that one can encounter poetry in almost every classical work, whether from Persian literature, science, or metaphysics. In short, the ability to write in verse form was a pre-requisite for any scholar. For example, almost half of Avicenna's medical writings are in verse.

Works of the early era of Persian poetry are characterized by strong court patronage, an extravagance of panegyrics, and what is known as سبک فاخر "exalted in style". The tradition of royal patronage began perhaps under the Sassanid era and carried over through the Abbasid and Samanid courts into every major Persian dynasty. The Qasida was perhaps the most famous form of panegyric used, though quatrains such as those in Omar Khayyam's Ruba'iyyat are also widely popular.

Khorasani style, whose followers mostly were associated with Greater Khorasan, is characterized by its supercilious diction, dignified tone, and relatively literate language. The chief representatives of this lyricism are Asjadi, Farrukhi Sistani, Unsuri, and Manuchehri. Panegyric masters such as Rudaki were known for their love of nature, their verse abounding with evocative descriptions.

Through these courts and system of patronage emerged the epic style of poetry, with Ferdowsi's Shahnama at the apex. By glorifying the Iranian historical past in heroic and elevated verses, he and other notables such as Daqiqi and Asadi Tusi presented the "Ajam" with a source of pride and inspiration that has helped preserve a sense of identity for the Iranian peoples over the ages. Ferdowsi set a model to be followed by a host of other poets later on.

The 13th century marks the ascendancy of lyric poetry with the consequent development of the ghazal into a major verse form, as well as the rise of mystical and Sufi poetry. This style is often called Araqi (Iraqi) style, (western provinces of Iran were known as Persian Iraq (Araq-e-Ajam) and is known by its emotional lyric qualities, rich meters, and the relative simplicity of its language. Emotional romantic poetry was not something new however, as works such as Vis o Ramin by As'ad Gorgani, and Yusof o Zoleikha by Am'aq Bokharai exemplify. Poets such as Sana'i and Attar (who ostensibly have inspired Rumi), Khaqani Shirvani, Anvari, and Nizami, were highly respected ghazal writers. However, the elite of this school are Rumi, Sadi, and Hafiz Shirazi.

Regarding the tradition of Persian love poetry during the Safavid era, Persian historian Ehsan Yarshater notes, "As a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and bodyguards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal."[8] During the same Safavid era, many subjects of the Persian Safavids were patrons of Persian poetry, such as Teimuraz I of Kakheti.

In the didactic genre one can mention Sanai's Hadiqat-ul-Haqiqah (Garden of Truth) as well as Nizami's Makhzan-ul-Asrār (Treasury of Secrets). Some of Attar's works also belong to this genre as do the major works of Rumi, although some tend to classify these in the lyrical type due to their mystical and emotional qualities. In addition, some tend to group Naser Khosrow's works in this style as well; however true gems of this genre are two books by Sadi, a heavyweight of Persian literature, the Bustan and the Gulistan.

After the 15th century, the Indian style of Persian poetry (sometimes also called Isfahani or Safavi styles) took over. This style has its roots in the Timurid era and produced the likes of Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, and Bhai Nand Lal Goya.

Essays[edit]

The most significant essays of this era are Nizami Arudhi Samarqandi's "Chahār Maqāleh" as well as Zahiriddin Nasr Muhammad Aufi's anecdote compendium Jawami ul-Hikayat. Shams al-Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir's famous work, the Qabus nama (A Mirror for Princes), is a highly esteemed Belles-lettres work of Persian literature. Also highly regarded is Siyasatnama, by Nizam al-Mulk, a famous Persian vizier. Kelileh va Demneh, translated from Indian folk tales, can also be mentioned in this category. It is seen as a collection of adages in Persian literary studies and thus does not convey folkloric notions.

Biographies, hagiographies, and historical works[edit]

Among the major historical and biographical works in classical Persian, one can mention Abolfazl Beyhaghi's famous Tarikh-i Beyhaqi, Lubab ul-Albab of Zahiriddin Nasr Muhammad Aufi (which has been regarded as a reliable chronological source by many experts), as well as Ata-Malik Juvayni's famous Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini (which spans the Mongolid and Ilkhanid era of Iran). Attar's Tazkerat-ol-Owliya ("Biographies of the Saints") is also a detailed account of Sufi mystics, which is referenced by many subsequent authors and considered a significant work in mystical hagiography.

Literary criticism[edit]

The oldest surviving work of Persian literary criticism after the Islamic conquest of Persia is Muqaddame-ye Shahname-ye Abu Mansuri, which was written during the Samanid period.[9] The work deals with the myths and legends of Shahname and is considered the oldest surviving example of Persian prose. It also shows an attempt by the authors to evaluate literary works critically.

Persian storytelling[edit]

One Thousand and One Nights (Persian: هزار و یک شب‎) is a medieval folk tale collection which tells the story of Scheherazade (Persian: شهرزادŠahrzād), a Sassanid queen who must relate a series of stories to her malevolent husband, King Shahryar (Persian: شهریارŠahryār), to delay her execution. The stories are told over a period of one thousand and one nights, and every night she ends the story with a suspenseful situation, forcing the King to keep her alive for another day. The individual stories were created over several centuries, by many people from a number of different lands.

The nucleus of the collection is formed by a Pahlavi Sassanid Persian book called Hazār Afsānah[10] (Persian: هزار افسان‎, Thousand Myths), a collection of ancient Indian and Persian folk tales.

During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century, Baghdad had become an important cosmopolitan city. Merchants from Persia, China, India, Africa, and Europe were all found in Baghdad. During this time, many of the stories that were originally folk stories are thought to have been collected orally over many years and later compiled into a single book. The compiler and 9th-century translator into Arabic is reputedly the storyteller Abu Abd-Allah Muhammad el-Gahshigar. The frame story of Shahrzad seems to have been added in the 14th century.

Dictionaries[edit]

Dehkhoda names 200 Persian lexicographical works in his monumental Dehkhoda Dictionary, the earliest, Farhang-i Avim (فرهنگ اویم) and Farhang-i Menakhtay (فرهنگ مناختای), from the late Sassanid era.

The most widely used Persian lexicons in the Middle Ages were those of Abu Hafs Soghdi (فرهنگ ابوحفص سغدی) and Asadi Tusi (فرهنگ لغت فرس), written in 1092.

Also highly regarded in the contemporary Persian literature lexical corpus are the works of Dr. Mohammad Moin. The first volume of Moin Dictionary was published in 1963.

In 1645, Christian Ravius completed a Persian-Latin dictionary, printed at Leiden. This was followed by J. Richardson's two-volume Oxford edition (1777) and Gladwin-Malda's (1770) Persian-English Dictionaries, Scharif and S. Peters' Persian-Russian Dictionary (1869), and 30 other Persian lexicographical translations through the 1950s.

In 2002, Professor Hassan Anvari published his Persian-to-Persian dictionary, Farhang-e Bozorg-e Sokhan, in eight volumes by Sokhan Publications.

Currently English-Persian dictionaries of Manouchehr Aryanpour and Soleiman Haim are widely used in Iran.

Persian phrases[edit]

Persian phrases
* Thousands of friends are far too few, one enemy is too much. *
هزاران دوست كم اند، يك دشمن زياد است

Hezārān dust kam and, yek doshman ziād ast.

* The wise enemy is better than the ignorant friend. *
دشمن دانا بهتر از دوست نادان است

Doshman-e dānā behtar az dust-e nādān ast.

* The wise enemy lifts you up, the ignorant friend casts you down. *
دشمن دانا بلندت ميكند. بر زمينت ميزند نادان ِ دوست

Doshman-e dānā bolandat mikonad. Bar zaminat mizanad nādān-e dust.

The influence of Persian literature on World literature[edit]

Sufi literature[edit]

William Shakespeare referred to Iran as the "land of the Sophy".[11] Some of Persia's best-beloved medieval poets were Sufis, and their poetry was, and is, widely read by Sufis from Morocco to Indonesia. Rumi (Maulānā ), in particular is renowned both as a poet and as the founder of a widespread Sufi order. The themes and styles of this devotional poetry have been widely imitated by many Sufi poets. See also the article on Sufi poetry.

Many notable texts in Persian mystic literature are not poems, yet highly read and regarded. Among those are Kimiya-yi sa'ādat and Asrar al-Tawhid.

Areas once under Ghaznavid or Mughal rule[edit]

South Asia[edit]

With the emergence of the Ghaznavids and their successors such as the Ghurids, Timurids and Mughal Empire, Persian culture and it's literature gradually moved into South Asia too. Due to much admiration for everything West Asian and Persian in particular, Persian became the language of the nobility, literary circles, and the royal Mughal courts for hundreds of years. (In modern times, Persian has been generally supplanted by Urdu, a heavily Persian-influenced dialect of Hindustani.)

Under the Moghul Empire of India during the 16th century, the official language of India became Persian. Only in 1832 did the British army force the South Asia to begin conducting business in English. (Clawson, p. 6) Persian poetry in fact flourished in these regions while post-Safavid Iranian literature stagnated. Dehkhoda and other scholars of the 20th century, for example, largely based their works on the detailed lexicography produced in India, using compilations such as Ghazi khan Badr Muhammad Dehlavi's Adat al-Fudhala (اداة الفضلا), Ibrahim Ghavamuddin Farughi's Farhang-i Ibrahimi (فرهنگ ابراهیمی), and particularly Muhammad Padshah's Farhang-i Anandraj (فرهنگ آناندراج). Famous South Asian poets and scholars such as Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, Mirza Ghalib and Muhammad Iqbal of Lahore found many admirers in Iran itself.

Western literature[edit]

Persian literature was little known in the West before the 18-19th century. It became much better known following the publication of several translations from the works of late medieval Persian poets, and it inspired works by various Western poets and writers.

German literature[edit]

English literature[edit]

  • A selection from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (935–1020) was published in 1832 by James Atkinson, a physician employed by the British East India Company.
  • A portion of this abridgment was later versified by the British poet Matthew Arnold in his 1853 Rustam and Sohrab.
  • The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was another admirer of Persian poetry. He published several essays in 1876 that discuss Persian poetry: Letters and Social Aims, From the Persian of Hafiz, and Ghaselle.

Perhaps the most popular Persian poet of the 19th and early 20th centuries was Omar Khayyam (1048–1123), whose Rubaiyat was freely translated by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. Khayyam is esteemed more as a scientist than a poet in his native Persia, but in Fitzgerald's rendering, he became one of the most quoted poets in English. Khayyam's line, "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou", is known to many who could not say who wrote it, or where.

The Persian poet and mystic Rumi (1207–1273) (known as Molana in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan and Mevlana in Turkey), has attracted a large following in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Popularizing translations by Coleman Barks have presented Rumi as a New Age sage. There are also a number of more literary translations by scholars such as A.J. Arberry.

The classical poets (Hafiz, Sa'di, Khayyam, Rumi, Nizami and Ferdowsi) are now widely known in English and can be read in various translations. Other works of Persian literature are untranslated and little known.

Swedish literature[edit]

During the last century, numerous works of classical Persian literature have been translated into Swedish by baron Eric Hermelin. He translated works by, among others, Farid al-Din Attar, Rumi, Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam, Sa'adi and Sana'i. Influenced by the writings of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, he was especially attracted to the religious or Sufi aspects of classical Persian poetry. His translations have had a great impact on numerous modern Swedish writers, among them Karl Wennberg, Willy Kyrklund and Gunnar Ekelöf. More recently classical authors such as Hafez, Rumi, Araqi and Nizami Aruzi has been rendered into Swedish by the iranist Ashk Dahlén, who has published several essays on the development of Persian literature. Excerpts from Ferdousi's Shahnama has also been translated into Swedish prose by Namdar Nasser and Anja Malmberg.

Italian literature[edit]

During the last century, numerous works of classical Persian literature have been translated into Italian by Alessandro Bausani (Nizami, Rumi, Iqbal, Khayyam), Carlo Saccone ('Attar, Sana'i, Hafiz, Nasir-i Khusraw, Nizami, Ahmad Ghazali, Ansari of Herat), Angelo Piemontese (Amir Khusraw Dihlavi), Pio Filippani-Ronconi (Nasir-i Khusraw, Sa'di), Riccardo Zipoli (Kay Ka'us, Bidil), Maurizio Pistoso (Nizam al-Mulk), Giorgio Vercellin (Nizami 'Aruzi), Giovanni Maria D'Erme ('Ubayd Zakani, Hafiz), Sergio Foti (Suhrawardi, Rumi, Jami), Rita Bargigli (Sa'di, Farrukhi, Manuchehri, 'Unsuri). A complete translation of Firdawsi's Shah-nama was made by Italo Pizzi in the 19th century.

Contemporary Persian literature[edit]

History[edit]

In the 19th century, Persian literature experienced dramatic change and entered a new era. The beginning of this change was exemplified by an incident in the mid-19th century at the court of Nasereddin Shah, when the reform-minded prime minister, Amir Kabir, chastised the poet Habibollah Qa'ani for "lying" in a panegyric qasida written in Kabir's honor. Kabir saw poetry in general and the type of poetry that had developed during the Qajar period as detrimental to "progress" and "modernization" in Iranian society, which he believed was in dire need of change. Such concerns were also expressed by others such as Fath-'Ali Akhundzadeh, Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, and Mirza Malkom Khan. Khan also addressed a need for a change in Persian poetry in literary terms as well, always linking it to social concerns.

"In life there are certain sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker." The Blind Owl

The new Persian literary movement cannot be understood without an understanding of the intellectual movements among Iranian philosophical circles. Given the social and political climate of Persia (Iran) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which led to the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906–1911, the idea that change in poetry was necessary became widespread. Many argued that Persian poetry should reflect the realities of a country in transition. This idea was propagated by notable literary figures such as Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda and Abolqasem Aref, who challenged the traditional system of Persian poetry in terms of introducing new content and experimentation with rhetoric, lexico-semantics, and structure. Dehkhoda, for instance, used a lesser-known traditional form, the mosammat, to elegize the execution of a revolutionary journalist. 'Aref employed the ghazal, "the most central genre within the lyrical tradition" (p. 88), to write his "Payam-e Azadi" (Message of Freedom).

Some researchers argue that the notion of "sociopolitical ramifications of esthetic changes" led to the idea of poets "as social leaders trying the limits and possibilities of social change."

An important movement in modern Persian literature centered on the question of modernization and Westernization and whether these terms are synonymous when describing the evolution of Iranian society. It can be argued that almost all advocates of modernism in Persian literature, from Akhundzadeh, Kermani, and Malkom Khan to Dehkhoda, Aref, Bahar, and Taqi Rafat, were inspired by developments and changes that had occurred in Western, particularly European, literatures. Such inspirations did not mean blindly copying Western models but, rather, adapting aspects of Western literature and changing them to fit the needs of Iranian culture.

Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, prominent scholar of Persian literature and literary criticism

Following the pioneering works of Ahmad Kasravi, Sadeq Hedayat and many others, the Iranian wave of comparative literature and literary criticism reached a symbolic crest with the emergence of Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, Shahrokh Meskoob, Houshang Golshiri and Ebrahim Golestan.

Persian literature in Afghanistan[edit]

Persian literature in Afghanistan has also experienced a dramatic change during the last century. At the beginning of the 20th century, Afghanistan was confronted with economic and social change, which sparked a new approach to literature. In 1911, Mahmud Tarzi, who came back to Afghanistan after years of exile in Turkey and was influential in government circles, started a fortnightly publication named Saraj’ul Akhbar. Saraj was not the first such publication in the country, but in the field of journalism and literature it launched a new period of change and modernization. Saraj not only played an important role in journalism, it also gave new life to literature as a whole and opened the way for poetry to explore new avenues of expression through which personal thoughts took on a more social colour.

In 1930 (1309 AH), after months of cultural stagnation, a group of writers founded the Herat Literary Circle. A year later, another group calling itself the Kabul Literary Circle was founded in the capital. Both groups published regular magazines dedicated to culture and Persian literature. Both, especially the Kabul publication, had little success in becoming venues for modern Persian poetry and writing. In time, the Kabul publication turned into a stronghold for traditional writers and poets, and modernism in Dari literature was pushed to the fringes of social and cultural life.

Three of the most prominent classical poets in Afghanistan at the time were Qari Abdullah, Abdul Haq Betab and Khalil Ullah Khalili. The first two received the honorary title Malek ul Shoara (King of Poets). Khalili, the third and youngest, was drawn toward the Khorasan style of poetry instead of the usual Hendi style. He was also interested in modern poetry and wrote a few poems in a more modern style with new aspects of thought and meaning. In 1318 (AH), after two poems by Nima Youshij titled "Gharab" and "Ghoghnus" were published, Khalili wrote a poem under the name "Sorude Kuhestan" or "The Song of the Mountain" in the same rhyming pattern as Nima and sent it to the Kabul Literary Circle. The traditionalists in Kabul refused to publish it because it was not written in the traditional rhyme. They criticized Khalili for modernizing his style.

Very gradually new styles found their way into literature and literary circles despite the efforts of traditionalists. The first book of new poems was published in the year 1957 (1336 AG), and in 1962 (1341 AH), a collection of modern Persian (Dari) poetry was published in Kabul. The first group to write poems in the new style consisted of Mahmud Farani, Baregh Shafi’i, Solayman Layeq, Sohail, Ayeneh and a few others. Later, Vasef Bakhtari, Asadullah Habib and Latif Nazemi, and others joined the group. Each had his own share in modernizing Persian poetry in Afghanistan. Other notable figures include Leila Sarahat Roshani, Sayed Elan Bahar and Parwin Pazwak. Poets like Mayakovsky, Yase Nien and Lahouti (an Iranian poet living in exile in Russia) exerted a special influence on the Persian poets in Afghanistan. The influence of Iranians (e.g. Farrokhi Yazdi and Ahmad Shamlou) on the newly established Afghan prose and poetry, especially in the second half of the 20th century, must also be taken into consideration.[13]

Prominent writers from Afghanistan like Asef Soltanzadeh, Reza Ebrahimi, Ameneh Mohammadi, and Abbas Jafari grew up in Iran and were influenced by Iranian writers and teachers.

Persian literature in Tajikistan[edit]

The new poetry in Tajikistan is mostly concerned with the way of life of people and is revolutionary. From the 1950s until the advent of new poetry in France, Asia and Latin America, the impact of the modernization drive was strong. In the 1960s, modern Iranian poetry and that of Mohammad Iqbal Lahouri made a profound impression in Tajik poetry. This period is probably the richest and most prolific period for the development of themes and forms in Persian poetry in Tajikistan. Some Tajik poets were mere imitators, and one can easily see the traits of foreign poets in their work. Only two or three poets were able to digest the foreign poetry and compose original poetry. In Tajikistan, the format and pictorial aspects of short stories and novels were taken from Russian and other European literature. Some of Tajikistan's prominent names in Persian literature are Golrokhsar Safi Eva,[14] Mo'men Ghena'at,[15] Farzaneh Khojandi[16] and Layeq Shir-Ali.

Novels[edit]

Well-known novelists include:

see also Persian Novel

Satire[edit]

Main article: Persian satire

Literary criticism[edit]

Pioneers of Persian literary criticism in 19th century include Mirza Fath `Ali Akhundzade, Mirza Malkom Khan, Mirza `Abd al-Rahim Talebof and Zeyn al-`Abedin Maraghe`i.

Prominent 20th century critics include:

Saeed Nafisi analyzed and edited several critical works. He is well known for his works on Rudaki and Sufi literature. Parviz Natel-Khanlari and Gholamhossein Yousefi, who belong to Nafisi's generation, were also involved in modern literature and critical writings.[17] Natel-Khanlari is distinguished by the simplicity of his style. He did not follow the traditionalists, nor did he advocate the new. Instead, his approach accommodated the entire spectrum of creativity and expression in Persian literature. Another critic, Ahmad Kasravi, an experienced authority on literature, attacked the writers and poets whose works served despotism.[18]

Contemporary Persian literary criticism reached its maturity after Sadeq Hedayat, Ebrahim Golestan, Houshang Golshiri, Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub and Shahrokh Meskoob. Among these figures, Zarrinkoub held academic positions and had a reputation not only among the intelligentsia but also in academia. Besides his significant contribution to the maturity of Persian language and literature, Zarrinkoub boosted comparative literature and Persian literary criticism.[19] Zarrinkoub's Serr e Ney is a critical and comparative analysis of Rumi's Masnavi. In turn, Shahrokh Meskoob worked on Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, using the principles of modern literary criticism.

Mohammad Taghi Bahar's main contribution to this field is his book called Sabk Shenasi (Stylistics). It is a pioneering work on the practice of Persian literary historiography and the emergence and development of Persian literature as a distinct institution in the early part of the 20th century. It contends that the exemplary status of Sabk-shinasi rests on the recognition of its disciplinary or institutional achievements. It further contends that, rather than a text on Persian ‘stylistics’, Sabk-shinasi is a vast history of Persian literary prose, and, as such, is a significant intervention in Persian literary historiography.[20]

Jalal Homaei, Badiozzaman Forouzanfar and his student, Mohammad Reza Shafiei-Kadkani, are other notable figures who have edited a number of prominent literary works.[21]

Critical analysis of Jami's works has been carried out by Ala Khan Afsahzad. His classic book won the prestigious award of Iran's Year Best book in the year 2000.[22]

Persian short stories[edit]

Historically, the modern Persian short story has undergone three stages of development: a formative period, a period of consolidation and growth, and a period of diversity.[23]

The formative period[edit]

The formative period was ushered in by Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh's collection Yak-i Bud Yak-i Nabud (1921; tr. H. Moayyad and P. Sprachman as Once Upon a Time, New York, 1985), and gained momentum with the early short stories of Sadeq Hedayat (1903–51). Jamalzadeh (1895–1997) is usually considered as the first writer of modern short stories in Persian. His stories focus on plot and action rather than on mood or character development and in that respect are reminiscent of the works of Guy de Maupassant and O. Henry. In contrast, Sadeq Hedayat, the writer who introduced modernism to Persian literature, brought about a fundamental change in Persian fiction. In addition to his longer stories, "Buf-e kur" (his masterpiece; see above ii.) and "Haji Aqa" (1945), he wrote collections of short stories including Se Ghatra-ye Khun (Three Drops of Blood, 1932; tr. into French by G. Lazard as Trois gouuttes de sang, Paris 1996) and Zenda be Gur (Buried Alive, 1930). His stories were written in a simple and lucid language, but he employed a variety of approaches, from realism and naturalism to surrealistic fantasy, breaking new ground and introducing a whole range of literary models and presenting new possibilities for the further development of the genre. He experimented with disrupted chronology and non-linear or circular plots, applying these techniques to both his realistic and surrealist writings. Unlike Hedayat, who focused on the psychological complexity and latent vulnerabilities of the individual, Bozorg Alavi depicts ideologically motivated personages defying oppression and social injustice. Such characters, seldom portrayed before in Persian fiction, are Alavi's main contribution to the thematic range of the modem Persian short story. This commitment to social issues is emulated by Fereydun Tonokaboni (b. 1937), Mahmud Dawlatabadi (b. 1940), Samad Behrangi (q.v.; 1939–68), and other writers of the left in the next generation.

Sadeq Chubak was one of the first authors to break the taboo. Following the example of William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, and Ernest Hemingway, his blunt approach appears in the early short story collections Khayma Shab-bazi (The Puppet Show, 1945) and Antar-i ke Luti-ash Morda Bud (1949; tr. P. Avery as "The Baboon Whose Buffoon was Dead", New World Writing 11, 1957, pp. 14–24), Later stories like "Zir-e Cheragh-e Ghermez", "Pirahan-e Zereski", and "Chera Darya Tufani Shoda Bud" describe the naked bestiality and moral degradation of the personages with no trace of squeamishness. His short stories mirror rotting society, populated by the crushed and the defeated. Chubak picks marginal characters—vagrants, pigeon-racers, corpse-washers, prostitutes, and opium addicts—who rarely appear in the fiction of his predecessors, and whom he portrays with vividness and force. His readers come face to face with grim realities and incidents that they have often witnessed for themselves in everyday life but have shunned out of their mind through complacency.

A distinctive trait of post-war Persian fiction in all the three stages of development is the attention devoted to narrative styles and techniques. In matters of style two main trends prevail. Some authors, like Chubak and Al-e Ahmad, follow colloquial speech patterns; others, such as Ebrahim Golestan (b. 1922) and Mahmoud Etemadzadeh "Behazin" (b. 1915), have adopted a more literary and lyrical tone. Although the work of all four writers stretch into later periods, some brief remarks about their differing techniques, which delineated future paths, need mentioning at the outset. Golestan experimented with different narrative styles, and it was only in two late collections of stories, Juy o Divar o Teshna (The Stream and the Wall and the Parched, 1967) and Madd o Meh (The Tide and the Mist, 1969) that he managed to find a style and voice of his own. His poetic language draws inspiration both from syntactical forms of classical Persian prose and the experiments of modernist writers, most notably Gertrude Stein. The influence of modernism is evident also in the structure of Golestan's short stories, in which the traditional linear plot line is abandoned in favor of disrupted chronology and free association of ideas. Contrary to most other modern Persian authors, Golestan pays little heed to the state of the poor and the dispossessed. Instead, his short stories are devoted to the world of Persian intellectuals, their concerns, anxieties and private obsessions. Golestan's brand of modernism has influenced the later generation of writers like Bahman Forsi (b. 1933) and Houshang Golshiri (b. 1937). Although the stories of Behazin show similar indebtedness to classical Persian models, he does not follow Golestan's modernist experiments with syntax. Behazin is an author whose stories, delivered in a lucid literary style, express his leftist social beliefs. In some of his later works like the short story collection Mohra-ye Mar (The Snake Charm, 1955), he turns to literary allegory, imbuing ancient tales with a new message, a technique, which allows him to express his critical views obliquely. Behazin's predecessors in the sub-genre of the allegorical tale were Hedayat (in Ab-e Zendegi, 1931) and Chubak ("Esa'a-ye Adab" in the collection Khayma-Shab-Bazi).

Period of growth and development[edit]

This second period in the development of the modern Persian short story began with the coup of 19 August 1953, and ended with the revolution of 1979. Jalal Al-e Ahmad is among the proponents of new political and cultural ideas whose influence and impact straddle the first and the second periods in the history of modern Persian fiction. His writings show an awareness of the works of Franz Fanon and the new generation of third-world writers concerned with the problems of cultural domination by colonial powers. Al-e Ahmad, Behazin, Tonekaboni, and Behrangi can all be described as engaged writers because most of their stories are built around a central ideological tenet or thesis and illustrate the authors' political views and leanings. Among poets of this period, Forough Farrokhzad (1935–1967) has a special place as the first female poet of the Persian language acclaimed by her contemporaries and who left a lasting legacy despite her short life. Her legacy and influence is not primarily (or uniquely) political; however, she was among the first women able to set a personal and original mark. In this sense she is elevated to iconic status.

Another notable author from this period is Simin Daneshvar (b. 1931), the first woman writer of note in contemporary Persian literature. Her reputation rests largely on her popular novel Savusun ("The Mourners of Siyāvosh," 1969). Simin Daneshvar's short stories deserve mention because they focus on the plight and social exclusion of women in Persian society and address topical issues from a woman's point of view.

Gholam Hossein Saedi's (1935–85) short stories, which he called ghessa, often transcend the boundaries of realism and attain a symbolic significance. His allegorical stories, which occasionally resemble folkloric tales and fables, are inhabited by displaced persons, trapped in dead ends (Sepanlu, p. 117). They emphasize the anxieties and the psychological perturbations of his deeply troubled characters. Sadeghi (1936–84) was yet another author who focused on the anxieties and secret mental agonies of his characters.

Hooshang Golshiri (1937–2000) and Asghar Elahi (b. 1944) created memorable psychological portraits through interim monologue and stream of consciousness techniques. Golshiri, the author of the long story "Shazda Ehtejab" (Prince Ehtejab, 1968), is particularly noted for his successful experiments with extended interior monologues. A bold, innovative writer eager to explore modern methods and styles, Golshiri uses stream of consciousness narrative to reassess familiar theories and events.

Period of diversity[edit]

In this period, the influence of the western literature on the Iranian writers and authors is obvious. The new and modern approaches to writing is introduced and several genres have developed specially in the field of short story. The most popular trends are toward post-modern methods and speculative fiction.

Poetry[edit]

Notable Persian poets, modern and classical, include[24] Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, Simin Behbahani, Forough Farrokhzad, Mohammad Zohari, Bijan Jalali, Mina Assadi, Siavash Kasraie, Fereydoon Moshiri, Nader Naderpour, Sohrab Sepehri, Mohammad-Reza Shafiei-Kadkani, Ahmad Shamlou, Nima Yushij, Manouchehr Atashi, Houshang Ebtehaj, Mirzadeh Eshghi (classical), Mohammad Taghi Bahar (classical), Aref Ghazvini (classical), Parvin Etesami (classical), and Shahriar (classical).

Classical Persian poetry in modern times[edit]

A few notable classical poets have arisen since the 19th century, among whom Mohammad Taghi Bahar and Parvin Etesami have been most celebrated. Mohammad Taghi Bahar had the title "king of poets" and had a significant role in the emergence and development of Persian literature as a distinct institution in the early part of the 20th century.[25] The theme of his poems was the social and political situation of Iran.

Parvin Etesami may be called the greatest Persian poetess writing in the classical style. One of her remarkable series, called Mast va Hoshyar (The Drunk and the Sober), won admiration from many of those involved in romantic poetry.[26]

Modern Persian poetry[edit]

Nima Yushij is considered the father of modern Persian poetry, introducing many techniques and forms to differentiate the modern from the old. Nevertheless, the credit for popularizing this new literary form within a country and culture solidly based on a thousand years of classical poetry goes to his few disciples such as Ahmad Shamlou, who adopted Nima's methods and tried new techniques of modern poetry.

The transformation brought about by Nima Youshij, who freed Persian poetry from the fetters of prosodic measures, was a turning point in a long literary tradition. It broadened the perception and thinking of the poets that came after him. Nima offered a different understanding of the principles of classical poetry. His artistry was not confined to removing the need for a fixed-length hemistich and dispensing with the tradition of rhyming but focused on a broader structure and function based on a contemporary understanding of human and social existence. His aim in renovating poetry was to commit it to a "natural identity" and to achieve a modern discipline in the mind and linguistic performance of the poet.[27]

Nima held that the formal technique dominating classical poetry interfered with its vitality, vigor and progress. Although he accepted some of its aesthetic properties and extended them in his poetry, he never ceased to widen his poetic experience by emphasizing the "natural order" of this art. What Nima Youshij founded in contemporary poetry, his successor Ahmad Shamlou continued.

The Sepid poem (which translates to white poem), which draws its sources from this poet, avoided the compulsory rules which had entered the Nimai’ school of poetry and adopted a freer structure. This allowed a more direct relationship between the poet and his or her emotional roots. In previous poetry, the qualities of the poet’s vision as well as the span of the subject could only be expressed in general terms and were subsumed by the formal limitations imposed on poetic expression.

Khalilollah Khalili on the cover of "Deewaan-e Khalilullah Khalili"
Simin Daneshvar, Iran's first female novelist and short story writer.

Nima’s poetry transgressed these limitations. It relied on the natural function inherent within poetry itself to portray the poet’s solidarity with life and the wide world surrounding him or her in specific and unambiguous details and scenes. Sepid poetry continues the poetic vision as Nima expressed it and avoids the contrived rules imposed on its creation. However, its most distinct difference with Nimai’ poetry is to move away from the rhythms it employed. Nima Youshij paid attention to an overall harmonious rhyming and created many experimental examples to achieve this end.[27]

Ahmad Shamlu discovered the inner characteristics of poetry and its manifestation in the literary creations of classical masters as well as the Nimai’ experience. He offered an individual approach. By distancing himself from the obligations imposed by older poetry and some of the limitations that had entered the Nimai’ poem, he recognized the role of prose and music hidden in the language. In the structure of Sepid poetry, in contrast to the prosodic and Nimai’ rules, the poem is written in more "natural" words and incorporates a prose-like process without losing its poetic distinction. Sepid poetry is a developing branch of Nimai’ poetry built upon Nima Youshij's innovations. Nima thought that any change in the construction and the tools of a poet’s expression is conditional on his/her knowledge of the world and a revolutionized outlook. Sepid poetry could not take root outside this teaching and its application.

According to Simin Behbahani, Sepid poetry did not receive general acceptance before Bijan Jalali's works. He is considered the founder of Sepid poetry according to Behbahani.[28][29] Behbahani herself used the "Char Pareh" style of Nima, and subsequently turned to ghazal, a free-flowing poetry style similar to the Western sonnet. Simin Behbahani contributed to a historic development in the form of the ghazal, as she added theatrical subjects, and daily events and conversations into her poetry. She has expanded the range of traditional Persian verse forms and produced some of the most significant works of Persian literature in the 20th century.

A reluctant follower of Nima Yushij, Mehdi Akhavan-Sales published his Organ (1951) to support contentions against Nima Yushij's groundbreaking endeavors. In Persian poetry, Mehdi Akhavan Sales has established a bridge between the Khorassani and Nima Schools. The critics consider Mehdi Akhavan Sales as one of the best contemporary Persian poets. He is one of the pioneers of free verse (new style poetry) in Persian literature, particularly of modern style epics. It was his ambition, for a long time, to introduce a fresh style to Persian poetry.[30]

Forough Farrokhzad is important in the literary history of Iran for three reasons. First, she was among the first generation to embrace the new style of poetry, pioneered by Nima Yushij during the 1920s, which demanded that poets experiment with rhyme, imagery, and the individual voice. Second, she was the first modern Iranian woman to graphically articulate private sexual landscapes from a woman's perspective. Finally, she transcended her own literary role and experimented with acting, painting, and documentary film-making.[31]

Fereydoon Moshiri is best known as conciliator of classical Persian poetry with the New Poetry initiated by Nima Yooshij. One of the major contributions of Moshiri's poetry, according to some observers, is the broadening of the social and geographical scope of modern Persian literature.[32]

A poet of the last generation before the Islamic Revolution worthy of mention is Mohammad-Reza Shafiei-Kadkani (M. Sereshk). Though he is from Khorassan and sways between allegiance to Nima Youshij and Akhavan Saless, in his poetry he shows the influences of Hafiz and Mowlavi. He uses simple, lyrical language and is mostly inspired by the political atmosphere. He is the most successful of those poets who in the past four decades have tried hard to find a synthesis between the two models of Ahmad Shamloo and Nima Youshij.[33]

Persian literature awards[edit]

Authors and poets[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Arthur John Arberry, The Legacy of Persia, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953, ISBN 0-19-821905-9, p. 200.
  2. ^ Von David Levinson; Karen Christensen, Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, Charles Scribner's Sons. 2002 p. 48
  3. ^ Frye, R. N., "Darī", The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Brill Publications, CD version.
  4. ^ C. A. (Charles Ambrose) Storey and Franço de Blois (2004), "Persian Literature - A Biobibliographical Survey: Volume V Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period", RoutledgeCurzon; 2nd revised edition (June 21, 2004). p. 363: "Nizami Ganja’i, whose personal name was Ilyas, is the most celebrated native poet of the Persians after Firdausi. His nisbah designates him as a native of Ganja (Elizavetpol, Kirovabad) in Azerbaijan, then still a country with an Iranian population, and he spent the whole of his life in Transcaucasia; the verse in some of his poetic works which makes him a native of the hinterland of Qom is a spurious interpolation."
  5. ^ Franklin Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West, Oneworld Publications, 2000. How is it that a Persian boy born almost eight hundred years ago in Khorasan, the northeastern province of greater Iran, in a region that we identify today as Central Asia, but was considered in those days as part of the Greater Persian cultural sphere, wound up in Central Anatolia on the receding edge of the Byzantine cultural sphere, in which is now Turkey, some 1500 miles to the west? (p. 9)
  6. ^ Encyclopedia of Library and ... - Google Books
  7. ^ Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, Naqde adabi, Tehran 1959 pp:374-379.
  8. ^ Yar-Shater, Ehsan. 1986. Persian Poetry in the Timurid and Safavid Periods, Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.973-974. 1986
  9. ^ Iraj Parsinejad, A History of Literary Criticism in Iran, 1866-1951, (Ibex Publishers, Inc., 2003), 14.
  10. ^ Abdol Hossein Saeedian, "Land and People of Iran" p. 447
  11. ^ See William Shakespeare's The Twelfth Night.
  12. ^ "Nietzsche's Zarathustra". Philosophical forum at Frostburg State University. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  13. ^ "Latif Nazemi "A Look at Persian Literature in Afghanistan"". Archived from the original on 2008-02-27. 
  14. ^ "گلرخسار صفی اوا، مادر ملت تاجیک". BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  15. ^ "مومن قناعت، شاعر و سياستمدار". BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  16. ^ "فرزانه، صدای نسل نو". BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  17. ^ "پویایی فرهنگ هر کشور ی در "آزادی" نهفته است". Archived from the original on 2005-11-29. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  18. ^ "A history of literary criticism in Iran (1866-1951)". Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  19. ^ AH Zarrinkoub: A biography
  20. ^ British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
  21. ^ "Luminaries - Mohammad Reza Shafiei-Kadkani". Iran Daily - Panorama. 2005-09-24. Archived from the original on 2006-05-17. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  22. ^ "همایش بزرگداشت افصح زاد" at BBC Persian. Accessed on 2006-03-31.
  23. ^ Houra Yavari, "The Persian Short Story"
  24. ^ http://www.sharghnewspaper.com/850407/html/v2.htm
  25. ^ Wali Ahmadi "The institution of Persian literature and the genealogy of Bahar's stylistics"
  26. ^ "Parvin Etesami's biography at IRIB.com". Archived from the original on 2008-01-12. 
  27. ^ a b Mansur Khaksar "Shamlu’s poetic world"
  28. ^ "جايزه شعر بيژن جلالی به سيمين بهبهانی اهدا شد". BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  29. ^ "معرفی منتقدان و پژوهشگران برگزيده شعر". BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31. 
  30. ^ Mehdi Akhavan Sales's biography on Iran Chamber Society (www.iranchamber.com)
  31. ^ Forough Farrokhzad and modern Persian poetry
  32. ^ Fereydoon Moshiri's official website
  33. ^ Mahmud Kianush, "A Summary of the Introduction to Modern Persian Poetry"

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]