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Intro To Persian Poetry: Part One

The Persian culture and language are heavily influenced by its poetry and poetic history. In fact, poetry is so important to Persian culture even today that bank notes in Iran contain watermarked images of ancient Persia’s most famous poets and there are centuries old statues of poets in almost every Iranian city. Imagine if the National Mall in Washington, DC was littered with statues of famous American poets and American currency featured the faces of Emily Dickinson or Robert Lowell. Well, that’s basically how things work in Iran with regards to poetry. You will be hard-pressed to find an Iranian that can’t recite some of the most famous poetry of poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, or Hafez. One can encounter poetry in almost every classical Iranian work, whether from Persian literature, science, or metaphysics. In short, the ability to write in verse form was a pre-requisite for any scholar.

Qasida (قصيدة or قصیده)

Early Persian poetry is characterized by a strong court patronage, known as سبک فاخ  “exalted in style”, early Persian poetry was commissioned by royals. This is believed to have begun under the Sassanid era and it was a tradition carried on by the Abbasid and Samanid courts. Qasida (قصيدة in Arabic) (قصیده in Persian) was the primary style of poetic verse written during the early days of Persian poetry. Qasida is a form of poetry in which the poem maintains a single elaborate metre throughout the poem, and every line rhymes. It typically runs more than fifty lines, and sometimes more than a hundred. This genre is derived from Arabic poetry (hence the Arabic loanword as the name of the style) and it was later adopted by Persian poets. The Persians love poetry so much, though, that the Qasida style poetry they wrote was often several hundred lines. In Arabic qasida means “intention” and this genre of poetry was most often used as a means of a petition to a patron. In a ninth-century “Book of Poetry and Poets” by the Arabic poet Ibn Qutaybah, the author describes qasida as having three main parts:

  • A nostalgic opening. This was known as nasib or “love song.” In this part of the poem, the poet remembers his lover.
  • A release or disengagement. The poet here will typically contemplate how harsh life is and how his life is changed by being apart from his lover.
  • The poem’s message. This message can often take several forms; the poet will either praise his tribe, make fun of other tribes, or he will give some moral maxim

In Persian poetry, the qasida  may be a spring poem (Persian بهاریه) or autumn poem (Persian خزانیه) and the opening is usually description of a natural event; the seasons, a natural landscape or an imaginary sweetheart then the last section is the main purpose of the poet in writing the poem. Perhaps the most famous example of a Persian qasida is Rumi’s poem “Dam Hama Dam Ali Ali” which was written as a praise of Imam Ali.

In this video you can hear this qasida read in Persian along with music and tons of images of Imam Shah Karim Bin Ali:

Here is a translation of that qasida by Rumi:

A humble poet, I am, Let me be your muse drink of me 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 
 
A Sufi, I am, Pure of heart 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

A lover, I am, of Murtaza Ali 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

My joy uncontained, I am in song 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

Adam the Pure be you, 
Yusuf the Beautiful too 

Tis you who’s Khidr’s guide 
 In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

His teacher, his inspiration 
Lord, Lawgiver, Teacher, True Guide 

Truth be, you are the Truth; the Absolute 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

Faithful Companion, in virtue incomparable  
In whose company pales even the Sun, the moon 

Oh, Father of Hassan, Hussein 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali  

Declared Muhammed, the Most Generous of generous 
My cousin, the son of my uncle 

My flesh is your flesh, my blood your blood 
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

You are the Guardian, the Master of believers,  
That the Holy Quran makes clear, 
 Garbed, Crowned, Invincible, Unvanquished 

Shams, your humble servant, your Kambar Gulam, am I  
In rapture, my very being cries out: Ali Ali 

After the 14th century CE, Persian poets became more interested in ghazal and use of the qasida declined.

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  1. day-trips - October 23, 2015

    […] part one of our introduction to Persian poetry, you were introduced to a form of poetry known as Qasida […]

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