Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Maara Ensmann: Oral Culture and Poetry Response Paper #3

The ode poetry was different than I was expecting. The English ode poetry I have encountered has been about exalting the focus of the poem. Whereas, Persian ode poetry is about being direct, to the point, using less flowery language, and the most realistic view of the different genres. Something else that caught me off guard was the negative tone taken in many of the ode poems. Even though some of the other poetry we have read has been negative, the bluntness of ode poetry struck me much more. Getting to see some of the classical metaphors taken on in darker light was fascinating. The following lines are an example of this.

 “Many a desert waste existeth when was once garden glad

And a garden glad existeth where once a desert sad.”(2)

The overall theme of these lines is that existence is a cycle. After bad will come good, and after good will come bad. The use of having a garden brings human involvement into what would otherwise be an exclusively natural cycle, in that gardens formed by humans. The garden also implies involvement from the Beloved, since gardens are a common place one encounters the Beloved and a lot of garden metaphors refer to the Beloved. With this viewpoint the lines then refer to the presence and absence of the Beloved. When the Beloved is not present, the lover feels as if they are in a desert, and when the Beloved is with them, the lover is filled with happiness. These lines in the context of the poem are the turning point between the author lamenting and accepting old age to what the author was like in the past. So though it seems the author is in a period of desert, where before they were in a period of garden, it is not a bad thing. It just means that a garden now has a chance to come about whether that be during their current life or afterlife when they might go to Paradise, another garden.

Through having to memorize lines, I have found ways lines relate to each other sound and rhythm wise. I have done this by the ways I can make memorization easier for myself. The first thing I look for in lines is for the sound similarities between the two lines, word repetition, and rhyming. These three things help me to establish connections between two lines. It also makes it easier to memorize the second line once I’ve learned the first because I will already have a bit of a structure of what to expect from the second line. The most recent lines we had to memorize were the hardest for me because there were fewer of these connections between lines. Another thing I use to help me memorize is creating some rhythm I can repeat for a grouping of lines. Again it helps when memorizing second lines to have a structure already in place, as well as using a rhythm makes it more memorable to me than saying it in a normal speaking tone. Memorizing lines has been useful for my understanding of what sound letters in Farsi make.

As a result, calligraphy has gotten more comfortable for me, along with more practice time with it. There are still letters and general shapes that I need to practice more. I also need to work on getting my calligraphy writing to be more similar to the classic font and getting my writing to be smaller and closer together. The pieces at both the Allen museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art, the writing was so small and beautiful. It has become a dream to get my writing to that size while maintaining all of the precision. Writing on the blackboard was getting to practice calligraphy with larger writing and in a new medium. I found the chalk to be easier to control and form the shapes I wanted. I believe this is because the distance between my fingers and the writing surface was shorter than with the Sharpie. Writing on the blackboard did involve a lot more movement and positioning of my body so I could write. The end result of everyone writing on the blackboard was beautiful. It was colorful and cool to see and see the differences between handwritings. Usually, the different handwritings don’t exist on the same surface, and it was a great experience to see people put their own twist onto something that is relatively standardized.

Choosing the line about humans all being a part of the same body to both memorize, write, and listen to it performed musically gave me an appreciation of what music can do to enhance lines of poetry, the addition of emphasis being the most significant contribution. Also, I felt that there was a soulfulness and sadness within all the music pieces that was added; this could be because of different common scales. While listening to the music, there were a few similarities I noticed between the various pieces. The repetition of rhythms and melodies, this is what gave me the idea to add rhythms to lines I was memorizing. A change in melody between when singing was happening and not happening. There is a decent amount of time spent on just instrumentals, which is not something one encounters in western music besides the occasional drum, bass, or guitar solo. Finally, there are vibratos while singing that are quite frequent. This also is not encountered often in western music, the one place I can think it exists is in operatic singing. There is more of an emphasis on having a steady voice while singing in western music. It is interesting that what is deemed as the best singing voice is considerably different between cultures.


  1. Mahallati, Jafar. “Class Discussions.” Lecture, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, September 2019.
  2. “A. J. Arberry(Ed.): Persian Poems, an Anthology of Verse Translations. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, Ltd.New York: E. P. Dutton and Co. Inc. 1954, 6s.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 17, no. 2 (1955): 115-146, 181–223.

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