Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Charlize Villaseñor – Response Paper 6

Contemporary poets may not be as highly memorized or recognized as traditional poets, but contemporary poets have still produced works that are relevant to today’s society and have put an emphasis on different aspects of life than their predecessors. Contemporary poetry began in the late 20th century, heavily marked by the Iranian Revolution, and has been influenced by this event as well as recent ideologies. These recent ideologies include environmentalism as is apparent through the works of many poets, especially Sepehri and Moshiri. The work of Sepehri, Moshiri, and Behbahani will be analyzed alongside a reflection of music informed by this poetry, personal experience in memorization, and calligraphy. 

Sepehri is likely the most memorized contemporary poet amongst Persian speaking nations and writes primarily about nature with subtext of moral values. For example, in his poem, Water, he writes: “Let’s not stir up any muddy water, Maybe it flows past the poplar on its way to soothe some lonely soul, Or the wandering dervish is there, soaking his dry bread crusts.” Sepehri uses water as a metaphor to express the idea that actions have consequences for an individual and for those around them, so these actions must be thought through and the actor should be mindful of those around him. Water is used to portray this metaphor as it is used by everyone so it is easier for individuals to understand the meaning of the poem. Most people would understand that they would not like to drink dirty water, and neither would others, so they must be careful not to muddy the water for others. Though this poem is about being mindful of one’s actions and how they affect others, it also promotes environmentally conscious actions which is a common theme in Sepehri’s poetry.

Similar to Sepehri, Moshiri also writes with heavy emphasis on the beauty of nature, using it as a metaphor to provide messages about life to his audience. His poem, Believe the Spring, is an example of this as he writes: “Now believe the miracle of the rain, And see the bounty in the eyes of the meadow, And kindness in the soul of the breeze.” Moshiri uses the changing seasons and weather as a metaphor for periods of transition in life. He writes of the harshness of the cold and the dry season throughout the poem, finishing with the season of spring. He uses spring to represent hope, especially for those struggling with internal struggles as it is typically seen as a season of rebirth. As seen in nature, these difficult periods will pass. Nature is portrayed as powerful which assists in reinforcing this theme of environmentalism and how moral lessons are shown through nature; it essentially makes the point that if something can hold true for the rest of nature, it can also hold true for humans. 

Behbahani is another contemporary poet that is important in Persian culture. In her work, some poems mention a few characteristics of nature’s beauty, but it is less so than the works of Sepehri and Moshiri. She more directly speaks to her audience about her thoughts and moral beliefs but still manages to use a poetic language. This is especially evident in her poem, The Man with a Missing Leg, as she writes: “I shall offer motherly counsel even if he is unmindful. I turn to him again to start a conversation; his place is empty, he is gone, the man with a missing leg…” Behbahani writes about a man with a missing leg and how his existence is suffering. Throughout the poem, the speaker is thinking about what this man is doing, what to say to this man, that once she eventually gets the courage to speak to him, he is gone. This conveys the notion that people are suffering and individuals should not delay to speak a kind word. The poem is about the speaker’s perception of the man, but not about the man himself. His thoughts are not portrayed, which emphasizes the idea that individuals are often thinking more about themselves and their perceptions of others rather than those people themselves. It speaks to two moral lessons: remember that others exist outside of your own mind, and reach out to them. 

These contemporary poets use modern, yet still poetic, language to address modern issues such as appreciation of nature during a time where profits are placed over the well being of the earth, as well as age old issues such as respect for others and the importance of hope. The questions these poets deal with are primarily about kindness and respect toward others, including nature, and toward oneself. They answer through connections in nature than can help the audience better understand the point being made. The language of these poems, especially those by Sepehri and Moshiri, emphasize the beauty of nature and how it should be appreciated, while simultaneously teaching moral lessons. Though these poems are considered contemporary, they still influence music in today’s world. Behbahani’s My Country, I Shall Build You Again! is an example of contemporary poetry that becomes contemporary music. It turned into a patriotic theme of the Iranian revolution and is sung much differently than traditional Persian music. The modern sound is also seen in the musical interpretation of Golestaneh by Sepehri. This piece utilizes a combination of orchestral instruments and traditional instruments to create a new sound. Though traditional singing is still present, the traditional and modern style of music is mixed. This reinforces the notion that new ideas can influence the world in more ways than one and bring generations together. 

Though music has changed with the advent of contemporary poetry, calligraphy has been influenced to a lesser extent. It was used as an art form then, and is still used as an art form now. It was useful to see the calligraphy on what could be considered modern pottery, and hear about the difference between writing on a flat surface as opposed to writing on a rough surface. It also helped me see that calligraphy on art must be treated differently and held to a different standard than calligraphy on a chalkboard or a piece of paper. Calligraphy can be imitated but not perfectly reproduced if it is done by hand which adds artistic value to it, especially as everyone has their own style or interpretation of letters.

Calligraphy has also helped me better remember the lines of poetry as I write more and more. When combining memorization and calligraphy, I can better remember what the characters sound like and what they look like. Though I haven’t learned enough to read a whole poem without the transliteration, I can identify many letters much better than I could at the beginning of the semester. I typically write the transliteration many times to memorize the lines of poetry, but I find that writing it in Persian has also helped as I need to think much more about what I am writing. Additionally, I find that breaking up the line into 4 to 6 phrases instead of many words has proven useful, and I have translated this skill to my memorization for my Japanese class to better memorize dialogues. 

Contemporary poetry may seem to be a lesser known genre within the world of Persian poetry, but it is just as important as the classics. The teachings of contemporary poetry hold a deep appreciation for nature and still provide moral teachings. The use of music has evolved with poetry, but like calligraphy and memorization, still remains tied to tradition.

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