Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Response Paper 3-Estelle Tronson

Word Count: 1,104

Ode Poem Analysis

Persian poetry has always been an integral aspect of Persian culture. In fact, from the tenth to the sixteenth century, “even the written works by philosophers, historians, and scientists were often delivered in verse”¹. Among poetry, odes have had a prevalent influence. In western culture, an ode is often a “ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea”². Though there is a formal structure, it uses romantic and flowery language. In Persian culture, however, odes are more straightforward that other types of poetry. They aim to expose something for its true nature, whether that may be good or bad. One section of an ode that I particularly liked comes from “Message” by Nasar Khosrow. Khosrow says,

“I, who was once as the cypress, now upon fortune’s wheel.

Am broken and bent, you may tell them; for thus doth fortune deal.

Let not her specious promise you to destruction lure:

Ne’er was her covenant faithful; ne’er her pact secure”³.

The poet explains that he was “once like a cypress”, and often used symbol in Persian poetry, meaning he was strong, beautiful and confident. Now, however, because of bad fortune he is “broken and bent”. Khosrow is reminding the reader that you cannot predict the future. It is important to not dwell too heavily on what may come when you have no control over it, and instead appreciate the present moment, for all the good things you have may soon disappear. He let fate tempt him with false promises, and instead of bringing riches, it ruined him. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in what the future may bring, and forget to fully enjoy today. The historical context around this poem makes it even more compelling. Khosrow wrote the poem about Khorasan: a vast region of Persia with a rich history. Both the poets Khayyum and Firdowsi were born here, as well as Khosrow⁴. Khorasan was known as a cultural and political center, or “the heart of Iran”⁵. In the sixth and seventh centuries, the region played host to diplomatic and administrative interactions with western powers⁶. During Khosrow’s life, the area was overturned by political turmoil, leaving wreckage in its wake⁷. After this, Khosrow wrote “Message”, lamenting on how beautiful that future had looked for him and his region, only to see that future snatched from his hands. 

Calligraphy Practice

In class, we’ve talked about about how calligraphy is considered a spiritual exercise, and that it is a practice of purity⁸. I have found that I agree with this; there is something exceptionally calming about sitting down and practicing the flowing sentences. What I did not realize about calligraphy, however, is how it can foster a sense of community. Last week, as a class we all practiced our calligraphy together on the chalkboard. We worked together to create multicolored phrases, admiring each other’s work as we went. Each person had a unique style, but on the board, none of them looked out of place. Before, I had thought that calligraphy was a deeply individualistic exercise, but now, I understand that is not always the case. In fact, sometimes, it can be more fun as a group.

Another thing I learned from this particular calligraphy experience is the effect that color can have. Since then, I have been adding color to some of my works and am pleased with the result. 

Music

Like calligraphy, music is an important interpretation of Persian poetry. Because relies heavily on rhythm, so does the music. Several drums and stringed instruments keep time with the song⁹. Often the melody will fluctuate between major and minor chords, sometimes dipping into something else entirely. This fluidity gives the melody a mystical feel, and gives the singer, or singers, more freedom to stretch out the poem, or repeat certain parts. Another interesting aspect of Persian music is that harmony is rarely used. Instead, there are many singers all following the same tune¹⁰. With more people singing the same thing, the impact of the lyrics is striking. It is easier to focus on the words this way. Finally, something I find fascinating about Persian music, is that, because the lyrics are derived from poetry, the songs often tell stories, or relay important lessons. Unlike western music, which is much more focused on the melody and less so on the words, Persian music puts the lyrics first, which easily makes the songs much more captivating.

Reflection on Memorization

Recently, we completed out most challenging memorization assignment yet. It was a lengthy, four line poem that is written on a carpet in the United Nations headquarters. Translated, the poem says,

“All children of Adam are members of one body

Because in their creation, they are from the same gem

Whenever a body member is in pain

All other body members become restless”¹¹.

It is a beautiful sentiment, especially for a place of international cooperation, like the UN. Although difficult, it was also my favorite recitation thus far. The significance behind these words is deeply moving. The poem describes humanity as one living being. When one of those beings is in pain, every single person can feel it. Although not quoted at the United Nations, it goes on to explain that if someone does not feel sympathy for those who are suffering, they cannot be considered human. This is a beautiful thought, and one all governing bodies should remember. It speaks to the interconnectivity of life, and the compassion that we must have for each other. Professor Mahallati speaks frequently of poetry’s power, urging us to keep some lines fresh in our lines for future use. After reading this poem, I finally understood the sentiment.

Endnotes

¹“A Thousand Years of the Persian Book Classical Persian Poetry.” Library of Congress, United States Government, 27 Mar. 2014, www.loc.gov/exhibits/thousand-years-of-the-persian-book/classical-persian-poetry.html.

²“Ode.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 2019, www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/ode.

³Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: an Anthology of Verse Translations. Yassavoli Publications, 2005.

⁴Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Khorāsān.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Nov. 2016, www.britannica.com/place/Khorasan-historical-region-Asia.

⁵Encyclopædia Iranica Scholars. “Encyclopædia Iranica.” Encyclopædia Iranica, ENCYCLOPÆDIA IRANICA FOUNDATION, 2019, www.iranicaonline.org/articles/capital-cities.

⁶Encyclopædia Iranica Scholars. “Encyclopædia Iranica.” Encyclopædia Iranica, ENCYCLOPÆDIA IRANICA FOUNDATION, 2019, www.iranicaonline.org/articles/capital-cities.

⁷Encyclopædia Iranica Scholars. “Encyclopædia Iranica.” Encyclopædia Iranica, ENCYCLOPÆDIA IRANICA FOUNDATION, 2019, www.iranicaonline.org/articles/capital-cities.

⁸Sulzberger, Jean. “The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition.” The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, by William C. Chittick, Morning Light Press, 2007, pp. 78–81.

⁹Raneai Family Ensemble. “‘Bani Adam’ , Ranaei Family Ensemble بنی آدم’ گروه خانواده رعنایی.’” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Dec. 2015, www.youtube.com/channel/UCTv_yAdibkN4cfeAeNfaM9A.

آوای فاخته . “بوی جوی مولیان/ ارکستر فیلارمونیک پاریس + گروه کُر بهرا¹⁰.” Aparat.com, 2015, www.aparat.com/v/Bb0zw.

¹¹Professor Mahallati, In class lecture: Freshman Seminar, October 2019.

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