Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Response Paper 5-Estelle Tronson

Words: 1,094

Idyll Poetry

Idyllic poetry is “something a shepherd mutters in the field while tending to the sheep”¹. It is very simple, with straightforward concepts and sentiments, ideas even a simple shepard could understand and express. Yet, despite the uncomplicated nature, Idyll poetry can contain some of the most beautiful lines. One poem that caught my attention is titled “The Excuses” by Attar. In one section, Attar says,

“And the mysterious Mirror He set there

To temper his reflected Image in,

Clear of Distortion, Doubleness, and Sin:

And in thy conscience understanding this,

The Double only seems, but The One is,

Thyself to self-annihilation give

That this false Two in that true One may live.”²

One fault of language is that it cannot fully describe God. In these lines, the poet writes about how God is devoid of all things bad, and cannot be distorted. The signs of God that one sees, the icons such as paintings and songs, in the image of God are only a reflection of him, and not his true self. Attar urges the reader to give up all symbols and all icons, because they do not accurately represent God in his true form. In my favorite line, Attar warns against worshiping a symbol of God, rather than God himself saying, “The Double only seems, but The One is”. This poem also references the “mysterious Mirror” that God has set in place, possibly referencing how God created human beings in his own image. To this, Attar reminds the reader to stay humble and remember that while humans were created in God’s image, they must stay humble and remember that they are not equal to Him.

Rumi

For those who have read him, it comes as no surprise that Rumi is the best selling Persian poet. He creates beautiful phrases, with deep, sentimental meanings. In his fourth quatrain of Arberry’s text, Rumi writes,

“Who was he that said

The immortal spirit is dead,

Or how he dared say

Hope’s sun hath passed away

An enemy of the sun

Standing his roof upon

Bound up both his eyes

And cried: ‘Lo, the sun dies!’”³

Here, Rumi is criticizing those who do not believe in God, but also those who keep a pessimistic attitude. Rumi questions how someone can truly believe that “Hope’s sun hath passed away,” especially when God is ever present. Rumi goes further to say that the people who are convinced that the sun has gone are covering their eyes, refusing to believe the obvious warmth and light of the sun right above them. This is a metaphor for both the good surrounding all of those who are constantly negative, as well as how God is everywhere, including directly in plainview of the nonbelievers, who are simply ignoring the evidence.

Another poem by Rumi that caught my attention is titles “Remembered Music”:

“Music is the meat of all who love,

Music uplifts the soul to realms above,

The ashes glow, the latent fires increase:

We listen and are fed with joy and peace.”⁴

Music is an important aspect of love, Rumi writes. It helps bring peace and harmony to all listeners. As we have discussed, and as I can support with my own experience, music is a communal activity. It brings people together, whether for its creation, for worship, or even for a concert. In this sense, music is a key aspect of all cultures, including Persian.

Poetry has a heavy influence on Persian music. Performances of Rumi’s poetry, in particular, can be profound. One video we watched in class was an opera performance of Rumi’s works. The singers wore masks and were accompanied by a full choir and orchestra⁵. The vast collection of instruments gave power to each word of the poem. In the second video “Rumi Poetry – Persian Music and Singing”, the singer is only accompanied by one intstrument⁶. Even though it is just the two of them, their sound manages to fill the entire room, and perhaps resonates louder than the opera because of the simplicity. The string player plays softly while his companion sings, before crescendoing to reclaim the space left when the words are gone. The poem itself is lovely, it is clear that the words are the most important aspect of this performance, unlike in western music. The voice is used for more than just the melody: it is treated truly as its own instrument, performing improvised riffs and often as the tanboor. 

Calligraphy

When I compare my most recent calligraphy works with my first one, I am proud to see improvements. I still struggle to keep the lines of poetry straight, but my letters are becoming more recognizable. One thing I struggle with, but simultaneously enjoy, is creating calligraphy on the blackboard. Somehow, it is completely different than calligraphy on paper. The chalk is a different texture and different size than the pens, and I am attempting to write from a different angle. While it is challenging, I also find it fun. The finished product is always a multitude of colors, nestled between everyone else’s calligraphy, bringing a sense of community.

In class, Professor Mahallati said, “If you make a mistake, continue with it”⁷. Rather than attempt to fix our mistakes, he urged us to embrace them, explaining that each aspect of our work, we may not be happy with adds to the overall uniqueness of the peace. This resonated deeply with me. I am involved with several forms of art – from musical composition, to drawing, to creative writing – but I still find it extremely easy to fixate on my mistakes. This moment helped me realize that it is okay to mess up, since some of the most beautiful works of art come from oversights.

Memorization of Hafez

Memorizing Perisan poetry is another thing that I continue to struggle with. However, like calligraphy, I have found that I am steadily improving. This week’s recitation was a work by Hafez:

“I have not seen a more pleasant sound that that the sound of love

It is the only sound that under the dome of existence will echo forever.”⁸

We have done many recitations throughout the course of the semester, but these two lines will stick with me for a long time. They hold an extraordinarily beautiful meeting, and the words themselves seem to flow off the tongue. I have enjoyed learning this poem immensely. 

Endnotes

¹ Professor Mahallati, In class lecture: Freshman Seminar, November 2019.

² Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: an Anthology of Verse Translations. Yassavoli Publications, 2005.

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

⁴ Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: an Anthology of Verse Translations. Yassavoli Publications, 2005.

⁵ گفت: مسلم, and گفت: قاصدک. “مرجعِ موسیقیِ سنتی و اصیلِ ایرانی.” خصوصی, khosousi.com/rumi-symphonic-poem-alireza-ghorbani/.

⁶ Pournazeri, Sohrab, and Homayoun Shajarian. “Rumi Poetry – Persian Music and Singing.” YouTube, The Orchard Music (on Behalf of Irangaam), 22 Oct. 2018, youtu.be/NQQIEUDe6Qo.

⁷ Professor Mahallati, In class lecture: Freshman Seminar, November 2019.

⁸ Professor Mahallati, In class lecture: Freshman Seminar, November 2019.

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