Ode Poem Analysis
Odes, like other styles, have significant prominence in Persian literature and are used by literary greats like Rudaki and Nasir Khosrow as a means of commentary on a number of different subjects ranging from the beauty of nature to regional struggles. Nasir Khosrow’s ode “Message” is one notable example of the later. The region of Khorasan witnessed an age of commotion and turmoil in Khosrow’s time and this is highly reflected in his writing. Not only was the region a battlefield for two rival Turkic tribes, the Ghaznavids and Seljuks, but “the land was rife with religious controversies” and there was “a clandestine struggle between the Hanafites and Shafiites.” Furthermore, Khorasan had also in his time become a scene of contention between the Abbasid and Fatimid caliphates.1
It is no wonder then why we see Khosrow writing lines such as:
Be ever fearful of trouble when all seems fair and clear,
For the easy is soon made grievous by the swift-transforming sphere
Forth will it drive, remorseless, when it deemeth the time at hand,
The King from his court and Castle, the lord from his house and land.
Ne’er was the exemption granted since the Spheres began to run
From the shadow of dark eclipses to the radiant Moon and Sun2
Khosrow beings this poem by asking the wind to carry a message from him to Khorasan, implying that these subsequent lines are meant so to warn the region of its nature. Such a letter is of course null, but it does demonstrate a continuation of Khosrow’s lament (seen earlier in the poem) for the continued instability and conflict in his region. Khosrow seeing the destruction and clash among different groups in his own time uses his ode as a means to express both his love for his city and to reflect on these ongoing conflicts in a meaningful manner.
Anvari, who lived in the century preceding Khosrow’s time, also writes extensively about Khorasan. Like Khosrow, Anvari beings his poem by asking the wind to carry his message. However unlike, Khosrow, who asks that the message be delivered to the “scholars and men of learning,” Anvari directs his response to the monarch. Here Anvari explains the contents of this letter, writing that the following will tell of Khorasan’s “tales of woe” and that the words of the poem are those of “grief, and wretchedness, and misery.” In the next lines, Anvari furthers the idea that the letter is the actual physical manifestation of Khorasan’s pain by describing it as follows:
On every fold a martyr’s blood appears,
From every letter breathes a mourner’s sigh;
Its lines are blotted with the orphan’s tears,
Its ink the widow’s burning anguish dries!
Its bare recital wounds the listener’s ears,
Its bare perusal scathes the reader’s eye.
What! is KHORASAN’s most unhappy case
Unknown to him in whose domain she lies?3
Here we see Anvari, like Khosrow, showing sorrow for the unfortunate state of his home by using the ode as an effective means of political commentary that is emotionally provoking. By using these deeply hyperbolic descriptions, here and throughout the rest of the poem, Anvari emphasizes the agony of Khorasan as a region and the destruction that has ensued from its constant instability and uncertain place within the terrain.
Poetry is as much interconnected with calligraphy as it is with music. Once we listen to the poetry being sung, we feel as though to hear it again without the music would be as though some integral part of the composition is missing.
In fact, in having discussed ode poetry earlier, it might be interesting to note that the word “ode” comes from the Greek word aeidein which means “to be sung”. In fact, like the Persian’s, these western neighbors also had a deep tradition of accompanying prose with music –showing us a wider global trend of the deep interconnected nature of the two forms.4
As we’ve already established, poems have a clear rhythmic undertone and, for this reason, poetry is often the basis that music is structured around. All of the pieces we listened to reflect this trend; In all of these works, the music has been composed in a manner in which to elevate the experience of the poem. In both renditions of “بنی آدم” and in “آمدي جانم به قربانت ولي حالا چرا,” the lyrics of poetry are undoubtedly the central focus of the piece and are heavily emphasized by utilization of techniques such as repetition and the elongation of syllables and sounds (particularly vowels).5,6 Instrumental accompaniment maintains an important presence as well, but mainly serves to echo and enhance the rhythmic nature of the verse.
By memorizing lines of Persian poetry, I have been made to verbalize the poem’s lines which has 1.) furthered my (frankly limited) ability to read and comprehend Farsi and 2.) forced me to be more thoughtful of the poem’s sound. While recognizing keywords in Farsi is helpful for memorization, I most often find myself being able to remember lines by their lyrical rhythm and patterns of intonation. By purposefully over exaggerating the intonation of different letters/words as well as the overall rhythm and rhyme of a poem, I am able to more effectively retain the poem in my memory –further proving the well-established connection between Persian poetry and music.
In the same vein, memorization and my consequential deeper rhythmic understanding of these lines has greatly helped me in my calligraphy. Memorization of lines has given me a considerable opportunity to better lyrically connect what I am writing to what I am hearing. My understanding of the sound of the poem heavily affects the way in which my letters bend and how I connect words, and allows me to create a better visual representation that more fully reflects the poem in its entirety.
Memorization also, of course, has had a third effect that is perhaps that most important. By memorizing poetry with sentiments that promote different ethical principles or standards, we have consciously (or subconsciously) forced ourselves to examine our own ethics and encouraged the implementation or continuation of such principles within our lives.
Practicing calligraphy on the chalkboard together was a surprisingly rewarding experience in regards to both the feeling of community it created within the class and in how the final piece we made created a congruent work that still highlighted the differences it each individual’s style and stroke— some fonts were softly curved and with overlapping or nestled letters while others were more rigid and angular in nature. The activity also allowed us to experience using a different medium (i.e. chalk) to create calligraphy, demonstrating the effects that both individual style and choice in tools have on the execution of calligraphy.
In regards to my personal practice of calligraphy, I have noticed my script has become more playful and free as I loosen up, creating lines that appear more soft and melodic. Furthermore, I notice that I shift my attention to the placement of words and the flow of the line, rather than just focusing on the forms of the individual letters. By stepping back and thinking about the overall shape and feel I want the writing to have, I have found that I am left with a final composition that is more visually pleasing and has a greater sense of harmony.
- Aavani, Gholam-Reza, and Peter Wilson Lamborn Wilson. Forty Poems from the ‘Diwan’ of Nasir-i Khusraw – Translation. Accessed October 18, 2019. http://ismaili.net/heritage/book/export/html/31576.
- Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: An Anthology of Verse Translations. Tehran: Yassavoli Publications, 2005.
- MasterClass. “Poetry 101: What Is an Ode? 3 Types of Ode Poems and Examples – 2019.” MasterClass. MasterClass, September 27, 2019. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/poetry-101-what-is-an-ode-poem-learn-about-the-3-different-types-of-ode-poems-with-examples#what-is-an-ode.
- Youtube. (2019, October 16). Bani Adam Azaye Yekdigarand – بنی آدم اعضای یکدیگرند. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8F8WjwutTI.
- Youtube. (2019, October 16). آمدي جانم به قربانت ولي حالا چرا؟. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV4GLuuYvZg