Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Roya Ahmadi-Moghadam: Oral Culture & Poetry, RP4

Lyric Poetry

Lyric poetry is an expression of an individual’s emotions or feelings, and like many other types of Persain poetry it is highly intertwined with musical performance. It therefore makes a great deal of sense that this type of poetry uses lots of flowery language (literally and figuratively) and often regards the beloved or the idea of love in general.

Rumi, who is one of the most well-known Persian poets in the West, certainly follows this trend in his lyric poetry, with most of his work (in some way or another) discussing the relationship with the beloved, which can often be interpreted broadly as the relationship between God and the mystic. In the poem “Descent,” Rumi comments on how he has foolishly been taken captive by love’s charm.

Much did love enchant me

And made much guile;

Love’s guile and enchantment

Capture me the while.

In ignorance and folly

When my wings I spread,

From palace unto prison

I was swiftly sped.1

Here Rumi explains that the enchanting and sly nature of love has lead him to become trapped, consumed by its allure; In his foolishness he has (metaphorically) spread his wings only to find himself captive in a prison of his own making.

Sadi, another great master of the ghazal, also writes about love and the beloved. In the poem “Dance,”  Sa’di describes the allure of the beloved, even when the submission to such causes the poet to experience pain. 

Life were an offering too small, 

Else ’tis easy to surrender 

Unto thee, who need’st not call 

Painter’s art to deck thy wall: 

Thou alone dost give it splendour. 

Better sicken, better die 

At thy feet than live to lose thee. 

Pilgrim to Love’s sanctuary, 

What car’st thou, ’neath desert sky, 

How the thorns of Absence bruise thee?2

Sa’di boldly states that his own existence was easy to give for his beloved, whose beauty is so striking that one would not need to elaborately paint the wall behind where they stand because they alone have given the wall a surpassable amount of magnificence with their presence. Sa’di only gets more dramatic in his devotion to the beloved, asserting that it would be better to perish at the loved one’s feet than to lose them whilst the poet was still living. Finally, Sa’di urges us to embrace love even if it does cause us pain, because its splendor outweighs any hardships it presents.

We could not talk about lyric poetry without including with Hafez, one of the most (if not the most) influential and celebrated poets in Iran. Hafez’s ghazals commonly deal with the beloved and faith, often dealing with wine and taverns, representations of freedom from worldly restraint and enlightenment from divine love.3

In one of Hafez’s many lyrical poems he describes the infinite expanse of love’s domain and encourages the reader to let go of his worldly concerns.

Knowing love’s ocean is a shoreless sea,

What help is there?–abandon life, and founder

Bring wine; don’t scare us with Reason’s prohibition

That magistrate has no jurisdiction here4

By comparing love to a great ocean which has no shores, Hafez is commenting on the breadth of love and its all-encompassing nature. He writes that we must abandon life and let ourselves be engulfed by this ocean, and within later lines tells us we must lean into chance and impulse. Here Hafez also urges us to let go of our reason, for in matters of love, it is nothing but a hindrance who has no actual power in such affairs.

On Hafez and Goethe

Hafez’s poetry transcends time, cultures, languages, and religion. The universal nature of the themes in his poetry is one that can be understood on many different levels of depth, making them accessible to virtually any audience. It is thus no wonder why later poets, like Goethe where so enthralled by Hafez. Goethe himself considered considered literature (language) and religion as the best aids to discovering other cultures and deeply wanted interchange and dialogue between the West and the East5; Hafez provided for Goethe all of these things. With Hafez’s timeless themes of love and divinity, Goethe could connect to a poet who not only was from the East, but also lived long before his time. Goethe both expresses his love for Hafez as a Master and as an equal, and writes that it is to be sure that “Hafez holds a knowledge that others have only desired.” 6 To respond to Hafez in West-östlicher Divan, Goethe furthers his idea of Weltlitratur (World Literature) and solidifies his idea that “poetry is the universal possession of mankind.” 7

To be able to interact with a poet as masterful as Hafez by dialogue is for Goethe the ultimate example of a bridge between cultures.

Calligraphy and Memorization

In furthering my practice of calligraphy, I think I have become more in tune with how my emotional state and intention in writing affects my script. If I hurriedly copy the lines and treat the exercise as a task, my writing may not look necessarily bad, but upon closer inspection in lacks life; The writing is not friendly or inviting with its loops and curves, nor does it longingly ask the reader to sing its letter when read. On the other hand, if I take time to sit down nicely and repeatedly play with my writing, slowly drawing out the forms of each letter with intention, my writing both looks and feels lively and melodic.

As discussed in previous responses, practicing both calligraphy and memorization have both greatly helped me in exploring Persian poetry in a more in depth manner. The memorization of lines has not only given me greater insight into the sound and rhythmic quality of a poem (which subsequently also helps my calligraphy), but also has instilled valuable lessons and sentiments. By learning to memorize lines we are forced to internalize them and question our morals and priorities in life..

1. Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: An Anthology of Verse Translations. Tehran: Yassavoli Publications, 2005, 50

2. Arberry, 52

3.The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Ḥāfeẓ.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 30, 2013.

4.Heath-Stubbs, John, and Peter Avery, trans. Hafiz of Shiraz: Thirty Poems. London: John Murray, 1952.

5.Moradnazari. MORAD NAZARI, December 17, 2015.

6. Vries, Caroline de. Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time, 10

7. Vries, Caroline de, 6

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