Modern Poetry of Iran – By Aziz Mahdi

The book ‘Rubaiyat E Omar Khayyam,’ translated in Bengali by renowned Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam with a beautiful blue hardcover in our bookshelf always attracted me like a magnet. I was not allowed to read that book even when I was 12 years old. I was always told that I was not old enough to read such kind of poems. Little did they know I was already listening to Omar Khayyam’s Ghazals through Indian singers. Ghazals written by Rumi and Hafiz of Persia (Iran), Mirza Ghalib and Muhammad Iqbal of North India and Kazi Nazrul Islam of Bengal were also a part of our lives. I read that book one day while hiding under my grandfather’s bed. I was exposed to the beautiful world of Sufism at a very early age. Many of the major historical Ghazal poets were either Sufis themselves (like Rumi or Hafiz), or were sympathizers of Sufism. Although the Ghazal is most prominently a form of Dari poetry (a variety of the Persian language spoken in Afghanistan) and Urdu poetry, it is now found in the poetry of many Indian languages.

Persian literature, one of the world’s oldest literature, spans two and a half millennia. Parsis (Parsee), the members of a group of followers of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, emigrated to India in the 10th century. Proto-Indo-Iranian language is the ancestor of a majority of Indian languages and Iranian languages. The significance and influence of Persian poetry in world literature is priceless. The numerous innovations in the arts of calligraphy, manuscript illumination, and bookbinding by the Indo-Persian book production and publishing houses just strengthened that relationship. India became the main centre for the production of Persian books and journals with the introduction of lithography in the 19th century.

Even though I am very much familiar and in love with the old era Persian and Iranian poets and their poetry, my knowledge of modern Iranian poetry is very limited. When I was offered to review the book Modern Poetry of Iran translated by Dr. Aziz Mahdi via mail from Writersmelon I was ecstatic. How many times do we get such opportunities? And I was not wrong. The book was a parcel of bliss.

Delhi-based Dr. Aziz Mahdi, a doctorate in Persian language, is a poet, writer, and translator. He did justice to the poems and is able to transfer the essence of the Iranian language into English. The book cover art is a perfect example of minimalist traditional Iranian floral art. I loved the cover so much. The Preface by the writer, consisting valuable information on past and present of Persian poetry, is an added attraction to the book.

This book contains a collection of the finest examples of modern Persian poems over the last hundred years, written by the poets I haven’t heard of before. I was thrilled to find that some of the poets are even of my age. The first poem in this book – Moonlight is written by Nimā Yushij (born Ali Esfandiāri) who is considered as the father of modern Persian poetry.

“Moonlight is trickling down

Firefly is glowing up

Nothing breaks the sleep of these people

But the sorrow and grief of these sleeping souls”

These lines immediately touched my heart. My favorite one is House by Manuchehr Ateshi –

“Is your house cold?

I shall put the sun in an envelope

and post it to you”

The poems are chronologically arranged. I have observed a very interesting point as I progressed through the pages, the objects and subjects have changed drastically with time and generations. Whereas the poets born before the mid of 20th century talked about mostly horse riders, nights, twilight, beloved, love, loneliness, birds, flowers, sun, moonlight, and nature, the poets born after ’50s mentioned words like trains, bicycles, photography, camera, electricity, television, videos, martyred, and even landmines in addition to all that. They even mentioned the older famous poets.

“But I am sitting on this rickety wheelchair

in my daughter’s rented house

endlessly watching the same channel

in the same street!”

– First Man by Mohammad Hossein Ja’fariyān

This shows very clearly the transitions of our world. Poetry conveys a lot of information about the country and culture it belongs to. This book is not only a pleasure to read but also a document of changed culture and lifestyles of Iran.

In my opinion, this book is one of the best options if someone is looking for an introduction to the modern era Iranian poems or a poetry lover.

About the author:

Delhi-based Dr Aziz Mahdi is a poet, writer and translator. A doctorate in Persian language and literature from Tehran University and an expert on the Indo-Iranian linkages in literature and culture, Aziz taught at the Department of Indian Studies, Tehran University, for nearly five years.
Mahdi has authored five books, three poetry collections and translated ten books into Hindi, English, and Urdu. He is closely associated with the Tehran-based Sa’di Foundation and the Hozeh Honari Organization.

Author(s): Aziz Mahdi
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: March 2017
Genre: Poetry / Anthology
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