Persian Love Poetry

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Originally published: London: The British Museum Press, 2005.

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Theresa Abes

May 13, 2009

Persian Love Poetry

The history of love poetry leads many to the medieval period and to the realm of the kingly court and the world of courtly love. Within this context the beloved was portrayed as a belle dame sans merci who was placed as an unattainable goal in a quest that would take a man through many trials and even in non-attainment of the beloved he became a more noble man. Also, this was seen in some of the religious poetry of troubadours wherein the beloved is now the Blessed Virgin Mary as is seen in many medieval Spanish and French poetry and other European traditions as well. Love was a mystic, passionate and the line between a love of God and carnal love of a mortal woman was at times blurred in that the carnal love poetry was written in the same manner as that which was dedicated to a love of God or utter faith in God. In many scholarly works this poetry is traced to Provence and its troubadours but through careful analysis and by the fact that many Europeans traveled to the Holy Land it is obvious that this poetry style emanated in the Middle East most likely in the tradition of present-day Iran and a serious scholarly study must be undertaken in order to prove this once and for all. As such, it moved with the Arabs and their wave of Islamization of Iran and the rest of the Middle East and traveled west with them to lands beginning in Spain and France. Credit for this poetry should be ascribed correctly to Iranians and Arabs and the fear of the crescent should be discarded in our day in order to allow a full appreciation and understanding of the cultures that influenced medieval Europe and continue to foment change in Europe and the rest of the West in the present.

Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Curator of Islamic and Iranian coins and Sheila R. Canby, Assistant Keeper, Islamic Islam both of the British Museum present a beautiful tome of translated Persian poetry of the glorious past and also contemporary pieces alongside exquisite Persian art from the museum's collection. In presenting a short historical and stylistic guide to Persian poetry we are at once transported via word and image to the land of Iran and all its splendor.

The sickening feeling of being without one's beloved is captured by Sa'di as follows:

Come, I am lovesick and desolate without you

Come and see how sick I am in this sorrow without you

At night I lament your absence, oh- fairy-faced

And when morning comes, it is as if I am on fire without you

Sa'di perfectly evokes despair and longing as a love which is very serious and one in which the lovers cannot bear to be separated even overnight much as is experienced in young love which is at full bloom.

Muslah al-Din Abu Muhammed ?Abdullah Sa'di Shirazi was born between 1213-12-19 in Shiraz and studied at Nizamiya of Baghdad. His most famous works are the Bustan (orchard) and the Gulistan (garden). 1

The same may be said of Nizam Ganjavi in his description of love:

Heaven has no other prayer niche but love

Without love the world is worthless.

Become the slave to love, this is the course

This is the path for all pious people.

From Khusrau and Shirin

Khusrau and Shirin is a story (1177-1180) about the love of a Khusau, a Sassanian king for Shirin his Armenian queen. Shirin is in love with her king and Farhad and it seems with love itself. The king cannot deal with Shirin's other interests and causes the death of Farhad through deception. Eventually, Khusrau is assassinated and then Shirin commits suicide.

Nizam al-Din Abu Mohammed Elyas Ibn Yousouf Ibn Zaki Ibn Mo'ayyed Nezami Ganjavi, Persian poet and writer was born in Ganja in present-day Azerbaijian in 1141. He composed several epics among them Khusrau and Shirin and Laili and Majnun . His Khamsa is composed of five of his epics. 2

Love is equated to a sickness as the West incorporated into the religious literature of the medieval period in attempting to describe a Catholic adherent's love of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the love of mystics toward Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this same imagery and feeling was used by those who composed courtly love poetry.

Persian Love Poetry is a beautiful book that imparts a portrait of Iran in words and pictures through words of love and visions of beauty for those already familiar with Persian poetry and those who have never been acquainted.


1 Vesta Sarkhish Curtis and Sheila R. Canby , Persian Love Poetry, Northhampton, MA.,

2006, p.94.

2 Vesta Sarkhish Curtis and Sheila R. Canby , p. 94.

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