Literature in The Islamic Era
In its general sense, the “Fārsi” language is considered to be the same as the “Iranian” language and this term was used to indicate all the Iranian dialects by the writers of yore. Before the advent of Islam, the Fārsi language had spread throughout most parts of Asia. p Geographical Boundaries: Following the spread of Islam in Iran, the employment of the various Iranian dialects, including Dari, became the trend in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Oman, the Caucuses, China, and Central Asia. The Dari language was in use alongside the Pahlavi language from the Sassanian period. This language passed through various stages in the Islamic period and underwent major developments from the angles of form, structure, and contents and became the language of poetry and literature in the Islamic period in Iran and many literary works, both, in poetry came to be written in this language
The Tāherid and Saffārid Period
The foremost samples that have survived from the Persian literature in the Islamic period belong to the 3rd and 4th Centuries AH/9th and 10th Centuries AD. The only information that we have as regards the poets of the early Islamic centuries is a list of their names that was compiled by “Ofi” and later on by some other biographers, and particularly Ohadi Balyāni, in his book the “Arafāt al-Āsheqin” and by Āzar Begdeli in his book, the “Ātashqadah Fahārasi”. Besides, Hedāyat has also included the summaries of these two books in his own book, the “Majma’ al-Fas’hā”.p As per the narrations of the author of the book, the “Tārikh-e Sistān”, Mohammad bin Vasif Sagzi was the first Iranian poet to have praised “Ya’qub Layth Saffār” in a Persian poem. Thereafter, other poets like Bassām Kūrd and Mohammad bin Mokhlad Sagzi also followed suit and composed a Persian eulogy on Ya’qub Layth. Similarly, according to Ofi, Hanzalah Bādghaysi was the first poet of the Tāherid period while Firuz Mashreghi and Abu Salik Gorgāni were the poets of period of Amro Layth.p Only a few stray verses from the poems of this period have survived in some biography books today. These poems have no musical richness and their words are disharmonious while their messages are plain and unornamented. Not many poems from this period are available to us today. Even the poems that have been compiled by Lālezār do not exceed fifty verses in number while according to Shafi’i Kadkani, even the exact periods during which these poets lived are not known for certain. Moreover, there is doubt as to whether these poems had even been composed by them. According to Zarrinkub, the first poem to which we have access today from the Islamic period is the “Sorud-e Ahl-e Bokhārā” which belonged to the year 56 AH after which comes the song composed by Yazid bin Mafragh in the year 59 AH followed by another poem called the “Harrārah-ye Kudakāne Balkh” that belongs to the year 108 AH. From the illustrative point of view, the most important form of poetry used by some poets like Firuz Mashreghi was sharply and concretely figurative in nature. With the exception of Firuz Mashreghi and Hanzalah Bādghaysi, the works of the other poets of this period, and especially those of Mohammad bin Vasif Sagzi, are bereft of any illustrative value.
The Sāmānid and Ghaznavid Period
This phase which extended from the second half of the 3rd Century AH to the first half of the 5th Century AH was a period that gave great attention to the national culture and the expansion and establishment of Persian prose and poetry.Poetry: Owing to the presence of great poets like Rudaki (329 AH/941 AD) and Shahid Balkhi (325 AH/937 AD) Persian poetry reached a certain level of richness and strength. In this period, a number of great poets like Ferdowsi, Kasāi, Manuchehri, Farrokhi, and Onsori emerged, whose works possessed remarkable variety from the angles of style, contents, and theme.
This period in which various forms of poetry were in use can be considered as the most realistic period in the history of Persian poetry owing to a very limited use of the element of imagination. Moreover, this period is the most fruitful period of Persian literature from the viewpoints of emotional expression, direct poetical experiences, and a variety in background imagery.
One of the main features of the literature of this period was an abundance of poets. According to some authors, Dari Persian poetry was limited to the eastern regions of Iran during this period.
A significant part of the poems that have survived from this period comprise eulogies. Besides eulogizing the kings, the poets of this period also composed verses in praise of ministers, emirs, statesmen, their own friends, scholars, religious leaders, the noble Prophet of Islam (s), as well as the caliphs. They, however, abstained from going to extremes in praising their subjects.
Besides eulogies, the composing of elegies was also in vogue during those times. It is interesting to note that the elegies of that period have been composed in different forms of poetry right from quatrains to lengthy odes. The presence of philosophical and ethical values is one of the salient features of the literature of this period. The richness of the Persian poems of this period – which is the foremost phase for the perfecting of Persian poetry from the angles of its philosophical and ethical contents – indicates the existence of this form of poetry also in the pre-Islamic period because such elements are hardly encountered in Arabic poetry.
The use of humor and satire in Persian poetry took trend during the Saffārid period, and keeping in view the lack of any use of satire in the pre-Islamic Persian literature, it can be surmised that this trend came by way of an imitation of Arab poets. According to some historians, the poets of this period also maintained certain limits in the use of satire, just like the Arab poets of the pre-Islamic period of Jāhiliyah. However, the works of poets like Manjik Tirmidhi prove otherwise.
The “ghazal” was an important type of lyric poem of this period that would either be composed as the first few lines of the odes or then independently, depicting the finer feelings of the poet with the employment of simple and fluid words in most of which the beauty of the “Beloved” would be compared to the wonders of nature.
This period marked the beginning of the age of epic poetry-writing in Iran. One of the most important causes that prompted the Iranians to resort to epic writing during the Sāmānid period was the influence of the efforts of the Sho’ubiyān and the national uprising of the Iranians at the onset of this era. The first poet to have converted the national epics of Iran into poems was Mas’udi Marvzi, whose “Shāhnāmeh” – that had apparently been composed before the year 355 AH/966 AD – has been mentioned twice in the book, “Al-Bad’ wa Al-Tārikh”.
Another important work of this period was the “Gashtāspnāmeh” which comprised one thousand verses and was composed by Abu Mansur Mohammad bin Ahmad Daqiqi in the second half of the 4th Century AH, and which has also appeared in Ferdowsi’s “Shāhnāmeh” in the section of the reign of Gashtāsp.
The greatest and most important epical and historical poem that had also been composed during this period was Ferdowsi’s “Shāhnāmeh” which had been completed in the year 401 or 402 AH/1011 or 1012 AD. Besides the epical work of Daqiqi as well as the “Shāhnāmeh-ye Abu Mansuri”, Ferdowsi also had access to other famous individual stories of those times. It is worth mentioning that prior to Ferdowsi, efforts had been made by other poets towards the composition of the national epics of the Iranians, from among which reference can be made to the “Shāhnāmeh-ye Abu Mansuri”, only the introduction to which has survived today.
With the advent of poets like Kasā’i Marvzi (341 AH/952 AD) as well as Nāser Khosrow Qobādiyāni (394-481 AH/1004-1088 AD) a trend in the composition of ascetic religious and moral poems began in which eulogies and ghazals were openly criticized.
Some poems that have survived from this period also reveal Sufi inclinations. In Ayn al-Qozāt’s book, the “Tamhidāt”, reference has been made to the names and/or certain verses from poets like Abu al-Abbās Qassāb, Abu al-Hasan Basti, Abu ‘Ali Daqāq, Abu Said Abu al-Khayr, and Shaykh Ahmad from the works belonging to the Ghaznavid period, none of whom were professional poets, this in itself revealing that the trend of composing Sufi poetry had prevailed among the Sufi shaykhs even before the times of Sanā’i.
Towards the end of this period, signs of the infiltration of the influence of Arab poetry began to show up in Persian poetry. Indications of the influence of stories from Arab literature as well as the metaphorical style of composition of the Arab poets can be noted in the works of Farrokhi (429 AH/1038 AD). Similarly, glimpses of nature can be seen in the poems of Manuchehri (432 AH/1041 AD) – inspired by Arab poetry –clearly revealing the influence of the metaphorical style of composition of the Arab poets, and particularly those belonging to the early period of Islam.
The compositions of the poets of this period depict the employment of simple and straightforward words and phrases and plain rhetoric as well as an application of local terms which fell out of use later on. The use of simple radif became extensive during that period and at times the Iranian poets came to be strongly influenced by their Arab counterparts. This mode of expression has been referred to as the “Khorāsāni” or the “Turkestāni” style in the works of critics as well as Iranian historians.
Prose: Not all the works that have survived from this period are of literary value and more often than not, they are confined to scientific topics. From among them, mention can be made of books like the “Hodud al-Ālam min al-Mashreq ilā al-Maghreb” that had been written around the year 350 AH/961 AD by an anonymous writer as well as the book, “Al-Abniyah an Haqā’eq al-Adwiyah” of Abu Mansur Heravi, the “Dāneshnāmeh Alā’i” of Abu ‘Ali Sinā, the “Tārikh-e Bal’ami” of Abu ‘Ali Bal’ami, the translation of the “Tafsir-e Tabari” of Abu Ja’far Tabari, and the translation of the book, the “Al-Sawad al-A’zam” based on the Sunni school of thought, written by Abu al-Qāsem Hakim Samarqandi.
The Seljuq and the Khwārazmshāhi Period
The literature of this period belongs to the second half of the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD until the beginning of the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD. In this period, besides being a natural continuation of the poetry of the previous period, Persian poetry passed through a period of evolution and perfection and the Persian language and Dari literature crossed beyond the local boundaries. The first and foremost factor in the spread of the Persian language outside the boundaries of Iran was the expansionist policy of Nāser al-Din Saboktagin and Soltān Mahmud Ghaznavi towards India. Following the reign of the Ghaznavids, as a result of the penetration of the Seljuqs in Asia Minor, the Persian language came to spread in that region and became the official language. Therefore, towards the end of this period and the beginning of the 7th Century AH, Asia Minor became one of the important centers of Dari Persian.
Poetry: The geographical spread of the poets of the Seljuq and Khwārazmshāhi period brought about the emergence of three styles of poetry in Iran.
A. The Style of the Poets of Khorāsān: This group of poets were inclined towards the revival and perfection of the Sāmānid style of poetry as well as the poetry of the early Ghaznavid period to the extent that Nāser Khosrow and Qatrān adhered to the Sāmānid style of poetry. Nevertheless, with the introduction of theological-philosophical issues in poetry, Nāser Khosrow, and with the introduction of figurative language, Qatrān, introduced a new wave in the Khorāsāni style. On the other hand, Lāme’i is the typical example of the poets who followed the style of the early Ghaznavid period, while other poets of this period like Mas’ud Sa’d introduced a new style that was a combination of the separate styles followed by Farrokhi and Onsori. In continuation of this style, a new order of poets began to emerge in the second part of the 6th century AH/12th century AD, the most prominent of which was Anvari. Keeping in view the colloquial language of the day, this group of poets composed simple and fluid poems which mainly resembled general conversation; and since the masses used simple Arabic expressions in their day-to-day interactions their language of poetry became intermingled with simple Arabic expressions. The main difference between the poetry of this period and that of the early Ghaznavid period was that some kinds of the works of this period (like the odes) came to evolved into a more complex style owing to two main reasons. The first reason was that Anvari and his followers were inclined to the composition of subtle poetry with cryptic meanings, and secondly, the contemporary group of poets employed scientific thought as well as terms and phrases of various fields of knowledge in their works.
B. The Style of the Poets of Āzarbāyjān: Alongside the modifications that Anvari and his followers brought into Persian poetry in Khorāsān, and with the establishment of the Irāqi style of poetry, a certain group of poets created a completely new style of poetry in the northwest of Iran that came to be known as the Āzarbāyjāni style. The most important poets of this period include Abu al-Alā Ganjeh’i, Falaki Shervāni, Mojir al-Din, Bilqāni, Khāqāni, and Nezāmi. This style of poetry has also occasionally been referred to as the “Arrāni” style. The difference between the poetry styles of the poets of Āzarbāyjān and Khorāsān has been attributed to the following three factors:
i. The poets of Āzarbāyjān laid the foundation for their new style of composition following the changes that Anvari and Sanā’i brought about in the poetry of the Khorāsān poets;
ii. The access to the new style of the Irāqi poets had made it easier for the Āzarbāyjāni poets to distance themselves from the Khorāsāni style; and
iii. Cultural differences, proximity with the non-Iranian communities, and the influence that the Āzari and other Iranian dialects on the Persian language of the Āzarbāyjān region – that had intermingled with the Arabic language since a long time – had resulted in the emergence of a mood that was very different from the one that prevailed among the Khorāsāni poets.
C. The Style of the Poets of Iraq: This style of poetry refers to the one adopted by the poets of Esfahān, Hamadān, Rey, and the regions neighboring these cities. The most outstanding poet of this style of poetry was Jamāl al-Din Esfahāni who played a crucial role in the evolution and perfection of the “ghazal” during his times.
The most important feature of the poetry of this period is the inclination of a group of poets towards the composition of ghazals as well as Gnostic (irfāni) subjects. Indications pointing towards an inclination towards irfān can be found even in the works of the poets of the previous period. However, the 6th Century AH/12th Century AD marks the flowering of Gnostic literature. The influence of Gnostic thought and views on the literature of this period resulted in the emergence of two simultaneous trends in the literary ambience of those times. Firstly, it resulted in introducing a fresh trend in the contents of Persian poetry and it, secondly, led to a distancing of the poets from the royal courts.
For the first time during this period, Sanā’i Ghaznavi embarked upon the composition of great Gnostic poems and left as legacies such mathnavis as the “Hadiqah al-Haqiqah” and the “Tariq al-Tahqiq”. After him, Attār Neishāburi composed numerous works in the field of tasawwuf, from among which reference can be made to the “Manteq al-Tayr” (The Conversation of the Birds), the “Asrārnāmeh” (The Book of Secrets), the “Mosibatnāmeh” (The Book of Strife), and the “Elāhināmeh” (The Book of Divine Secrets).
The ghazal form of poetry – which gained a special significance in this period – came to more or less be employed in Persian poetry since the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD. However, Anvari and his followers established a new style of poetry and presented subtle subjects in simple and fluid words in the form of fine ghazals, and in this manner, paved the path for the emergence of the great ghazal poets of the following period.
In comparison with the earlier periods, the Seljuq and Khwārazmshāhi Era marked a decline in the field of epic poetry since, on the one hand, Ferdowsi, who was the great epic poet of the previous period, had spared no effort in presenting the Iranian history and national legends in the form of poetry by composing the “Shāhnāmeh” while, on the other hand, as some scholars have pointed out the old trend and language of epic writing was not compatible with the existing trends of this period. More importantly, since the slaves and the yellow-raced tribes had come into power and since religious fanaticism had gained strength in this period, the nationalistic spirit had been dampened and it was, thus, no longer apt for the poets to compose nationalistic epic poetry. Nevertheless, in the early years of this period, i.e. in the second half of the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD, certain poets engaged themselves in completing the path taken on by Ferdowsi. For instance, Asadi Tusi composed the “Garshāspnāmeh”, Irānshāh bin Abi al-Khayr composed the “Bahman-nāmeh” and the “Kushnāmeh” while Atā’i Rāzi composed the “Borzunāmeh”.
During this same period, while the composition of nationalist and heroic epics was facing decline, a trend of story-writing or as some scholars have referred to it, the trend of composing “romantic epics” gained favor. The foremost established story-writer who introduced a new style in the mid-5th Century AH/11th Century AD was Fakhr al-Din As’ad Gorgāni. With his translation of “Vays va Rāmin” from the Pahlavi language into Dari Persian poetry, he established a new school in the field of story-writing that came to be emulated by many other poets in times to follow. It was Nizāmi Ganjavi who took the art of story-writing to its zenith towards the end of the 6th Century AH/11th Century AD. Nizāmi’s skilful composition of the various stories included in his book, the “Panj Ganj”, inspired many Persian-speaking poets to follow his style of poetry for centuries to come.
The greatest phenomenon of the poetry of this period, however, was the emergence of Omar Khayyām Neishāburi who had established his own special style in the field of Persian literature. It was Khayyām, who had for the first time, presented the world with deep philosophical thoughts in the form of eloquent quatrains (rubāiyāt) clad in subtlety, wit, and asceticism.
The attention paid by the poets of this period towards subtlety and the competition shared among them as well as their command over literary skills and other fields of knowledge resulted in Persian poetry acquiring a proficient and technically expressive form. On the other hand, the poets were challenged to employ intricate radifs and poetic skills. On the whole, the 6th Century AH or in other words, the Seljuq period is the most significant period in the area of Iranian literature from the historical and classificatory viewpoints. A variety of styles in prose and poetry existed side by side during this period and in the area of poetry, the prose poem style as well as the “Arrāni” style (of the poets of Āzarbāyjān) pushed aside the simpler Khorāsāni style of poetry.
Prose: The 5th Century AH/11th Century AD marked the beginning of the proximity between Khorāsān and Baghdād and the onset of the influence of the Arabic language in Persian prose. Through the course of this period, the Seljuqs, too, encouraged the growth of the Arabic language in Iran owing to their commitment towards the spread of Islam. Nevertheless, following his ascension to the throne, Ālb-Arslān ordered for all the royal registers to be written in Persian which resulted in the creation of a variety of works in Persian prose. The first and foremost example of the style of prose writing of this period is Abu al-Fazl Beyhaqi’s work, the “Tārikh-e Beyhaqi” in the compilation of which he has resorted to great detail and the repetitive employment of synonyms and phrases for the sake of elucidation. However, the writers who followed him, and especially Nasrollāh Monshi, the author of “Kalilah va Demnah”, and Qāzi Hamid al-Din Balkhi, the author of the “Maqāmāt Hamidi” which resulted in the emergence of a very figurative and technical style of writing in the 6th Century AH/12th Century AD.
One of the branches of the Persian prose of this period comprised Sufi writings. The Gnostics of the 5th Century AH wrote in simple words, from among whose works, mention can be made of the “Kashf al-Mahjub” of Hujwiri and also the “Tazkirah al-Awliyā” of Attār Neishāburi that has been written in a “morsal” style (ending with a moral advice). The evolution of the Sufi writings in the form of an inclination towards a rhythmic prose style came about under the influence of Arabic literature and, apparently, it was Khwājeh Abdollāh Ansāri who had first resorted to this style of rhythmic prose in such of his works as the “Monājātnāmeh” and the “Kanz al-Sālekin” towards the end of the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD. The prose works of this period are great in number and subject variety but the dominant style of the prose-writing of this period was technical even though a style that fell somewhere between the technical and “morsal” styles of prose was also in use.
The Mongol Period
This period in Persian literature began with the invasion of Changiz Khān in the year 616 AH/1219 AD and continued until the invasion of Teimur (Tamerlane) in 782 AH/1380 AD. The problems caused by the invasion of Changiz in the first half of the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD resulted in a decline in the production of new literary works, and in the second part of the century, brought in a decline in the field of education and training. However, an abundance in the number of poets as well as literary works in this period was due to various reasons. Firstly, the outstanding literati of this period had either fled to the neighboring countries or had continued their activities under the patronage of the local rulers. Secondly, like all other conquests or major changes, the consequences of the Mongol invasions only became evident much later after the event. Thirdly, during the Mongol invasion of Iran, a great number of the literary works of the earlier centuries were completely destroyed whereas no such fundamental changes took place in Iran following the Mongol invasion and, therefore, the literary works that came to be produced during this period have survived almost intact. And it is for this reason that it appears as if there was a major quantitative growth in the area of literature during the Mongol period.
Poetry: Two great and unique personalities emerged during the initial period of the Mongol Era, viz. Molavi (604-672 AH) and then Sa’di (606-691 AH). During this period there were also other poets living outside Iran who played a significant role in the spread of the Persian language. From among them, mention can be made of Amir Khosrow Dehlavi (651-725 AH/1253-1325 AD), the Indian poet of Iranian origin whose odes, ghazals, and mathnavis are world famous. The other famous Persian-speaking poet of India during this period was Amir Najm al-Din Hasan Sajzi (651-729 AH/1253-1329 AD) who was more popularly known as “Hasan Dehlavi”.
During the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD there existed two different styles in Persian ghazals. One of these was the “romantic” style, the most outstanding examples of which ghazals were the ones composed by Sa’di while the other style which was, in fact, the evolution of the style introduced by Faridoddin Attār or the “Gnostic” style of ghazals that was perfected by Fakhr al-Din Arāqi and Molāna Jalaloddin Rumi, popularly known in Iran as “Molavi”.
Towards the end of the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD a new style of ghazal emerged that was a combination of the “Gnostic” and the “romantic” styles which presented lofty moral, philosophical and Gnostic thoughts in the form of poetry and in the delicate language characteristic of ghazals. The most prominent poets of this style included Ohadi Marāgheh’i, Khājavi Kermāni, Emād Faqih, and especially Khwājeh Shamsoddin Mohammad Shirāzi, popularly known as Hāfez.
Owing to the trend of religious politics that had begun during the 5th and the 6th Centuries AH, and following the Mongol invasion, all nationalistic literature tended to lose favor by the early 7th Century AH and was replaced by a kind of historical epic and, at times, the religious epical style. From among such epics produced during this period mention can be made of the “Shāhanshāhnāmeh” of Majd al-Din Pāizi Nasvi, no traces of which have survived today. This work was a prelude to a change in the trend of Persian epical literature from nationalistic and heroic to historical elements.
One of the significant features of the literature of this period was the emergence of literary criticism with a humorous flavor which reached its zenith with the rise of Obayd Zākāni (772 AH/1370 AD). From among the poets and writers of this period who were the pioneers of literary criticism, poets like Sayf Forghāni, Sa’di, Obayd Zākāni, and Hāfez have been the major contributors. Another group of poets from this period resorted to the dissemination of morals and ethics instead of focusing on the evils of their age, the most outstanding of which was Ibn Yamin Faryumadi.
Generally speaking, the literature of the Mongol period was dominated by Gnostic works. During this period, the subjects covered by Persian poetry mainly reveal a Gnostic color as a result of which even the social and ethical issues were presented in the form of Gnostic mathnavis, the most prominent examples of which are the “Mathnavi Ma’navi” of Jalāluddin Rumi (Molavi), the “Gulshan Rāz” of Shaykh Mahmud Shabestari, and the “Jām-e Jam” of Ohadi Marāgheh’i.
The Persian language that had already gained a consolidated and powerful form in the early 7th Century AH under the influence of its intermingling with the Arabic language began to include a number of Mongol and Turkish terms. On the other hand, with the migration of the Iranians to India, the Persian language also came to spread in that land.
Prose: Persian prose continued to flourish even during the Mongol domination of Iran and until the invasion of Teimur (Tamerlane). The most significant reason for this was the elimination of the political influence of the caliphs, the end of the rule from Baghdad as the center of the Islamic world, and the severing of relations between Iran and the Arab-speaking Islamic nations.
The outstanding characteristics of the prose of this period were, on the one hand, an extensive use of figures of speech, exaggeration, lengthy sentences, and hollow contents that were filled with Arabic terms and phrases, the most prominent example of which is the book, the “Tārikh-e Wasāf” (Wasāf’s History) written by Wasāf al-Hazrah Shirāzi, while, on the other hand, historians like Rashid al-Din Fazlollāh and some others adopted a simple style of writing.
Moreover, while some writers of this period like the authors of works like the “Tabaqāt-e Nāseri”, the “Tajārob al-Salaf” (Experiences of Past), and the “Tārikh-e Gozideh” (Select History) had adopted simple prose for writing their books, there were other writers like Atā al-Molk Joveyni and Nasvi who preferred to resort to the figurative style of prose writing and there were yet some other writers who had used both styles. For instance, Shams Qeys, the author of the book, the “Al-Mo’jam”, used figurative prose in the preface of his book while he wrote the main text of the book in simple prose.
From among the most prominent writers of the 7th and 8th Centuries AH/13th and 14th Centuries AD who wrote their books in the Persian language mention can be made of Khwājah Nasir al-Din Tusi (597-672 AH/1201-1273 AD) whose books like the “Asās al-Eqtebās”, written on logic; the “Me’yār al-Ash’ār”, written on prosody; the “Akhlāq-e Nāseri”, written on practical philosophy; and the “Awsāf al-Ashrāf, written on Tasawuff, were all in the simple style of prose writing. Similarly, the other writers of this period who had adopted the simple and fluent style of prose writing were Afzal al-Din Mohammad Kāshāni (707 AH/1307 AD), famous as “Bābā Afzal”, who wrote a number of treatises on philosophy and Allāmah Qotb al-Din Mas’ud Shirāzi (634-710 AH/1237-1310 AD), who had an excellent command over such subjects as medicine, philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, and who was the author of the “Dorrah al-Tāj, which is an encyclopedia of philosophy.
Despite the fact that the Mongol invasion of Iran was one of the most important causes for the decline of cultural activities in Iran during the 7th and 8th Centuries AH/13th and 14th Centuries AD, historiography began to flourish in this period to such an extent that according to some scholars the historiography works that have survived from this period are considered to be the most excellent of such works of the Islamic world, since the Ilkhanids showed keen interest in charting historical records of their expansionist and military advancements.
The most outstanding historiography works of this period include the “Tārikh-e Jahāngoshāy” of Atā al-Molk Joveyni (written in 658 AH/1260 D), the “Jāme’ al-Tawārikh” written by Rashid al-Din Fazlollāh Hamadāni (645-717 AH/1247-1317 AD), and the “Tārikh-e Gozideh” of Hamdollāh Mostofi Qazvini which was completed in the year 730 AH/1330 AD.
The Timurid Period
This period began with the invasion of Khorāsān and Sistān by Teimur (Tamerlane) in the year 782 AH/1380 AD and came to an end in 907 AH/1501 coinciding with the beginning of the reign of the Safavid King Shah Esmā’il. This period, and particularly the second half of the 9th century AH that came to be known as the “Period of Shāhrokh”, is the period in which poetry and patronage to the literati became widespread. However, in spite of all the efforts on the part of Shāhrokh and his successors like Soltān Hosein Bāyqerā and despite all the patronage extended to the men of literature as well as artists by Amir Alishir Navā’i and the Herat royal court, not much progress was witnessed during this period. The main reason behind this phenomenon was that the literary men of this period had chosen to focus their attention on writing commentaries on the works of the earlier scholars and poets. Another feature of the literary works of this period was that many writers had alleged others with stealing their literary works and had repeatedly made complaints against the incompetence and negligence of the calligraphers.
Poetry: There was an astonishing rise in the number of poets in this period who hailed from all the strata of society. During this period, poetry had become an indispensable part of the daily lives of even the common people, and irrespective of their professions, people spent their free time in composing poems and in arranging their divāns. However, despite the existence of a large number of poets, the only outstanding one belonging to this period was Nur al-Din Abd al-Rahmān Jāmi (817-898 AH/1414-1493 AD).
Jāmi was the last of the poets of the Timurid period and the greatest one after Hāfez. Besides being a poet he was also a mystic, a man of literature, a great research scholar of his period, and the leader of the Naqshbandiyeh school of Sufism and the creator of a variety of works, both, in prose and poetry.
Owing to a lack of a centralized and unified rulership, the Timurid period witnessed a decline in the area of the composition of odes and instead there was a significant increase in the area of ghazals as well as ballads that were composed for the royal courts. The other features of the odes of this period include the dominance of ghazals as well as a tendency on the parts of the poets to boast about their genealogies and their youthful achievements, who like the poets of the 6th-8th Centuries AH/12th-13th Centuries AD took great pride in reveling over their skills in composing lengthy odes with a number of opening verses.
The most important and widespread form of poetry during the Timurid period was the ghazal. The most remarkable features of the romantic ghazals of this period were the expressions of despondency, lamentation, and despair on the part of the lover and his willingness to go through all kinds of humiliation, insult, disloyalty, and torment at the hands of his beloved. These expressions were widely used in the works of all the poets of this period, including in the poems composed by the Ottoman, Turkmen, and Timurid kings and statesmen, revealing a rather out of the ordinary relationship between the contents of the ghazals and their otherwise mighty composers.
During the Timurid period, owing to the repeated defeats of the Iranians at the hands of the various yellow-raced tribes, the grounds for producing works like national epics were wiped out. Nevertheless, in continuation of the trends of the earlier poets of the 7th and the 8th Centuries AH/13th and 14th Centuries AD, the composition of historical epic poems in description of the victories of the Timurid warriors and emirs prevailed. Similarly, the trend of producing a kind of religious epic based on the life stories of the great personalities of Islam began during this period. The most important religious epic of this period was the “Khāvarān-Nāmeh” of Ibn Hesām which is a work describing the journeys and battles of ‘Ali ibn Abi Tāleb (‘a).
Moreover, during this period the trend of composing romantic poems and ballads with short moral lessons and philosophical and ethical contents was widespread. The composers of such works were considered as the followers of “Nezāmi”. From among such mathnavis, mention can be made of the “Nāzer va Manzur” and the “Delrobāyi” of Kātebi (839 AH/1435 AD), the “Hosn va Del” of Fattāhi Neishāburi (852 or 853 AH/1448 or 1449 AD) and the “Yusuf va Zoleykhā” and “Leyli va Majnun” of Jāmi.
Matters relating to erfān (Gnosticism) and tasawwuf (Sufism) dominated the poetic works of this period and it was especially common to employ Sufi terms and phrases in ghazals as a poetic tradition. The most important poets of this period to have composed Gnostic works were Shāh Ne’matollāh Vali, Qāsem Anvār, and Jāmi. However, the Gnostic influence in the poems was more an indication of the ethical values of the people of those times rather than being a form of guidance on the spiritual journey (seyr va soluk) and even the Sufi teachings found in the poems of this period touched upon matters related to guidance on religious obligations.
During the Timurid period, a tendency towards the composition of riddles and a kind of humorous poetry popularly known as the “At’amah va Aqshamah” (Food and Clothing) had emerged and the poets of this period had experienced two new literary trends.
Riddles: The composition of riddles which was the most widespread form of poetry in the Timurid period was more a test of the intelligence and wit of the listener rather than being a literary style. Sini Neishbāuri and Amir ‘Ali Shir Navāyi were particularly famous for composing riddle poems. However, during the course of this period the composition of riddles reached a phase where it began taking up great amounts of time and far-fetched imagination for finding solutions to them.
At’amah va Aqshamah (Food and Clothing): The At’amah va Aqshamah comprised a kind of humorous poetry in which, besides providing responses to the poems of the earlier poets, the poet takes it upon himself to employ the names of foods, eatables, drinks, and clothing in his works. The most important poets of this kind of poetry from the Timurid period were Bes’hāq At’amah and Nezām al-Din Mahmud Qāri Yazdi.
Prose: During the course of the Timurid period, Persian prose continued to face the decline and degeneration that had begun in the earlier period and even the patronage and support extended by the Timurid princes to the composition of literary works did not succeed in eliminating this declining trend. The works surviving from the Timurid period reveal the limited talent, short-sightedness, negligence as well as a lack of research on the part of the writers of this period. A great number of grammatical and terminological mistakes – to be found up to this day in the Persian language – are the legacy of the style of writing of the writers of the Timurid period.
Although the Persian prose-writing of the Timurid period is not of much literary worth and value, its variety of style is undeniably noteworthy.
The historiography of this period is the natural continuation of the movement that began in this area during the Mongol period, and therefore, historical works in different fields, including general and specialized history, belonging to the Timurid period have survived. From among such works, mention can be made of the “Zafarnāmeh” of Hamdollāh Mostofi.
The most important focus in the prose-writing of the Timurid period was in the field of biography-writing. Some of the biographical works that have survived from this period are among the most famous and outstanding efforts in this field in the Persian language. From among the biographical works of the writers of this age, mention can be made of the “Tazkirah al-Sho’arā” (Biographies of the Poets) of Dolatshāh Samarqandi (896 or 900 AH/1491 or 1495 AD), the “Majāles al-Oshshāq” (The Gatherings of Lovers) attributed to Soltān Hosayn Bāyqarā, and a chapter of the “Bahārestān” of Jāmi which has been dedicated to the life-stories of poets.
From among the biographies attributed to the Sufis of this period, the most important works include the “Nafahāt al-Ons Min Hazarāt al-Qods” of Nur al-Din Abd al-Rahmān Jāmi and the “Rashahāt Ayn al-Hayāt” of Fakhr al-Din ‘Ali Safi Kāshefi. Similarly, two valuable biographical works on the lives of the ministers of the Timurid period entitled, the “Āsār al-Vozarā” written by Sayf al-Din Hāji Nezām Aqili and the “Dastur al-Vozarā” written by Ghiyās al-Din Khwāndmir have survived.
The Safavid Period
This period in the history of Persian literature pertains to the years between 907-1148 AH/1501-1735 AD. Although the Safavid period is important in the history of Iran from the political, civil, economic, and artistic angles, it has made little contribution in the fields of literature and learning. Despite the fact that during this period Persian literature did progress in certain specific areas, from an overall point of view, it however faced degeneration and decline.
Interestingly, the most important patrons of Persian literature were the royal courts of India, and particularly after Zahir al-Din Bāber invaded that country and established the Moghul Empire in the year 932 AH/1526 AD. From then onwards, favorable grounds were paved for the perpetuation of Iranian customs outside the borders of Iran at the hands of Iranian statesmen. On the other hand, owing to the patronage of the Safavid kings and as a result of the Ghezelbāsh influence in the royal courts of Iran, a conducive atmosphere for the growth of the Turkish culture and language emerged within the country. Turkish literature, including the Joghtāy and Āzarbāyjāni Turkish as well as other dialects, became widespread and from among the various Turkish dialects the Āzarbāyjāni Turkish gained roots in the Iran of that period and produced outstanding literary works, The foremost poet of significance in the Āzarbāyjāni Turkish language was none other than the Safavid Shāh Esmāil. With the firm establishment of a Shiite government in Iran and owing to the emigration of a large number of scholarly Shiite families of Arab origin to Iran Arabic expressions and terms entered into the Persian language with greater influence than ever before, as a result of which Persian prose and particularly simple scientific prose saw decline.
In India, too, as a result of the downfall of the Moghuls and particularly owing to the competition that had emerged between the Persian, Urdu, and English languages, the Persian language faced degeneration and a negligence on the part of the Iranians towards the protection of the Persian language resulted in the loss of its earlier influence in India.
Poetry: One of the most significant developments in the field of Persian poetry of the Safavid Era was the emergence of the “Hendi” (lit. Indian) style or what is popularly known as the “Sabk-e Hendi” that originated in the Herat school of literature, particularly during the period of Soltān Hosayn Bāyqarā and Amir ‘Ali Shir Navāyi, and came to be followed later on by a large number of poets, both, within and outside of Iran especially in the Indian subcontinent and in the Roman lands. Interestingly, since these poets belonged to different social groups and had lived in differing environments their styles of expression varied from one another.
The most important form of poetry in the Hendi style is the “ghazal” and the period dominated by this poetry form has come to be known as the “Age of Ghazals” in the history of Persian literature. Besides the composition of romantic ghazals, it was a also a general practice to compose ghazals of a philosophical and Gnostic nature, the emergence of which can be attributed to the acquaintance of the Muslim Iranians living in the Indian subcontinent with the Gnostic thoughts and the religious worldview of the Indians that was a result of, both, interactions with the Indian scholars as well as an access to the translations of some great Indian works. During the Safavid period, the commoners as well as the elite had access to philosophical and Gnostic thoughts through the medium of proverbs and maxims.
During the first half of the 10th Century AH/16th Century AD, a new trend emerged in the composition of Persian ghazals that was distinct from the dry and dismal ghazals of the 9th Century AH/15th Century AD. This trend that continued until the first half of the 11th Century AH/17th Century AD came to be known as the “Voqu’’” school of ghazals which was a prelude to the “Sabk-e Hendi”. The ghazals of the followers of this school were devoid of figurative and metaphorical language and sophistry and instead employed a straightforward and lucid language. According to some scholars, Bābā Faghāni was the pioneering poet of the “Voqu’” school of ghazals in the 10th Century AH/16th Century AD that later on came to be named as the “Sabk-e Hendi”.
The most exquisite ghazals of the Safavid period and the lofty thoughts and talents of the poets of this era can be witnessed in the compositions of Sā’eb Tabrizi (1081 AH/1670 AD). Besides mystical and philosophical messages the poems of Sā’eb contain fresh themes and are the finest examples of what is popularly known as the “Sabk-e Hendi” or the “Sabk-e Esfahāni”. The most important feature of the poems of Sā’eb is the fine balance between the various elements in his ghazals. Sā’eb is the most famous poet of the “Sabk-e Esfahāni” (Hendi) and has composed the largest number of ghazals in this style. This great poet has spoken the most on poetry, style, and the “Sabk-e Hendi” and was well-aware of the significance of the style in poetry and knew well that the most important element that gave a poem its identity was its “style” and that a poet could never be considered as one unless he had evolved a style of his own. The most colorful form of the “Sabk-e Hendi” can be found in the poems of Mirzā Abdul Qāder Bidel Dehlavi (1133 AH/1721 AD). Bidel, who was the last of the great poets of the Moghul period, composed a kind of Gnostic ghazal comprising intricate themes, colorful and ambiguous metaphors, and esoteric imagination and it was for this reason that the poems of Orfi, Kalim, Sā’eb, Tāleb, and Naziri seem simple in comparison to his poems.
Owing to the patronage extended by the Safavid kings, many of the poets of this time turned to the composition of marthiyahs (elegies and eulogies) in the honor of the household of Imām ‘Ali (‘a) and created a trend for this style of poetry.
From among the poets of this period, Mohtasham Kāshāni, who was a contemporary of the Safavid king, Shāh Tahmāseb, was superior to all the other poets in the composition of marthiyahs. He had composed a poem in twelve equal stanzas mourning the martyrs of Karbalā that gained popularity as the “Twelve Stanzas of Mohtasham” (Davāzdah Band-e Mohtasham) which still draws the admiration and imitation of many poets involved in the composition of marthiyahs.
A lack of support from the Safavid kings towards the Iranian poets, on the one hand, and the patronage and encouragement extended to Persian-speaking poets by the kings of the Indian subcontinent, on the other, resulted in the emergence of a large number of Persian poets in areas outside the Iranian mainland. Most of these poets were uneducated and did not belong to literary families but they were rather tradesmen who had turned to poetry in expression of their inner callings. In biographies belonging to the Safavid period, one comes across the names of poets who lacked even the basic skills of reading and writing and whose compositions were based only on their close associations with regular poets and their own inner talents. A close connection between literature and the popular culture during the Safavid period was one of the most important causes for the presence of the language of the common people in the literary works of this period.
The popularity gained by literature among the not-so-educated classes as well as a rise in the number of poets, however, resulted in a repetitiveness in the contents of Persian poetry making them rather dull and dreary. This trend caused some of the poets to turn to fresh styles of composition, which some scholars have referred to as the creation of “novel compositions”, and since the addition of such novel compositions in all the verses of the ghazals was a difficult task one often comes across single-versed novel compositions in the ghazal works that gained popularity through the course of time. The composition of single-versed poems was one of the features of the “Sabk-e Hendi”.
It was not customary to compose heroic and nationalistic epics during the Safavid period. However, like the poets of the Timurid period, the poets of this period, too, composed historical epics describing the lives of the kings and other great men of their times. Another kind of composition popular during this period was the creation of religious epics. This kind of literature emerged because of the importance extended by the Safavid kings to the principles of the Shiite faith. The main themes in this kind of literature were in the area of eulogy and works were composed in praise of the person, the miracles, and the victories of the Prophet of Islam (s) as well as great Shiite personalities. This kind of literature often lacked literary value and its contributions are considered among the mediocre works in the area of epic-writing.
Prose: During the Safavid period, Persian prose was in use in large parts of the Ottoman Empire and even extended up to the farthest parts of India, as a result of which, a large number of works in the various fields of Persian prose have survived from that era, most of which are of not much literary worth and are, in fact, known for their weak language and their relative lack of intellectual heights. The prose works of this period can be divided into the three categories of simple prose, imagery, and a mixture of the first two styles. As examples of the books written during this period in the simple prose style, mention can be made of the “Tazkareh-ye Shāh Tahmāseb” (The Biography of Shāh Tahmāseb), the “Ālam-Ārā-ye Safavi” (The Adorned Safavid World), the “Haft Eqlim” (The Seven Lands), and the “Majāles al-Mo’menin” (The Gatherings of the Believers). From among the imagery style, mention can be made of the “Abbāsnāmeh” of Vahid Ghaznavi, and the “Mahbub al-Qolub” (The Beloved of the Hearts) of Mirzā Barkhordār Torkamān Farāhi while the books, the “Habib al-Sayr” (Friend of the Journey), the “Ālam Ārā-ye Abbāsi” (The Adorned World of Shāh Abbās), and the “Ahsan al-Tavārikh” (The Best of History) are the best examples of works written in the third style. On the whole, the prose works of this period can be classified into the following categories:
i. Literary books like the “Ā’in-e Akbari” (The Faith of Akbar) – which according to Malek al-Sho’arā Bahār is an encyclopedia of the India of those times – and the “Ayār-e Dānesh” (The Standard of Knowledge) which was a later version of the “Kalilah va Dimnah”;
ii. Historical books like the “Habib al-Sayr” of Khwāndmir, the “Ālam Ārā-ye Safavi” that was authored by Eskandar Beig Monshi, and the “Ahsan al-Tavārikh” written by Hasan Beig Rumlo;
iii. Biographical works like the “Majāles al-Mo’menin”, the “Tohfeh-ye Sāmi” (The Gift of Sāmi), the “Haft Eqlim”, the translation of the “Majāles al-Nafāyes” (The Gathering of the Finest), and the “Riyāz al-Sho’arā” (The Gardens of the Poets);
iv. Dictionaries like the “Farhang-e Jahāngiri” (The Jahāngiri Dictionary), the “Farhang-e Rashidi” (The Rashidi Dictionary), the “Ghiyāth al-Loghāt” (The Champion of Words), and the “Borhān-e Qāte’” (The Firm Reasoning). Some of these dictionaries contain certain words that are erroneously referred to as “select Pārsi words” or the “Dasātiri” words;
v. Shiite religious books like the “Jāme’ Abbāsi” of Shaykh Bahā’i, the “Hayāt al-Qolub” (The Life of the Hearts) of Majlesi, the “Kalamāt-e Maknuneh” (Esoteric Words) of Fayz, and the “Gohar-e Morād” (The Jewel of Desire) of Lāhiji;
vi. Storybooks like the later version of the “Eskandarnāmeh” and the “Dārābnāmeh” as well as works like the “Tutināmeh” and the “Razmnāmeh”. The trend of story-writing was an outcome of the profession of story-telling which prevailed in the royal courts as well as the gatherings of the nobles and the elite of those days and which was more widespread in India than it was in Iran;
vii. Translations that were done from, both, the Arabic as well as the Sanskrit languages like the translations of works like the “Mahābhāratha” and the “Nāyārānā”.
The Afshārid, Zand, and part of the Qājārid period
This period in Persian literature spread between the first half of the 12th Century AH/18th Century AD and the first half of the 14th Century AH/19th Century AD and can be classified into two parts; the first one being between the fall of the Safavid Empire until the onset of the reign of Fath ‘Ali Shāh of the Qājārid Dynasty in the year 1212 AH/1797 AD – also referred to as the “dormant period” – and the second one being the period between the reign of Fath ‘Ali Shāh and the onset of the Constitutional Revolution, also referred to as the “period of revival”.
Poetry: The above-mentioned “dormant” period was one of the poorest literary periods of Iran during which the footsteps of the Voqu’ school and the Sabk-e Hendi can be traced in the works of the poets. The most important poets of this period were Hātef Esfahāni and his son Sahāb Esfahāni.
Discussions on bringing about changes in the style of poetry ensued among the talented poets of Esfahān, Shirāz, and Kāshān during the “dormant” period. The emergence of ministers and statesmen like Mirzā Mahdi Astarābādi and Mirzā Sādeq Nāmi resulted in the dominance of the style of the educated poets popularly known as the “Sabk-e Araqi” over the style of the tradesmen, popularly known as the “Sabk-e Hendi”, and, therefore, this new style came to be known as the “Sabk-e Bāzgasht” or the “style of revival”.
The earliest sparks of the “revival period” can be found in the period of the reigns of Nāder Shān and Karim Khān Zand. Although these two kings did not show any apparent inclination towards poetry, it was during their periods that poets like Moshtāq Esfahāni (1101-1171 AH/1690-1758 AD) and later on, Abdul Wahhāb Neshāt established literary associations, the members of which were poets like Āsheq and Āzar Bigdeli. By reverting back from the “Sabk-e Hendi” to the “Sabk-e Araqi”, these poets and their students, established a new phase in Persian literature which is referred to as the “period of literary revival”.
During the Qājār period poetry became so popular that even religious scholars and jurists began to study the works of the earlier poets and tested out their own talents in this field and even went to the extent of rejecting the views of their opponents by composing poems. From among the scholars, theologians, and philosophers who were talented in the area of poetry and who have left behind Gnostic poems, mention must be made of Ākhund Mollā ‘Ali Nuri (1246 AH/1830 AD), Hāj Mollā Hādi Sabzevāri (1289 AH/1872 AD), and Āqā ‘Ali Modarres Zanuzi (1307 AH/ 1890 AD).
Prose: During the early part of the period under discussion, Persian prose continued to remain intricate and full of complex imagery and dreary phraseology. The most prominent example of the “moghlaqnevisi” (lit. elaborate writing) of this period can be found in the “Dorre-ye Nādereh” of Mirzā Mahdi Khān – who was Nāder Shāh’s secretary – which is an exaggerated imitation of the style in which the book, the “Visāf al-Hazarah” had been written, the study of which has left even experts in this field confounded.
From among the prose writers of the Qājār period, Neshāt Esfahāni in the field of letter-writing, Mirzā Taqi Khān Sepehr in the field of historiography, and Rezā Qoli Khān Hedāyat in the field of biography-writing have contributed valuable works.
However, the most outstanding examples of literary prose belonging to this period can be found in the works of Mirzā Abu al-Qāsem Qā’em Maqām Farāhāni (1193-1251 AH/1779-1835 AD). Since Qāem Maqām was involved in writing as part of his professional position, his works were considerably free of the customary formalities and imagery, and by adopting short sentences and beautiful rhythms and without including flattering adjectives and praises, this writer created fine prose works that remind its readers of the “Golestān” of Sa’di. After Qāem Maqām, Qā’āni, too, continued replicating the style of the “Golestān” in his work entitled “Parishān”.
The Era of the Constitutional Movement
This period in Persian prose extended from 1249-1337 or 1341 AH/1833-1921 or 1925 AD. The diplomatic relations between Iran and Europe began to expand with the reign of the Qājār king, Fath ‘Ali Shāh. Later on during the Qājār period, Mirzā Mohammad Taqi Khān Amir Kabir established the “Dār al-Fonun” school in the year 1268 AH as a result of which the grounds were paved for introducing the Iranians to modern sciences. It was between the years 1304 and 1307 AH/1887-1890 AD that Sayyid Jamāl al-Din Asadābādi strived to propagate against the existing internal despotism in his foreign trips. Personalities like Mirzā Malcolm Khān Nezām al-Dolah Esfahāni, by publishing the “Qānun” daily in London; Mirzā Fath ‘Ali Ākhundzādeh with his translations of foreign articles and plays; Mirzā Āqā Khān Kermāni with his writing of treaties and poems; Mirzā Abd al-Rahim Talbof with his writings on scientific and social principles in simple language; and Zayn al-Ābedin Marāghi with his writings of social novels, all played important roles in paving the path for the emergence of the Constitutional Movement. The writers and poets of the era of the Constitutional Movement presented new ideas and thoughts in their prose and poetry works expressing them in a simple and lucid language. The works of the writers and poets of this period were written in a colloquial form and were laced with infiltrated European and Turkish terms that had crept into the Persian language along with the new ideas and thoughts. Some scholars are of the opinion that the main themes of the literature of the Constitutional Movement Era were patriotism and social criticism and believe that the main contents of the poems of this period focused on such issues as freedom, nationalism, the status of women, Westernization, Western industrialization, and a neglect towards religion and spiritualism. According to these scholars, the main feature of the poetry of this period is the emergence of labor literature while as far as the language of these works are concerned, it is close to the spoken language of the masses, both, from the grammatical and the terminological viewpoints. The literature of the period of the Constitutional Movement comprised poetry, story-writing, article-writing, criticism, humor, translations, and play-writing. At the onset of the Constitutional Movement, the orators and writers had a lot to contribute although they did not always find the appropriate means to express themselves.
Poetry: The Persian-language poets of the period of the Constitutional Movement can be classified into two broad groups on the basis of their styles of composition. The first group includes poets like Adib Pishāvari, Adib al-Mamālek, and Mohammad Taqi Bahār who introduced new themes in the same earlier poetic forms, adhering to the established rules of classical poetry, and never stepping beyond the boundaries of traditional Persian poetry. The only innovative venture of this group of poets was the usage of terms and phrases belonging to the period of the freedom movement in their old poetical styles, indicating towards the unquestionable yearning on the part of these poets for the discovery of a new way of expressing themes like patriotism and struggle against despotism.
From among these poets, Mohammad Taqi Bahār (1265-1330 Solar Year/1886-1951 AD), excelled in composing odes in the style of his predecessors with madh (eulogies) and rasā (elegies) elements. Both prior to and following the Constitutional Movement, this poet composed his odes with revolutionary themes for the cause of freedom. The compositions of Bahār belonging to the freedom movement period, and especially his complementary poems, are interesting from the viewpoints of their poetic flow as well as the harmony existing between the short and long verses.
The second group comprised poets who came up with a lucid style that became famous as the “Ash’ār-e Matbu’āti” (lit. “Press Poems”). This group of poets played a significant role in the progress of the Constitutional Movement and in creating mass awareness by composing songs and complementary poems using simple language. However, their works never succeeded in replacing the precious age-old legacy of Persian literature.
The most famous composer of the “press poems” of this period was Ashraf al-Din Qazvini. With the onset of the Constitutional Movement, he single-handedly published the “Nasim-e Shomāl” (The Northern Zephyr) daily, which consisted of nothing but humorous and critical poems. It was because of these humorous poems that this poet came to be recognized as the most famous poet of the period of the Constitutional Movement. However, his fame in no way eclipsed the positions of poets like Āref Qazvini and Mohammad Taqi Bahār as the national poets of this period.
The greatest composer of ghazals of the Constitutional Movement period was Mohammad Farrokhi Yazdi, whose ghazals contained ironical themes and severe criticism of the existing monarchy of Iran. Abu al-Qāsem Āref Qaznavi was the other famous composer of ghazals and songs who was also a revolutionary poet of that period and who had, right from the onset of the Constitutional Movement, employed his talents and skills in the composition of songs with patriotic and revolutionary themes.
The Constitutional Movement breathed an innovative spirit into the poets of that period. The second half of that period witnessed the emergence of competent poets who had composed a wide range of works. The poet, Iraj Mirzā, with his witty language presented a unique example of the element of humor in the poetry of this period. The critical views of Iraj Mirzā focused more intently on social issues and the backwardness of the masses rather than catering to the existing political problems.
Another poet of that period who had come up with his own style of poetry was Mohammad Rezā Mirzādeh Eshqi. Eshqi’s political poems were enthusiastic, ironical, cynical, and often immature and inconsistent. However, it is quite evident from his poems that the poet had endeavored to create something new while yet preserving the traditions of his predecessors and this is what has gained him recognition as one of the competent pioneers of the “Sabk-e Nau” (lit. the new style) in Persian poetry.
‘Ali Akbar Dehkhodā was a great poet and lexicologist of the Constitutional Movement period who often composed poetry as part of his hobby. Although his poems were full of strange and obsolete terms and difficult phrases, some of them are also considered as the outstanding prose poems of his times.
Yet another prominent poet of the period under discussion was Parvin E’tesāmi (1285-1320 SAH/1906-1941 AD). The main theme of E’tesāmi’s poems centered around such issues as defending the rights of the oppressed, diversity and newness of thought, and supporting women’s participation in social affairs. She had chosen a very simple and fluent language to express her ideas. By combining the style of the poets of the “Sabk-e Khorāsāni” – and particularly Nāser Khosrow – with that of the “Sabk-e Arāqi” poets, and most importantly Sa’di’s style of poetry, E’tesāmi had created an independent and exclusive style of her own.
Prose: The prose-writing of the period of the Constitutional Movement was quite varied. One of the important factors that impacted the trend of story-writing in Iran and paved the path for the Constitutional Revolution was the translation of European novels into Persian. From among the translators of the European literary works into the Persian language reference can be made of Mohammad Tāher Mirzā – who had translated the works of Alexander Dumas – as well as Mirzā Habib Esfahāni, and Mohammad Hosayn Forughi. The writing of historical novels in the Persian language, like the “Shams va Toghrā” of Mohammad Bāqer Mirzā Khosravi and the “Eshq va Saltanat” (lit. “Love and Rulership”) of Shaykh Musā Nasri are examples of the Iranian imitation of the Western styles of novel-writing in that period. Moreover, it is also worth mentioning Yusof E’tesāmi who had translated works like the “Les Miserables” into the Persian language. The trend of translating plays also began during the Constitutional Movement period and impacted the style of writing of the Iranians. The first of such works translated into Persian were the critical and humorous works of Moliere by E’temād al-Saltaneh. The other famous writers who had translated foreign plays into the Persian language were Mirzā Habib Esfahāni, Kamāl al-Vezārah, and Nāser al-Molk. Moreover, the play-works of Fath ‘Ali Ākhundzādeh, that have been translated into Persian by Mohammad Ja’far Qarācheh Dāghi are closely related to the social issues related to the Constitutional Movement period.
The other prose styles of that period included the article-writing and press works which became trendy all over the country following the announcement of the victory of the Constitutional Revolution.
The writing of novels related to social issues was yet another style of the prose-writing of the Constitutional Movement period which aimed at highlighting the corruption and failings related to life in that period. The most prominent writers of novels based upon social themes of that period were Moshfeq Kāzemi, the author of the “Tehran-e Makhuf” (lit. “Dreadful Tehran”); Abbās Khalili, the author of “Ruzegār-e Siyāh” (lit. Grim Days); Yahyā Dolatābādi, the author of “Shahrnāz”; and San’atizādeh, the author of the “Majma’-e Divānegān” (lit. “The Assembly of the Insane”). However, Iranian novel-writing did not flourish much in the wake of the translation of European works, and therefore, by the second part of this period writers like Jamālzādeh, Sa’id Nafisi, and Mohammad Hejāzi turned to writing short stories. Another feature of the Constitutional Movement period was the escalation of a sense of patriotism and nationalism among the Iranians following which the Iranian literati began paying special attention to the translations of the ancient Pahlavi texts, the commemoration of the national heritage, eliminating non-Persian terms from the Persian language, and researching on the Iranian culture and literature. Some of the most famous research scholars of the period of the Constitutional Movement included Mohammad Taqi Bahār, Mohammad ‘Ali Forughi, Seyyed Hasan Taqizādeh, Mohammad Qazvini Ebrāhim Purdāvud, and Sādeq Hedāyat. Generally speaking, the most outstanding features of the literature of that period were the focus on nationalistic sentiments, the influence of Western literature, innovativeness, focus on humanitarianism and social values, a concern for the weaker sections of society, and at times the presence of feelings of nihilism and despair.
The Contemporary Era
This period began with the rise of Mohammad Rezā Pahlavi in the year 1941.
Poetry: In this period poetry was composed in two styles. The first was the style of Bahār, Rashid Yāsamin, Parvin E’tesāmi, Lotf ‘Ali Suratgar, and Mahdi Hamidi Shirāzi who had presented their innovative thoughts in traditional forms, which was in fact in continuation of the “revival period”. The second was the style of ‘Ali Esfandyāri, famous as “Nima Yushij”, as well as his followers who had joined into the trend that brought about a change in the style of Persian poetry. Interestingly, their style – that came to be known as the “She’r-e Nau” (lit. “new poetry”) – challenged not only the style of the first group of poets but also the literary heritage of Iran, that hereafter came to be referred to as “traditional literature”. Nimā’s contribution to Persian poetry reflected itself through a change in the rhyme and meter of the compositions. As per Nimā’s style, poems came to be composed with a prosodic meter and rhyme. However, the number of prosodic elements in each of the verses of his poems varied while the structuring of the rhymes was also random.
Besides a difference in the external structure, the “traditional” as well as the “new” styles of poetry, also vary in their composition themes in the sense that in the new style of poetry, the poet focuses on describing the nature and the application of the subject while in the traditional style of poetry, the poet concentrates on the attributes or the obvious characteristics of the subject. During this period, Nimā Yushij, with the introduction of the “new” style of poetry, and Sādeq Hedāyat, with the introduction of new elements in the arena of story-writing – which resulted in the trend of realism in the works of the writers that followed him – laid the foundation for the contemporary literature. Nimā’s style of poetry gained fame as the “She’r-e Āzād” (lit. “free style poetry) style and his followers gradually brought in innovations in some unfamiliar areas of Persian poetry. For instance, the “She’r-e Sepid” (lit. “White Poetry”) is a form of contemporary poetry whose rhythm and meter are not of a prosodic nature while its rhymes are random. The most famous poet of this style is Ahmad Shāmlu.
The “She’r-e Mauj-e Nau” (lit. the “New Wave Poetry”), which is a style of poetry without meter, is considered to fall into the category of contemporary poetry. The difference between this style of poetry and prose-writing is in the mode of expression and poetic imagery and the “Mauj-e Nau” style of poetry is intermingled with intricacy and ambiguity. From among the poets of this style, mention can be made of Ahmad Rezā Ahmadi. The “She’r-e Nau” or the “She’r-e Āzād” became the most popular of the three aforementioned styles. In the composition of the “Sepid” style of poetry, some people mistook the prose literary works for poetry while in the case of the “Mauj-e Nau” style some people mistook the complex and ambiguous prose works for poetry. The pace at which the “She’r-e Nau” became widespread encouraged even some inexperienced people – who had not even decided in what style of poetry to express themselves – to venture into publishing their immature poems, thereby tarnishing the image of the “new” style of poetry.
In the recent years, the influence of the “traditional” and “new” styles of poetry on each other resulted in the emergence of “Ghazal-e Nau” (lit. the “New Style in Ghazals”). Mohammad Husayn Shahriyār is one of the contemporary ghazal poets who also has a background in composing the “She’r-e Nau”.
Prose: Following the days of Sādeq Hedāyat, contemporary prose was freed from the final vestiges of its ancient heritage, intricate and cumbersome imagery, and unnecessary prolixity. Moreover, during the contemporary period, philosophical and social studies came to exist alongside literary and historical works. Like the previous period, the subject-matter of contemporary prose is quite varied in this period. Sādeq Hedāyat is considered to be the pioneer of realistic writing and in the field of story-writing the works produced by him during the final years of his life are considered to be from among the most outstanding prose works of the contemporary period.
After Hedāyat, it was Sādeq Chubak who followed in his footsteps albeit with a more cynical outlook, creating a collection of rather repulsive, lewd, and undignified stories.
Bozorg Alavi was yet another outstanding writer of the contemporary period who had made some successful attempts in the fields of short-story and novel writing that took their inspiration from the Iranian spirit. His most prominent works included the “Chamedān” (lit. “The Suitcase”), the “Nāmehā” (lit. Letters), “Mirzā”, and “Chashmhāyash” (His Eyes).
Jalāl Āle Ahmad was another contemporary writer who impacted the style of prose in the contemporary period and brought about changes in it. Āle Ahmad adopted a simple style of prose-writing – quite close to everyday conversation – that was replete with common terms, phrases, idioms, and proverbs. The novel, “Modir-e Madreseh” (lit. “The School Principal”), as well as his books like the “Did va Bāzdid” (lit. Mutual Visits), the “Zan-e Ziyādi” (lit. Too Much of a Woman), “Goldastehā” (lit. “The Minarets”), and “Falak” (lit. “The Cosmos”) are some of his outstanding works.
In the field of short-story writing, the contemporary period has also produced writers like Ebrāhim Golestān, Mahmud E’temādzādeh, Simin Dāneshvar, Bahrām Sādeqi, and Gholām Husayn Sā’edi, each one of whom has left behind outstanding works in his/her own field.
Play-writing is included among the legacy of the contemporary period which, in fact, can be said to have emerged as the fruits of the labor of the Constitutional Movement period. With the advent of the current Iranian century and following the Constitutional Movement, the patriotic sentiments of the masses grew stronger and, therefore, themes like glorification of the past and the need for the emergence of a national savior became the main focus of the play-works of that period. With the onset of the contemporary period, discussions on the revival of the national identity reached a stalemate and the younger generations preferred to focus on the daily realities of life in their plays. Some instances of this claim can be seen in writers like Hasan Moqaddam, with his work entitled, “Ja’far Khān az Farang Āmadeh” (lit. “Ja’far Khān Returns From Europe”); Zabih Behruz with his play “Jijak ‘Ali Shāh”; and Sa’id Nafisi with “Ākharin Yādegār-e Nāder Shāh” (lit. “The Final Legacy of Nāder Shāh”), each of which works had been written in protest against the loss of culture, superficiality, and the extravagance of the “Pharaoh of the day”.
From the year 1958 onwards, the National Art Group of Iran began its activities in collaboration with Shāhin Sarkisiyān. This group focused mainly on local issues, stories, and national aspirations and gradually progressed to work in various other areas. From among the playwrights of this period, mention can be made of ‘Ali Nasiriyān, Gholām Husayn Sā’edi, Parviz Kārdān, and Bahrām Beyzā’i.
Literary criticism in its present form is a characteristic phenomenon of this period which cannot be traced anywhere in the works of the previous writers. The main principles of the contemporary critics are focus upon the purpose behind the works, their relationship with the society, and the mutual impact between literary works and the society. It was Nimā Yushij who was the first writer to criticize the critique works of his times, considering them to be devoid of producing a scientific insight on the causes behind the emergence of the various literary styles and works in contemporary literature.
Critique works belonging to the contemporary period have often been published in the forms of articles in national periodicals. From among the first prominent critics of the contemporary period, mention can be made of Taqi Raf’at, Fātemeh Sayyāh, and Ehsān Tabari. Owing to the efforts on the parts of these pioneers in the field of critique writing, literary criticism turned into one of the most popular topics in the press from the year 1961 onwards. During these years and following the translation of a number of Western critical works the Iranian critics began to adopt Western standards in their own works. ‘Ali Shariati, in the field of Islamic research, Rezā Barāhani and Mohammad Hoquqi in the theoretical analysis of poetical themes; Yadollāh Ro’yā’i, Esmā’il Nuri Alā, and Shamim Bahār in the introduction of new literary thoughts, and Parviz Davā’i, in the area of film criticism have produced valuable critical works.
 Ghamar, Aryan “Iran Entry” The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.572 – 576