Two years have elapsed since Ahmad Shamlou left the literary arena of our country after at least 50 years of serious and constructive presence during one of the most exciting periods of our literary history. Though it is still too soon to embark on a realistic evaluation of his influence on the evolutionary progress of our modern literature and intellectual course, it is nonetheless totally evident that here we are dealing with a figure of historic proportions that is going to stay in the memory of our nation for good.
Getting to this kind of statute is neither easy nor realizable through sheer will. It demands the coincidence of many preconditions within a periodic framework of literary history. Shamlou was lucky enough to be armed with a creative sole in a time of great changes. In other words, he was the right man in the right place and at the right time. Many people had already paved the way for the emergence of a new poetic voice that was very different from our classical heritage and, at the same time, did not taste alien at all.
Four different endeavors come to mind when one thinks of this process. First was the fervent attitude of the constitutionalist poets at the beginning of the 20th century. They had understood the dictates of the coming social changes and were seeking many ways of poetic expression to portray a new emerging social world. In essence, what they tried to do was to adhere to all classical frameworks of poetic rendering while trying to change the inner structure of observation and expression. Iraj Mirza, Bahar, Eshghi, Aref and Farrokhi are a few names amongst the many. The young Nima Yushij of the “turn of the century” era was the outcome of that school, though his work was first mildly rejected by many of the proponents of that mindset.
His “Afsane” (meaning story, legend and folk tale) is the culmination of the emerging poetic and intellectual attitudes of early 20th century. The poet faces a mysterious figure called Afsane and, while talking to her, pens the long history of a relationship between our intellectuals and all non-scientific renditions of the social life. The poem ends with the poet's farewell with this most admire beloved. He needs to partake her if he is going to meet with a new horizon. Thus, the Persian modern poetry begins with a change of heart rather than the outfit. Out of this trend comes the second literary attitude that is later named as “Sokhan School” with poets like Khanlari, Tavallali, Naderpour, Moshiri and many other famous figures.
The third endeavor belongs to those poetic talents that are totally absorbed by the Western literature and their works, through abandoning all connections with the literary heritage of the country, sounds like translations of the works of European romantic poets of the previous century. Here, creativity is lost amidst chaos of non-existing principles of rendition within a barren framework of poetic challenge.
The middle way was the fourth direction to take. Here, within the first twenty years of the 20th century, and under the modern dictatorship of the first Pahlavi king, the only successful poet is again Nima Yushij. Through differentiating the organic ingredients of the classical poetics from those non-functional and deeply ornamental elements of rendition, he came up with a completely new way of composing expression-oriented poetry of high literary value with socially compatible contextual aspect. This is what we now know as the “New Poetry”. It was introduced to the Iranian literary world during the Second World War to capture immediately the minds of the younger generation – a generation that had waited behind the walls of social inhibitions of a dictatorial era only to embark on a “naive” revolutionary course once freedom was “imposed” on the country by the exigencies of the War.
The young Shamlou of the 1940s was a typical member of this generation and soon was to be absorbed by the charisma of Nima. Although the latter was bestowing a literary tool that was based on the functional differentiating of the classical poetic elements, what the former understood from Nima' teachings was that forceful inclination towards eliminating all illogical dictates of the past in the light of a liberating search for deeply functional elements of poetic rendering. Comparing to what Shamlou understood from Nima's teachings, Nima's work and theoretical elaborations seem deeply conservative.
Shamlou began to build his poetics upon the above four pillars. The outcome was that literary force that could soon render the “Nimaic” brand of poetry as obsolete, opening the door to new uncharted waters of poetry that were free from all non-functional dictates of the past but, at the same time, obsessively concerned with the deeper linguistic and cultural relationships of the new with the old. This was a tremendous juxtaposition of various elements of speech and imagery and needed the genius of Ahmad Shamlou for its successful realization.
In this manner, Shamlou opened the door to the future of Persian poetry and paved the way for the thoroughly modern poets of present Persian literature. His poetry is the culmination of Modern Persian Poetry, a farewell to the past and a welcome to the future. It is not an exaggeration to claim that ninety per cent of the present poets of Iran, both inside and outside of that country, could be considered as his followers as far as their poetics and literary contemplations are concerned. In the present situation, a young poet can begin her/his work without having been in classical or Nimaic poetry. Nevertheless, it is hard to find any significant poet who writes acceptable poetry without having first experimented the Shamlouic language and rendering.
The added bonus to his literary grandeur is the fact that his limitless search for freedom has not been confined to the poetic experience and literary expressions. His psyche, reflected in the mirror of his poetry, has been a keen seeker of liberation in all levels of human existence. If this was a political search at the beginning, it soon turned into a fundamental aspiration for the overall liberation of the human kind upon the universal values of life rather than the dictates of ideological/utopian frameworks. Thus, he soon became the mouthpiece of the whole poetry loving and humanist readership in Iran.
Two years after his death, he is very much alive both in the works of contemporary poets of Iran and in the memory of that country's younger generation who was raised after the Revolution of 1978 only to discover its essential socio-literary tendencies in Shamlou's works. We all have already seen the final showdown of this grand poet – being escorted to his grave by the chanting waves of Iranian youth reciting his poetry in defiance of one of the most dreadful political regimes of the world. In fact, his name is now identical with all aspiration for liberation from all the shackles of thought and living in Iran, whether literary or political.