According to some historical documents, the first Ministry of Culture (in Persian: Vezarat-e Farhang) in Iran was possibly established during Nasser-e-Din Shah Qajar (ruled 1848-1896) and Aligholi Mirza Etezaadsaltaneh (AME) was appointed as the first minister of science and culture in 1858. After AME, there were many famous Iranian figures who became the Minister of Culture of Iran and to name a few they may be listed as Ali Asghar Hekmat, Mohammad Taghi Bahaar, Hamid Zanganeh, Mehdi Azar, Karim Sanjabi, Parviz Natel Khanlari, etc. Among those Ministers, late poet and scholar Mohammad Taghi Bahaar, spelled also as Mohammad Taqi Bahar (MTB), has been considered as one of the greatest cultural figures of Iran. In this article, the life story and the literary works of MTB as the First Iranian Poet and Scholar who was appointed as the Minister of Culture will be studied and discussed.
HIS LIFE: MTB was born on 8 December 1885 in Sarshoor District of Mashhad, the capital city of Khorasan (a northeastern province of present-day Iran). His birth date has been also recorded as 6 November 1884. MTB began his primary education when he was 3 years old, and his mentor was his father, Mohammad Kazem Sabouri (MKS). MKS was a poet laureate or the official court-poet of Muzaffar-e-Din Shah (the fifth shah of Qajar dynasty ruled 1896-1907), and he was titled as King of Poets (in Persian: Malek-Show-Araa or Malek-o-Shoara). In addition to that private schooling, MTB also attended one of the Traditional Learning Centers (in Persian: Maktab Khaaneh) in Mashhad. It has been documented that MTB could cite by heart a very good portion of Koran at a very young age. To complete his knowledge of Persian and Arabic, he also attended the classes of the literary skillful persons such as Adib Naishabouri and Ali Darehgazi for years.
He composed his first poem at age 8, and chose the name of Bahaar as his pen name (in Persian: Takhallos). In fact, MTB chose that pen name after the name of Bahaar Shirvani (BSH), a poet and a close friend of MKS. BSH was also a poet who was very famous during Nasser-e-Din Shah, the fourth shah of Qajar dynasty.
At 14, MTB could fluently speak Arabic, and later he was able to learn how to speak and write French. At 18, he lost his father and started to work as a clergy. At the same time he composed a purposeful poem (in Persian: Ghassideh), and sent it to Muzaffar-e-Din Shah Qajar (MDQ). MDQ who was very impressed by that poem, appointed MTB as his new poet laureate and he also titled MTB as a new King of Poets (Malek-Show-Araa) upon a royal order.
At the onset of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran (1906-1911), MTB resigned as the poet laureate to join the movement for the establishment of a parliamentary system in the country. MTB became an active member of the Mashhad’s branch of the Society of Prosperity (in Persian: Anjoman-e-Saadat), which was promoting the establishment of parliament in Iran. He published his Journals of Khorasan (with collaboration of Hossein Ardebili), New Spring (in Persian: Nubahaar), and Very New Spring (in Persian: Taazehbahaar) respectively first in Mashhad and later in Tehran. In his journals, he wrote many articles which played very significant roles to encourage the nation to stand up for the establishment of a parliament and for the new institutions, new forms of expression, and a new social and political order. After the triumph of the constitutional revolution, MTB was repeatedly elected as a member of the parliament which was named as the National Consultative Assembly of Iran (in Persian: Majless-e-Shoraay-e-Melli-e-Iran). In 1918 when Ahmad Shah, the seventh and the last ruler of Qajar dynasty, was in power MTB reinvented himself. He abandoned the activities as a clergy, he became completely a new man, and he started to challenge the religious fanaticism. At the same time, MTB with the collaboration of writer and poet Saeed Nafissi, poet Rashid Yassemi, and historian Abbas Eghbal Ashtiaani founded the Literary Society of Faculty (in Persian: Anjoman-e-Adabi-e-Daneshkadeh). Faculty Magazine (in Persian: Majaleh-e-Daneshkadeh) was the monthly publication of that Society, in which besides prose and verses, very informative and useful articles on Literary Revolution, the Way other Nations view us, and the Literary History of Iran were also published. In fact, that magazine was MTB’s actual mean of publishing the results of his literary research and introducing the Western Literature to Iranians. The magazine also played a key role in strengthening and developing the contemporary style of the Persian Literature. As Yahya Aryanpour noted, “Majaleh-e-Daneshkadeh was one of the best magazines of that era. It was published for only a year, but it had a great influence on many authors and poets”.
During Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled 1925-1941), and after the establishment of Tehran University (1934), MTB was appointed as a Professor and started to teach Persian Literature at the Faculty of Literature in Tehran University. At the same period, he dedicated most of his times to edit and write various books on Literature and History. Among many great pieces of literary and historical works of MTB, one can recall the History of Sisstan (in Persian: Tarikh-e-Sisstan), A Short History of the Political Parties in Iran (in Persian: Tarikh-e-Mokhtasar-e-Ahzab-e-Siassi), Understanding the Various Styles and Traditions in Persian Prose (in Persian: Sabk Shenaasi), Edited Version of Histories in Short (in Persian: Mojmalal Tavarikh), Edited Version of Anthology of Stories (in Persian: Javame-ol Hekayaat) and the two volumes of the collection of his poems.
During Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled 1941-1979), and in 1945, MTB was asked by the Prime Minister of the time, Ahmad Ghavam (also known as Ghavam-o-Saltaneh), to serve as the Minister of Culture and Education in his cabinet, which he agreed to but only for a very short time. On the basis of reliable sources, MTB as the Minister of Culture and Education did a great job domestically and internationally in promoting Persian Poetry and Literature and the Cultural Heritage of Iran.
HIS END: In the last years of his life, MTB sadly suffered from the communicable disease of Tuberculosis and left Iran to seek medical treatment in Lausanne, a city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. MTB stayed in Lausanne for only a few months and returned home soon after. It was not much longer after his return to Tehran that his health status turned from bad to worse. He died shortly after on April 21, 1951. His tomb is in Darband located in Shemiran, north of Tehran.
HIS POEMS: MTB was a 20th century poet, but his poems were quite traditional and firmly patriotic. Many scholars have strongly emphasized and documented that MTB’s style of writing and the beauty of his poetry, in addition to his deep passion for Iran and his ongoing challenges against oppression, atrocity, and hypocrisy do indeed have made him to be considered as one of the greatest cultural scholars of Iran. Though he worked as a clergy only in his early career, his first love had been always to compose poetry, to carry out historical researches, to teach, and to write.
As already noted MTB, through his literary magazine of Faculty, had a significant role in the development of modern Persian Poetry and Literature. It can be argued that almost all advocates of modernism in Persian Poetry and Literature, to varying degrees, were inspired by developments and changes that had occurred in Western Literature, and particularly in the European one. Still, such inspirations would not mean blindly copying Western models, but in practice, adaptation of aspects of Western Literature which were then modified to fit the needs of the Iranian culture. In a chapter entitled “From Translation to Appropriation”, author Karimi-Hakkak describes the process of literary borrowing from the West through several specific examples from well-known Iranian poets, such as MTB’s poem, “Ranj-o-Ganj” (Toil and Treasure), based on La Fontaine’s “Le Laoureur et ses Enfants”, and Iraj Mirza’s “Ghalb-e-Maadar” (A Mother’s Heart), based on a German vignette and Jean Richepin’s “La Chanson de la Glu…”. Karimi-Hakkak explicates the nature and the complex process of such borrowings and adaptations and he concludes although those poets were convinced of the necessity of a literary revolution, both still believed in the preservation of traditional forms and devices in their poems. In the MTB’s collection of poems, one can find poems with different traditions. He professionally composed poems in almost every tradition of Persian Poetry namely Panegyric (in Persian: Setayeshi or Madiheh), Epic (Hemaasi), Patriotic (Meehani), Mystic (Ramzi or Soophianeh), Romantic (Aasheghaneh), Ethical (Akhlaaghi), Didactic (Aamoozeshi or Pandi), Colloquial (Goftogooii or Aamianeh), and Satirical (Tanzi or Hajvi). The Persian texts of some poems composed by MTB can be viewed here. And here are the English versions of his poems on Damavand and the Morning Bird:
1. DAMAVAND: In Persian Poetry and Literature, Mount Damavand is the symbol of Iranian resistance against aggression, against the internal enemy and against the foreign rule. This famous patriotic poem of Damavand is one of the many masterpieces composed by MTB.
Here is a part of the English version of the poem as translated by Mahvash Shahegh:
O’ Shackled white demon!
O’ dome of the world, Damavand!
You have a helmet on your head of silver
And a belt on your waste of iron…
To rain down on Rey
Made of terror, fright and pestilence
Break down the Hell’s gate and pour out
Punishment for those disbelieving infidels
In the same way that God by sending a terrible typhoon
Annihilated the infidel city of Aad
The complete Persian version of above poem can be viewed here.
2. THE MORNING BIRD
(in Persian: Morgh-e Sahar):
The song or the musical composition (in Persian: Tassneef or Taraaneh) of the Morning Bird, aka the Dawn Bird, is one of the most notable masterpieces of MTB. The Persian version of the song can be viewed here. And here is its English version as provided by an unknown translator:
O Morning bird, sadly sing and remind me
Of my pain afresh with a burning sigh
Break this cage and turn it upside down
Wing tied nightingale, leave the corner of this cage
Compose the song of freedom for the mankind
And with a breath, set fire to the battlefield
Of the mass of this earth
The cruelty of tyrants and the injustice of huntsmen
Have broken my nest to the winds
O God, O turning globe, O nature
Turn our dark night into dawn.
It should be noted that the song of Morgh-e Sahar was firstly sung on separate occasions by late Iranian female singers Molook Zarrabi and Ghamrolmolook Vaziri respectively. It was also sung by contemporary Iranian male singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian (MRS) in recent years. Listen to Morgh-e Sahar as performed by MRS.
EPILOGUE: As already noted numerous scholars have strongly emphasized and documented that MTB’s style of writing and the beauty of his poetry, in addition to his deep passion for Iran and his ongoing challenges against oppression, atrocity, and hypocrisy do indeed have made him to be considered as one of the greatest cultural figures of Iran. Mohammad Taghi Bahar will never be forgotten and his words and poems will live on forever.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Aryanpour, Y (1972): From Saba to Nima, ed., Published in Tehran (in Persian).
Bahar, M. T. (1999): Divan-e-Ashaar, Collection of Poems, ed., Vols. 1 & 2, Samir Publication, Tehran (in Persian).
Bahar, M. T. (1999): Morgh-e-Sahar, A Selection of Poems, ed., Sokhan Publication, Tehran (in Persian).
Bahar, M. T. (2010): Official Website of Mohammad Taghi Bahar (in Persian).
Britannica Encyclopedia (2010): Online Article on “Muhammad Taqi Bahar”.
Farhangsara (2010): Online Article on “Muhammad Taghi Bahar” (in Persian).
Karimi-Hakkak, A. (1995): “Recasting Persian Poetry: Scenarios of Poetic Modernity in Iran”, ed., University of Utah Press.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1933): Flowers of Literature (Gollhaa-ye-Adab): An Anthology of the Poems Composed by 74 Iranian Poets, ed., (in Persian), Akhgar Press. Isfahan, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2006): Online Article on First Iranian Scholar who challenged the Religious Fanaticism.
Saadat Noury (2007): Various Articles & Notes on Persian Poetry.
Saadat Noury, M. (2007): Online Article on Poetical Touchstones of Mohammad Taghi Bahar.
Saadat Noury, M. (2009): Online Article on First Iranian Students sent abroad.
Shahegh, M. (2007): Online Translation of the Ode to Damavand.
YouTube (2007): Online Song of Morgh-e Sahar as performed by Mohammad Reza Shajarian.
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2010): Online Article on “Muhammad Taghi Bahar”.
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