First Iranian Master of Colloquial Poetry


Iranians have been always proud of different categories of memorable, thoughtful, and beautiful poetry in their long-standing culture, and some Iranian poets have been considered as the master of a specific poetry category. Those masters, to name a few, are recognized as Ferdowsi on epics, Nezami on romantics, Mollawi and Hafez on mystics, Saadi on ethics, and Obaid-e-Zakaani on satires. Little attention has been paid, however, to the poets who composed colloquial poetry. To fill this void, this article is presented to introduce the late Iraj Mirza Jalaalol-Mamalek, mostly known as Iraj, who was the first Iranian master of colloquial poetry.

Iraj was born in October 1874 in Tabriz, the capital city of Azarbaijan, a northwestern province of present-day Iran. His ancestry chart (pedigree) shows that he was a descendant of Fath-Ali Shah (FAS), the second shah of Qajar dynasty (reigned 1797-1834):

FAS > Malek Iraj Mirza > Gholam Hossein Mirza > Iraj

Gholam Hossein Mirza (GHM), Iraj’s father, was a poet laureate or the official court-poet of Muzaffar-e-Din Mirza (MDM). MDM, the son of Nasser-e-Din Shah (the fourth shah of Qajar dynasty who reigned from 1848 to 1896), was the Crown Prince (in Persian: Vali-Ahd) of Iran at the time. (As a tradition, all Crown Princes during the Qajar era used to reside in Tabriz).

Though some literatures indicate that Iraj was schooled privately, there is reliable evidence that he studied at a branch of the House of Sciences and Techniques (in Persian: Darolfonnon) in Tabriz. At 15, he spoke fluent Arabic and Turkish. His handwriting was very artistic and he was and still is considered to be one of the famous calligraphers of Iran. At 16, Iraj got married and at 19 he lost both his father and wife. He then took the position of his late father and became the court-poet of MDM. When MDM succeeded the throne in 1896; Iraj was titled as the Head of Poets (in Persian: Sadrol-Shaaeryn or Sadrol-Show-Araa) at the age of 22.

However, a few years later, Iraj left the royal court and joined the Tabriz office of Ali Khan-e-Amindowleh (AKA) who was the governor of Azarbaijan. During this time Iraj learned French and became very much familiar with Russian literature too. In 1905, when AKA was relocated and moved to Tehran, Iraj also accompanied him. When Ahmad-e-Ghaawmol Saltaneh (AGS), a governmental authority, was assigned to go to Europe in 1907, Iraj was asked to join him. Two years later, Iraj returned to Tehran where he started work as a staff member of the Office of Official Compositions (in Persian: Daarol-en-Shaa). In 1915, his first son, Ja’afar Gholi Mirza, committed suicide as a result of some psychological problems.

In 1917, Iraj joined the newly established Ministry of Culture, and three years later he was transferred to the Ministry of Finance and Revenue. From 1920 to 1925, he worked as a Revenue Officer in Mashhad (the capital city of Khoraasan, a province in northeast of Iran). At 52, Iraj moved back to Tehran where he died on March 14, 1926. His tomb is in Zahir o-dowleh Cemetery between Darband and Tajrish located in Shemiran, north of Tehran. Iraj was survived by his second son, Khosrow Iraj.

Iraj is considered as one of the famous contemporary poets of Iran and also as the first Iranian master of colloquial poetry. In his verses he used the actual words of everyday speech. The origin of this tendency has come to be identified with his name. (Poet Ferdowsi in his epic book, Shahnameh, refers to the name of Iraj as an Iranian who is noble and wise). Through Iraj, poetic language has become rich in many colloquial words and expressions. His simple language in poetry is also famous for witticism and satire. In many verses, one will even find coarse vocabulary especially towards mullahs.

During the Qajar era, Iraj was influenced by the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911) as well as changing circumstances in the country. This fact is manifested in the particular style of poetry that he invented. Iraj freely criticized social conditions as well. The striking originality in his use of metaphor when addressing diverse social problems has been admired by his critics. His style is rich in the Art of Simile (in Persian: Honar-e-Tashbeeh). His striking sarcasm, along with his pungent and fanged words are pointed at the dishonest mullahs, businessmen, merchants (in Persian: Baazari-Haa) and statesmen.

In addition to those colloquial poetries, Iraj also composed elegies (in Persian: Soognameh or Marssieh) to praise Muzaffar-e-Din Shah, Hassan Ali Khan-e-Garroosy (also known as Amir Nezam, the governor of Azarbaijan and Kermanshah during Qajar era), and many other Qajar historical personalities. In his elegies, however, the borders of praising did not reach extreme flattery.

Iraj also composed very nice Massnawi and Ghateaat (different styles of Persian poetry) on children training and education, mother affection, love and romance. He was an enlightened innovative poet but was also inclined towards new European thoughts. Despite his famous skills and poetical techniques, he sometimes used similar cases of rhyme – considered by some poetry researchers as being intentional and he used it because of an incomplete belief in poetical rules. Although Iraj was one of the pioneers of the innovative movement in the Persian Poetry, he never thought of leaving the rules of classic poetry. Some scholars believe that because of his specific period and depth of literary knowledge and familiarity with French and other foreign languages, he could be also one of the masters of free verse if he wanted to.

Among many poems that Iraj composed, his well-known poems include Satan (in Persian: Ebleess), Mother (in Persian: Maadar), A Letter to Poet Aref (in Persian: Arefnameh), Woman’s Picture (in Persian: Tassvir-e Zan), The Story of Veil or Hijab (in Persian: Daastan-e Chaador) and The Story of Zohreh and Manouchehr (in Persian: Daastan-e Zohreh-o Manouchehr).

In Satan, Iraj explains how a wife maliciously complains about her mother-in-law, and encourages her husband to kill his own mother and bring the heart for her. The young man, ignores the respect due to his mother, pushes her to the ground, cuts her chest and takes her heart out. As he walks toward the door, all of the sudden, he falls and injures himself. He then clearly hears his mother’s heart cry out: “Oh! My son’s hand got cut. Oh! My son’s foot was hurt!” In this poem Iraj plainly presents the evidence of an Unconditional Love.

The Story of Zohreh and Manouchehr is one of his famous poetic works. Here Iraj tells the story based on the Greek myth of Venus and Adonis. In his poetry, Zohreh rejects the gods and comes to Earth where she is overcome by the pleasing charm of Manouchehr in his armor. He rejects her advances when Zohreh attempts her first seduction. She goes to great pains to explain the beauty of lovemaking and she finally goes her own way and returns to the gods. (For the record: on December 8, 2004, the last Iranian movie launched in France was The Story of Zohreh and Manuchehr, which was directed by Mitra Farahani. The film had already participated in the Berlin film festival and several other international events, and had attracted many viewers).

Iraj was known to believe that the status of Iranian women at his time was a devastatingly reminiscent of the Dark Ages. Iraj saw that life was so intolerable, unbearable and miserable for the courageous and valorous women of Iran. That was why he composed the very powerful and memorable pieces such as Woman’s Picture and the Story of Veil. Here is the Persian text of his poem on Woman’s Picture:

 بر سردر کاروانسرایی
تصویر زنی به گچ کشیدند
ارباب عمائم این خبر را
از مخبر صادقی شنیدند
گفتند که واشریعتا،خلق
روی زن بی نقاب دیدند
آسیمه سر از درون مسجد
تا سردر آن سرا دویدند
ایمان و امان به سرعت برق
می‌رفت که مؤمنین رسیدند
این آب آورد، آن یکی خاک
یک پیچه ز گِل بر او بریدند
ناموس به باد رفته‌ای را
با یک دو سه مشت گِل، خریدند
چون شرع نبی ازین خطر جَست
رفتند و به خانه آرمیدند
غفلت شده بود و خلق وحشی
چون شیر درنده می‌جهیدند
بی‌پیچه زن گشاده رو را
پاچین عفاف می‌دریدند
لبهای قشنگ خوشگلش را
مانند نبات می مکیدند
بالجمله تمام مردم شهر
در بحر گناه می‌تپیدند
درهای بهشت بسته می‌شد
مردم همه می‌جهنمیدند
می گشت قیامت آشکارا
یکباره به صور می‌دمیدند
طیر از وکرات و وحش از حجر
انجم ز سپهر می‌رمیدند
این است که پیش خالق و خلق
طلاب علوم روسفیدند
با این علما هنوز مردم
از رونق مُلک ناامیدند

ایرج میرزا

The full Persian text of the Story of Veil may be viewed online here.

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD

Aryanpour, T. (1997): From Saba until Nima (in Persian), ed., Vol. 1, Zawaar Publications, Tehran, Iran
Eslami-Nodushan, M. A. (1969): The Influence of Europe on Literary Modernization in Iran, the Middle East Journal
IC Website (1998): Online Poem on Chaador
Mahjoob, M. J. (1977): Poetical Works and the Ancestors of Iraj Mirza (in Persian), ed., Andisheh Publications, Tehran, Iran
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on Iraj Mirza Jalaalol-Mamalek
Saadat Noury, M. (2010): Various Articles on Persian Poetry & First Iranians
Various Sources (2011): Notes and Articles on Iraj Mirza


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