INTRODUCTION: According to a great number of eminent scholars and highly respected experts in Persian Literature and Poetry, there are many Iranian poets who can be considered as the Titans or the Kings of the Persian Poetry. The same groups of scholars and experts also believe that there are only five Iranian poets who are well known internationally and have influenced not only the Literature of their homeland, Iran, but they have also inspired the Literature of many other countries around the world. Those poets can be listed as Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Saadi, Mowlana Jalaledin Rumi, and Hafez. In this article, the life stories and the works of those famous poets as the First Iranian Masters of Persian Poetry are briefly studied and discussed.
HAKIM ABOLGHASEM FERDOWSI TOOSI (935-1020): Ferdowsi has been considered as the first Iranian poet of national epics. Most Iranians regard Ferdowsi as the greatest of their poets and for many years they have continued to read and to listen to recitations from his masterpiece, the Shahnameh, in which the Persian national epic found its final and enduring form. To the Iranians, Shahnameh is the history of their country’s glorious past, preserved for all time in sonorous and majestic verse. Ferdowsi is also known to be the first Iranian who professionally introduced many proverbs in his Epic Book of Shahnameh. The American proverb of Knowledge Is Power corresponds to the Persian proverb of what Ferdowsi has clarified it in one verse: One who has wisdom is powerful (in Persian: Tavanaa Bovad Har Keh Danaa Bovad).
Ferdowsi was born in the Iranian province of Khorassaan, in the village of Baj near Toos (aka Tous or Tus). His father was a rich man and a major land owner of the region. After his father died he took over the land which he inherited and worked as a farmer (in Persian: Dehghaan or Keshaavarz). In Toos he received a sound literary education, and spent much time riding, farming and studying. Due to a personal interest, Ferdowsi spent his adult life in search for written sources on which to base an epic history of Iran. He gradually composed the first version of his masterpiece of the Shahnameh, long before the accession of Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavi in 997.
When Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavi took the power (997-1030), he asked Ferdowsi to write a book about his valor and conquests. Though dedicating the book to the Sultan for an agreed fee of thirty camels loaded with Gold coins, Ferdowsi patriotically decided to complete his book and compose the life stories of all Kings that had made his homeland as an Empire throughout the ages. The composition of Shahnameh, from the beginning up to the end, took the poet some thirty years or more, on which he wrote:
For thirty years I endured much pain and strife
With Persian I gave the Ajam verve and life.
The above poem can be read in Persian as follows:
Bassi Ranj Bordam Dareen Saal-e-See
Ajam zendeh Kardam Bedeen Paarsi.
Upon the presentation of the Shahnameh, Sultan Mahmoud became upset for not being the only subject of the book. However, he finally out of bound of an agreement offered Ferdowsi thirty camels loaded with Silver coins which was refused by the poet. Years later, the Sultan eventually realized his error and the true value of the Shahnameh, and he sent the agreed fee to the poet. Yet upon the arrival of the camels, the Ferdowsi’s coffin was being carried out through the exit gate of Toos to his grave.
Ferdowsi’s mausoleum lies over what is believed to be the exact place of his death. It was built in 1933 during Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941) to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the poet’s death a year later. The overall shape of Ferdowsi’s tomb is reminiscent of the Mausoleum of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae and in a room underneath the tomb, there are a series of modern bas-relief (a type of art in which shapes are cut from the surrounding stone) illustrating a few episodes from Shahnameh. The Mausoleum of Ferdowsi in Toos is a popular tourist attraction.
HAKIM OMAR KHAYYAM NAISHABOORI (1048-1131): Khayyam was born in Naishaboor, aka Naishapour, a town located in the Iranian province of Khorassaan. In his youth, Omar Khayyam studied under Imam Mowaffagh of Naishaboor who was considered one of the greatest teachers of the region. According to one disputed account, two other exceptional students were studying under the same teacher about the same time. One was Nezamolmolk, who became the Minister (in Persian: Vazir) to the courts of Alp Arslan Seljuk (1063-1072) and his son Malek Shah Seljuk (1072-1092). The other was Hassan-e-Sabbah, who later became the leader of the Cult of Assassins (in Persian: Hashashin). Khayyam, of course, did not have any affiliation with the Cult. Khayyam, Nezamolmolk, and Sabbah are known as Three Fellow Students (in Persian: Ceh Yaar-e-Dabbestaani), and according to some legends, those three men had made a pact that whoever makes a fortune or gets a governmental poeition would help the other two. Nezam became a Minister and fulfilled his obligation to the other two. Khayyam turned down a high position in favor of mathematics, astronomy, and writing. Hassan tried to climb to the top by murdering those above him, from which evidently comes the word of assassin or Hashashin.
It is documented that after the completion of his studies, Khayyam spent many years at the Isfahan Observatory as a sort of a chief astronomer working on calendar reform, and he corrected the Iranian calendar which was put in effect since 1079. He also invented a method for solving cubic equations. Khayyam is famous today not only for his scientific accomplishments, but also for his literary works. He is believed to have written about a thousand four-line verses. Today he is mostly famous for his Quatrains (in Persian: Rubayiat), which is both spiritual and earthy, expressing Khayyam’s hedonism and cynicism. The English-speaking world has long known him for a translation of his Quatrains provided by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883). Other translations have also been published, but that of Fitzgerald still remains the most famous. A part of his Quatrains can be viewed online as the Poetry House of Khayyam.
Oddly enough, Omar Khayyam was not in his own lifetime remembered as a literary talent. His love of wine (A drink which drives sorrow from the heart, as he composed in his poetry) and his hedonism and daily pleasure (The pleasure of today is better than a thousand promises for tomorrow, as he wrote in one of his quatrain) and the overall nature of his poetry did not make him popular among his peers at the time. After going for Hajj to Mecca in 1092, he returned to his native town of Naishaboor where he used to teach. He lived there till he died on December 4, 1131. Among the handful tombs in the outskirts of Naishaboor, the most famous one is that of Omar Khayyam, which was built at the Garden of Imamzadeh Mohammad in 1934 during Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941). Like the Mausoleum of Ferdowsi in the other side of Khorassaan, the Khayyam’s tomb in Naishaboor is also a popular tourist attraction.
SHAIKH MOSSLEHEDIN SAADI SHIRAZI (1184-1283): Saadi was born in Shiraz, the capital city of Fars province. When Saadi was about twelve years old, his father passed away and the family came under the protection of Saadi’s uncle who had a small shop in Shiraz. With the help of his uncle, Saadi completed his early education in Shiraz. The end of his elementary education coincides roughly with the invasion of Central Asia by Mogolian Chingiz Khan. At a young age, he left Shiraz for Baghdad to study literature and sciences at the Academy of Nezaameyyeh. It is recorded that he was in the Academy between 1195 and 1226. Saadi liked to travel, and lived much of his life as a wandering dervish. After Baghdad he traveled the region for nearly thirty years. He went to Shaam (Syria), Phelesteen (Palestine), Hejaz (Arabia), Yaman (Yemen), Messr (Egypt) and Rum (Roman Anatolia or Turkey), which was in Byzantine control at the time.
He wrote the Orchard (Boostan) in 1257 and the Rose Garden (Gollestan) in 1258. Boostan is an exquisite piece of didactic, which is comprised of ten sections of verse, each a dissertation on wisdom, justice, compassion, good government, beneficence, earthly and mystic love, resignation, contentment, and humility. Gollestan consists of a cycle of eight rhymed-prose partitions each interspersed with poetry. The themes discussed include the manners of kings, the morals of dervishes, the preference of contentment, the advantages of keeping silent, and so on. He wrote short stories and poems about his adventurous life in both his major works. There is also a Divan, or collection of his poetry. His famous poem on Humanity focuses on the empathy of all humans. That poem has been used to grace the entrance to the Hall of Nations of the UN building in New York City, NY. The Persian Text and the English Version of Saadi’s poem on Humanity can be viewed online.
Saadi died in his hometown of Shiraz. Even from the very early days after the poet’s death, the tomb of Saadi in Shiraz became a place of pilgrimage to lovers of poetry and literature. The tomb was firstly renovated during Karim Khan Zand (1750-1779), and it was then greatly elaborated in 1952 during Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1941-1979). “The tomb of Saadi of Shiraz will scent of love, even a thousand years after his death”. That line of poetry composed by Saadi, inscribed on the gate leading into the garden surrounding the tomb, welcomes all those who enter to pay homage to this master of the Persian Poetry and Literature.
MOWLANA JALALEDIN MOHAMMAD MOWLAVI RUMI (1207-1273): Rumi was born in Balkh (then a city of Khorassaan in Iran, and presently a part of Afghanistan) and died in Konya or Ghoonyyeh, in present-day Turkey. His birthplace and native tongue indicate an Iranian heritage. He also wrote his poetry in Persian and his works are widely read in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkey.
His name was firstly as Jalaledin Mohammad, and later as Khodaa Vandegaar (Lord). In his poetry he used the pen-name of Khamush (Silent) and since the 15th century he has been known as Mowlawi. Some people have also called him as Serrallah-e-Aazam (The Greatest Mystery of God), while the Persian speaking world usually has referred to him as Mawlana. In the West where his fame has spread steadily since the 19th century, he is usually known as Rumi, meaning from Roman Anatolia (See below on UNESCO and Mowlana badge).
Rumi belonged to an Iranian family of learned theologians. Escaping the Mongol invasion and destruction, Rumi and his family traveled extensively in Iran and in the Middle East, and finally settled in Ghoonyyeh. At 24, he was already an accomplished scholar in religious and various fields of science. When his father Bahaudin Valad passed away, Rumi succeeded his father in 1231 as a professor in religious sciences.
He was introduced into the mystical path by a wandering dervish, Shamsedin-e-Tabrizi. His love and his bereavement for the death of Shams found their expression in a surge of music, dance and lyric poems, Divaan-e-Shams-e-Tabrizi (DST). Rumi is also the author of Massnavi (also spelled as Mathnawi), which comprises six books of poems amounting to more than 25000 verses. Massnavi pursues its way through hundreds of stories that illustrate man’s predicament in his search for God. Some parts of DST and Masnavi, in Persian and English, can be viewed online in a Tribute to Rumi as provided by Professor Shahriari.
Mowlana died on December 17, 1273 and he was laid to rest beside his father. His tomb in Ghoonyyeh in present-day Turkey is one of the most popular tourist attractions.
In recent years, the Iranian poet Mowlavi Rumi has become well-known and highly respected all over the globe in general and in North America in particular. As Steve Holgate noted, “He (Rumi) is the most popular poet in the United States. Barely known here only a decade ago, classes on his work have sprouted up on university campuses throughout the country. Community lectures and public readings of his poetry are announced in the cultural sections of newspapers in virtually every major American city”.
It should be also noted that on October 12, 2006, the executive council of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its 175th meeting approved a new badge honoring Mowlana Rumi, the outstanding Iranian poet and philosopher. Iran, Afghanestan and Turkey jointly prepared an introductory note about Mowlana badge and submitted it to UNESCO, which was unanimously approved by its 58 member states. According to the document, the badge will be granted to those involved in promoting Mowlana’s thoughts and ideals, which in a way reflect the thinking trend of UNESCO on his 800th birth anniversary in 2007. It referred to Mowlana as a famous Persian spiritual leader, thinker and poet who is considered as one of the world’s greatest intellectuals who addressed the humanity as a general body.
KHAJEH SHAMSEDIN MOHAMMAD HAFEZ SHIRAZI (1320-1389): Hafez, aka Hafiz, was born in Shiraz, the capital city of Fars province. Little is known about the formative years of Hafez’s life other than that he was orphaned at an early age and was employed by a baker as dough maker. He also may have worked as a public writer, a teacher, and a scholar.
At the time when Hafez’s fame as a major poet was gaining recognition, the province of Fars was ruled by the Muzaffarid Dynasty (1314-1393). The Muzaffarid ruler Shah Shujaa (1335-1384), however, was not so interested in either Hafez himself or in his poetry. Neither were the rulers of Timurid Dynasty (1370-1506) who replaced the Muzaffarid rulers. Unlike Saadi, Hafez stayed in Shiraz almost all through his life. One of the two trips that he made was forced upon him. He was exiled from Shiraz to Yazd due to some opposition against him. He stayed long enough in Yazd until the situation cooled down. The other trip was to Hormuz, a port in the Persian Gulf, where he was about to travel to India. A stormy sea, however, made him to change his mind and he then returned to Shiraz.
Like the Quatrains of Omar Khayyam, Hafez’s poetry has a special public appeal. This appeal is to a degree that his Divan is often treated as if it were the holy Koran. Indeed, to most Iranians he is known as the tongue of the unperceived (in Persian: Lessanol-Ghaib). For centuries, it has been an Iranian tradition to consult Hafez when confronted with a difficult decision or choice. When used in divination, it is widely believed that Hafez’s poetry will reveal the answer to the destiny. Many people as they have done it for centuries, take the omens, by picking a page at random from a volume of “Hafez’s Divan”, and in Persian it is called as “Faal-e-Hafez”.
Hafez’s Divan contains 418 Ghazals, 41 Quatrains, and 3 small Massnavis. Other features of his Divan include the Saaghinameh, Ahuyeh Vahshi, and Mughanninameh. A part of his poems can be viewed online as the Poetry House of Hafez.
Twenty years after his death, an elaborate tomb (known as Hafezieh) was set up to honor Hafez in the Moosalla Garden (in Persian: Baagh-e-Moosalla) in Shiraz. His tomb was firstly renovated during Karim Khan Zand (1750-1779), and it was then greatly elaborated during Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979). The tombstone is beautifully inscribed with two of Hafez’s Ghazals. The extraordinary popularity and the wide appeal of this great lyric poet among all Persian speaking people make his tomb a venerated place, visited by all. As Robert Tait noted, “Nearly 620 years after his death, a period spanning myriad political upheavals, traumatic foreign invasions, dynastic changes and revolutions, Hafez remains this polarized nation’s most popular figure, a role model who can unite all Iranians”.
COMMEMORATION DAYS: Every year, most Iranians and many people around the world honor the Masters of Persian Poetry and celebrate a very special day as the commemoration day for each poet. Here is the list of those commemoration days:
1. In May 2006, the UNESCO designated May 15 as the World Ferdowsi Day.
2. May 18 is celebrated in Iran as National Khayyam Day.
3. April 20 is designated as the World Saadi Day.
4. In Iran and many countries around the world Mowlana Rumi, is annually commemorated on September 29. In Turkey, December 14 is called the Commemoration Day for Mowlana Jalaledin Rumi, and the week of December 10-17 is considered as the Mowlana Week.
5. October 12 is celebrated in Iran and many parts of the world as Hafez Day.
1. In their poetry, though those five poets followed different traditions (epic, mystic, romantic, etc.) or used various poetical forms (ode, quatrain, etc.), they all had one thing in common: They were all against religious prejudices, and they were always condemning the hypocrisy.
2. It should be also noted that the life stories and the works of some other masters of Persian Poetry namely Khaghani Shervani, Saif-e Farghani, Iraj Mirza, and Mohammad Taghi Bahaar have been already studied and presented by this author in the separate articles.
3. All is well that ends well. A poem on the Masters of Persian Poetry has been composed by this author and its Persian version as Kaakh-e-Sher-e-Parsi can be viewed online.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
BASHIRI, I (2003): Online Articles on “Shaykh Sa’adi” and “Hafiz”.
BROWN, E. G. (1924): A Literary History of Persia, ed, Cambridge Univ. Press.
FARHANGSARA (2006): Online Article on “Ferdosi”.
HOLGATE, S. (2005): Online Article on “Persian Poet Rumi Conquers America”.
KHAMUSH (2006): Online Article on “Life of Rumi”.
KIANUSH, K. (2000): Online Article on “Around Mashhad”.
LATIF, I (2001): Online Article on “Islamic Apathy”.
SAADAT NOURY, M. (2010): Various Articles on “Persian Poetry”.
SAADT NOURY, M. (2010): Online Articles on “First Iranians”.
SHAHBAZI, SH. (1991): Ferdowsi, A Critical Biography, ed., Mazda Publishers.
SHAHRIARI, SH. (2004): Online Article on “A Tribute to Rumi”.
TAIT, R. (2005): Online Article on “Bigger than Elvis”.
VARIOUS SOURCES (2006): Notes on “The Commemoration Days”.
WIKIPEDIA ENCYCLOPEDIA (2010): Online Articles on “Persian Literature”.
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