Glimpses of History in Persian Classical Poetry

Persian classical poetry, according to the author, is replete with references--at times quite detailed and extensive--to Iranian history, social mores or personal memoirs of the poet. However, not much attention has been paid by either literary critics or historiographers to this rich source of Iranian history. One reason for this inattention may lie in the fact that these references are more often than not couched in intricate allegories and interspersed in seemingly unconnected episodes. Furthermore, the poetry of some of the most renowned of Iranian poets, such as Khaqani or Anvari, is at best quite hard to fathom for the uninitiated.

References to the poet's biographical data may also include useful information about certain aspects of Iran's history, geography, society and/or culture. These references, however, basically contain information on the poet's family tree, his birthplace, early education and upbringing, personal relations, fortunes found and lost, and description of peoples and places. It is, however, the poet's accounts of the events of his time that are of significant historical value. These accounts are usually about military expeditions, scenes of victory and defeat, festivities during important national holidays, events surrounding the death and succession of a ruler, name and traits of important courtesans, and finally natural disasters and the calamities brought on by invading armies.

In the poetry of this genre, the works of those panegyrists favored by a particular ruler could be of particular historical significance since the presence of the poet at the ruler's court enables him to witness important events that would otherwise have gone unreported. Farrokhi Sistani, the author suggests, must be considered among such poets. He spent nearly all his adult life in the Ghaznavi court and has directly or indirectly referred, in his poetry, to a large number of significant historical events of his time.

Manouchehr Kasheff
Current Issue: 
Past Issue