Sufi Poetry

An Introduction to the Mystical Use of Classical Persian Poems First Published in 1997 by Curzon Press St John's Studios, Church Road, Richmond Surrey, TW9 2QA Typeset in Horley Old Style by LaserScript Ltd, Mitcham Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddies Limited, Guildford and King's Lynn All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying...

The Seven Thrones of

The contributions of Jam (1414-92) to Sufi masnavl poetry are not devoid of original features. In his Haft Aurang ('The Seven Thrones', which in Persian also denotes the constellation of the Great Bear), he extended Nizaml's pattern of five poems to a set of seven. Only two of his poems, Layl va Majn n and Khirad-nama-yi Iskandari ('The Book of Alexander's Wisdom'), have subjects represented in the Khamsa of his predecessor. The story of Khusrau and Shlrln is replaced by the love between Y suf...

Shaykh Abu Said

The second collection of early Sufi quatrains ascribed to a mystic who lived in the eleventh century contains ruba'Iyat of the regular kind. In this case, the historical setting of the poems is quite clear, at least as far as the personality of the assumed poet is concerned. Abu Said ibn Abl'l-Khayr of Mayhana (967-1049) was one of the greatest mystics of his age, and exerted a strong personal influence on the Sufi tradition, especially in his native Khurasan. There is in existence a rich...

Khaqani and other twelfth century poets of the qaslda

In the history of Persian poetry, the twelfth century is a period of conflicting tendencies. On the one hand, there was a rapid development of forms like the ghazal and the masnavi which, though not unknown to earlier poets, now assumed a greater and different importance. To some extent this trend can be linked to the expansion of religious poetry which created a demand for a greater variety of forms. On the other hand, the qaslda did not yet cede its prominent place in literature, as it was to...

Notes

Lazard, Les premiers po tes persans, Paris-Tehran 1963, I, pp. 27-30 and 100-26. On Persian masnavls in general see EI s.v. Mathnawl. 1. 2. The Raushand 'i-nama was first edited and translated (into German) in 1879-80 by H. Ethe see further De Blois, PL, v 1, pp. 206-11. 3. On the Active Intelligence, called al-'aql al-fa'al in Islamic philosophy, see EI, s.v. Aid. 4. Koran, S ra vii, 54 and S ra x, 3, referring to God's taking control of His creation after He had brought it into being...

Curzon Sufi Series

Professor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leeds The Curzon Sufi Series attempts to provide short introductions to a variety of facets of the subject, which are accessible both to the general reader and the student and scholar in the field. Each book will be either a synthesis of existing knowledge or a distinct contribution to, and extension of, knowledge of the particular topic. The two major underlying principles of the Series are sound scholarship and readability. BEYOND...

Sufi practices

Most works in the tradition of masnavl writing deal with mystical ideas and spiritual education, far less with Sufi practices. There are, however, exceptions. One of these is Karnama-yi auqaf, a poem of less than 400 distichs which was composed at the occasion of the New Year festival of 667 ah (1269) by Pur-i Baha, a court poet of the Mongol rulers. It is a satirical work, criticising the misuse of the institution of the pious foundation on which Sufis often had to rely for their subsistence....

Commentaries

Most quatrains are simple poems which can easily be interpreted once the poet's point has been understood. Yet, sometimes the meaning of a quatrain was considered to be in need of a commentary. The most remarkable instance is the poem called Rubai-yi hauraiya ('The quatrain of the Heavenly Maidens', i.e. the houris, the women with 'white, big eyes' who, according to the Koran, await the arrival of the blessed in Paradise) after the poem's opening The Heavenly Maidens stood in a row to look at...

Mystical allegories

A standardisation of mystical language, together with an increasingly overt use of allegory, these had become distinctive features of the Sufi masnavl in the course of the fourteenth century. They are even more noticeable in the next century, which was the period of the Timurids in the political history of Persia. No poet could better illustrate these tendencies than Muhammad Yahya ibn Slbak, better known as Fattahl (d. ab. 1448), who spent a secluded life in his native Nishapur. The Dastur...

The scope of ghazal poetry

If it is true that the mystical Persian ghazal had its origin in songs about earthly love, the basic elements among its stock of images and motives must be those which betray that peculiar background most clearly. These were the features which attracted the attention of the mystics in the first place, when they adopted this kind of secular poetry. It should be kept in mind, however, that even profane ghazals were much more than simple love songs. Also earthly love is a complex of acts,...

Rumis Masnaviyi Manavi

An ancient anecdote reports that Jalal al-Dln and his father Baha ad-Din Valad visited the aged poet 'Attar in Nishapur when, about 1215, they journeyed from their native town Balkh, in the North of present-day Afghanistan, to the West. On that occasion 'Attar would have presented the young boy with a copy of his Asrar-nama. Whether or not this is historical fact cannot be decided, but even if it is merely a product of pious fantasy, there is certainly an element of truth in the story as it...

Persian texts editions and English translations

'Die Rub ' s des Abu Sa' d bin Abulchair', in Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-philologischen und historischen Classe der k ninglichen bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, M nchen 1875, ii, pp. 145-68, and 1878, ii, pp. 38-70 see also Browne, LHP, ii, pp. 261-64 Sukhan n-i manz m-i Ab Sa'xd-i Ab 'l-Khayr, ed. by S. Naf s , Tehran 1334 1955 . Afzal ad-Din, B b Rub 'xy t. Les quatrains . . . pr c d d'une tude sur la vie et l'oeuvre du po te, ed. by S. Naf s , Tehran 1311 1933 M. Mlnuvl and...

Persian Sufi Poetry

TO THE MYSTICAL USE OF CLASSICAL POEMS Islamic mysticism, or sufism, has found its finest expression in the classical poetry of Persia, in particular during its most creative period up to the late 15th century. Focusing on the poems themselves rather than on their authors, this very readable introduction surveys the development of Persian mystical poetry, dealing first with the relation between Sufism and literature and then with the four main genres of the tradition the epigram, the homiletic...

The ghazal as a prosodic form and as a genre

The form of the classical ghazal can be defined, first, by the formula of its rhyme, secondly by the length of the poem and finally by its subject-matter. The two external features can best be explained with reference to a qasida the pattern of rhyme is the same, but ghazals are much shorter poems a length of seven distichs has been mentioned as an ideal size though many ghazals have more lines, even up to twice that number. Two further characteristics of form should be added to this. Often a...

Sana

In view of the isolation in which Nasir-i Khusrau lived it is difficult to imagine how his works could have made an impact outside the social circles of the Isma'lllya which, being a persecuted heterodox minority, had little contact with the Sunnite Muslim community. This question is, for lack of evidence, unanswerable. It cannot be denied, however, that Nasir's religious qasldas show many similarities to those of Majdud ibn Adam Sana'l, who was born at Ghazna in the late eleventh century and...

Introduction

The title of this book is the same as the working title which was suggested when I was invited to write it. Now that the writing is done, I do not feel the need to look for a more descriptive name because the provisional title, if correctly understood, expresses almost exactly what the reader will find on the following pages. It tells simply, but clearly enough, that poems will be discussed which were written in the classical Persian language on themes related to the mystical tradition of...

The ghazal in the history of literature

Before we enter into this, something should be said on the origins and the history of the ghazal. The term itself can be met with from the earliest times in Arabic poetry. In pre-Islamic bedouin poetry, love songs were named so but it is not quite certain that the word was used already to denote separate poems. Perhaps ghazal was originally the name of a particular lyrical topic rather than of a concrete form of poetry. Although a certain amount of influence from Arabic love poetry is...

Unbelievers and qalandars

The plight of the true lover is full of paradoxes. Although love leads the soul on to the highest bliss imaginable, the road to be followed is a particularly rough one and leads through an abyss of self-denial and humiliation. The experience of love is often a very painful one. However, such pain should not be avoided but be welcomed as a sign of the beloved's attention. Love is a way of gaining knowledge about the desired object not by reason, but through a form of intuitive perception often...

Sadfs Bustan

Another classic masnavi written in the thirteenth century is Sa'di's Bustan, 'The Orchard'. He wrote the poem, so he tells, in 1257 as a present to the good people of Shiraz when he came home after a long period of travelling. It differs considerably from the works we have just discussed. The text is divided into ten clearly defined chapters. Within each chapter the stories are the most prominent part and many theoretical comments are put into the mouth of one of the characters. Besides, the...

The ghazal as a mystical poem

The adoption of the ghazal by the Sufi poets should be interpreted as a borrowing from a secular and well-established tradition of love poetry, which originally belonged to Persian court literature.28 The history of this process is difficult to trace in all its detail because it must have started already long before the time of the oldest datable specimens known to us. It is certain, however, that the mystics of Islam were almost from the very beginning fascinated by the theme of Love as one of...

Auhadfs Jami

Of the numerous mystical masnavls written since the end of the thirteenth century not one has gained the perennial fame of the works discussed so far. They cannot all, however, be dismissed as second rate or as mere imitations of the models set by the earlier great poets. Many of these later works deserve our attention because of their contributions to the continuing development of Sufi poetry. Some of these poets were quite successful for a while, before becoming overshadowed by the shining...

The masnavls of SanaI

As we saw earlier, the life of Sana' is closely interwoven with his literary work, and this is particularly true of his masnavls. From the three poems he wrote in this form, two should be discussed here the third, the Karnama-yi Balkhi, being an entirely secular work both are dedicated to people who played an important and perhaps decisive role at a certain stage of his life. The first one is a very short poem, of nearly 750 distichs, and a sizeable section of it is of little interest to us...

Nizamis Makhzan alasrar

The first poet who frankly acknowledged his indebtedness to Sana'l as a writer of a didactical masnavl was Ilyas ibn Yusuf NizamI of Ganja 1141-1209 . He claimed that he could surpass his predecessor in a didactical poem, Makhzan al-asrar 'Treasury of Secrets' , a masnavl of moderate size about 2,250 distichs for which he chose another metre, the sari than Sana' had used. The rather trivial reason of this literary rivalry was that NizamI dedicated his work to another Bahramshah, a...

The qasida in secular and religious poetry

Up to the end of the eleventh century, the use of quatrains by the Sufis was no more than a marginal phenomenon in Persian literary history. The centres of literary life were not the small communities of mystical sheikhs and their adherents, but the local courts in the eastern parts of the Caliphate, where the Persian language had gained a footing as a vehicle of higher culture. The concerns of the court poets were largely determined by the functions their art performed within this social...

The masnavfs of Attar

Farld ad-Din 'Attar was probably a slightly younger contemporary of Nizaml's. It is unknown whether the two poets, who spent their apparently uneventful lives in different parts of Persia, knew about each other's works. However, they do have at least two things in common they made important contributions to the tradition of the mystical masnavl, and they were both great storytellers. Of one of 'Attar's poems it could even be said that it resembles the romantic stories of NizamI the Khusrau-nama...

The case of Umari Khayyam

Again, the Persian quatrains are a different case. This has become particularly clear in the remarkable instance of 'Umar Khayyam's collection of quatrains, which to most Western readers constitutes the epitome of Persian poetry. In Persia itself, 'Umar was not much regarded as a poet until his worldwide fame began to spread from Victorian England through the amazing success of Edward FitzGerald's adaptation of 'Umar's quatrains in his poem 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam'. It was first published...

Baba Tahir Uryan

The problems concerning the authorship of quatrains supposed to have been written in the eleventh century are particularly relevant to our discussion, because they concern the dating of the very beginning of Persian Sufi poetry. For all we know, the quatrain was the first verse form which the mystics used for the expression of their thoughts and experiences. Unfortunately, to all specimens known from the eleventh century the philological uncertainties just outlined are attached. If we may trust...

The masnavi

The distinction between lyrical and epic forms, familiar to the Western reader of poetry, is also often applied to Persian literature. Usually the meaning given to this pair of terms is more or less that of'shorter' and 'longer' kinds of poetry. To the former belong the various types of poems we have discussed so far in the latter category, there is only one form to be considered the one which the Persians have named masnavi using, as in the case of the rubai, an Arabic term for a form of...

Nasiri Khusrau

This poet, Nasir-i Khusrau 1004-ca. 1072 ,6 was also born at Marv, and became a convert to Isma'lll Shi'ism shortly before he departed on the journey to Mecca and Egypt, which he described in his famous travelogue Safar-nama. In the eleventh century, Cairo was not only the capital of the Fatimid Caliphate was, but at the same time the ideological centre of the Isma'lll movement. In Cairo, Nasir studied at the learned institutions of his newly adopted creed, where he was trained to serve as a...

The qasldas of Attar

There is no question about Farld ad-Din 'Attar's position within the tradition of Sufi poetry, as we saw already in the previous chapter where his collection of mystical quatrians was discussed. Although the emphasis of his work was on other forms, especially the ghazal and the masnavi, 'Attar also left a number of homiletic qasldas. They are quite interesting specimens of the genre which deserve a more detailed examination than it is possible to enter upon here. However, one feature should be...

Anthologies

Quatrains have been composed by innumerable poets, both under their own name and anonymously. To compile an inventory of this huge output one would have to go beyond the divans and other collections devoted to a single author, and examine the anthologies of Persian poetry. Throughout the centuries, anthologies have been compiled in various forms.26 A special category among these works are the tazkiras 'Memoirs' which also contain information on the lives of the poets. From this vast literature...

The Mukhtarnama of Attar

The rubal is not always a poem of questionable authorship. There are quatrains to be found in the collected works of practically all the great masters of the Sufi tradition who will be mentioned in the course of the following chapters of the present survey. The oldest of these collections incorporated in a divan is the set of quatrains of Sana'I of Ghazna d. 1131 . Among the many poets of quatrains mention should be made at least of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, Auhad ad-Din KirmanI thirteenth century and...

Mystical Epigrams

Nearly all divans of Persian poets contain, besides poems in the great classical forms, collections of shorter poems. Among the latter, some are irregular pieces at least from the point of view of standard prosody , of various lengths, but usually not longer than a few lines, which are called 'fragments' qit'as or muqatta'at . Although this term does not necessarily imply that these poems are unfinished or incomplete, they do in fact have a rather informal character. Such 'fragments' often...