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 do in the subsequent centuries. To the contrary, some of the most powerful writers of qasidas of the entire Persian tradition lived in this century. They even added new features to this ancient form, which strengthened its suitability to embody a sustained and rhetorically effective discourse. One of these changes was the increased use of Arabic vocabulary, a trend which was closely related to the extension of the imagery of poetry to include many items derived from the sciences and the other arts. These poets represented the type of the poeta doctus, to whom the pursuit of learning had opened a rich source of comparisons and metaphors. This does not mean, however, that these poets were great scholars, as it has been often assumed by traditional biographers. It is more accurate to say that they were people with a general education who used the bits of learning they had acquired to their own ends, which were not scholarly but literary.

Another characteristic of this period is that the reinforced qaslda was employed in court poetry as well as in poetry of a religious nature. Actually, it proves to be difficult to make a proper distinction between the two spheres. One of the great masters of the qaslda in this new style, Anvarl, who lived in Khurasan and whose date of death in the second half of the century remains unestablished, was in every respect a poet of the court. Apart from occasional complaints about the negative aspects of his profession and some didactic passages praising the virtue of contentment (qana'at), there are no traces of Sufism in his works.

Much more complex is the picture presented by the life of Anvarl's counterpart in Western Persia, Afzal ad-Din Ibrahim Khaqani (ca. 1126-99).14 He was during most of his career a court poet dependent on the patronage of the local rulers of his native Sharvan. He also praised a great many other people who not only belonged to the secular elite but also to the Islamic clergy. Late in his life he retreated from the world to a solitary existence in the city of Tabriz. The signs of his inclination towards ascetism and Islamic piety are, however, pervasive in his works. Several of his great qasidas are purely religious poems which contain only praise of God, His Prophet or the Ka'ba in Mecca as the sacred symbol of Islam. On the other hand, there are no indications to be found of a special affiliation with a Sufi master or an attachment to any Sufi milieu. In this respect, Khaqani's position is not unlike that of Sana'! and this is not the only similarity between the two poets. He made no secret of his admiration for the 'wise man' (hakim) of Ghazna and boasted that he had come to 'replace' him in the world.

Nevertheless, it would be mistaken to regard Khaqani as a mere imitator of Sana'l. Even more than Anvarl, he created his own extremely sophisticated style. Apart from the features mentioned above, it is marked by an almost inexhaustible inventiveness of original poetic motifs, called ma'am ('concetti', according to a term current in Western literary criticism), which were elaborated with the application of intricated rhetorical figures. Although a similar style can be noticed with other poets of this period, in particular with the epic poet Nizam! of Ganja, Khaqanl's handling of this idiom has remained unequalled in the history of Persian poetry.

The themes broached by KhaqanI in his religious poetry are mostly limited to the sphere of the zuhdiyat, which was defined earlier in this chapter. He condemns the world and preaches the necessity to withdraw from it into a life of poverty and contentment; he denounces the tyranny of the lower soul pointing the way towards inner purification which is also the path to a deliverance from the world and a preparation for the life to come. The note of a complaint is frequently struck in his poems, not only with regard to his spiritual distress, but also in matters of a more mundane nature, such as his dealings with his patrons. In some poems he describes his situation as an 'emprisonment', but it is doubtful whether this should be taken as a reference to a real captivity.15 The veneration of the Prophet is a recurrent theme, often combined with descriptions of the pilgrimage, the Ka'ba and the Prophet's grave in Medina. To his favourite images belong emblems of light and rebirth like the sun, fire, the rise of dawn and the awakening of nature in spring.

One of Khaqanl's most impressive poems is a long qaslda to which the Arabic title Mir'at as-safa ('The Mirror of Purity') has become attached.16 It is a perfect example of a homiletic poem developing a string of themes with a discursive coherence revealing itself if one carefully traces its line of thought through the seemingly random use of images and rhetorical conceits. The qaslda tells of the poet's dealings with his own heart, which in the course of the poem is identified as his himmat, a term which R.A. Nicholson has translated by 'holy aspiration'. At first he represents the heart as a teacher from whom he learns how to kill the lower soul and bury it in a 'grave' where it will be guarded by Islamic Law. Then he switches to another metaphor: a king invites the poet to his table and speaks to him about poverty and withdrawal from the world, the ideals of a derwish's life. This is how, at the beginning of this discourse, he draws the picture of a Koranic school as an extended metaphor of his meditation:

To me the heart is a sheikh who teaches me,

And I am the child who understands his language.

When I bow my head I pay him my fee,

When I put my head on my knees I attend his school.

Not on every knee his school can be found;

Not all moments are tablets to receive his words.

Not every sea hides shells,

Not every drop is an April shower.

Kneeling down is only a school,

Like Noah s Ark, to him

Whose sorrow is a frothing Flood,

To whom Ararat is a haven.

However, to him who, once,

Enters this school by kneeling down,

The Ararat will not be higher than his ankle-bone,

The Flood will not reach his shank.

No one qualifies for this school

Unless he has a sorrow so great that,

With each breath he inhales, four Floods

Invade the four elements of his body.

The school of kneeling down is meant

Especially for those men who, being lions,

Like a dog shy away behind a knee

From all the agitation among men.

The first step to take, according to the heart's teaching, is to silence the voice of the eager soul and to return to a state of spiritual simplicity:

All heart's lessons are sacred signs, Which can only be explained by silence. All he teaches are problems To be solved by nothing but ignorance. First he wrote down for me the a-b-c On the tablet of silence, For speaking is a headache To be cured only by silence.

He began by taking away my tongue, Because a child in his first lessons Should be without a tongue like the flute, Not one who knows how to speak like the lute.

The impact of SanáTs homiletic style, so brilliantly exemplified in KháqánI's poetry, extended to many other poets of the twelfth century. Worth mentioning is QivamI,18 a little known poet from Rayy, near modern Tehran, because he was an avowed Shi'ite. Like KhaqanI he prided himself in being 'another Sana'!' and called the latter 'the master of the poets' (khvaja-yi sha irán). Two poets of Isfahan, Jamál ad-Din Muhammad ibn 'Abd ar-Razzaq (d. 1192)19 and his son Kamál ad-Din Ismail (ca. 1172-1237),20 were also notable followers of Sana'I's. Their position with regard to the literature of the 'world' was comparable to that of KhaqanI. The expression they gave to the ideals of renunciation and an ascetic way of life contrasts with their quite evident role as panegyrists, even if their main patrons were prominent scholars in Isfahan who were in control of the politics of that city. Modern critics have condemned them for this (A.J. Arberry even called Isma'll 'a bogus anchorite'21), but indictments of this kind only beg the question of the symbiosis of religious and courtly poetry, one of the most intriguing problems presented by medieval Persian literature.

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