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Chapter 3-B

At the time, Nimâ, himself, was aware of his new style in Afsâneh, and in its introduction labels it as a new sâkhtemân (“structure or building”). He argues that in this new structure he pursues naturalness, both to the natural feelings of individuals and the natural style of writing, that is prose. He writes,


     Oh, young poet. This structure, in which my Afsâneh is taking place and shows a natural and free conversational style, perhaps for the first time, does not appeal to you and perhaps you do not like it as much as I.


He further states,


I call the structure of my Afsâneh “dramatic”, and I cannot call it otherwise, because as a whole, this is a structure that you can properly make use of in a play. And bring the characters of the story to talk freely.


     The story of Afsâneh has all the elements of a romantic motif: lunacy, dark night, melancholy, nostalgia, rustic life, natural scenery, adoration of natural life, and despising urban civilization. Above all it glorifies a “romantic love” which is neither comparable to the “mystical love” embedded in Persian poetry from at least the thirteenth century onward, especially in the works of Rumi, the great mystic; Hâfez, the great lyric poet; or even in the poems of Bidel, the master of the Indian style in the seventeenth century. Afsâneh also is distinguishable from the “melancholy love” in the ‘uzri style of Arab poets and works of the great Persian poet, Nezâmi, on two melancholy figures: one Arab, Majnun, and the other Iranian, Farhâd. We can find the same romantic motif in another long narrative poem which Nimâ had written earlier called Qesse-ye rang-e parideh khun-e sard (The Tale of Pallid Color, Cold Blood) which he published in 1921. However, except in another long narrative poem which Nimâ wrote years later based on a folkloric love story called Pay-e dâru chupân (A Shepherd in search of a Remedy) in 1945, he never comes back to this theme of romantic love, either specifically, or to love in general. At this time he was in his early twenties, coming out of two failed love affairs, he writes years later, in a letter to Mobashsheri in 1945,


...a Nimâ that you found in this poem belongs to twenty-three or ‑four years ago, who came from behind far-away mountains to this city [Tehran] and he had been spending a life weary and full of a failed love.


Abu 'l-Qâsem Jannati ‘Atâ'i, himself, who had compiled an anthology of Nimâ's poems during his lifetime, talks about this love in a sentimental style in the introduction to this book:


In the dawn of youth, he fell in love with a charming girl, which became the dawn of his life as a poet.... But because of a difference in religion, this union did not take place.... In order to forget this love, he comes back to his native place, among mountain tribes, and there he falls in love with a girl called Safurâ. Nimâ saw her when she was bathing in a river. Inspired by this poetical and exciting scenery and filled with the impact of the failure and deprivation in the previous love, he created the eternal poem Afsâneh.


In writing Afsâneh and The Tale of Pallid Color, Cold Blood, he was influenced by his mentor Nezâm Vafâ, who was deeply in ecstasy with the French Romantic school, and it suffices to see the repetition of the word del (heart) in the titles of his collections of poetry—Piruzi-ye del (The Heart's Victory), me‘râj-e del (The Heart's Ascension), آmâj-e del (The Heart's Goal), Peivandhâ-ye del (Unions of the Heart)—in order to see the impact of the romantic “cult of the heart” in his writing. Nimâ held a very high opinion of Nezâm Vafâ and believed that he put, 


This hermit poet, and so pure, full of painful sensitivity and poetical characteristics, is the one who put poetry in my mouth and led me to this path.


Nimâ has dedicated Afsâneh to his mentor with these modest words:


I dedicate this to my mentor, although I know that this poem is a worthless gift he will forgive the mountain people their simplicity and candor.


Nezâm Vafâ was probably a teacher in a French school in Tehran, where Nimâ went to school and learned French. Writing long narrative romances in verse began almost from the beginning of Persian poetry and can be seen in Yusef O Zoleikhâ attributed to Ferdowsi, the great epic poet, based on the Koranic story of the prophet Joseph and the Pharaoh's wife; Vis O Râmin by Fakhro 'd-din Gorgâni, based on pre-Islamic stories very close to its Western counterpart Tristan and Izolde; and especially in the works of Nezâmi such as Leili O Majnun, based on a pre-Islamic Arab legend, Khosro O Shirin based on pre-Islamic Iranian stories in which the melancholy figure, Farhâd, appears and puts its stamp on Persian literature. As I have said in an article which I wrote about Farhâd, 


...Khosro and Farhâd are both with Shirin, with this difference: that the first becomes successful in his loves, whereas the latter fails, and throws himself down Mount Bisotun.... However, what is etched in our Iranian collective memory is the story of Farhâd's melancholy love for Shirin and not the worldly love between Khosro and Shirin. In our written and oral literature, everywhere Farhâd the stone-mason is introduced as the ideal prototype of persistence and sincerity in love, whereas Khosro is portrayed as a debauchee and lustful man. I find the root of this attitude in the dominant culture of our society, in which carnal love and joy are considered sinful. Instead, masochistic and utopian love are preached.


This style of poetry which invokes sadness is called by Arab anthologists the ‘ozri style. The word ‘ozri derives from ‘udhra an Arab tribe of the southern group belonging to the great subdivision Quda‘a:


     What has given the ‘Udhra a fame without equal even beyond the bounds of the Arab world down to French and German (Heine) romanticism, is their love of poetry and the touching stories of some of their poets,... whom an unfortunate passion for a woman of their tribe reduced to death by consumption.... But that love-poetry did not exclude the cultivation of other varieties, is evident from the example of Djamil...whose celebrated love affair with Buthaina did not prevent him writing panegyrical and satirical poetry.


Undoubtedly, in glorifying this melancholy love of Farhâd and Majnun, Persian poets were influenced by the Arabs of pre-Islamic Arabia, especially 'Imru' al-Qays, and Jamil, of the Umayyad era, who in their works glorified Bedouin life, nostalgia, and above all separation from the beloved. In his Literary History of the Arabs, Nicholson writes:


It has been pointed out by Dr. C. Brockelmann that the love-poetry of this epoch is largely of popular origin; e.g., the songs attributed to Jamil, in which Buthayna is addressed, and to Majnun—the hero of countless Persian and Turkish romances which celebrate his love of Layli—are true folk-songs such as occur in the Arabian nights, and may be heard in the streets of Beyrout or on the banks of the Tigris at the present day.


New research in medicine and psychology increasingly points to a biochemical basis for human love. For example, the first stage of this love, infatuation, in which the couple experiences ecstasy towards one another, is characterized by activity of the natural amphetamine, PEA, in the brain. Helen Fisher writes in The Anatomy of Love,


   No wonder lovers can stay awake all night talking and caressing. No wonder they become so absentminded, so giddy, so optimistic, so gregarious, so full of life. Naturally occurring amphetamines have pooled in the emotional centers of their brains, they are high on natural “speed.”


The popularity of this melancholy type of love embodied by Farhâd or Majnun could be attributed to the people's desire to glorify and perpetuate this phase of infatuation, which can be further intensified by separation.


In Afsâneh, the poet does not distance himself from the Farhâd type of love with clarity. One can even find a similarity between this love and that of romanticism. However, Nimâ consciously distinguishes his perception of love from mysticism, as I have indicated in the opening of my article on “The Profile of Women in The Poetry of Ahmad Shâmlu”:


     In our classical literature, woman has an absentee presence, and perhaps the best way to see her face is to unveil the mystical concept of love. Rumi divides love into two mutually exclusive halves, one spiritual and the other carnal. The Sufi man, must forgo carnal pleasure, guided by a guru man, and fill the house of his heart with the love of God. In his works, women everywhere are considered synonymous to carnal love and animal spirit, and the lover man has to kill the temptation of love for her. “Choose the love of that living which is eternal...”

     On the contrary, in the lyrics of Hâfez, love for the worldly beloved is preached and mystical love is used only for seasoning. However, Hâfez's worldly love also has a non-carnal aspect. The lover man only indulges with his eyes and except for the double chin to the top of his beloved's body, did not appreciate her visually. The beloved woman is deprived not only of a body, but also of any kind of individual identity. Moreover, this utopian woman has a cruel visage and a murderous hand, like Sudâbeh aims to murder her own Siâvosh-like lover.

   In reality, it is the man who is the oppressor, while the woman is the oppressed. But in their imagination, their roles have been switched in such a way that in this psychologist's doctrine it could be proven that sadism is the other side of the coin of masochism. 

    With the emergence of modern literature, woman peeks out with her face, and to some extent the curtain is removed from Rumi's spiritual love and idealistic beloved. Nimâ in Afsâneh embarks on depicting a worldly and real love, a love which has a concrete identity and belongs to a specific individual and a specific social and natural environment:

Oh, Hâfez, what is this lie and hypocrisy 

From the tongue of wine, cup, and cup-bearer.

If you lament to the Eternal, I cannot believe this, 

That you fall in love which remains eternal.

Nay, I am in love with the fleeting.


The Iranian scholar, Shâhrokh Meskub, in an article dedicated to Afsâneh, called “The Tale of Nature”, approaches the same idea from a different angle:


In Persian poetry from a semantic point of view, the truth of nature was always in meta-nature. In the workshop of being and in human life, the cause of existence, duration, change, and the role of nature was sought in a Manager outside of itself, and its beauty was either similar to the visage and body of the appreciating beholder or to be found in the creation and reflection of this beholder's beautiful perceptions (sentiments and emotions) and contemplations, especially by way of giving life to its elements and imagining them alive and by making a connection between man and nature: the willow's sadness, the tulip's heartbreak, and the cloud's weeping, the laughter of the lightening, and the anger of the sea...the nightingale's love for the flower, and that of the moth for the candle, and so on.


Then he adds,


     Afsâneh changes and sometimes inverts this ancient attitude. Nimâ, in his introduction to the poem, says, “What has given me faith in this new structure is nothing but the attention given to meaning and the particular nature of every thing, and for a poet there is no sense higher than this that he could be better able to depict nature and to express the meaning in simple terms.”


Nevertheless, Meskub fails to consider that although Nimâ, in Afsâneh, distances himself from mystical love, and admits the existence of nature separated from metaphysical forces and the presence of the individual, he is imprisoned in a romantic love very different from the modern love which Fredric Engels called sex love, “that personal beauty, close intimacy, similarity of tastes and so forth.” Engels then speaks of the development of sexual love from antiquity to the modern era:


     Our sex love differs essentially from the simple sexual desire, the Eros, of the ancients. In the first place, it assumes that the person loved returns the love; to this extent the woman is on an equal footing with the man, whereas in the Eros of antiquity she was often not even asked. Secondly, our sex love has a degree of intensity and duration which makes both lovers feel that non-possession and separation are a great, if not the greatest, calamity; to possess one another, they risk high stakes, even life itself. In the ancient world this happened only, if at all, in adultery. And finally, there arises a new moral standard in the judgement of a sexual relationship. We do not only ask, was it within or outside marriage, but also, did it spring from love and reciprocated love or not?


The romantic variety of love are derived from the tradition of troubadours in the Middle Ages. However, its ideal form should be found in the love of Dante for Beatrice, an Italian girl with whom the poet fell in love when he was nine-years old, and she, eight years. And although he had short moments to see her until she died at twenty-four, she became his guide to paradise in the Divine Comedy. In his Poems of Youth or La vita nuova, which consists of his poems for Beatrice with commentary in prose, Dante depicts his romantic love. In the first sonnet, the Lord of Love appears to young Dante as a feudal lord with Beatrice in his bosom. While feeding her heart to her lover, the poet:


Then he awoke her and, her fear not heeding,

My burning heart fed to her reverently.

Then he departed from my vision, weeping.


It seems that the poet not only does not try to win over the beloved, but even to fool his inquisitors, he designated other women as “screen-love” for his affections. In a word, the lover glorifies the infatuation itself and does not seek to overcome his separation. Barbara Reynolds, who has translated these poems into English writes,


[Dante's] themes were the conventional love situations inherited from the Provençal and Sicilian traditions: the torment of unrequited love, the need to keep secret the name of the beloved, the device of the screen-love to deceive the inquisitive, the vilification of Death personified as a pitiless destroyer of youth and beauty, misunderstandings with the beloved, intolerable ecstasy in her presence and anguished mortification at her mockery.


Beatrice not only becomes one who opens the gates of paradise for the poet, but love, for Dante, promotes to a philosophical doctrine governing the universe:


It was a turning-point not only for Dante but also for European poetry. The canzone which followed, the first and most famous of the praise-poems, opened up vistas and depths in which the human experience of love was glimpsed as being ultimately one with power by which the universe is governed. Only after this canzone was the final canto of Paradiso possible.


In the beginning of the poem, Afsâneh, Nimâ narrates the story of a lunatic who is sheltered in his solitude in the wild. The reader soon finds that this lunatic is indeed an ‘âsheq (lover), who initiates a dialog with a mysterious character called Afsâneh:


In the dark of night, a lunatic who

Has given his heart to a fleeting color

Sitting in a cold and lonely valley

Like the stem of a withered plant

Tells a sad story.       


The word afsâneh in Persian means “fairy tale”, and the verb afsun kardan comes from the same root and means “to cast a spell upon”. Moreover, Af_âneh is also used as a proper name for girls. In the poem, one can find three different characters behind Afsâneh that the lover converses with: first, the personification of the lover's heart, because, in the first place, the lover is not talking to anyone but himself, or the source of his emotions, his “heart”: 


Oh, my heart, my heart, my heart!

Miserable, hurt, my dear partner

With all goodness, value, and claim

What did I gain from you in the end

But a tear on the face of gloom?       


In another place, Afsâneh introduces herself as the heart of lovers:

Me, I am the fruit of life.

Me, I am the light of a world

I, Afsâneh, am the lovers' heart.

If there is a body and soul, it is me, me.

    I am the flower of love and born of tears.       


Secondly, the lover is supposedly talking to a specific beloved, namely Afsâneh, with whom he has fallen in love and who has left him. Afsâneh says,


Me, I was once a girl.

Me, I was a beloved sweetheart.

My eyes were full of deception.

Me, I was a sorceress

I came and sat on a tomb.       


A harp playing in one hand,

In the other hand a cup of wine.

Even before tuning up, I got tipsy

Because of my black eyes, night is weeping

Drop by drop tears full of blood.       


Thirdly, Afsâneh personifies the ideal love in a Platonic or abstract sense:

Oh, lover! I am that unknown person.

I am that sound which comes from the heart.

I am the image of the dead of the world

I am one moment which is over like a thunderbolt

I am a warm drop from a wet eye.       


This is the source of an existentialist anxiety in the world in the way that Kierkegaard describes it in his book Fear and Trembling:

AFSÂNEH:I am the story of a lover full of fear

If I am frightful like the desert demons,

And if the old woman in the village calls me

A ghoul, running away from people,

It is because I am born of the world's anxiety >>> Chapter 3-C