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In poetry, descriptive nature poetry developed very early in the form of qasideh (ode), in which an introductory section of each ode was dedicated to the description of nature. The pre-Islamic Arab bards, al‑Mo‘allaqât al-Sab‘a, were pioneers in this form, but we find the best descriptive nature poetry in the poets of the Khorâsâni style, especially in the odes of Manuchehri. Heshmat Moayyad writes:
Nature, as he portrays it in all seasons, is animated with crowds of birds and decorated with an unusual multitude of flowers and plants, all actively engaged in a magic play orchestrated by the poet's lively fantasy.
The following are a few stanzas from famous Manuchehri's “Qaside-ye sham‘”, translated into English by Edward Browne, in which the poet identifies with the candle and creates a model for the poets of future generations:
Both of us consume and spend ourselves to make our comrades glad,
And by us our friends are rendered happy while ourselves are sad.
Both are weeping, both are wasting, both are pale and weary-eyed,
Both are burned in isolation, both are spurned and sorely tired.
I behold upon thy head what in my heart doth hidden rest;
Thou upon thy head dost carry what I hide within my breast.
All my other friends I've tested, great and little, low and high;
Found not one with kindly feeling, found not two with loyalty.
Thou, O candle, art my friend; to thee my secrets I consign;
Thou art my familiar comrade, I am thine and thou art mine.
A few centuries after him, Sa‘di in his rhymed-prose masterpiece The Rose Garden (Golestân) sees God as the Creator of nature with an outlook so modern that five centuries later it inspired European writers, especially J. G. Herder. As Schimmel puts it,
His simple but elegant style, his practical wisdom, his charming anecdotes made him a poet who appealed greatly to the Europeans, especially during the Age of Reason, and he has rightly been considered the Persian poet whose work is easiest for Westerners to understand.
In the Indian (Hendi) style, which was spread in the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) in India by the Iranian poets who emigrated in the 16th and the 17th centuries, poets wrote many lines describing nature in detail, but mostly in an enigmatic and highly metaphorical fashion. Notice, for instance, the following line by Kalim, in which he compares the white hair growing under dyed hair to teeth in a mocking laugh at old age:
When white roots peep out from under hennaed hair,
It is a toothy grin mocking your beard.
However, the novelty of similes and images that the Hendi style brought with it into poetry should not be ignored. The poets of this period were influenced by the level of technical advancement in painting, and different crafts such as carpeting, making clocks, mirrors, paper, and silk. They reflected these technical innovations in their poetry and thus added a new flavor to the repertoire of poetical imagery. It suffices to glance at the glossary that M. R. Shafi‘i-Kadkani has put together for the poetry of Bidel (d. 1790), one of the well-known Indian stylists. His pen name was Shekasteh Rang meaning “broken color” or “pallid color.” As Shafi‘i-Kadkani says by this simile, Bidel had a “state of fanâ'”, “withering away” or Nirvana in mind. His predecessors in mysticism, out of humbleness called themselves “dust” or “speck” or “mosquito”, but given the level of advancement of painting and making different colors, in his time, he chooses the novel image of “broken color”. Other similes in Bidel's poetry reflect a similar pattern: observation in details and craftsmanship: mirror water (âb-e âyeneh), jewel water (âb-e gohar), flight of color (parvâz-e rang), portrait (tasvir), bubble (hobâb), velvet nap (khâb-e makhmal), collyrium (sormeh), dew (shabnam), hourglass (shishe-ye sâ‘at), burning paper (kâghaz-e âtash-zadeh), paper flower (gol-e kâghaz), and carpet flower (gol-e qâli).
2. Nimâ's Poetry: A Typology
In Iran, the new style of nature poetry began with Nimâ. It is interesting to note that Nimâ, who introduced new metrics in poetry in Iran, was a poet of the countryside, not because he was born in the countryside (although he was), but in that he created a poetry in which not only natural landscapes but also country people from all walks of life, such as peasants, blacksmiths, wood-cutters, soldiers, village clergy, fishermen, and boatmen, are all vividly portrayed. Even today, among the Iranian poets writing in his style or in free verse, we do not find a poet who can be called the voice of the countryside, as Nimâ was.
The collected poems of Nimâ Yushij, which was recently edited by S. Tâhbâz some thirty-three years after his death, consists of almost 200 poems, plus 582 quatrains, and more than 450 double couplets in the Tabari language. Several of these poems are overtly political such as Dihqânâ (O Peasant) and Vaqt tamâm (The time is over). In “O peasant,” which was written in Tehran in 1930, Nimâ compares the life in a village with that of a city and encourages the peasants to stay firm on his values against the city-dwellers:
O peasant! hang on to your place in the countryside
Do not become weary from a sedentary life
The weak people of the city come to you
And say lots of words to fool you
The poet sees a correlation between the smallness of the place and the limitation of the spirit in a city:
No one has seen a cage as narrow as a city
What can a lad say from a small cage,
They are the dead weary from the smallness of the place
This miserly people coming out of their holes
At the end Nimâ expresses his own homesickness:
With all their decadence they want to ruin you
Shouting to your ears to make you tired
In response to what you hear say one word:
One day of Spring in the countryside
Is better than one hundred weary days in town.
Contrary to “O Peasant” which has a populist tone, Nimâ wrote the poem “The Time is Over” in 1945 when party politics was in the air, and he warns his comrades against the impending danger of political suppression. The Red Army of the Soviet Union, which during the Second World War had occupied the north of Iran, had just left and the central government was consolidating its power against different political parties:
Comrades! the time is over, it's over!
Are you dead in the grave
or alive and firmly, standing
We must do away
With them now.
The poet is not sure of victory, yet he urges them to fight,
Do what you should and is good to do
I said once wrongly
that the journey lasts longer
The patient may remain
impaired and limbless
Comrades the time is over, it's over! >>> Chapter 4-C