Chapter 5-B


At around this time, Nimâ became a writer for the monthly journal Mardom (People) published by the Tudeh Party in Tehran. Because of this correlation between modern Persian poetry and the leftist movement in Iran, even today the former, by and large, is identified with the socialist movement. Of course, this kind of association between a literary school and a social movement is not unprecedented in history: Wordsworth, the founder of romanticism in English poetry was influenced by the French Revolution and spent some time in Paris during the revolutionary period.

There are many modernist poets, followers or half-way followers of Nimâ Yushij who have been linked with the leftist movement or at least have been identified with it for a while; such poets are: Ahmad Shâmlu, Mehdi Akhâvan-Sâles, Fereidun Tavallali, Mohammad Zohari, Hushang Ebtehâj, Siâvash Kasrâii, Simin Behbahâni, Nâder Nâderpur, and Manuchehr آtashi. Nimâ, himself, in his Diary, written five years before his death, denies that he is a communist and writes,


Tonight Emâmi came here. Now he is preaching to me and like an elder says: ‘Read more socialist books to become a good communist.' I will not become a good communist. I am not a communist. I know that some of my ideas come close to theirs, but I know that there are many weak points [in their ideology] and the weakest point is their heavy materialism. The logic of dialectical materialism itself is not consistent with this heavy materialism. The universe has a certain order to it. Sciences have certain progress and alongside the sciences, philosophy. That is the reason which is accumulated from the progress of science.


Nevertheless, Nimâ's school was identified with the Marxist trends in particular and the anti-establishment opposition in general. Even during the 70's when the Shah's regime subsidized art and literature behind the ceremonial figure of the queen and tried to show his support for some kind of modernism, modern poetry by and large was less affected.

As the result of the Association of a totalitarian political movement with modern poetry in Iran, the latter was changed into a sect for a while. Nimâ gradually became the forefather of a movement for which both exponents and opponents swore by him or cursed him but rarely understood him. As Jalal Al-Ahmad says Nimâ became a subject of controversy rather than analysis: 


. . .and that is how his works were published improperly and they [people] mostly brawled about him rather than making a point. And he, instead of giving his works to the people clean and organized, gave himself to people.


The main opposition to Nimâ Yushij's works, however, came from the neoclassicists who politically were not homogenous and could be found in both anti-establishment groups or collaborators of the regime. In appearance, the neoclassicists did not oppose modernism in poetry, and accepted innovations in terms of diction and imagery, yet zealously rejected breaking the meter and they stayed committed to the old “aruz”, as it was discussed in the case of Bahâr against Rafat before the coming of Nimâ. Bahâr, until his death in 1951, continued to be the leader of opponents of Nimâ's works. After him, Parviz Nâtel-Khânlari filled that position. He was Nimâ's cousin and one of his pupils for a while. Nimâ had much correspondence with him but, after 1953, their relationship changed and they became enemies. Nimâ, in his Diary, mentions his name bitterly and with contempt. Khânlari became a senator and a government minister, which naturally raised suspicion and criticism from intellectuals who were under persecution from the coup d'état regime. In addition, Khânlari published a monthly literary magazine called Sokhan (Speech) in which he vehemently opposed Nimâ Yushij's poetry. Instead, Khânlari, encouraged the emergence and consolidation of a style of poetry which was called “Poetry of the Middle” (She‘r-e miâneh), in which the classical meter would stay intact and a neoclassicism would prevail. The poets of this style were those who came from Nimâ's school but then rejected both his political views and his metric innovation. Poets like Nader Naderpu, Fereydun Tavallali, and Feridun Moshiri created poems which were new in terms of diction and imagery compared to the old poetry but were not different in rhythm or rhyme. During the fifties when “poetry of the middle” was published in “Sokhan” magazine, the followers of Nimâ's style, Mehdi Akhavân-Sâles (more traditional) and Ahmad Shâmlu (more modernist) continued the style of Nimâ in their poetry. Especially because these two poets reflected the hopes and despair of the intelligentsia during the repressive fifties, their works became very popular.

Unfortunately, even today, Nimâ's works are still a subject of controversy rather than one of understanding and analysis. For example, we see the continuation of Khânlari's attitude towards Nimâ in Ehsan Yarshater, one of Khânlari's colleagues who resides in the United States and justly has made a name among Iranian scholars. In a large and valuable book called Persian Literature that Ehsan Yarshater has compiled, there is no article about Nimâ Yushij; whereas there can be found two essays on Sâdeq Hedâyat, the novelist, and one essay on Forough Farrokhzâd (d. 1966), a contemporary poet. There is another essay in this volume about “The Contemporary Poetry in Iran” by Massud Farzan in which the writer begins his essay with these lines:


When the precursor of modern Persian poetry Nimâ Yushij (1895-1959) challenged the methods and practices of the old school poets, the traditionalists tried, in various ways, to curb any possible spread of his influence. And for a time they seemed to succeed. Modern poetry was simply ignored or presented as some kind of outrageous mannerism to be made fun of.


One can see that Ehsan Yarshater in spite of his appreciation of modern Persian novels is still continuing the same attitudes that neoclassicists have traditionally had towards Nimâ, that is, either open rejection or intentional ignoring. In a summary that Yarshater has written to his book as an introduction, the only thing that he has said about Nimâ is this, “Nimâ Yushij (1897-1960), the father of modernist poetry, died in relative obscurity.” He has presented no analysis or description of Nimâ's poetry; instead Mr. Yarshater immediately after mentioning the name of Nimâ, writes many lines in praise of Nâder Nâderpur, just because the author's taste is close to his. Nâderpur, himself, in the introduction to his own poem, The Eyes and the Hands, does not call himself a follower of Nimâ.

In turn, the zealous exponents of Nimâ's poetry look upon him as a prophet with a special mission, and do not welcome any criticism. For example the editor of Nimâ's works, Sirus Tâhbâz, says,


The most important impact of Nimâ is to give a sense of prophetic mission to contemporary Iranian art and poetry. In all works of Nimâ, either verse or prose, you do not see one word of submission or begging.


Many of the night poems or people poetry by Nimâ suffer from lack of imagination. However, it should be emphasized that this defect is not the result of their political nature. As I have indicated in “Poetry and Politics”, a political poem can be as spontaneous as a love song:


The most important criticism which is made against political poetry is that it is too premeditative even leaving aside state or party sponsored poets or those who in some period of their life have written so called poems following the order of this leader or that tyrant. It suffices that a poet for preaching a doctrine or reiterating a pre-issued message picks up the pen, the end result will be superficial and propagandist and not spontaneous and deep. In my opinion, this is a just and correct criticism, however, the area of its application is not limited to political poetry. The necessity for poetic spontaneity is a criterion which includes every poem, even love poems. The poet who still wants to write poetry within the narrow confines of classical prosody and make pre-formed images and similes within established meters is as much removed from poetic spontaneity as are poets such as Lahuti, Kasraii, and Ebtehaj in their political pieces.


When we compare the last decade of Nimâ's life as a poet with that of his twenties, we see a return to the old discourse of nature, albeit with variation. In his youth, Nimâ employed nature both as the origin of his nostalgia and as an ideological device to rationalize his innovation in Persian poetry. In the last decade of his life, he created nature poetry in which natural plants, animals and people of the countryside find a voice, and Nimâ reads in them his own story. Of course, his tendency towards social realism in the thirties and forties which manifests itself in the night/people poems, gradually disappeared in the last decade of his life. However, he carried the effects of those experiments with him into his nature poetry but in a more purified and indirect form.

None of these periods in his literary life that were discussed should be schematized. He wrote a nice nature poem like “The Cold Fire” more than three years before “The Bird of Amen” in which he obsesses with “the people”. Also, In his last poem, it can be seen that he is experimenting with classical persian prosody, long after he has made his innovations. Nimâ had a free spirit like a bird, as Sa‘id Naficy, the Iranian scholar, characterized him once, and I add today: This bird should not be put in a cage! >>> Chapter 5-C