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Seda: Voices of Iran

Nezami (1141-1203)

Nezami (also Nizami: 1141-1203) was born and lived his whole life in Ganja, the capital of Arran in Transcaucasian Azerbaijan. His father died when the poet was still young, and his mother, of a noble Kurdish family, followed soon afterwards. Nezami was probably brought up by an uncle, married three times, and had at least one son, Mohammed. Little is otherwise known. His works were dedicated to local rulers, as was the custom.

Nezami was of a singularly pious, understanding and gentle nature. He avoided the attractions of court life, and wrote five long works that are among the greatest in Persian literature and which have widely influenced subsequent poetry east and west.

Nezami's Layla and Majnun was a particular source of inspiration to Ottoman poets, and has several times been translated into European languages, sometimes as an 'oriental Romeo and Juliet', though it is rather more a philosophical and dramatic exploration of love in all its mystical and worldly forms. Wide learning was expected of Islamic poets, and Nezami was well versed in Arabic and Persian literature (including oral and local traditions), mathematics, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, medicine, Koranic exegesis, theology and law, history, ethics, philosophy and esoteric thought, music and the visual arts.


Miserable is a heart that has no beloved

Miserable is a heart that has no beloved.
It is difficult to be without a friend or a beloved.
These few moments which you can never find again,
If you have a heart, do not be without a beloved.

translated by Reza Saberi


The Labours Of Ferhad

On lofty Beysitoun the lingering sun 
looks down on ceaseless labors, long begun: 
The mountain trembles to the echoing sound 
Of falling rocks, that from her sides rebound. 
Each day all respite, all repose denied—- 
No truce, no pause, the thundering strokes are plied; 
The mist of night around her summit coils, 
But still Ferhad, the lover-artist, toils, 
And still—-the flashes of his axe between—- 
He sighs to ev'ry wind, "Alas! Shireen! 
Alas! Shireen!—-my task is well-nigh done, 
The goal in view for which I strive alone. 
Love grants me powers that Nature might deny; 
And, whatsoe'er my doom, the world shall tell, 
Thy lover gave to immortality 
Her name he loved—-so fatally—-so well!

A hundred arms were weak one block to move 
Of thousands, molded by the hand of Love 
Into fantastic shapes and forms of grace, 
Which crowd each nook of that majestic place. 
The piles give way, the rocky peaks divide, 
The stream comes gushing on—-a foaming tide! 
A mighty work, for ages to remain, 
The token of his passion and his pain. 
As flows the milky flood from Allah's throne 
Rushes the torrent from the yielding stone; 
And sculptured there, amazed, stern Khosru stands, 
And sees, with frowns, obeyed his harsh commands: 
While she, the fair beloved, with being rife, 
Awakes the glowing marble into life. 
Ah! hapless youth; ah! toil repaid by woe—- 
A king thy rival and the world thy foe! 
Will she wealth, splendor, pomp for thee resign—- 
And only genius, truth, and passion thine! 
Around the pair, lo! groups of courtiers wait, 
And slaves and pages crowd in solemn state; 
From columns imaged wreaths their garlands throw, 
And fretted roofs with stars appear to glow! 
Fresh leaves and blossoms seem around to spring, 
And feathered throngs their loves are murmuring; 
The hands of Peris might have wrought those stems, 
Where dewdrops hang their fragile diadems; 
And strings of pearl and sharp-cut diamonds shine, 
New from the wave, or recent from the mine.

"Alas! Shireen!" at every stroke he cries; 
At every stroke fresh miracles arise:  
"For thee these glories and these wonders all, 
For thee I triumph, or for thee I fall; 
For thee my life one ceaseless toil has been, 
Inspire my soul anew: Alas! Shireen!"

What raven note disturbs his musing mood? 
What form comes stealing on his solitude? 
Ungentle messenger, whose word of ill 
All the warm feelings of his soul can chill!  
"Cease, idle youth, to waste thy days," she said, 
"By empty hopes a visionary made; 
Why in vain toil thy fleeting life consume 
To frame a palace?—-rather hew a tomb. 
Even like sere leaves that autumn winds have shed, 
Perish thy labors, for—-Shireen is dead!"

He heard the fatal news—-no word, no groan; 
He spoke not, moved not, stood transfixed to stone. 
Then, with a frenzied start, he raised on high 
His arms, and wildly tossed them toward the sky; 
Far in the wide expanse his axe he flung 
And from the precipice at once he sprung. 
The rocks, the sculptured caves, the valleys green, 
Sent back his dying cry—- "Alas! Shireen!"



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