Letter from Iran

Aria Fani

Classical Persian poetry is characterized by its creative and highly cultivated language as well as strict regularities of rhyme and meter. Consequently, the Persian aesthetic tradition developed with reference to the lyric. Mohammad Reza Shafi’i Kadkani, a prominent literary figure, asserts that classical literary critics did not examine the overall structure of a poem, but rather focused on each Beyt, a metrical unit in Perso-Arabic poetry—more or less equivalent to a line in English poetry. In contemporary Persian poetry, poems are not assessed on the basis of each line. Kadkani further argues that a poem may not employ any literary devices, but masterfully convey a social message that both resonates meaningfully with the poet’s audience and transcends his/her time and place.

Bijan Jalali’s (1928 – 1999) verse disconnects from the poetic qualities of the classical tradition. There is no reliance on figures of speech or literary devices; Jalali skillfully makes use of a great body of imagery, strengthened by his sharp observations and brevity. For instance:

_ _ _

death
is before
my eyes

standing
sitting or walking

my eyes
turn to poetry
again

and I see
poetry–like death–standing
sitting or walking

The reader does not encounter dazzling diction here, but instead what we have is an unadorned and simple phraseology:

I have something
to say that I have yet
to write
for it is whiter
than paper

His body of work redefines the role of aesthetics in Persian poetry by placing an elegantly simple and brief form of expression at the heart of the poetic process. Jalali was a devout animal lover and had many dogs and cats at home. After he died, the Bijan Jalali Literary Award, awarded to more than five writers to date, was established in honor of his lifetime accomplishments. He passed away in 1999 in Tehran.

_ _ _

             should someone ask
for me tell them
he has gone to watch
the rain

       if they insist
tell them he has gone
to see the storms

             if they proved
adamant tell them
he will not return

Photo: Aria Fani
Photo: Aria Fani

(All translations by Aria Fani)

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