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Persian literature

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Kelileh va Demneh Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the
Lion astray. Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey.
A scene from the Shahnameh describing the valour of Rustam

Persian literature (Persian: adabiyt-e frsi), comprises oral compositions and

written texts in the Persian language and it is one of the world's oldest literatures.[1][2][3] It spans
two-and-a-half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its sources have
been within Greater Iran including present-day Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus, and Turkey, regions of
Central and South Asia where the Persian language has historically been either the native or
official language. For instance, Mowlana Rumi, one of best-loved Persian poets, born in Balkh or
Vakhsh (in what is now Afghanistan), wrote in Persian, and lived in Konya, then the capital of
the Seljuks in Anatolia. The Ghaznavids conquered large territories in Central and South Asia
and adopted Persian as their court language. There is thus Persian literature from Iran,
Mesopotamia, Azerbaijan, the wider Caucasus, Turkey, western parts of Pakistan, India,
Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia. Not all Persian literature is written in Persian, as some
consider works written by ethnic Persians in other languages, such as Greek and Arabic, to be
included. At the same time, not all literature written in Persian is written by ethnic Persians or
Iranians, as Turkic, Caucasian, and Indic poets and writers have also used the Persian language
in the environment of Persianate cultures.

Described as one of the great literatures of humanity,[4] including Goethe's assessment of it as

one of the four main bodies of world literature,[5] Persian literature has its roots in surviving
works of Middle Persian and Old Persian, the latter of which date back as far as 522 BCE, the
date of the earliest surviving Achaemenid inscription, the Behistun Inscription. The bulk of
surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of
Iran c. 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power (750 CE), the Iranians became the scribes and
bureaucrats of the Islamic empire and, increasingly, also its writers and poets. The New Persian
literature arose and flourished in Khorasan and Transoxiana because of political reasonsthe
early Iranian dynasties such as Tahirids and Samanids were based in Khorasan.[6]
During Golden Age of Islam Iranians wrote both in Persian and Arabic. Persian was primarily
used for inner circles at that time. Persian poets such as Ferdowsi, Sa'di, Hafiz, Attar, Nezami,[7]
Rumi[8] and Omar Khayyam are also known in the West and have influenced the literature of
many countries.

1 Classical Persian literature
o 1.1 Pre-Islamic Persian literature
o 1.2 Persian literature of the medieval and pre-modern periods
1.2.1 Poetry
1.2.2 Essays
1.2.3 Biographies, hagiographies, and historical works
1.2.4 Literary criticism
1.2.5 Persian storytelling
2 Dictionaries
3 Persian proverbs
4 The influence of Persian literature on World literature
o 4.1 Sufi literature
o 4.2 Georgian literature
o 4.3 Asia Minor
o 4.4 Areas once under Ghaznavid or Mughal rule
4.4.1 South Asia
o 4.5 Western literature
4.5.1 German literature
4.5.2 English literature
4.5.3 Swedish literature
4.5.4 Italian literature
5 Contemporary Persian literature
o 5.1 History
o 5.2 Persian literature in Afghanistan
o 5.3 Persian literature in Tajikistan
o 5.4 Play
o 5.5 Novel
o 5.6 Satire
o 5.7 Literary criticism
o 5.8 Persian short stories
5.8.1 Period of diversity
o 5.9 Poetry
5.9.1 Classical Persian poetry in modern times
5.9.2 Modern Persian poetry
6 Persian literature awards
7 Authors and poets
8 See also
9 Notes and references
10 Further reading
11 External links

Classical Persian literature

Pre-Islamic Persian literature

See also: Pahlavi literature

Very few literary works of Achaemenid Iran have survived, due partly to the destruction of the
library at Persepolis.[9] Most of what remains consists of the royal inscriptions of Achaemenid
kings, particularly Darius I (522486 BC) and his son Xerxes. Many Zoroastrian writings were
destroyed in the Islamic conquest of Iran in the 7th century. The Parsis who fled to India,
however, took with them some of the books of the Zoroastrian canon, including some of the
Avesta and ancient commentaries (Zend) thereof. Some works of Sassanid geography and travel
also survived, albeit in Arabic translations.

No single text devoted to literary criticism has survived from Pre-Islamic Iran. However, some
essays in Pahlavi, such as "Ayin-e name nebeshtan" (Principles of Writing Book) and "Bab-e
edtedaI-ye" (Kalileh o Demneh), have been considered as literary criticism (Zarrinkoub,

Some researchers have quoted the Sho'ubiyye as asserting that the Pre-Islamic Iranians had books
on eloquence, such as 'Karvand'. No trace remains of such books. There are some indications that
some among the Persian elite were familiar with Greek rhetoric and literary criticism
(Zarrinkoub, 1947).

Persian literature of the medieval and pre-modern periods

Bahram Gur and Courtiers Entertained by Barbad the Musician, Page from a manuscript of the
Shahnama of Ferdowsi. Brooklyn Museum.

While initially overshadowed by Arabic during the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphates, New
Persian soon became a literary language again of the Central Asian and West Asian lands. The
rebirth of the language in its new form is often accredited to Ferdowsi, Unsuri, Daqiqi, Rudaki,
and their generation, as they used Pre-Islamic nationalism as a conduit to revive the language and
customs of ancient Iran.

Bowl of Reflections, early 13th century. Brooklyn Museum

So strong is the Persian aptitude for versifying everyday expressions that one can encounter
poetry in almost every classical work, whether from Persian literature, science, or metaphysics.
In short, the ability to write in verse form was a pre-requisite for any scholar. For example,
almost half of Avicenna's medical writings are in verse.

Works of the early era of Persian poetry are characterized by strong court patronage, an
extravagance of panegyrics, and what is known as " exalted in style". The tradition of
royal patronage began perhaps under the Sassanid era and carried over through the Abbasid and
Samanid courts into every major Iranian dynasty. The Qasida was perhaps the most famous form
of panegyric used, though quatrains such as those in Omar Khayyam's Ruba'iyyat are also widely

Khorasani style, whose followers mostly were associated with Greater Khorasan, is characterized
by its supercilious diction, dignified tone, and relatively literate language. The chief
representatives of this lyricism are Asjadi, Farrukhi Sistani, Unsuri, and Manuchehri. Panegyric
masters such as Rudaki were known for their love of nature, their verse abounding with
evocative descriptions.

Through these courts and system of patronage emerged the epic style of poetry, with Ferdowsi's
Shahnama at the apex. By glorifying the Iranian historical past in heroic and elevated verses, he
and other notables such as Daqiqi and Asadi Tusi presented the "Ajam" with a source of pride
and inspiration that has helped preserve a sense of identity for the Iranian People over the ages.
Ferdowsi set a model to be followed by a host of other poets later on.

The 13th century marks the ascendancy of lyric poetry with the consequent development of the
ghazal into a major verse form, as well as the rise of mystical and Sufi poetry. This style is often
called Araqi (Iraqi) style, (western provinces of Iran were known as The Persian Iraq (Araq-e-
Ajam) and is known by its emotional lyric qualities, rich meters, and the relative simplicity of its
language. Emotional romantic poetry was not something new however, as works such as Vis o
Ramin by As'ad Gorgani, and Yusof o Zoleikha by Am'aq Bokharai exemplify. Poets such as
Sana'i and Attar (who ostensibly have inspired Rumi), Khaqani Shirvani, Anvari, and Nizami,
were highly respected ghazal writers. However, the elite of this school are Rumi, Sadi, and Hafiz
Regarding the tradition of Persian love poetry during the Safavid era, Persian historian Ehsan
Yarshater notes, "As a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries
of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or
received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent,
or as soldiers and bodyguards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and
receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated
conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions
which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian
poetry, and of the ghazal. "[11] During the same Safavid era, many subjects of the Iranian
Safavids were patrons of Persian poetry, such as Teimuraz I of Kakheti.

In the didactic genre one can mention Sanai's Hadiqat-ul-Haqiqah (Garden of Truth) as well as
Nizami's Makhzan-ul-Asrr (Treasury of Secrets). Some of Attar's works also belong to this
genre as do the major works of Rumi, although some tend to classify these in the lyrical type due
to their mystical and emotional qualities. In addition, some tend to group Naser Khosrow's works
in this style as well; however true gems of this genre are two books by Sadi, a heavyweight of
Persian literature, the Bustan and the Gulistan.

After the 15th century, the Indian style of Persian poetry (sometimes also called Isfahani or
Safavi styles) took over. This style has its roots in the Timurid era and produced the likes of
Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, and Bhai Nand Lal Goya.


The most significant essays of this era are Nizami Arudhi Samarqandi's "Chahr Maqleh" as
well as Zahiriddin Nasr Muhammad Aufi's anecdote compendium Jawami ul-Hikayat. Shams al-
Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir's famous work, the Qabus nama (A Mirror for
Princes), is a highly esteemed Belles-lettres work of Persian literature. Also highly regarded is
Siyasatnama, by Nizam al-Mulk, a famous Persian vizier. Kelileh va Demneh, translated from
Indian folk tales, can also be mentioned in this category. It is seen as a collection of adages in
Persian literary studies and thus does not convey folkloric notions.

Biographies, hagiographies, and historical works

Among the major historical and biographical works in classical Persian, one can mention
Abolfazl Beyhaghi's famous Tarikh-i Beyhaqi, Lubab ul-Albab of Zahiriddin Nasr Muhammad
Aufi (which has been regarded as a reliable chronological source by many experts), as well as
Ata-Malik Juvayni's famous Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini (which spans the Mongolid and
Ilkhanid era of Iran). Attar's Tazkerat-ol-Owliya ("Biographies of the Saints") is also a detailed
account of Sufi mystics, which is referenced by many subsequent authors and considered a
significant work in mystical hagiography.

Literary criticism

See also: Literary criticism in Iran

The oldest surviving work of Persian literary criticism after the Islamic conquest of Persia is
Muqaddame-ye Shahname-ye Abu Mansuri, which was written during the Samanid period.[12]
The work deals with the myths and legends of Shahname and is considered the oldest surviving
example of Persian prose. It also shows an attempt by the authors to evaluate literary works

Persian storytelling

One Thousand and One Nights (Persian: ) is a medieval folk tale collection which
tells the story of Scheherazade (Persian: ahrzd), a Sassanid queen who must relate a
series of stories to her malevolent husband, King Shahryar (Persian: ahryr), to delay her
execution. The stories are told over a period of one thousand and one nights, and every night she
ends the story with a suspenseful situation, forcing the King to keep her alive for another day.
The individual stories were created over several centuries, by many people from a number of
different lands.

The nucleus of the collection is formed by a Pahlavi Sassanid Persian book called Hazr
Afsnah[13] (Persian: , Thousand Myths), a collection of ancient Indian and Persian folk

During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century, Baghdad had become
an important cosmopolitan city. Merchants from Persia, China, India, Africa, and Europe were
all found in Baghdad. During this time, many of the stories that were originally folk stories are
thought to have been collected orally over many years and later compiled into a single book. The
compiler and 9th-century translator into Arabic is reputedly the storyteller Abu Abd-Allah
Muhammad el-Gahshigar. The frame story of Shahrzad seems to have been added in the 14th

The biggest Persian dictionary is Dehkhoda Dictionary (16 volumes) by Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda.
He names 200 Persian lexicographical works in his dictionary, the earliest, Farhang-i Oim
( ) and Farhang-i Menakhtay () , from the late Sassanid era.

The most widely used Persian lexicons in the Middle Ages were those of Abu Hafs Soghdi
( ) and Asadi Tusi () , written in 1092.

Also highly regarded in the contemporary Persian literature lexical corpus are the works of Dr.
Mohammad Moin. The first volume of Moin Dictionary was published in 1963.

In 1645, Christian Ravius completed a Persian-Latin dictionary, printed at Leiden. This was
followed by J. Richardson's two-volume Oxford edition (1777) and Gladwin-Malda's (1770)
Persian-English Dictionaries, Scharif and S. Peters' Persian-Russian Dictionary (1869), and 30
other Persian lexicographical translations through the 1950s.
In 2002, Professor Hassan Anvari published his Persian-to-Persian dictionary, Farhang-e
Bozorg-e Sokhan, in eight volumes by Sokhan Publications.

Currently English-Persian dictionaries of Manouchehr Aryanpour and Soleiman Haim are widely
used in Iran.

Persian proverbs
Persian proverbs
* Thousands of friends are far too few, one enemy is too many. *

Hezrn dust kam-and, o [va] yek doshman zid.

* The wise enemy is better than the ignorant friend. *

Doshman-e dn behtar az dust-e ndn ast.

* The wise enemy lifts you up, the ignorant friend casts you down. *

Doshman-e dn bolandat mikonad. Bar zaminat mizanad ndn-e dust.

The influence of Persian literature on World literature

Sufi literature

William Shakespeare referred to Iran as the "land of the Sophy".[14] Some of Persia's best-
beloved medieval poets were Sufis, and their poetry was, and is, widely read by Sufis from
Morocco to Indonesia. Rumi (Mauln ), in particular is renowned both as a poet and as the
founder of a widespread Sufi order. The themes and styles of this devotional poetry have been
widely imitated by many Sufi poets. See also the article on Sufi poetry.

Many notable texts in Persian mystic literature are not poems, yet highly read and regarded.
Among those are Kimiya-yi sa'dat, Asrar al-Tawhid and Kashf ul Mahjoob.

Georgian literature
Georgian manuscript of Shahnameh written in the Georgian script.

Starting from the early 16th century, Persian traditions had a large impact on Georgian ruling
elites, which in turn resulted in Persian influence on Georgian art, architecture and literature.[15]
This cultural influence lasted until the arrival of the Russians.[16]

Jamshid Sh. Giunashvili remarks on the connection of Georgian culture with that of the Persian
literary work Shahnameh:

The names of many h-nma heroes, such as Rostom-i, Thehmine, Sam-i, or Zaal-i, are found
in 11th- and 12th-century Georgian literature. They are indirect evidence for an Old Georgian
translation of the h-nma that is no longer extant. ...

The h-nma was translated, not only to satisfy the literary and aesthetic needs of readers and
listeners, but also to inspire the young with the spirit of heroism and Georgian patriotism.
Georgian ideology, customs, and worldview often informed these translations because they were
oriented toward Georgian poetic culture. Conversely, Georgians consider these translations
works of their native literature. Georgian versions of the h-nma are quite popular, and the
stories of Rostam and Sohrb, or Bjan and Mania became part of Georgian folklore.[17]

Asia Minor
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Despite that Asia Minor (or Anatolia) had been ruled various times prior to the Middle Ages by
various Persian-speaking dynasties originating in Iran, the language lost its traditional foothold
there with the demise of the Sassanian Empire. Centuries later however, the practise and usage in
the region would be strongly revived. A branch of the Seljuks, the Sultanate of Rum, took
Persian language, art and letters to Anatolia.[18] They adopted Persian language as the official
language of the empire.[19] The Ottomans, which can "roughly" be seen as their eventual
successors, took this tradition over. Persian was the official court language of the empire, and for
some time, the official language of the empire.[20] The educated and noble class of the Ottoman
Empire all spoke Persian, such as sultan Selim I, despite being Safavid Iran's archrival and a
staunch opposer of Shia Islam.[21] It was a major literary language in the empire.[22] Some of the
noted earlier Persian literature works during the Ottoman rule are Idris Bidlisi's Hasht Bihisht,
which begun in 1502 and covered the reign of the first eight Ottoman rulers, and the Salim-
Namah, a glorification of Selim I.[21] After a period of several centuries, Ottoman Turkish (which
was highly Persianised itself) had developed towards a fully accepted language of literature,
which was even able to satisfy the demands of a scientific presentation.[23] However, the number
of Persian and Arabic loanwords contained in those works increased at times up to 88%.[23] The
Ottomans produced thousands of Persian literary works throughout their century long lifespan.

Areas once under Ghaznavid or Mughal rule

South Asia

See also: Indo-Persian culture

With the emergence of the Ghaznavids and their successors such as the Ghurids, Timurids and
Mughal Empire, Persian culture and its literature gradually moved into South Asia too. In
general, from its earliest days, Persian literature and language was imported into the subcontinent
by culturally Persianised Turkic and Afghan dynasties. Persian became the language of the
nobility, literary circles, and the royal Mughal courts for hundreds of years. In the early 19th
century, Hindustani replaced it.

Under the Moghul Empire of India during the 16th century, the official language of India became
Persian. Only in 1832 did the British army force the South Asia to begin conducting business in
English. (Clawson, p. 6) Persian poetry in fact flourished in these regions while post-Safavid
Iranian literature stagnated. Dehkhoda and other scholars of the 20th century, for example,
largely based their works on the detailed lexicography produced in India, using compilations
such as Ghazi khan Badr Muhammad Dehlavi's Adat al-Fudhala () , Ibrahim
Ghavamuddin Farughi's Farhang-i Ibrahimi () , and particularly Muhammad
Padshah's Farhang-i Anandraj () .

Western literature

Main article: Persian literature in the West

Persian literature was little known in the West before the 18-19th century. It became much better
known following the publication of several translations from the works of late medieval Persian
poets, and it inspired works by various Western poets and writers.

German literature

In 1819, Goethe published his West-stlicher Divan, a collection of lyric poems inspired
by a German translation of Hafiz (13261390).
The German essayist and philosopher Nietzsche was the author of the book Thus Spoke
Zarathustra (18831885),[24] referring to the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster (c. 1700

English literature

A selection from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (9351020) was published in 1832 by James

Atkinson, a physician employed by the British East India Company.
A portion of this abridgment was later versified by the British poet Matthew Arnold in
his 1853 Rustam and Sohrab.
The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was another admirer of Persian poetry. He
published several essays in 1876 that discuss Persian poetry: Letters and Social Aims,
From the Persian of Hafiz, and Ghaselle.

Perhaps the most popular Persian poet of the 19th and early 20th centuries was Omar Khayyam
(10481123), whose Rubaiyat was freely translated by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. Khayyam is
esteemed more as a scientist than a poet in his native Persia, but in Fitzgerald's rendering, he
became one of the most quoted poets in English. Khayyam's line, "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine,
and thou", is known to many who could not say who wrote it, or where:

Ah, would there were a loaf of bread as fare,

A joint of lamb, a jug of vintage rare,
And you and I in wilderness encamped
No Sultan's pleasure could with ours compare.

The Persian poet and mystic Rumi (12071273) (known as Molana in Iran, Afghanistan and
Tajikistan; and as Mevlana in Turkey), has attracted a large following in the late 20th and early
21st centuries. Popularizing translations by Coleman Barks have presented Rumi as a New Age
sage. There are also a number of more literary translations by scholars such as A. J. Arberry.

The classical poets (Hafiz, Sa'di, Khayyam, Rumi, Nizami and Ferdowsi) are now widely known
in English and can be read in various translations. Other works of Persian literature are
untranslated and little known.

Swedish literature

During the last century, numerous works of classical Persian literature have been translated into
Swedish by baron Eric Hermelin. He translated works by, among others, Farid al-Din Attar,
Rumi, Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam, Sa'adi and Sana'i. Influenced by the writings of the Swedish
mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, he was especially attracted to the religious or Sufi aspects of
classical Persian poetry. His translations have had a great impact on numerous modern Swedish
writers, among them Karl Wennberg, Willy Kyrklund and Gunnar Ekelf. More recently
classical authors such as Hafez, Rumi, Araqi and Nizami Aruzi has been rendered into Swedish
by the iranist Ashk Dahln, who has published several essays on the development of Persian
literature. Excerpts from Ferdousi's Shahnama has also been translated into Swedish prose by
Namdar Nasser and Anja Malmberg.

Italian literature

During the last century, numerous works of classical Persian literature have been translated into
Italian by Alessandro Bausani (Nizami, Rumi, Iqbal, Khayyam), Carlo Saccone ('Attar, Sana'i,
Hafiz, Nasir-i Khusraw, Nizami, Ahmad Ghazali, Ansari of Herat), Angelo Piemontese (Amir
Khusraw Dihlavi), Pio Filippani-Ronconi (Nasir-i Khusraw, Sa'di), Riccardo Zipoli (Kay Ka'us,
Bidil), Maurizio Pistoso (Nizam al-Mulk), Giorgio Vercellin (Nizami 'Aruzi), Giovanni Maria
D'Erme ('Ubayd Zakani, Hafiz), Sergio Foti (Suhrawardi, Rumi, Jami), Rita Bargigli (Sa'di,
Farrukhi, Manuchehri, 'Unsuri), Nahid Norozi (Sohrab Sepehri, Khwaju of Kerman, Ahmad
Shamlu), Faezeh Mardani (Forugh Farrokhzad, Abbas Kiarostami). A complete translation of
Firdawsi's Shah-nama was made by Italo Pizzi in the 19th century.

Contemporary Persian literature


In the 19th century, Persian literature experienced dramatic change and entered a new era. The
beginning of this change was exemplified by an incident in the mid-19th century at the court of
Nasereddin Shah, when the reform-minded prime minister, Amir Kabir, chastised the poet
Habibollah Qa'ani for "lying" in a panegyric qasida written in Kabir's honor. Kabir saw poetry in
general and the type of poetry that had developed during the Qajar period as detrimental to
"progress" and "modernization" in Iranian society, which he believed was in dire need of change.
Such concerns were also expressed by others such as Fath-'Ali Akhundzadeh, Mirza Aqa Khan
Kermani, and Mirza Malkom Khan. Khan also addressed a need for a change in Persian poetry in
literary terms as well, always linking it to social concerns.
"In life there are certain sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker. "
The Blind Owl

The new Persian literary movement cannot be understood without an understanding of the
intellectual movements among Iranian philosophical circles. Given the social and political
climate of Persia (Iran) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which led to the Persian
Constitutional Revolution of 19061911, the idea that change in poetry was necessary became
widespread. Many argued that Persian poetry should reflect the realities of a country in
transition. This idea was propagated by notable literary figures such as Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda and
Abolqasem Aref, who challenged the traditional system of Persian poetry in terms of introducing
new content and experimentation with rhetoric, lexico-semantics, and structure. Dehkhoda, for
instance, used a lesser-known traditional form, the mosammat, to elegize the execution of a
revolutionary journalist. 'Aref employed the ghazal, "the most central genre within the lyrical
tradition" (p. 88), to write his "Payam-e Azadi" (Message of Freedom).

Some researchers argue that the notion of "sociopolitical ramifications of esthetic changes" led to
the idea of poets "as social leaders trying the limits and possibilities of social change. "

An important movement in modern Persian literature centered on the question of modernization

and Westernization and whether these terms are synonymous when describing the evolution of
Iranian society. It can be argued that almost all advocates of modernism in Persian literature,
from Akhundzadeh, Kermani, and Malkom Khan to Dehkhoda, Aref, Bahar, and Taqi Rafat,
were inspired by developments and changes that had occurred in Western, particularly European,
literatures. Such inspirations did not mean blindly copying Western models but, rather, adapting
aspects of Western literature and changing them to fit the needs of Iranian culture.

Following the pioneering works of Ahmad Kasravi, Sadeq Hedayat and many others, the Iranian
wave of comparative literature and literary criticism reached a symbolic crest with the
emergence of Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, Shahrokh Meskoob, Houshang Golshiri and Ebrahim
Persian literature in Afghanistan

Persian literature in Afghanistan has also experienced a dramatic change during the last century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Afghanistan was confronted with economic and social
change, which sparked a new approach to literature. In 1911, Mahmud Tarzi, who came back to
Afghanistan after years of exile in Turkey and was influential in government circles, started a
fortnightly publication named Sarajul Akhbar. Saraj was not the first such publication in the
country, but in the field of journalism and literature it launched a new period of change and
modernization. Saraj not only played an important role in journalism, it also gave new life to
literature as a whole and opened the way for poetry to explore new avenues of expression
through which personal thoughts took on a more social colour.

In 1930 (1309 AH), after months of cultural stagnation, a group of writers founded the Herat
Literary Circle. A year later, another group calling itself the Kabul Literary Circle was founded
in the capital. Both groups published regular magazines dedicated to culture and Persian
literature. Both, especially the Kabul publication, had little success in becoming venues for
modern Persian poetry and writing. In time, the Kabul publication turned into a stronghold for
traditional writers and poets, and modernism in Dari literature was pushed to the fringes of social
and cultural life.

Three of the most prominent classical poets in Afghanistan at the time were Qari Abdullah,
Abdul Haq Betab and Khalil Ullah Khalili. The first two received the honorary title Malek ul
Shoara (King of Poets). Khalili, the third and youngest, was drawn toward the Khorasan style of
poetry instead of the usual Hendi style. He was also interested in modern poetry and wrote a few
poems in a more modern style with new aspects of thought and meaning. In 1318 (AH), after two
poems by Nima Youshij titled "Gharab" and "Ghoghnus" were published, Khalili wrote a poem
under the name "Sorude Kuhestan" or "The Song of the Mountain" in the same rhyming pattern
as Nima and sent it to the Kabul Literary Circle. The traditionalists in Kabul refused to publish it
because it was not written in the traditional rhyme. They criticized Khalili for modernizing his

Very gradually new styles found their way into literature and literary circles despite the efforts of
traditionalists. The first book of new poems was published in the year 1957 (1336 AH), and in
1962 (1341 AH), a collection of modern Persian (Dari) poetry was published in Kabul. The first
group to write poems in the new style consisted of Mahmud Farani, Baregh Shafii, Solayman
Layeq, Sohail, Ayeneh and a few others. Later, Vasef Bakhtari, Asadullah Habib and Latif
Nazemi, and others joined the group. Each had his own share in modernizing Persian poetry in
Afghanistan. Other notable figures include Leila Sarahat Roshani, Sayed Elan Bahar and Parwin
Pazwak. Poets like Mayakovsky, Yase Nien and Lahouti (an Iranian poet living in exile in
Russia) exerted a special influence on the Persian poets in Afghanistan. The influence of Iranians
(e.g. Farrokhi Yazdi and Ahmad Shamlou) on the newly established Afghan prose and poetry,
especially in the second half of the 20th century, must also be taken into consideration.[25]

Prominent writers from Afghanistan like Asef Soltanzadeh, Reza Ebrahimi, Ameneh
Mohammadi, and Abbas Jafari grew up in Iran and were influenced by Iranian writers and
Persian literature in Tajikistan

The new poetry in Tajikistan is mostly concerned with the way of life of people and is
revolutionary. From the 1950s until the advent of new poetry in France, Asia and Latin America,
the impact of the modernization drive was strong. In the 1960s, modern Iranian poetry and that
of Mohammad Iqbal Lahouri made a profound impression in Tajik poetry. This period is
probably the richest and most prolific period for the development of themes and forms in Persian
poetry in Tajikistan. Some Tajik poets were mere imitators, and one can easily see the traits of
foreign poets in their work. Only two or three poets were able to digest the foreign poetry and
compose original poetry. In Tajikistan, the format and pictorial aspects of short stories and
novels were taken from Russian and other European literature. Some of Tajikistan's prominent
names in Persian literature are Golrokhsar Safi Eva,[26] Mo'men Ghena'at,[27] Farzaneh
Khojandi[28] and Layeq Shir-Ali.


Among the best-known playwrights are:

Bahram Beyzai
Akbar Radi
Gholam-Hossein Sa'edi
Esmaeel Khalaj
Ali Nassirian
Mirza Aqa Tabrizi
Bijan Mofid


Well-known novelists include:

Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh
Sadeq Hedayat
Sadeq Chubak
Gholam-Hossein Sa'edi
Ahmad Mahmoud
Jalal Al-e-Ahmad
Simin Daneshvar
Bozorg Alavi
Ebrahim Golestan
Bahman Sholevar
Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
Bahram Sadeghi
Ghazaleh Alizadeh
Bahman Forsi
Houshang Golshiri
Reza Baraheni
Abbas Maroufi
Reza Ghassemi
Zoya Pirzad
Hossein Rajabian
Shahriyar Mandanipour
Abutorab Khosravi
Reza Khoshnazar


Main article: Persian satire

Iraj Mirza
Kioumars Saberi Foumani
Obeid Zakani
Ebrahim Nabavi
Hadi Khorsandi
Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi
Javad Alizadeh
Emran Salahi

Literary criticism

Pioneers of Persian literary criticism in 19th century include Mirza Fath `Ali Akhundzade, Mirza
Malkom Khan, Mirza `Abd al-Rahim Talebof and Zeyn al-`Abedin Maraghe`i.

Prominent 20th century critics include:

Jamshid Behnam
Allameh Dehkhoda
Badiozzaman Forouzanfar
Mohammad-Taqi Bahar
Jalal Homaei
Mohammad Moin
Saeed Nafisi
Parviz Natel-Khanlari
Sadeq Hedayat
Ahmad Kasravi.
Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub
Shahrokh Meskoob

Saeed Nafisi analyzed and edited several critical works. He is well known for his works on
Rudaki and Sufi literature. Parviz Natel-Khanlari and Gholamhossein Yousefi, who belong to
Nafisi's generation, were also involved in modern literature and critical writings.[29] Natel-
Khanlari is distinguished by the simplicity of his style. He did not follow the traditionalists, nor
did he advocate the new. Instead, his approach accommodated the entire spectrum of creativity
and expression in Persian literature. Another critic, Ahmad Kasravi, an experienced authority on
literature, attacked the writers and poets whose works served despotism.[30]

Contemporary Persian literary criticism reached its maturity after Sadeq Hedayat, Ebrahim
Golestan, Houshang Golshiri, Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub and Shahrokh Meskoob. Among these
figures, Zarrinkoub held academic positions and had a reputation not only among the
intelligentsia but also in academia. Besides his significant contribution to the maturity of Persian
language and literature, Zarrinkoub boosted comparative literature and Persian literary
criticism.[31] Zarrinkoub's Serr e Ney is a critical and comparative analysis of Rumi's Masnavi. In
turn, Shahrokh Meskoob worked on Ferdowsis Shahnameh, using the principles of modern
literary criticism.

Mohammad Taghi Bahar's main contribution to this field is his book called Sabk Shenasi
(Stylistics). It is a pioneering work on the practice of Persian literary historiography and the
emergence and development of Persian literature as a distinct institution in the early part of the
20th century. It contends that the exemplary status of Sabk-shinasi rests on the recognition of its
disciplinary or institutional achievements. It further contends that, rather than a text on Persian
stylistics, Sabk-shinasi is a vast history of Persian literary prose, and, as such, is a significant
intervention in Persian literary historiography.[32]

Jalal Homaei, Badiozzaman Forouzanfar and his student, Mohammad Reza Shafiei-Kadkani, are
other notable figures who have edited a number of prominent literary works.[33]

Critical analysis of Jami's works has been carried out by Ala Khan Afsahzad. His classic book
won the prestigious award of Iran's Year Best book in the year 2000.[34]

Persian short stories

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Historically, the modern Persian short story has undergone three stages of development: a
formative period, a period of consolidation and growth, and a period of diversity.[35]

Period of diversity

In this period, the influence of the western literature on the Iranian writers and authors is
obvious. The new and modern approaches to writing is introduced and several genres have
developed specially in the field of short story. The most popular trends are toward post-modern
methods and speculative fiction.


Notable Persian poets, modern and classical, include[36] Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, Simin Behbahani,
Forough Farrokhzad, Mohammad Zohari, Bijan Jalali, Mina Assadi, Siavash Kasraie, Fereydoon
Moshiri, Nader Naderpour, Sohrab Sepehri, Mohammad-Reza Shafiei-Kadkani, Ahmad
Shamlou, Nima Yushij, Houshang Ebtehaj, Mirzadeh Eshghi (classical), Mohammad Taghi
Bahar (classical), Aref Ghazvini (classical), Parvin Etesami (classical), and Shahriar (classical).

Classical Persian poetry in modern times

A few notable classical poets have arisen since the 19th century, among whom Mohammad
Taghi Bahar and Parvin Etesami have been most celebrated. Mohammad Taghi Bahar had the
title "king of poets" and had a significant role in the emergence and development of Persian
literature as a distinct institution in the early part of the 20th century.[37] The theme of his poems
was the social and political situation of Iran.

Parvin Etesami may be called the greatest Persian woman poet writing in the classical style. One
of her remarkable series, called Mast va Hoshyar (The Drunk and the Sober), won admiration
from many of those involved in romantic poetry.[38]

Modern Persian poetry

Nima Yushij is considered the father of modern Persian poetry, introducing many techniques and
forms to differentiate the modern from the old. Nevertheless, the credit for popularizing this new
literary form within a country and culture solidly based on a thousand years of classical poetry
goes to his few disciples such as Ahmad Shamlou, who adopted Nima's methods and tried new
techniques of modern poetry.

The transformation brought about by Nima Youshij, who freed Persian poetry from the fetters of
prosodic measures, was a turning point in a long literary tradition. It broadened the perception
and thinking of the poets that came after him. Nima offered a different understanding of the
principles of classical poetry. His artistry was not confined to removing the need for a fixed-
length hemistich and dispensing with the tradition of rhyming but focused on a broader structure
and function based on a contemporary understanding of human and social existence. His aim in
renovating poetry was to commit it to a "natural identity" and to achieve a modern discipline in
the mind and linguistic performance of the poet.[39]

Nima held that the formal technique dominating classical poetry interfered with its vitality, vigor
and progress. Although he accepted some of its aesthetic properties and extended them in his
poetry, he never ceased to widen his poetic experience by emphasizing the "natural order" of this
art. What Nima Youshij founded in contemporary poetry, his successor Ahmad Shamlou

The Sepid poem (which translates to white poem), which draws its sources from this poet,
avoided the compulsory rules which had entered the Nimai school of poetry and adopted a freer
structure. This allowed a more direct relationship between the poet and his or her emotional
roots. In previous poetry, the qualities of the poets vision as well as the span of the subject could
only be expressed in general terms and were subsumed by the formal limitations imposed on
poetic expression.

Khalilollah Khalili on the cover of "Deewaan-e Khalilullah Khalili"

Nimas poetry transgressed these limitations. It relied on the natural function inherent within
poetry itself to portray the poets solidarity with life and the wide world surrounding him or her
in specific and unambiguous details and scenes. Sepid poetry continues the poetic vision as Nima
expressed it and avoids the contrived rules imposed on its creation. However, its most distinct
difference with Nimai poetry is to move away from the rhythms it employed. Nima Youshij
paid attention to an overall harmonious rhyming and created many experimental examples to
achieve this end.[39]

Ahmad Shamlu discovered the inner characteristics of poetry and its manifestation in the literary
creations of classical masters as well as the Nimai experience. He offered an individual
approach. By distancing himself from the obligations imposed by older poetry and some of the
limitations that had entered the Nimai poem, he recognized the role of prose and music hidden
in the language. In the structure of Sepid poetry, in contrast to the prosodic and Nimai rules, the
poem is written in more "natural" words and incorporates a prose-like process without losing its
poetic distinction. Sepid poetry is a developing branch of Nimai poetry built upon Nima
Youshij's innovations. Nima thought that any change in the construction and the tools of a poets
expression is conditional on his/her knowledge of the world and a revolutionized outlook. Sepid
poetry could not take root outside this teaching and its application.

According to Simin Behbahani, Sepid poetry did not receive general acceptance before Bijan
Jalali's works. He is considered the founder of Sepid poetry according to Behbahani.[40][41]
Behbahani herself used the "Char Pareh" style of Nima, and subsequently turned to ghazal, a
free-flowing poetry style similar to the Western sonnet. Simin Behbahani contributed to a
historic development in the form of the ghazal, as she added theatrical subjects, and daily events
and conversations into her poetry. She has expanded the range of traditional Persian verse forms
and produced some of the most significant works of Persian literature in the 20th century.

A reluctant follower of Nima Yushij, Mehdi Akhavan-Sales published his Organ (1951) to
support contentions against Nima Yushij's groundbreaking endeavors. In Persian poetry, Mehdi
Akhavan Sales has established a bridge between the Khorassani and Nima Schools. The critics
consider Mehdi Akhavan Sales as one of the best contemporary Persian poets. He is one of the
pioneers of free verse (new style poetry) in Persian literature, particularly of modern style epics.
It was his ambition, for a long time, to introduce a fresh style to Persian poetry.[42]

Forough Farrokhzad is important in the literary history of Iran for three reasons. First, she was
among the first generation to embrace the new style of poetry, pioneered by Nima Yushij during
the 1920s, which demanded that poets experiment with rhyme, imagery, and the individual
voice. Second, she was the first modern Iranian woman to graphically articulate private sexual
landscapes from a woman's perspective. Finally, she transcended her own literary role and
experimented with acting, painting, and documentary film-making.[43]

Fereydoon Moshiri is best known as conciliator of classical Persian poetry with the New Poetry
initiated by Nima Yooshij. One of the major contributions of Moshiri's poetry, according to some
observers, is the broadening of the social and geographical scope of modern Persian literature.[44]

A poet of the last generation before the Islamic Revolution worthy of mention is Mohammad-
Reza Shafiei-Kadkani (M. Sereshk). Though he is from Khorassan and sways between allegiance
to Nima Youshij and Akhavan Saless, in his poetry he shows the influences of Hafiz and
Mowlavi. He uses simple, lyrical language and is mostly inspired by the political atmosphere. He
is the most successful of those poets who in the past four decades have tried hard to find a
synthesis between the two models of Ahmad Shamloo and Nima Youshij.[45]

In the twenty-first century, a new generation of Iranian poets continues to work in the New
Poetry style and now attracts an international audience thanks to efforts to translate their works.
ditions Bruno Doucey published a selection of forty-eight poems by Garus Abdolmalekian
entitled Our Fists under the Table (2012),[46] translated into French by Farideh Rava. Other
notable names are poet and publisher Babak Abazari (19842015), who died under mysterious
circumstances in January 2015,[47] and emerging young poet Milad Khanmirzaei.[48]

Persian literature awards

Sadegh Hedayat Award
National Ferdowsi Prize
Houshang Golshiri Award
Bijan Jalali Award
Iran's Annual Book Prize
Martyr Avini Literary Award
Mehrgan Adab Prize
Parvin Etesami Award
Yalda Literary Award
Isfahan Literary Award
Persian Speculative Art and Literature Award
Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards
Golden Pen Awards
Lois Roth Persian Translation Prize
Jaleh Esfahani Poetry Award

Authors and poets

Main article: List of Persian poets and authors

See also
Academy of Persian Language and Literature
Diwan (poetry) (includes description of symbols)
Takhallus (pen name)

Notes and references


Spooner, Brian (1994). "Dari, Farsi, and Tojiki". In Marashi, Mehdi. Persian Studies in North
America: Studies in Honor of Mohammad Ali Jazayery. Leiden: Brill. pp. 177178.
Spooner, Brian (2012). "Dari, Farsi, and Tojiki". In Schiffman, Harold. Language policy
and language conflict in Afghanistan and its neighbors: the changing politics of language
choice. Leiden: Brill. p. 94.
Campbell, George L.; King, Gareth, eds. (2013). "Persian". Compendium of the World's
Languages (3rd ed.). Routledge. p. 1339.
Arthur John Arberry, The Legacy of Persia, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953, ISBN 0-19-
821905-9, p. 200.
Von David Levinson; Karen Christensen, Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, Charles Scribner's
Sons. 2002, vol. 4, p. 480
Frye, R. N., "Dar", The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Brill Publications, CD version.
C. A. (Charles Ambrose) Storey and Frano de Blois (2004), "Persian Literature - A
Biobibliographical Survey: Volume V Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period", RoutledgeCurzon; 2nd
revised edition (June 21, 2004). p. 363: "Nizami Ganjai, whose personal name was Ilyas, is the
most celebrated native poet of the Persians after Firdausi. His nisbah designates him as a native
of Ganja (Elizavetpol, Kirovabad) in Azerbaijan, then still a country with an Iranian population,
and he spent the whole of his life in Transcaucasia; the verse in some of his poetic works which
makes him a native of the hinterland of Qom is a spurious interpolation. "
Franklin Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West, Oneworld Publications, 2000. How
is it that a Persian boy born almost eight hundred years ago in Khorasan, the northeastern
province of greater Iran, in a region that we identify today as Central Asia, but was considered in
those days as part of the Greater Persian cultural sphere, wound up in Central Anatolia on the
receding edge of the Byzantine cultural sphere, in which is now Turkey, some 1500 miles to the
west? (p. 9)
Encyclopedia of Library and ... - Google Books
Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, Naqde adabi, Tehran 1959 pp: 374379.
Yar-Shater, Ehsan. 1986. Persian Poetry in the Timurid and Safavid Periods, Cambridge
History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 973-974. 1986
Iraj Parsinejad, A History of Literary Criticism in Iran, 1866-1951, (Ibex Publishers, Inc.,
2003), 14.
Abdol Hossein Saeedian, "Land and People of Iran" p. 447
See William Shakespeare's The Twelfth Night.
Willem Floor, Edmund Herzig. Iran and the World in the Safavid Age I.B.Tauris, 15 sep.
2012 ISBN 1850439303 p 494
Kennan, Hans Dieter; et al. (2013). Vagabond Life: The Caucasus Journals of George
Kennan. University of Washington Press. p. 32. (...) Iranian power and cultural influence
dominated eastern Georgia until the coming of the Russians
Giunshvili, Jamshid Sh. (15 June 2005). "h-nma Translations ii. Into Georgian".
Encyclopdia Iranica. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
Sigfried J. de Laet. History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century
UNESCO, 1994. ISBN 9231028138 p 734
Ga bor A goston, Bruce Alan Masters. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire Infobase
Publishing, 1 jan. 2009 ISBN 1438110251 p 322
Doris Wastl-Walter. The Ashgate Research Companion to Border Studies Ashgate
Publishing, Ltd., 2011 ISBN 0754674061 p 409
Bertold Spuler. Persian Historiography & Geography Pustaka Nasional Pte Ltd
ISBN 9971774887 p 68
Franklin D. Lewis. Rumi - Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings, and
Poetry of Jal l al-Din Rumi Oneworld Publications, 18 okt. 2014 ISBN 1780747373
Bertold Spuler. Persian Historiography & Geography Pustaka Nasional Pte Ltd
ISBN 9971774887 p 69
"Nietzsche's Zarathustra". Philosophical forum at Frostburg State University. Retrieved
"Latif Nazemi "A Look at Persian Literature in Afghanistan"" (PDF). Archived from the
original (PDF) on 2008-02-27.
"" . BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-
"" . BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31.
"" . BBC Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31.
"" "" . Archived from the
original on 2005-11-29. Retrieved 2006-03-31.
"A history of literary criticism in Iran (1866-1951)". Retrieved 2006-03-31.
AH Zarrinkoub: A biography
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
"Luminaries - Mohammad Reza Shafiei-Kadkani". Iran Daily - Panorama. 2005-09-24.
Archived from the original on 2006-05-17. Retrieved 2006-03-31.
" " at BBC Persian. Accessed on 2006-03-31.
Houra Yavari, "The Persian Short Story"
Wali Ahmadi "The institution of Persian literature and the genealogy of Bahar's stylistics"
"Parvin Etesami's biography at IRIB.com". Archived from the original on 2008-01-12.
Mansur Khaksar "Shamlus poetic world"
"" . BBC
Persian. Retrieved 2006-03-31.
"" . BBC Persian. Retrieved
Mehdi Akhavan Sales's biography on Iran Chamber Society (www. iranchamber.com)
Forough Farrokhzad and modern Persian poetry
Fereydoon Moshiri's official website
Mahmud Kianush, "A Summary of the Introduction to Modern Persian Poetry"

48. http://www.rusartnet.com/persian-culture/iranian-writers/milad-khanmirzaei-

Further reading
Abd al-usayn Zarrnkb (2000). D qarn sukt: sarguz asht-i avdis va awz -i
trkh dar d qarn-i avval-i Islm (Two Centuries of Silence). Tihrn: Sukhan.
OCLC 46632917. ISBN 964-5983-33-6.
Aryanpur, Manoochehr. A History of Persian Literature. Tehran: Kayhan Press, 1973
Chopra, R.M., "Eminent Poetesses of Persian", Iran Society, Kolkata, 2010.
Chopra, R.M., "The Rise Growth And Decline of Indo-Persian Literature", 2012,
published by Iran Culture House, New Delhi and Iran Society, Kolkata. Revised edition
published in 2013.
Zellem, Edward. "Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs". Charleston:
CreateSpace, 2012.
Clawson, Patrick. Eternal Iran. Macmillan, 2005. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6.
Browne, E.G.. Literary History of Persia 1998. ISBN 0-7007-0406-X.
Browne, Edward G.. Islamic Medicine. 2002. ISBN 81-87570-19-9
Rypka, Jan. History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company, 1968.
OCLC 460598. ISBN 90-277-0143-1.
Schimmel, Annemarie (1992). A Two-colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry.
University of North Carolina Press, USA. ISBN 1469616378.
Tikku, G.L. Persian Poetry in Kashmir. 1971. ISBN 0-520-09312-7
Walker, Benjamin. Persian Pageant: A Cultural History of Iran. Calcutta: Arya Press,
Zellem, Edward. "Afghan Proverbs Illustrated". Charleston: CreateSpace, 2012.
Chopra, R.M., "Great Poets of Classical Persian", 2014, Sparrow Publication, Kolkata,
ISBN 978-81-89140-99-1.

External links
Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopdia Britannica article about Persian

National Committee for the Expansion of the Persian Language and Literature (
The Packard Humanities Institute: Persian Literature in Translation
Persian literature at Encyclopdia Britannica



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