Persian literature

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Literature types

The Persian Arts

Persian literature (in Persian: ادبیات پارسی‎) spans two and a half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its sources often come from far-flung regions beyond the borders of present-day Iran, as the Persian language flourished and survives across wide swaths of Central Asia. For instance, Rumi, one of Persia's (and Islam's) best-loved poets, wrote in Persian but lived in Konya, now in Turkey and then the capital of the Seljuks. The Ghaznavids conquered large territories in Central and South Asia, and adopted Persian as their court language. There is thus Persian literature from areas that are now part of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia. Not all this literature is written in Persian, as some consider works written by ethnic Persians in other languages, such as Greek and Arabic, to be included.

Surviving works in Persian languages (such as Old Persian or Middle Persian) date back as far as 650 BCE, the date of the earliest surviving Achaemenid inscriptions. The bulk of the surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of Iran circa 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power (750 CE), the Persians became the scribes and bureaucrats of the Islamic empire and increasingly, also its writers and poets. Persians wrote both in Arabic and Persian; Persian predominated in later literary circles. Persian poets such as Sa'di, Hafiz, Omar Khayyam and Rumi are well known in the world and have influenced the literature of many countries.

Classical Persian literature

Kelileh va Demneh Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, from Herat, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the Lion astray.
Kelileh va Demneh Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, from Herat, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the Lion astray.

Pre-Islamic Iranian literature

  • See also: Pahlavi literature

Very few literary works have remained from ancient Persia. Most of these consist of the royal inscriptions of Achaemenid kings, particularly Darius I (522-486 BC) and his son Xerxes. Zoroastrian writings were mainly destroyed in the Islamic conquest of Iran. 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 devoting to literary criticism has survived from Pre-Islamic Persia. However, there are some essyas in Pahlavi such as Ayin-e name nebeshtan and Bab-e edteda’I-ye Kalile va Demne which have been considered as literary criticism. (Zarrinkoub, 1959) Some researchers have quoted the Sho’ubiyye as asserting the pre-Islamic Persians had books on eloquence, such as Karvand. No trace remains of such books. There are some indications that some among Persian elite were familiar with Greek rhetoric and literary criticism.(Zarrinkoub, 1947)

Persian literature of the medieval and pre-modern periods

While initially overshadowed by Arabic during the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphates, modern Persian soon became a literary language again of the Central 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 Persia.

In particular, says Ferdowsi himself in his Shahnama:

بسی رنج بردم در این سال سی
عجم زنده کردم بدین پارسی

"For thirty years I endured much pain and strife,
with Persian I gave the Ajam verve and life".


Nizami Mausoleum in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Nizami Mausoleum in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

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 known to be versified.

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

"Khorasani style", as most of its followers were associated with Greater Khorasan, is characterized with 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 peoples over the ages. Ferdowsi set a model to be followed by a host of other poets later on.

The thirteenth 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 "the Eraqi style", 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 Asad Gorgani, and Yusof o Zoleikha by Am'aq exemplify. Poets such as Sana'i and Attar (who ostensibly have inspired Rumi), Khaqani Shirvani, Anvari, and Nezami, were highly respected ghazal writers. But the elite of this school are none other than Rumi, Sadi, and Hafez.

Regarding the tradition of Persian love poetry during the Safavid era, Persian historian Ehsan Yarshater notes that "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 body-guards. 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."

In the didactic genre one can mention Sanai's Hadiqatul Haqiqah as well as Nezami's Makhzan-ul-Asrār. 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. And some tend to group Naser Khosrow's works in this style as well, however the true gem of this genre is Sadi's Bustan, a heavyweight of Persian literature.

After the fifteenth 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.


The most significant essay of this era are Nizami Arudhi Samarqandi's "Chahār Maqāleh" 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 Qabusnama (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 does thus 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 al-Mulk Juvayni's famous Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini (which spans the Mongolid and Ilkhanid era events of Iran). Attar's Tadkhirat al-Awliya, ("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

The oldest surviving work of Persian literary criticism after the Islamic conquest of Persia is Muqaddame-ye Shahname-ye Abu Mansuri, which was written in the Samanid period. 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 critically.


Dehkhoda names 200 Persian lexicographical works in his monumental Dehkhoda Dictionary, the earliest being from the late Sassanid era, namely Farhang-i Avim (فرهنگ اویم) and Farhang-i Menakhtay (فرهنگ مناختای). The most widely used Persian lexicons in the Middle Ages were those of Abu Hafs Soghdi (فرهنگ ابو حفص سغدی) and Asadi Tusi (فرهنگ لغت فرس) which was written in 1092. Also highly regarded in the Persian literature lexical corpus are the works of Mohammad Moin.

In 1645, Ravius and Lugduni completed a Persian-Latin dictionary. This was followed by J. Richardson's 2 volume Oxford edition (1777) and Gladwin-Malda's (1770) Persian-English Dictionaries, Scharif and S. Peters' Persian-Russian Dictionary (1869), and a host of 30 other Persian lexicographical translations up until the 1950s. Currently English-Persian dictionaries of Manouchehr Aryanpour and Soleiman Haim are widely used in Iran.

Persian phrases

* Thousands of friends are far too few, an enemy is too much. *
Hezaaraan dust kam and, Iek doshman ziaad ast.
* The wise enemy is better than the ignorant friend. *
Doshman daanaa behtar az dust e naadaan ast.
* The wise enemy rises you, the ignorant friend falls you. *
Doshman e daanaaa bolandat mikonad. Bar zaminat mizanad naadaan e dust.

The influence of Persian literature on world literature

Sufi literature

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 (Molana) in particular is renowned both as a poet and 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'ādat and Asrar al-Tawhid.

Areas once under Ghaznavid or Mughal rule

Afghanistan and Central Asia

Afghanistan and the Transoxiana have the claim of being the birthplace of Modern Persian. Most of the great patrons of Persian literature such as Sultan Sanjar and the courts of the Samanids and Ghaznavids were situated in this region, as were the geniuses such as Rudaki, Unsuri, and Ferdowsi who composed them. As such, this rich literary heritage continues to survive well into the present in countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

India, Pakistan, and Kashmir

With the emergence of the Ghaznavids and their successors such as the Ghurids, Timurids and Mughal Empire, Persian culture and its literature gradually diffused into the vast Indian subcontinent. Persian was the language of the nobility, literary circles, and the royal Mughal courts for hundreds of years. (In modern times, Persian has been generally supplanted by Urdu, a heavily Persian-influenced dialect of Hindustani.)

Under the Moghul Empire of India during the sixteenth century, the official language of India became Persian. Only in 1832 did the British army force the Indian subcontinent 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 (اداه الفضلا), Ibrahim Ghavamuddin Farughi's Farhang-i Ibrahimi (فرهنگ ابراهیمی), and particularly Muhammad Padshah's Farhang-i Anandraj (فرهنگ آناندراج). Famous South Asian poets and scholars such as Amir Khosrow Dehlavi and Muhammad Iqbal of Lahore found many admirers in Iran itself.

Western literature

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

German literature

  • In 1819, Goethe published his West-östlicher Divan, a collection of lyric poems inspired by a German translation of Hafiz (1326-1390).
  • The German essayist and philosopher Nietzsche was the author of the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885), referring to the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster(circa 1700 BCE).

English literature

  • A selection from Firdausi's Shahnameh (935-1020) 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 (1048-1123), 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.

The Persian poet and mystic Rumi (1207-1273) (known as Molana in Iran) 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, Nezami 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.

Contemporary Persian Literature

Some leading figures of Iranian literary intellectuals: (L to R) Morteza Keyvan, Ahmad Shamlou, Nima Yooshij, Siavash Kasraie, and Hushang Ebtehaj.
Some leading figures of Iranian literary intellectuals: (L to R) Morteza Keyvan, Ahmad Shamlou, Nima Yooshij, Siavash Kasraie, and Hushang Ebtehaj.

Literature of the late 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.


In 19th century, Persian literature experienced a dramatic change and entered a new era. The beginning of this change is exemplified in an incident in the mid-nineteenth century at the court of Nasereddin Shah, where the reform-minded prime minister, Amir Kabir, chastises the poet Habibollah Qa'ani for "lying" in a panegyric qasida in honour of the prime minister. Amir Kabir, of course, saw poetry in general and the type of poetry that had developed during the Qajar period as detrimental to "progress" and "modernization" in the Iranian society, which was in dire need of change. Such extraliterary concerns were expressed increasingly by others, such as Fath-'Ali Akhundzadeh, Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, and Mirza Malkom Khan, who also addressed a need for a change in Persian poetry in literary terms as well, always, however, linking it to social concerns.

One cannot understand the new Persian literary movement without undestanding the intellectual movements among Iranian philosophical circles along with social ones. Given the social and political climate of Persia (Iran) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which led to the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911, the idea of the necessity of a change in Persian poetry in a way that would reflect the realities of a country in transition was gradually becoming widespread and propagated by such notable literary figures as Ali Akbar Dehkhoda and Abolqasem Aref, who challenged the traditional system of Persian poetry in terms of introducing new content as well as experimentation with rhetorical, lexicosemantic, and structural aspects of poetry. While Dehkhoda, for instance, uses a lesser-known traditional form, the mosammat, to elegize the execution of a revolutionary journalist, 'Aref employs 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 argument in the development of modern Persian literature (and, of course, other aspects of the Iranian society as a whole) has centered around the question of modernization and Westernization and whether or not, in practice, these terms are, in fact, synonymous as used to describe the evolution of Iranian society, and in this case, Persian literature in the course of the past one or two centuries. It can be argued that almost all advocates of modernism in Persian literature, from Akhundzadeh, Kermani, and Malkom Khan to Dehkhoda, Aref, Bahar, and Rafat, among others, to varying degrees, were inspired by developments and changes that had occurred in Western, particularly European, literatures. Still, such inspirations would not mean blindly copying Western models, but in practice, adaptation of aspects of Western literature which were then altered and tailored to fit the needs of the Iranian culture.

For Sadeq Hedayat, who was arguably the most modern of all modern writers, modernity was not just a question of scientific rationality or a pure imitation of European values. An outstanding feature of Hedayat’s modernism is his secular criticism in regard to the Iranian society. Hedayat thus established a critical approach that was almost unique in the period between the two World Wars in Iran. His modern search for truth avoided any romantic glorification of ideology and a more realistic view of the underdeveloped and underprivileged members of the Iranian society. Much of this was carried out by Hedayat in a universal style and tone. This perhaps is the main reason why Hedayat can be considered as a universal writer and not simply as an Iranian writer. His work belongs to what Goethe described as Weltliteratur in the last decade of his life as a reaction to Romantic literary criticism’s breaking through the traditional limits of European literature by re-evaluating the literatures of the Middle Ages and of the Orient. For Goethe world literature was not a hierarchically structured thesaurus, but as an element contemporaneous to him. In a letter to Adolph Friedrich Carl Streckfuss on January 27 1827 he compares his situation to that of a sorcerer’s apprentice with the world literature streaming towards him as if to engulf him. Goethe echoes Herder in stressing that literature is the common property of mankind, and that it emerges in all places and at all times. “National literature does not mean much at present, affirms Goethe in his conversation with Eckermann on 31 January 1827, it is time for an era of world literature, and everybody must endeavour to accelerate this epoch”. Erich Auerbach has the same idea in mind when he writes: World literature refers not simply to what is common and human as such, but rather to this as the mutual fertilisation of the manifold. It presupposes the felix culpa of mankind’s division into host of cultures. Edward Said also reminds us of the relevance of views put forward by Goethe and Auerbach: “The main requirement for the kind of philological understanding Auerbach and his predecessors were talking about and tried to practise, notes Said, was one that sympathetically and subjectively entered into the life of a written text as seen from the perspective of its time and its author. Rather than alienation and hostility to another time and a different culture, philology as applied to Weltliteratur involved a profound humanistic spirit deployed with generosity and, if I may use the word, hospitality. Thus the interpreter's mind actively makes a place in it for a foreign "other". And this creative making of a place for works that are otherwise alien and distant is the most important facet of the interpreter's mission.”

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

Persian literature in Afghanistan has also experienced a dramatic change during last few decades. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Afghanistan was confronted with economic and social change which also 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 Saraj’ul Akhbar. Saraj was not the first such publication in the country, but in the field of journalism and literature it instigated a new period of change and modernisation. Saraj not only played an important role in journalism; it also gave new impulses to literature as a whole and opened the way for poetry and lyrics to search for new avenues of expression so that personal thoughts took on a more social colour. In the year 1309 (1930 AD), 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 their own regular magazines dedicated to culture and persian literature. But both, especially the Kabul publication, had little success in becoming a venue 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 prominent classical poets in Afghanistan at the time were Ghary Abdullah, Abdul Hagh Beytat and Khalil Ullah Khalili. The first two received the honorary title of Malek ul Shoara (King of Poets), one after the other. Khalili, the third and youngest, felt himself drawn toward the Khorasan style of poetry instead of the usual Hendi style. He was also interested in modern poetry, and wrote on the side a few poems in a more modern style with new aspects of thought and meaning. In 1318, after two poems by Nima Youshij with the names "Gharab" and "Ghaghnus" were published, Khalili also wrote a piece of poetry 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. But the traditionalists in Kabul refused to publish the piece in their magazine because it was not written in the old traditional rhyme, and they criticised Khalili for modernising his style of writing poems. Still, very gradually and despite all the efforts of traditionalists new styles did find their way into literature and literary circles. The first book of new poems was published in the year 1336 (1957), and in the year 1341 (1962), a collection of modern Persian poetry was published in Kabul. The first group who wrote poems in the new style consisted of Mahmud Farani, Baregh Shafi’i, Solyman Layegh, Sohail, Ayeneh and a few others. Later, others such as Vasef Bakhtari, Asadullah Habib and Latif Nazemi joined the group. Each had his own share in modernizing Persian poetry in Afghanistan. Other notable figures are Ustad Behtab, 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 modern Afghan prose and poetry, especially in the second half of the twentieth century, must also be taken into consideration. Prominent Afghan writers like Asef Soltanzadeh, Reza Ebrahimi, Ameneh Mohammadi, and Abbas Jafari grew up in Iran and were under influence of Iranian writers and teachers. Although Afghan authors have not proven themselves in the international arena like Iranian writers have, due to their talent, Persian literature in Afghanistan has a promising future.

The new poetry in Tajikistan is mostly concerned with the way of life of people and is revolutionary. From the 50's until the advent of new poetry in France, Asia and Latin America, the impact on the modernization drive was strong. In 60's Iranian modern poetry and that of Mohammad Iqbal Lahouri made very good impression in Tajik poetry and this period is probably the most rich, prolific and active period for development of themes and forms in Persian poetry in Tajikistan. Some Tajik poets were mere imitators and one smells the traits and scent of foreign poets in their works. Only two or three poets were able to digest the foreign poetry and compose new poetry. In Tajikistan, the format and pictorial image of short stories and novels were taken from Russian and European literature. Some of Tajikistan's prominent names in Persian literature are Golrokhsar Safi Eva, Mo'men Ghena'at, Farzaneh Khojandi and Layeq Shir-Ali.


Well-known novelists include:

  • Simin Daneshvar
  • Bozorg Alavi
  • Ebrahim Golestan


  • Iraj Mirza
  • Ebrahim Nabavi
  • Kioumars Saberi Foumani
  • Hadi Khorsandi
  • Obeid Zakani
  • Dehkhoda
  • Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi
  • Omran Salehi

Literary criticism

Shahrokh Meskoob, Prominent literary critic and Shahnameh expert
Shahrokh Meskoob, Prominent literary critic and Shahnameh expert

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:

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

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

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 reputation not only among intellectuals but also in academia. Beside his significant contrubution to the maturity of Persian language and literature, Zarrinkoob boosted comparative literature and Persian literary criticism. Zarrinkoub's Serr e Ney is a critical and comparative analysis of Rumi's Masnavi. In turn, Shahrokh Meskoob worked on Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh on the basis of 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 in the practice of Persian literary historiography and the emergence and development of Persian literature as a distinct institution in the early part of the twentieth 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.

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

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 year 2000.

Persian short stories

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.

The formative period

The formative period was ushered in by Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh's collection Yak-i Bud Yak-i Nabud(1921; tr. H. Moayyad and P. Sprachman as Once Upon a Time, New York, 1985), and gained momentum with the early short stories of Sadeq Hedayat (1903-51). Jamalzadeh (1895-1997) is usually considered as the first writer of modem short stories in Persian. His stories focus on plot and action rather than on mood or character development, and in that respect are reminiscent of the works of Guy de Maupassam and O. Henry. In contrast, Sadeq Hedayat, the writer who introduced modernism to Persian literature, brought about a fundamental change in Persian fiction. In addition to his longer stories, Bgf-e kur (his masterpiece; see above ii.) and Haji Aqa (1945), he wrote collections of short stories including Seh Ghatra Khun (Three Drops of Blood, 1932; tr. into French by G. Lazard as Trois gouuttes de sang, Paris 1996) and Zenda be Gur (Buried Alive, 1930). His stories were written in a simple and lucid language, but he employed a variety of approaches, from realism and naturalism to surrealistic fantasy, breaking new ground and introducing a whole range of literary models and presenting new possibilities for the further development of the genre. He experimented with disrupted chronology"and non-linear or circular plots, applying these techniques to both his realistic and surrealist writings. Unlike Hedayat, who focused on the psychological complexity and latent vulnerabilities of the individual, Bozorg Alavi depicts ideologically motivated personages defying oppression and social injustice. Such characters, seldom portrayed before in Persian fiction, are Alavi's main contribution to the thematic range of the modem Persian short story. This commitment to social issues is emulated by Fereydun Tonokaboni (b. 1937), Mahmud Dawlatabadi (b. 1940), Samad Behrangi (q.v.; 1939-68), and other writers of the left in the next generation.

Sadeq Chubak was one of the first authors to break the taboo. Following the example of William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, and Ernest Hemingway, his blunt approach appears in the early short story collections Khayma Shab-bazi (The Puppet Show, 1945) and Antar-i ke Luti-ash Morda Bud (1949; tr. P. Avery as "The Baboon Whose Buffoon was Dead," New World Writing 11, 1957, pp. 14-24), Later stories like Zir-e Cheragh-e Ghermez, Pirahan-e Zereski, and Chera Darya Tufani Shoda Bud describe the naked bestiality and moral degradation of the personages with no trace of squeamishness. His short stories mirror rotting society, populated by the crashed and the defeated. Chubak picks marginal characters--vagrants, pigeon-racers, corpse-washers, prostitutes, and opium addicts-who rarely appear in the fiction of his predecessors, and whom he portrays with vividness and force. His readers come face to face with grim realities and incidents which they have often witnessed for themselves in everyday life but shunned out of their mind through complacency.

A distinctive trait of post-war Persian fiction, in all the three stages of development, is the attention devoted to narrative styles and techniques, In matters of style two main trends prevail: Some authors, like Chubak and Al-e Ahmad, follow colloquial speech patterns; others, such as Ebrahim Golestan (b. 1922) and Mohammad Etemadzadeh "Behazin" (b, 1915), have adopted a more literary and lyrical tone. Although the work of all four writers stretch into later periods, some brief remarks about their differing techniques, which delineated future paths, need mentioning at the outset. Golestan experimented with different narrative styles, and it was only in two late collections of stories, Juy o Divar o Teshna (The Stream and the Wall and the Parched, 1967) and Madd o Meh (The Tide and the Mist, 1969) that he managed to find a style and voice of his own. His poetic language draws inspiration both from syntactical forms of classical Persian prose, and the experiments of modernist writers, most notably Gertrude Stein. The influence of modernism is evident also in the structure of Golestan's short stories, where the traditional linear plot-line is abandoned in favour of disrupted chronology and free association of ideas. Contrary to most other modern Persian authors, Golestan pays little heed to the state of the poor and the dispossessed. Instead, his short stories are devoted to the world of Persian intellectuals, their concerns, anxieties and private obsessions. His short stories resemble well-made decorative objets d'art, pleasing perhaps to the cognoscenti but leaving the majority of readers unmoved. Golestan's brand of modernism has influenced the later gcneration of writers like Bahman Forsi (b. 1933) and Hooshang Golshiri (b. 1937). Although the stories of Behazin show similar indebtedness to classical Persian models, he does not follow Golestan's modernist experiments with syntax. Behazin is an author whose stories, delivered in a lucid literary style, express his leftist social beliefs. In some of his later works like the short story collection Mohra-ye Mar (The Snake Charm. 1955), he turns to literary allegory, imbuing ancient tales with a new message, a technique which allows him to express his critical views obliquely. Behazin's predecessors in the sub-genre of the allegorical tale were Hedayat (in Ab-e Zendegi, 1931) and Chubak ("Esa'a-ye Adab" in the collection Khayma-Shab-Bazi).

Period of Growth and Development

This second period in the development of the modern Persian short story began with the coup of 19 August 1953, and ended with the revolution of 1979.

Mehdi Akhavan Sales and Fereydoon Moshiri, modern Persian poets
Mehdi Akhavan Sales and Fereydoon Moshiri, modern Persian poets

Jalal Al-e Ahmad is among the proponents of new political and cultural ideas whose influence and impact straddle both the first and the second periods in the history of modern Persian fiction. His writings show an awareness of the works of Franz Fanon and the new generation of third-world writers concerned with the problems of cultural domination by colonial powers. Al-e Ahmad, Behazin, Tonekaboni, and Behrangi can all be described as engage writers because most of their stories are built around a central ideological tenet or "thesis" and illustrate the authors' political views and leanings.

Another notable author from this period is Simin Daneshvar (b. 1921), the first woman writer of note in contemporary Persian literature. Her reputation rests largely on her popular navel Savusun (1969). Simin Daneshvar's short stories deserve mention because they focus on the plight and social exclusion of women in Persian society and address topical issues from a woman's point of view.

Gholam Hossein Saedi' s (1935-85) short stories, which he called ghessa, often transcend the boundaries of realism and attain a symbolic significance. His allegorical stories, which occasionally resemble folkloric tales and fables, are inhabited by displaced persons, trapped in dead ends (Sepanlu, p. 117). They emphasize the anxieties and the psychological perturbarions of his deeply troubled personages. Sadeghi (1936-84) was yet another author who focused on the anxieties and secret mental agonies of his personages.

Hooshang Golshiri (b. 1937) and Asghar Elahi (b. 1944) both created memorable psychological portraits through interim monologue and stream of consciousness techniques. Golshiri the author of the long story Shazda Ehtejab (Prince Ehtejab, 1968), is particularly noted for his successful experiments with extended interior monologues. A bold, innovative writer eager to explore modern methods and styles, Golshiri uses stream of consciousness narrative to reassess familiar theories and events.

Period of diversity

Post-revolutionary fiction, including the short story, is marked by dynamic experimentation with techniques of narration, choice of plot, imagery, and structure. In line with recent tendencies in most modern literatures, modern Persian fiction expresses doubts, uncertainty. anxiety, tension, paradox, and dilemmas; it tells of beginnings and not of ends. Almost a century old, modern Persian fiction has remained receptive to external influences and follows trends and styles as they appear elsewhere, stream of consciousness techniques and magical realism being cases in point. From a fictionalized remembrance of the nation's idealized past, to a portrayal of imbalances and injustices, and to the depiction of the hardships of war and revolution, Persian fiction has remained a vehicle for change as well as testament to its painful process.


Of the hundreds of contemporary Persian poets (classical and modern) notable figures include : Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, Simin Behbahani, Forough Farrokhzad, Bijan Jalali, Siavash Kasraie, Fereydoon Moshiri, Nader Naderpour, Sohrab Sepehri, Mohammad Reza Shafiei-Kadkani, Ahmad Shamlou, Nima Yushij, Manouchehr Atashi, Houshang Ebtehaj, Mirzadeh Eshghi (classical), Mohammad Taghi Bahar(classical), Aref (classical), Parvin Etesami (classical), and Shahriar (classical) out of hundreds of poets.

Nima Youshij, Founder of Modern Persian Poetry
Nima Youshij, Founder of Modern Persian Poetry

Classical Persian poetry in Modern time

A few notable classical poets arose since 19th century, among which 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 twentieth century. The theme of his poems was social and political situation of Iran.

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

Modern Persian poetry

Nima Yushij is considered, quite rightly, the father of modern Persian poetry, introducing a whole bundle of techniques and forms to differentiate the modern from the old. Nevertheless, the merit of popularizing this new literary from within a country and culture which is solidly based on a thousand years of classical poetry, goes to his few disciples. Ahmad Shamlou stood tall amongst that new generation who adopted Nima's methods and restlessly tried new undiscovered domains of modernism in poetry.

The transformation of Persian poetry brought about by Nima Youshij, untying it feet from the fetters of the prosodic measures, was a turning point in the long tradition of our poetry. It opened a huge vista in 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. Above, and overseeing these changes, and going beyond altering the formation of the old poetry, he was focusing on a broader structure and function based on a more contemporary understanding of human and social existence. His aim in renovating poetry was to commit it to a natural identity and also to achieve a modern discipline in the mind and linguistic performance of the poet.

Nima rightly recognized that the formal and literal technique dominating classical poetry interfered with its vitality, vigor and progress. Although he accepted some of its aesthetic properties and extended them in the new poetry writing, he never ceased for a moment to widen his poetic experience by emphasizing the singular distinction of this art, and in returning a natural order to it. What Nima Youshij founded in contemporary poetry, which confirmed an entire era in the conviction that the traditional order of poetry could be challenged, his creative successor, Ahmad Shamlou, kept in our horizon by imparting a more innovative experience.

The Sepid poem (which translates to white poem), which draws its sources from this great poet, avoided the compulsory rules which had entered the Nimai’ school of poetry and adopted a freer structure. This allowed a more direct relationship linking the poet with his or her emotional roots. In previous poetry, the qualities of the poet’s 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.

Nima’s poetry transgressed these limitations. It relied on the natural function inherent within poetry itself to portray the poet’s 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 underlined 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 Yioushij paid attention to an overall harmonious rhyming and created many experimental examples to achieve this end.

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 arms itself entirely with the natural ability of words and incorporates a prose-like process without losing its poetic distinction. “Sepid poetry” is a development over the Nimai’ poetry - a large branch of that. It is a poetry created upon Nima Youshij innovations. Nima thought that any change in the construction and the tools of a poet’s expression is conditional on his/her knowledge of the world and a revolutionized outlook. “Sepid poetry” could not take root outside this teaching and a sincere application of it.

M.T.Bahar, best classical poet of modern time
M.T.Bahar, best classical poet of modern time

According to Simin Behbahani, Sepid Poetry did not received general acceptance before Bijan Jalali's works. He is considered the founder of Sepid poetry according to Behbahani. Behbahani herself used the "Char Pareh" style of Nima, and subsequently, turn 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 this style of poetry. She has expanded the range of traditional Persian verse forms and produced some of the most significant works of Persian literature in 20th century.

A reluctant follower of Nima Yushij, Mehdi Akhavan Sales published his "Organ" (1951) to support contentions against Nima Yushij's ground-breaking endeavors. But before long he realized that Nima and the modernists emulating him had more to offer than a just a change in rhythm, rhyme, and the general application of the classical Arabic meters. 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 in the Persian poetry.

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.

Fereydoon Moshiri is best known as conciliator of classical Persian poetry at one side with the New Poetry initiated by Nima Yooshij at the other side. 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.

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 Hafez and Mowlavi. He uses simple, lyrical language, and is mostly inspired by 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.

Abdul Halim Shayek, whose pen name is Pendar, was born in Herat, Afghanistan, in 1938 and died in San Jose, California, USA in 2005. His poems are available at

Persian Literature Awards

  • National Ferdowsi Prize
  • Houshang Golshiri Award
  • Sadeq Hedayat Award
  • Bijan Jalali Award
  • Iran's Annual Book Prize
  • Ala Khan Afsahzad Award
  • Mehrgan Adab Prize
  • Parvin Etesami Award
  • Yalda Literary Award
  • Isfahan Literary Award

Authors and Poets

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