Persian New Year
Tiles, Isfahan © Johan Marius Naeroy

As well as being World Poetry Day, the 21st March is the first day of the Persian New Year.

Narguess Farzad, Senior Fellow in Persian at SOAS University of London, describes Norouz and offers a poem from Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, completed in 1010 CE that tells us how Norouz came to be:

Norouz

Norouz, or the Old Persian Navasarda, literally meaning ‘the new day’, is an ancient Iranian festival that celebrates the rejuvenation of nature and marks the spirit of renewal at the precise moment when the earth passes through the vernal or spring equinox.

Norouz is celebrated throughout the Near and Middle East, the Caucasus, in Central Asia, Western China, South Asia and many other regions of the world where Iranian, Kurdish, or Parsi communities live.

The basis of the festival has remained remarkably unchanged for thousands of years, going back to 1200 BCE, and is deeply rooted in the traditions of Zoroastrian belief, in the concept of rebirth and renewal of life, and the triumph of good over evil.

 

چُو خُورشیدِ تابان، میانِ هَوا

نِشَستِه بر او، شاهِ فَرمانرَوا

جهان اَنجُمَن شُد بَرِ تَختِ اوی

از آن بَر شُدِه قُرِۀ بَختِ اوی

به جَمشید بَر گُوهَر اَفشاندَند

مَر آن روز را روزِ نُو خواندِاَند

سَرِ سالِ نُو، هُرمُزِ فَروَدین

بر آسوده از رنج روی تن، دل ز کین

به نوروز تو شاه گیتی فروز

بر آن تخت بنشست فیروز روز

بزرگان بشادی بیاراستند

می و جام و رامشگران خواستند

چنین جشن فرخ از آن روزگار

بما ماند از آن خسروان یادگار

 

For fifty years
His wisdom brought to light the properties
Of things. These works achieved, Jamshíd ambitioned
Rank loftier still, and by his royal Grace
Made him a throne, with what a wealth of gems
Inlaid! which when he willed the dívs took up
And bare from earth to heaven. There the Sháh,
Whose word was law, sat sun-like in mid-air.
The world assembled round his throne in wonder
At his resplendent fortune, while on him
The people scattered jewels, and bestowed
Upon the day the name of New Year’s Day,
The first of Farwardín and of the year,
When limbs repose from labour, hearts from strife.
The noble chieftains held a festival,
Called for the goblet, wine, and minstrelsy,
And ever since that time that glorious day
Remaineth the memorial of that Sháh.

 

Classical Persian Poetry

SOAS University of London offers a module in Classical Persian Poetry on its undergraduate combined degree course BA Persian and…

Narguess talks about the course:

What does the module cover?

The module covers the emergence of Persian poetry in the post-Islamic period, from the 10th to the 14th centuries.  It looks at heroic, romantic and spiritual epics, as well as advice poems such as Bustan of Sa’di of Shirza.  We also look at quatrains and ecstatic romantic ghazals: lyrical odes.

What kind of students will the module appeal to?

We have a whole host of students enrolled on this module: UG students doing BA Persian single subject or the BA Persian combined degree, plus students with enough proficiency in Persian enrolled on other degrees who can do this module as an open option.

What distinguishes classical Persian poetry from other poetic traditions?

There are not many languages whose poetry from the 10th century or earlier periods is totally accessible and comprehensible to modern speakers or learners of Persian.

Classical Persian poetry is also extremely beautiful to hear. It is euphonic and it offers a feast of imaginative reflections on love, honour, nature and the acceptance of mortality.  This poetry is brimful of love, whether for the divine or another mortal being, and it is full of subtleties, magical expressions and fabulous tales that entertain.

Have you a favourite piece of verse?

I have many, many favourite poems; too many to list. But high on the list are the ghazals of Sa’di and Hafiz, as well as the pithy quatrains of Omar Khayyam and the clever mystical twists of Rumi.

Is there a book you would recommend to introduce students to the subject?

Again there are many, but I would recommend Dick Davis’ translation of some beautiful Persian ghazals:

Faces of Love: and the Poets of Shiraz by Hafez, Jahan Malek Khatun and Obayd-e Zakani (Penguin, 2014)

 

Find out more:

 

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