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A Two-Colored Brocade

A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry

Annemarie Schimmel
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 558
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    A Two-Colored Brocade
    Book Description:

    Annemarie Schimmel, one of the world's foremost authorities on Persian literature, provides a comprehensive introduction to the complicated and highly sophisticated system of rhetoric and imagery used by the poets of Iran, Ottoman Turkey, and Muslim India. She shows that these images have been used and refined over the centuries and reflect the changing conditions in the Muslim world.According to Schimmel, Persian poetry does not aim to be spontaneous in spirit or highly personal in form. Instead it is rooted in conventions and rules of prosody, rhymes, and verbal instrumentation. Ideally, every verse should be like a precious stone--perfectly formed and multifaceted--and convey the dynamic relationship between everyday reality and the transcendental.Persian poetry, Schimmel explains, is more similar to medieval European verse than Western poetry as it has been written since the Romantic period. The characteristic verse form is theghazal--a set of rhyming couplets--which serves as a vehicle for shrouding in conventional tropes the poet's real intentions.Because Persian poetry is neither narrative nor dramatic in its overall form, its strength lies in an "architectonic" design; each precisely expressed image is carefully fitted into a pattern of linked figures of speech. Schimmel shows that at its heart Persian poetry transforms the world into a web of symbols embedded in Islamic culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1638-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chronological Survey of Poets Mentioned in This Book (pp. xi-xxii)
  5. A Note on Transliteration (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. Introduction (pp. 1-16)

    In a conversation with a leading Persian scholar I once mentioned my interest in and love for minerals and crystals. That prompted him to remark that he now better understood my interest in Persian poetry. This may sound somewhat absurd—for what could be the common denominator for crystals and Persian poems? Yet it seems to me that this combination is perfectly correct. More than one literary critic has discovered something “gemlike” in the artfully elaborated symbolism, the harmonious choice of images, and the precious character of classical Persian poetry (which also comprises, for our purposes, classical Ottoman and Urdu...

  7. Part 1 Formal Requirements of Persian Poetry
    • 1 Meter and Genres (pp. 19-36)

      Among the formal requirements of Persian poetry¹ the most salient to the reader’s eye and ear are metrical structures. To appreciate and—if one is reading the original verse—to understand a poem it is necessary to determine the meter of each poetical work. Classical Persian uses quantitative meters which were taken over from Arabic, where sixteen different meters were known and used. Some of these are almost never used in Persian, Turkish, or Urdu poetry, and others were changed in various ways to comply with the exigencies of Persian morphology and grammar.

      The metric system is called ʿarūḍ(Persian-Turkish...

    • 2 Rhetorical Rules (pp. 37-52)

      The formal requirements of Persian poetry, besides the metrical rules, are very strict. One could say that a traditional English or German Romantic poem would constitute, in the eyes of a Persian poet, at best the raw material for a true poem in which all the rules of the “interior form” have yet to be applied. Whether we are dealing with a sweet love poem, a powerfulqaṣīda, a mystical prayer poem, or a coarse satire—nothing would work unless the poet knows exactly the appropriate technical requirements, plays on words, and artistic devices. All of these, which were used...

  8. Part 2 Themes from History, Literature, and Legend
    • 3 Koranic Themes (pp. 55-86)

      One can say without exaggeration that the most important source of inspiration for Persian poets was the Koran. Just as in Christian countries in former times allusions to biblical terms or sayings were perfectly natural, so too for the Muslim the word of God, the Koran, has always occupied a central position in life. Père Nwyia has rightly spoken of a “Koranization of the memory” when discussing the early Sufis.¹ But every Muslim, even the least educated one, was acquainted with the words of the profession of faith,lā ilāha illā’ Llāh, “There is no deity save God”—words which...

    • 4 The Pillars of Islam and Related Concepts (pp. 87-98)

      The Five Pillars of Islam–the profession of faith, five daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting in Ramaḍan, and the individual’s pilgrimage to Mecca—could be used in poetical imagery in various ways. In chapter 3 we saw that the profession of faith offered poets many possibilities of contrasting themes and emphasizing the transformation from Id, the negation “there is no deity,” toillā, the positive statement “but God,” a change that is made in Arabic writing by the simple addition of analif(a straight line) to the—so that ɣ becomes ɣ1. But whereas that develops logically from the...

    • 5 Themes from Early Islamic Times (pp. 99-106)

      The Koran has furnished poets with countless images which may be used in literature both sacred and profane, but the person of the Prophet Muḥammad occurs very rarely, if at all, in nonreligious verse. Around him a separate genre of poetry developed instead, as I have shown elsewhere.¹ Some poets in the eastern Islamic world might invent comparisons between an admired patron and the Prophet, especially in cases where the patron was called Muḥammad or bore another of the Prophet’s names, such as Aḥmad or Muṣṭafa, and some daring court poets could see in the “miracles” performed by their patrons...

    • 6 Themes from Pre-Islamic Times (pp. 107-122)

      It would be amazing if Persian poets had not made use of motifs from their own national heritage, all the more so as pre-Islamic history was very much alive at the beginning of Persian literature. Persian themes had been taken over into Arabic at a very early moment of Abbasid history, when the Persian influence on Muslim culture began to increase. Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ is the first major writer to be connected with the inclusion of Iranian themes into Arabic,¹ and from his time, the late eighth century, the “justice of Anushirwan and the noble character of Faridun” served many writers...

    • 7 Themes from Islamic History (pp. 123-128)

      If the poets usually disliked the Greek philosophers, the same seems to be true, at least in certain circles, for Muslim philosophers, among whom Avicenna (Ibn Sina) appears to have been particularly hated. Even in the present century Iqbal has contrasted the bookworm, who spends a miserable life in the pages of Abu ʿAli’s (Avicenna’s) manuscript, with the moth that casts itself in loving ecstasy into the candle’s flame, or the firefly that radiates light without the help of others.¹ It seems typical of Iqbal’s aversion to Greek philosophy, as well as his awareness of Persian literary traditions, that he...

    • 8 Ideal Loving Couples (pp. 129-136)

      Many historical figures have been transformed, in the course of time, into symbols for something completely different from their original significance. This is particularly conspicuous in the case of one of the great Muslim kings, the conqueror of parts of northwestern India, Maḥmud of Ghazna (ruled A.D. 999–1030). From his capital Ghazna in eastern Afghanistan he invaded the Subcontinent no fewer than seventeen times and laid the foundations of Muslim rule in the northern part of what is now Pakistan, with Lahore as the provincial capital. His court was the most brilliant in the eastern Islamic world and boasted...

    • 9 Turk and Hindu (pp. 137-144)

      Over the preceding chapters we have observed that Persian poetry is imbued to a certain extent with images that evoke the external interplay of Beauty and Love, or the tension between legalism and love, between intellect and inspired madness. As with Maḥmud and Ayaz, we may also discern this tendency in another favorite combination that arose in historical and social reality but served mostly as a poetical image whose original context was soon forgotten: the contrast between Turk and Hindu.¹ Turks enjoyed an important role as soldiers in the Abbasid empire beginning in the mid-ninth century, and former military slaves...

    • 10 Poetical Geography (pp. 145-152)

      If historical facts and persons form a closed universe for the Persian poets, the same holds true for the geographical knowledge of writers. Thus the great rivers of the central Islamic world occur frequently, and even poets who never visited Iraq, the country of the Two Rivers, sing of the Tigris and sometimes of the Euphrates when they describe the measureless stream of tears they have shed. They could have easily found much larger rivers in India, but only in rare cases—a few times in the verses of Masʿud ibn Saʿd—does the Ganges feature as a river impressive...

  9. Part 3 The Book of Nature
    • 11 Stones (pp. 155-160)

      Persian poets found “signs in the horizons” and indeed surveyed all of nature, from stones to the ocean, from plants to stars, from the lion to the tiniest insect, for images to use in ever-changing patterns.

      Islamic countries were renowned for the wealth of precious and semi-precious stones which were found there: rubies in Badakhshan, emeralds in Egypt, and carnelian and agate in Yemen, not to mention lapis lazuli in Afghanistan and turquoise (lit. “Turkish stone”) in the Central Asian border areas. Further, medieval Muslim scholars contributed a great deal to the knowledge of gems by translating, and adding valuable...

    • 12 The Garden of Delight (pp. 161-176)

      Even more than the world of precious gems, the vegetable kingdom inspired Persian poets. The relation between flowers and the body or cheek of the beloved could be used in ever-changing variations: the rose is the beloved’s rosy face, the narcissus his (or her) half-intoxicated eye; the cypress offers only a weak reflection of a slender stature. Or comparisons could be inverted: the beloved is a garden of delight with roses (cheeks), jasmine (teeth), and hyacinths (long, dark tresses). Whether the poets were consciously aware of it or not, it was Divine beauty that thus appeared to them in its...

    • 13 The Language of the Birds (pp. 177-190)

      But let us turn back to the dew as the nightingale’s tears, for the relation between rose and nightingale is at the center of Persian lyrics—so much so that they have been called, somewhat condescendingly, “rose-and-nightingale poetry.” Certainly the easy rhymegul–bulbul(in Turkish pronunciation,gül-bülbül) has prompted probably as many Persian and Turkish verses on this theme as German can boast from the rhymeHerz–Schmerz(heart-pain). And a third rhyme,mul,“wine,” may be added for extra flavor. Yet behind this seemingly simple image lies a deep spiritual experience, and Joseph von Hammer (1774–1856), the...

    • 14 Fantastic Beasts and Other Creatures (pp. 191-200)

      In Islamic objects of art one sometimes sees strange animals, composites of different creatures, and in the verse of an early Persian poet one finds a remark that seems to refer to such fantastic beasts. As he states, the Simurgh has

      energy from the falcon, power of flight from the Huma,

      a long neck from the ostrich, a feathery collar from the ringdove,

      and strength from thekarkadann.¹

      This latter creature is the rhinoceros or unicorn, which in early medieval painting and other representations is often seen struggling with the Simurgh, a typically Chinese motif. In Persian literature thekarkadann...

    • 15 The Sky, the Wind, and the Sea (pp. 201-216)

      The entire world offered the poets likenesses, and “in the horizons” (Sura 41:53) they saw sun and moon, stars and clouds, ocean and rain. The morning breeze,ṣabā, becomes a messenger as if it were bringing news from the Queen of Sheba,Sabā, to Solomon: it carries the fragrance of the rose Yusuf to the longing heart, or the “breath of the Merciful” from Yemen to the seeker. But the place it loves best is the lane where the beloved lives.

      Who once came to your lane, just like the breeze,

      will not return from there,

      says Mir Dard.¹ And...

  10. Part 4 Themes from Life and Letters
    • 16 A Two-Colored Brocade (pp. 219-226)

      Like the Koran, history pre-Islamic and Islamic, and the entire book of nature, everyday human activities served Persian poets as sources of inspiration and were woven into the colorful carpet of their verses. Spinning and weaving, calligraphy, medicine, education, and—last but not least—the pastimes of the great belong into this category, for as poetry was largely composed to flatter wealthy patrons the poet had to have a thorough knowledge of the way they dressed and how they spent their time.

      The importance of the imagery of weaving is generally known in the history of religions, and it was...

    • 17 The Art of Calligraphy (pp. 227-244)

      In 1636, in an album in which miniature paintings and calligraphic pages by the great masters of the past had been collected for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the poet Kalim expressed his admiration with the words:

      The loops of the letters are nooses for those who gaze upon the album’s beauty. . . .¹

      Such descriptions of actual manuscripts are rare, but the vast world of calligraphy, the most typical art of the Muslims, inspired innumerable verses that contained both obvious and concealed images taken from the calligrapher’s art.² Thus one is surprised to find the Austrian orientalist Hammer...

    • 18 From the Scholar’s Bookshelf (pp. 245-254)

      As Persian classical poetry is predominantly learned poetry, one finds in it numerous allusions to religious, juridical, or philosophical books which every student in themadrasa,the religious college, had to study and much of which he was expected to learn by rote. To decipher poetry by masters like Khaqani or Jami without a thorough knowledge of the whole corpus of learning available to them is next to impossible.

      It would be nice if poets always gave their sources as clearly as Muṭahhar, a mediocre poet of fourteenth-century Delhi, who tells his readers just which books he has consulted. Some,...

    • 19 Playing with Numbers (pp. 255-262)

      The art of chronograms leads us naturally to number symbolism in general and the playful use of numbers, which is common in Oriental literature.¹

      Following the Pythagoreans, Muslims love odd numbers, and aḥadīthclaims that “God is an odd number (witr) and loves odd numbers.” For this reason certain formulas and acts are repeated three or seven times, for the predilection of the ancient Oriental civilizations for these two sacred numbers was preserved unremittingly through the millenia.

      Two, the number of created beings as contrasted to the Oneness of God, appears not overtly but in rhetorical features, as in...

    • 20 Colorful Things from the World around Us (pp. 263-270)

      The created world is full of colors, contrary to the colorless Light of the One, and it is also filled with countless items, whose use in daily life inspired Persian poets through the centuries. The reader of Persian, Turkish, and Urdu poetry will find that poets often used specific colors to describe gardens and stones, brocades and birds. Yet no comprehensive study of color symbolism has appeared, with the exception of Henry Corbin’s articles and brief remarks.¹ Color symbolism finds its most perfect expression in Niẓami’sHaft Paykar,but it to some extent permeates the poetical texture of most writers,...

    • 21 Entertainment, Music, and Festivities (pp. 271-282)

      Only a rather restricted number of metaphors from the realm of the ordinary medieval home became generally accepted poetical images. Those taken from games and entertainment outshine them by far, for in a society where poetry was largely intended to serve at courtly ceremonies and to celebrate pastimes of the grandees or games of the noblemen, such as hunting, polo, and nightly drinking parties, those activities became an important source of inspiration for the poets. Then, of course, their vocabulary and imagery was transferred to love lyrics as well.

      Music had always been criticized by exoteric theologians, who found it...

    • 22 Courtly Games and Pastimes (pp. 283-290)

      Princes apparently spent a considerable amount of time atbazm u razm,banqueting and fighting—that, at least, is the impression one gets when reading classical Persian poetry. The most prominent of the games they practiced was polo, which had come from Central Asia and which has remained very popular in the mountains of the Hindu Kush range to this day. It offered the poets fine material for their images—so much so that even in the few fragments of Persian poetry which Goethe could read in translation at the beginning of the nineteenth century the theme “polo” was so...

    • 23 Dreams, Reality, and Bells (pp. 291-302)

      After spending one’s day hunting and playing games or, in the scholar’s case, reading and writing, the time for sleep came. The wayward wanderer who found some rest in a thatched hut by the roadside, the prince who had enjoyed his successful hunting party, the calligrapher who had spent his day in copying love poems, the craftsman who had fashioned a water jar or a bronze vessel—they all longed for rest. But before they fell asleep they might like to listen to a story or two, stories of past glory, stories of love and longing, or of the heroes...

  11. Appendix (pp. 303-324)
  12. Notes (pp. 325-448)
  13. Bibliography (pp. 449-490)
  14. Index of Koranic Quotations (pp. 491-492)
  15. Index of Authors and Works (pp. 493-506)
  16. Index of Technical Terms and Concepts (pp. 507-522)
  17. General Index (pp. 523-532)