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The countrymen of Hafiz regarded him with mixed feelings. At the time of his death there were many who considered his works sinful and impious. They remonstrated against his being buried in consecrated ground; but his followers maintained that IIafiz never acted contrary to the leading tenets of the Koran, and that his life deserved every honor that could be bestowed on the life of a saint. “ His opponents went even so far as to arrest the procession of his funeral. The dispute became hot, and blows were imminent, when it was agreed that a line of his own should settle the dispute. If it were to be in favor of religion his friends were to proceed with the bier; if the verse were calculated to promote immorality, the corpse was to be removed to such quarters as are intended to receive the remains of the infidels. The odes were produced before a person whose eyes were bound, and seven pages were counted back, when the inspired finger pointed to the following couplet:
Qadam daregh madár az janaza e Hafiz,
Agarchi gharq i gunah asi mirawad rah' bihisht. Or, in other words,
Grudge not your steps to IIafiz’ funeral train ;
Though sunk in sin, his way to bliss is plain. A shout arose; the admirers of the poet took up the bier, and those who had doubted joined them in carrying it for interment. To this day honor is done to the sacred spot, and to the memory of the great bard, by strewing flowers and pouring out libations of the choicest wines on his grave.”
During the last four hundred years no names have appeared in Persia worthy to rank with those of Ferdusi, Sadi, and IIafiz. Persian literature became almost extinct in the sixteenth century, and has had little opportunity for revival, owing to the oppression and social disorganization under which the country has labored.
Something should be said of the forms of poetic composition without beginning the divine query addressed to myriads of assembled souls, * Art thou of God?' with the tumultuous reply, We are.' They are a sect fully Fmployed, but sitting in retirement; their feet are of earth, but their breath is a flume; ... like stone, they are silent, yet repeat God's praises. At early dawn their tears flow so copiously as to wash from their eyes the black powder of sleep. So enraptured are they with the beauty of Him who decorated the human form, that with the beauty of the form itself they have no concern."
among the Persians. These are (1) the “Rubai:” this consists of four hemistichs or two stanzas, and bears some resemblance to the epigram of the ancients; it is in great favor among Persian poets. (2) The “Ghazal:” this corresponds to the ode of the Greeks and Romans. The most common subject of which it treats is love; other subjects are also dwelt upon, such as the delights of the season of spring, the beauties of the flowers of the garden, and the tuneful notes of the nightingales warbling among the rose-bushes; the praise of wine and hilarity, with an occasional pithy allusion to the brevity of human life. The first conplet is called the “Matla,” or “the place of rising," (of a heavenly body,) and the rule is that both hemistichs of this couplet should have the same meter and rhyme; the remaining couplets must have the same meter, and the second hemistichs of each (but not necessarily the first) must rhyme with the “ Matla.” The concluding couplet is called the “ Makta," or “the place of cutting short.” In the “ Makta“ the poet manages to introduce his own name, or rather his nom de plume. As a general rule, the Ghazal must consist of at least five сотрlets, and not more than fifteen. (3) The “Kasida,” which resembles the idyllium of the Greeks; its subjects are generally praise of great personages, living or deceased; satire, elegy, and sometimes burlesques, also moral and religious reflections. When the subject is panegyric, in the concluding couplet the poet finishes with a benediction or prayer for the health and prosperity of the person addressed, such as, “ May thy life, health, and prosperity endure as long as the sun and moon revolve!” (4) The “ Kita ;” this resembles the “Kasida.” (5) The “ Masnavi,” a kind of epic poem, generally on amorous subjects or on the pleasures of the spring. The verses are not confined by any rule, as in the Ghazal; the poet alone determines the length
of the poem.
Regarding the merits of Persian poetry, critics differ widely. Sir William Jones, the distinguished Oriental scholar, was profuse in praise. A century ago he wrote: “It has been my endeavor for several years to inculcate this truth, that if the principal writings of the Asiatics which are reposited in our public libraries were printed, with the usual advantages of notes and illustrations, and if the languages of the Eastern nations were studied in our great seminaries of learning, where every
other branch of useful knowledge is taught to perfection, a new and ample field would be opened for speculation; we should have a more extensive insight into the history of the human mind; we should be furnished with a new set of images and similitudes, and a number of excellent compositions would be brought to light which future scholars might explain and future poets might imitate.”
We doubt if such sentiments are entertained by any eminent critic of to-day. Most would rather indorse the assertion of a recent writer in the “Calcutta Review," that “good poetry among the Persians might almost be designated as accidental.” The cloudless sky of Persia and the serenity of its summer nights make it natural for its poets to indulge in frequent allusions to the beauty of the heavenly bodies; the profusion of flowers and the richness of their perfume impart a grace to some of the rural images which, it is urged, we can hardly appreciate. But, making due allowance for all this, we venture the opinion that the world would have lost but little had all Persian literature been destroyed centuries ago.
As compared with the poetry of Europe, Persian poetry cannot but be assigned a lower place. The following words of a recent writer are to the point: “A poem was not regarded by the Persians as something one and organic, to be molded and developed in accordance with some preconceived idea. Certain things, for example, roses, nightingales, wine, and women with black moles on their cheeks, are considered poetical in so special a sense that a man who rings the changes on these writes poetry of necessity. Strong in this conviction, the Persian poets sing out all that is in them, careful only for the construction of the verse and a due garniture of the recognized poetic imagery. The poet only hits upon excellence, as it were, by an accident. It is but a passing flash which illuminates the darkness."
Persian poets as a rule are very egotistical. At the conclusion of one of his finest odes Hafiz thus speaks of himself:
What can the minstrel sing at the banquet of a prince
If he singeth not the verses of Hafiz ? The childish habit of incorporating their names in their 7erses, which the Persian poets adopted, evidences both
weakness and vanity, and calls forth our severest disapproval. Imagine the Poet Laureate closing a poem in some such fashion as this:
Rather think of death than life, O my Alfred Tennyson;
Passing by the charge of puerility, which may be fairly urged against these gifted but dreamy poets, we.pause to speak briefly of the indecency which marks their writings. They often indulge their humor in what was coarse and immodest. Sadi not only wrote a volume called “The Book of Impurities," which he said was designed to give a relish to his other works, but allowed violations of decency to disfigure the “ Gulistán" and the “ Bostán." In our mission schools we find it desirable to use these Persian classics, but are obliged to obtain expurgated editions, and these are published only at our mission presses. Native readers and publishers are alike blind to their blemishes. Comment here is needless.
The “Musnavi,” so highly praised by Jones, “is a medley of pathos and sublimity, the purest ethics mingled with the grossest obscenity, utter doggerel interspersed with passages of the finest poetry.” This criticism is applicable indeed to all Per
This sad failure to attain the high level of purity of thought and grandeur of aim is not to be wondered at. The teachings of the Koran and the Mohammedan theory of the unseen world make any other result impossible. We would emphasize the words of a writer already quoted :
“ It is absolutely impossible to conceive of English literature if purged from the admixture of Christian thought; of a Shakspeare, for example, without one thought of IIim who, eightcen hundred years ago, was nailed for our advantage to the bitter cross;' or a Milton with no other conception of the celestial beatitudes than those compatible with black-eyed damsels and flowing cups of wine. The East and the West have reflected in their literature the image of the rock whence they were hewn, and, in so far as Christ was a greater power and more complete a being than the Prophet, in so far at least the poetry of the West must be superior to that of the East. If to this we add the absence of freedom and national life which mark
the annals of the East, and the debasing tendencies of a social system which degrades woman into a soulless toy for tyrant's lust,' we shall have said enough to account for the unspiritual and passionless character of Persian poetry.” *
We have reserved for the close our mention of Sadi, who is considered the greatest of Persian poets after Ferdusi. Ile was born in Shiraz in 1194. He early embraced a religious life, and is said to have performed fifteen pilgrimages on foot to Mecca. He further proved himself a good Mohammedan by bearing arms against the Crusaders of Europe. He was taken captive and was employed in digging trenches before Tripoli, where he was recognized and ransomed for ten dinárs by rich merchant of Aleppo.
His benefactor afterward gave him his daughter in marriage with a dowry of a hundred dinars; but she proved a termagant, and one day tauntingly asked him whether he was not the fellow her father had released from slavery for ten dinárs. “Yes,” replied Sadi, “but only to enslave me to you for a hundred.”
The principal works of Sadi are the “Gulistán,” the “Bostán,” and a collection of odes and sonnets arranged in a “ Diwin.”
The “Gulistán," (Rose Garden,) which is his most celebrated work, is a collection of moral and political precepts, philosophical sentences, moral maxims, epigrams, and bonmots, in verse of various measure, each being generally introduced by a short anecdote or fable in prose. The work is divided into eight chapters, as follows: On the Morals of Kings; on the Morals of Darweshes ; on the Excellency of Contentment; on the Advantages of Taciturnity; on Love and Youth; on Imbecility and Old Age ; on the Effects of Education ; Rules for Conduct in Life. Of this very popular book it is no exaggeration to say that in India alone hundreds of thousands of copies are published every year. In vernacular schools as well as among the literati it is considered a vade mecum.
We subjoin a few translations (mostly in prose and, therefore, truer to the original) from this Rose Garden :
I. THE FLAG AND THE CUR IN.
* RD. Osborn.