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Ahmad Kasravî and the Controversy over Persian Poetry 1. Kasravî’s Analysis of Persian Poetry

  • Mohammad Ali Jazayery (a1)

The period between the early 1930s and 1946 witnessed in Iran an intellectual phenomenon unique in the recent, history of that country. This phenomenon was embodied in the person of Ahmad Kasravî (1890–1946), one of the illustrious figures of Iran in the realms of scholarship and social reforms. Kasravî was a man of considerable and varied intellectual talents and great courage. His activities were spread over a very wide range.He became the center of many controversies, not the least important and widespread of which was that concerning classical Persian poetry. It is with this aspect of his work that the present series of papers is concerned.

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page 190 note 1 This is a revised and expanded version of a paper entitled ‘Ahmad Kasravî's Views on Persian Literature’, read on 14 April 1965, before the Islamic Section of the American Oriental Society, at the Society's 175th annual meeting, held in Chicago, Illinois. I use the IJMES' transliteration symbols, except that I use ow and ey rather than aw and ay.

page 191 note 1 This sketch of Kasravî's life is based on his autobiographical works: Zindigânî-yi Man [My Life], and Dah Sâl dar 'Adliyyih [Ten Years in the Justice Department], and a brief lecture 'Chirâ az ‘Adliyyih Bîrûn Âmadam?’ [Why Did I Leave the Justice Department?]. These works, all originally published in 1323 (1944–5), were later published under one cover, in Tehran, 1339 (1950), which is the edition used here. Staley, William C. Jr. covers Kasravî's first thirty years in his ‘The Intellectual Development of Ahmad Kasravî’ (Princeton University dissertation, 1966).

page 191 note 2 Expanded from a series of his articles in Arabic, published in Syria, the first book version was called Târîkh-i Hîjdah-Sâle-yi Âzarbâyjân [Eighteen-Year History of Azerbaijan] (6 vols., Tehran, 1312–21/1933–42), and was primarily devoted, especially in the earlier volumes, to the developments in that province. The first two volumes were later revised and greatly expanded in three volumes, retitled Târîkh-i Mashrûti-yi Îrân [The History of the Iranian (Revolution for) Constitution(al) Government] (3 vols., Tehran, 1319–22/1940–3). The result is a seven-volume history of the Revolution, for volume 3 of the new (and retitled) edition leaves off where volume 3 of the old edition begins. The complete work is now available in two large volumes, which have gone through several editions. One contains the three revised volumes, and the other one contains volumes 3–6 of the older edition (under the older title).

page 192 note 1 Another of his major contributions to history was a small monograph in which he reported his discovery that, contrary to accepted opinion, the Safavid dynasty was not descended from the prophet Muhammad:Sheykh Safî va Tabârash [Sheykh Safî and His Ancestry] (Tehran, 1321/1942). A third was the series Shahriyârân-i Gumnâm [with the English title Forgotten Rulers] (3 vols., Tehran, 1307–8/1928–9), now available in a single volume. In this series (which was originally planned to run to seven or eight volumes) the author practically ‘makes’ history, recreating continuous histories of a number of Iranian ruling dynasties (in the Islamic era) which historians before him had failed completely to discover, or about which they had very scanty (and often inaccurate) knowledge. Kasravî also published Peydâyish-i Âmrîkâ [Discovery of America] (Tehran, 1324/1945), and a translation (from the English) of some of the lives in Plutarch (Tehran, 1314/1935).

page 192 note 2 Âzarî yâ Zabân-i Bâstân-i Âzarbâygân [Azeri, or the Ancient Language of Azerbaijan] (Tehran, 1304/1925) and Nâmhâ-yi Shahrhâ va Dîhhâ-yi Îrân [Names of Towns and Villages of Iran] (2 vols., Tehran, 1308–9/ 1929–30).

page 192 note 3 Besides many articles on the subject, he wrote the monograph Zabân-i Pâk [The Purified Language] (Tehran, 1322/1943). A collection of his articles on language reform was published after his death: Zabân-i Fârsî va Râh-i Rasâ va Tavânâ Gardânîdan-i ân [The Persian Language and the Ways of Making it Perfect and Powerful], ed. Zukâ, Y. (Tehran, 1334/1955).

page 192 note 4 Among the newspapers which published some of Kasravî's earlier writings, the most important was Shafaq-i Surkh. His two-volume study, primarily of ‘Europeanization’ and the attitude the East should adopt towards it, was entitled Âyîn [Creed] (2 vols., Tehran, 1311–12/1933–4). An Arabic translation was published in Egypt, and excerpts in translation appeared in France, Britain, and Germany. (On these translations see Kasravî's, Pursish va Pâsukh [Questions and Answers] (Tehran, 2nd ed., 1325/1946). In 1312 (1933) he started the monthly periodical (during the first six months, fort-nightly) Peymân, in which he developed many of his social ideas. It ceased publication in 1321 (1942), when he started the daily Parcham. This appeared less than a year, and was followed by a weekly of the same name which was, in turn, after a very short time, replaced with a bi-weekly under the same title. The latter lasted six months only, during the first half of 1322 (March–August 1943). He published no other periodical after that, though he was about to start a newspaper when he was assassinated in March 1946. Some of his many books on the broader subject of Iran's social problems are: Shî'îgarî [Shiism], Bahâ'îgarî [Bahaism], Dar Pîrâmûn-i Islâm [On Islam], Sûfîgarî [Sûfism], Pindâr-hâ [Superstitions], Farhang-ast yâ Neyrang? [Is it ‘Education’ or Deception?], all published in Tehran between 1320 and 1324 (1941–5). Among the books devoted primarily to his own constructive views, published during the same period, are: Varjâvand Bunyâd [Holy Foundation] (2 vols.), Khâharân va Dukhtarân-i Mâ [Our Sisters and Daughters], Farhang Chîst? [What is Education?], Kâr va Pîshih va Pûl [Labor, Jobs, and Money].

page 194 note 1 His two independent book-length treatments of Persian literature are: Dar Pîrâmûn-i Adabiyyât [On Literature] (Tehran, 1323/1944); and Hâfiz Chih Mîgûyad? [What does Hâfiz Say?] (Tehran, 1322/1943), both of which have been reprinted several times, and which will in this paper be abbreviated as Adabiyyât and Hâfiz respectively. A collection of some of his articles on literature was posthumously republished under the title Dar Pîrâmun-i Shi'r va Shâ'irî [On Poetry and Poets], ed. Mu'bid, Mîr Mihdî (Tehran, 1335/1956). This unsatisfactorily edited collection, which includes pieces by writers other than Kasravî, will be referred to as Shi'r.

page 194 note 2 This premise is stated repeatedly in Kasravî's writings. See, e.g. Hâfz, p. 20;Nîk va Bad [Good and Evil] (Tehran, 1326/1947), pp. 31–3, 63–4.

page 194 note 3 In this connexion, see Sûfîgarî, ch. vi, ‘How the Iranians Were Vanquished by the Mongols’, and Hâfiz, pp. 18–23, for a somewhat long discussion of the effect of Sûfism.

page 194 note 4 Adabiyyât, pp. 24–5.

page 195 note 1 Kasravî had quoted some poems composed during the Revolutionary period in his history of the 1906 Revolution. Someone, referring to one of them, told Kasravî that he was not a Shi'r-shinâs (connoisseur of poetry), because the poem, though having some poetic (i.e. artistic) merit, was weak. Kasravî answered that, even if it were weak, it was ‘living speech’, resulting from genuine emotions. ‘All you look for is the play with words, while I'm looking at the meaning’, he said (Adabiyyât, pp. 47–9).

page 195 note 2 For example, he discussed the novel (a European literary form recently introduced in Iran) in a number of articles collected under the title Dar Pîrâmûn-i Rumân [Concerning the Novel] (Tehran, 1322/1943).

page 195 note 3 ‘Evil teachings’ is here used to translate the Persian bad-âmûzî. This compound, though of a very common type, and though apparently readily understandable to a native speaker of Persian, has nevertheless connotations which only an extensive reading of Kasravî's works could make fully clear.

page 196 note 1 Adabiyyât, pp. 54–5; Sh'r, pp. 81–2 On Kharâbâtîgarî, see also Hâfiz, pp. 12–18; and Râh-i Ristigârî [The Road to Salvation] (3rd ed., Tehran, 1338/1959), pp. 87–98.

page 196 note 2 Adabiyyât, pp. 63–4, 94.

page 196 note 3 Shi'r, p. 81.

page 196 note 4 On Rûmi, see Adabiyyât, pp. 75–80.

page 196 note 5 See, for example, Sûfigarî, cited in note 4, pp. 192–3.

page 196 note 6 Rypka, Jan, in History of Iranian Literature, written in collaboration with O. Klíma, V. Kubíčková, F. Tauer, J. Bečka, J. Cejpek, J. Marek, I. Hrbek and J. T. P. De Bruijn (ed. Jahn, Karl, Dordrecht-Holland, 1968), p. 232. All the references to this book are to Rypka's own contribution, ‘History of Persian Literature up to the Beginning of the 20th Century’, a section which appears on pp. 69–351.

page 197 note 1 Rypka, pp. 232–3.

page 197 note 2 Rypka, p. 233. It may be of interest to note that, following the appearance of Kasravî's first comprehensive treatment of Persian poetry in 1934, the late Professor Rypka, at the time representing Czechoslovakia at the millenary of the poet Firdowsî in Iran, along with a number of other foreign and Iranian scholars, called on Kasravi at his house, where some of his views were debated. For a brief report on this meeting by Kasravi, see Shi'r, pp. 46–7.

page 197 note 3 Adabiyyât, pp. 64–75.

page 197 note 4 Rypka, p. 251.

page 197 note 5 Ibid. p. 252.

page 197 note 6 Adabiyyât, p. 69.

page 198 note 1 The word ‘homosexual’ is often rendered in Persian as bachchihbâz (less commonly sâdihbâz, the term preferred by Kasravî), and ‘homosexuality’ as bachchihbâzi (or sâdihbâzî). The English and Persian terms, however, do not really have fully corresponding meanings. In the first place, the Persian words refer to male homosexuality only. Secondly, they refer to the action of the partner that plays the role of the ‘husband’ in the homosexual act. Thirdly, the terms assume the other partner to be a child (bachchih), or a very young boy. Kasravî would no doubt object to, and strongly disapprove of, homosexuality in any form. But in most of his references to the subject he is concerned with the fact that homosexuality is an abnormality and, even more important, with its moral and psychological damage to a child. To him the issue is a social one, so much so that he prescribes the death penalty for a man who has abused a child sexually (Varjâvand Bunyâd, p. 201).

page 198 note 2 Adabiyyât, pp. 134–5.

page 198 note 3 Ibid. p. 74; Zabân-i Fârsi… (cited in footnote 3, p. 192), p. 21.

page 198 note 4 Hâfiz. He planned similar monographs on other major poets of Iran, at least on Sa'di and Khayyâm, as he indicated in answer to a question from a reader in his biweekly Parcham, vol. I (1322/1943), p. 163, but death prevented him from carrying out his plan.

page 198 note 5 Hâfiz, pp. 7–12.

page 199 note 1 Ibid. pp. 39–46; Adabiyyât, pp. 111–16

page 199 note 2 Adabiyyât, p. 83.

page 199 note 3 Ibid. p. 117.

page 199 note 4 Rypka, pp. 266–7.

page 199 note 5 Hâfiz, pp. 8–9; Adabiyyât, pp. 104–5.

page 199 note 6 Hâfiz, pp. 36–7; Shi'r, pp. 28–9, 61–2.

page 199 note 7 Rypka, p. 269.

page 199 note 8 Hâfiz, p. 39.

page 200 note 1 See, for example, Shi'r, pp. 106–14; Adabiyyât, pp. 30–3, 45–6, 106.

page 200 note 2 Taqîyya was very offensive to Kasravî, who listed it among his objections to Shî'ism; e.g. in Bikhânand va Dâvarî Kunand [Let Them Read and Pass Judgement] (3rd ed., Tehran, 1336/1957). This book was a revised version of Shî'îgarî (cited in note 4, pp. 192–3 above).

page 200 note 3 Khirad, which is here rendered as ‘reason’, though this English word is inadequate, is very important in Kasravî's ideology. It is the faculty, inherent in man, of judging and distinguishing good from bad, right from wrong, true from false. He believed that the poets, and some other people, have done much to weaken this faculty in Iranians. On Khirad, see Dar Pîrâmûn-i Khirad [Concerning Reason] (Tehran, 3rd ed., 1336/1957).

page 200 note 4 Adabiyyât, pp. 123–7; Farhang Chîst?, pp. 14–16. On the effects of contradictory teachings, in poetry and prose, see also Nîk va Bad (cited in footnote 2, p. 194), pp. 38–42.

page 200 note 5 See, for example, Farhang Chist?, pp. 14–23, and Inqilâb Chîst? [What is Revolution?] (Tehran, 1336/1957; a collection of Kasravî's articles), pp. 40–2.

page 201 note 1 Shi'r, pp. 19–21, 31; Adabiyyât, pp. 36–8; Sukhanrânî-yi Kasravî dar Anjuman-i Adabî [Kasravî's Speech to the Literary Society (of Tehran)] (Tehran, 1343/1964), p. 35. The latter is reprinted from Peymân. There will be more on this speech in the second part of this paper.

page 201 note 2 Sh'r, pp. 19–20, 26–7, 33, 37.

page 201 note 3 Ibid. pp. 16–18.

page 201 note 4 Ibid. pp. 15, 32, 76; Adabiyyât, pp. 51–2.

page 201 note 5 Shi'r, pp. 15, 32, 104.

page 202 note 1 Ibid. pp. 76; Adabiyyât, pp. 49–53.

page 202 note 2 Adabiyyât, p. 179. On another occasion he was somewhat less enthusiastic about Firdowsî, saying that he was a good man, but that his poetry is full of words of praise for despotic kings and their courts, words which are harmful in this age and should be abolished. He concluded that the only benefits that could be derived from his book were in connexion with the language. (Farhang Chist?, p. 26.)

page 202 note 3 Shi'r, p. 105.

page 202 note 4 Ibid. pp. 159–60; Adabiyyât, pp. 52.

page 203 note 1 Adabiyyât, pp. 35–6; Shi'r, pp. 71–2. Kasravî on one or two occasions analysed ghazals from Hâfiz to illustrate his point; e.g. in Adabiyyât, pp. 84–91; Hâfiz, pp. 46–9. The question of whether or not ghazals have ‘unity’ and coherence has been debated by a number of scholars for some time. See Rypka, pp. 269–71, for some of the views on the subject.

page 203 note 2 Shi'r, p. 18. When, in response to Kasravî's objections to the various topics, themes, and ‘conceits’ used by the poets, they asked, ‘What shall we do then? What shall we say if we don't say these things?’, he unhesitatingly answered, ‘Don't say anything! Why all this compulsion to talk?!’ (Adabiyyât, pp. 46–7.)

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