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AḤmad Kasravî and the Controversy Over Persian Poetry: 2. The Debate on Persian Poetry Between Kasravî and his Opponents*

  • Mohammad Ali Jazayery (a1)
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In his extensive work on Iranian society and its problems, Aḥmad Kasravî (1890–1946), Iranian scholar, jurist, and social thinker, identified much of Classical Persian poetry as a major source of those problems. He discussed his views in a series of articles, in public lectures, and in two books dealing exclusively with the subject.1 In addition, he touched on the subject, in passages short and long, in many others of his hundreds of articles and dozens of monographs and books, published between 1934 and 1946, when he was assassinated.2

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1 His two books are Dar Pîrâmûn-i Adabiyyât [On Literature] (Tehran, 1323/1944), here abbreviated as Adabiyyât; and Ḥâfiẓ Ch ih Mîgûyad? [What Does Ḥâfiẓ Say?] (Tehran, 1323/1944), abbreviated as Ḥâfiẓ. Both have been reprinted a number of times. Several years after his assassination, a number of his articles on the subject were collected and published under the title Dar Pîrdmân-i Shi'r va Shā'iri [On Poetry and Poets], ed. Mîr Mihdî Mu'bid (Tehran, 1335/1956). This badly edited collection includes a few pieces by writers other than Kasravî. It is referred to as shi'r.

For a very brief general background on Kasravî's life and work see the first part of this article, in IJMES, 4 (1973), esp. pp. 190–94. For the most complete bibliography of his writings, including those on literature, see Maḥmûd, Katirâ'i, “KitâbShnâsî-yi Kasravî (Ṭarḥ-i Bisyâr Muqaddamâtî) [A Bibliography of Kasravî (a preliminary project)”, Farhang-i îrân-Zamîn, 18 (1350/1972), 361398.

2 Of his other books, the following deal in part with Persian poetry and its social effects: Ṣûfîgarî [Ṣufism] (Tehran, 1322/1943); Farhang-ast yâ Neyrang? [Is It “Education” or Deception?] (Tehran, 1322/1943, bound with the preceding book, and paginated consequently with it); Farhang ẖist? [What Is Education?] (Tehran, 1322/1943); Dar Pîrâmân-i Ḵẖirad [Concerning Reason] (3d ed.; Tehran, 1336/1957). In fact, there is hardly any book of his, or any longish article, dealing with Iranian social problems, in which the subject of Classical Persian poetry does not come up.

3 Some expressions of this favorable reaction, originally appearing in Kasravî's journal Peymân, have been reprinted in Shi'r, pp. 8594.

4 Adabiyyât, pp. 155, 159; Shi'r, pp. 9194.

5 Shi'r, pp. 8586.

6 Ibid., p. 88.

7 Adabiyyât, p. 159.

8 Peymân, 2 (1313–14/1934–5), 281282.

9 Peymân, 3 (1314–15/19351937) p. 43.

10 Mihr, 3 (1314/1935), 234238 (reprinted in Jalâl, Matini, ed., Nimûihâ-yi az Na@r-i Faṣiḥ-i Fârsî. yi Mu'âṣir [Samples from Contemporary Eloquent Persian Prose] (Tehran, 1347/1968), pp. 360365.

11 Peymân, 2 (1313–14/19341935), 500501; and editorial in daily Parcham, Farvardîn, 31, 1321/04 20, 1942.

12 Peymân, 6 (1319/19401941), 364365.

13 Adabiyyât, pp. 134135.

14 The first part of the text appeared in Peymân, 2 (1313–14/19341935), 562574. The second part was to appear later in the same volume. The censor did not do a thorough job in following the Prime Minister's instructions: The title of the second part appeared in the table of contents of the next issue, even though the pages of the article had been taken out before binding.

15 This was announced on page 3 of the cover of Peymân, 3,1 (Dey, 1314/0102 1936). The complete text of the lecture was reprinted in Shi'r, pp. 97116. It has also been published as a separate monograph: Suḵẖanrani-yi Kasravî dar An@uman-î Adabi [Kasravī's Speech to the Literary Society (of Tehran)] (Tehran, 1343/1964).

16 The letter in question appears to be the one appearing under the title “On Poetry and Ṣûfism” in Peymân, 2 (1314–15/1935–1936), 365–367, and signed by one Ẕabîḥzâdih. It was reprinted in @ḥi'r, pp. 91–94.

17 Adabiyyâi, pp. 155156, and editorial in daily Parkham, Farvardîn, 26, 1321/04 15, 1942.

18 See the following editorials in daily Par@ḥam: Farvardîn 30 – Urdibihi@ḥt, 2, 1321/04 1922, 1942; Tîr, 2528, 1321/07 1619, 1942; Murdâd, 24, 1321/07 2426, 1942; âbân, 68 and 1015, 1321/10 2830 and 11 16, 1942; âẒar, 13 and 15, 1321/12 4 and 6, 1942. Most of the material in these editorials was used in writing Adabiyyât and Ḥâfiẓ.

19 Because of Kasravî's views on religion in general, and on Shî'ism and Islam, many people accused him of claiming to be a prophet.

20 The reference is to Kasravî's use of uncommon “pure” Persian words. Kasravi was an active supporter of language reform.

21 Vaḥîd, Dastgirdî, “Kutub-i Darsî” [School Books], Armaghân, 22 (1320/1941), 322. As we have seen, there were very few publications during Kasravî's lifetime, dealing with his views on literature. A few have appeared since his assassination, including the following: Iḥsân, and Aḥmad, Qâsimî, “Dar Bâri-yi Ḥâfiẓ” [Concerning Ḥâfiẓ[, Mardum, 3 (1327/1948), 16, 5768. Both articles appeared in the journal published by the Iranian Tûdih (Communist) party, and were responded to by AḤmad Barâtlû, a member of the âzâdigân Party (Kasravi's supporters), in two lectures at the weekly meetings of that party. The texts of the lectures were published in the Party's Suḵẖanrânîhĉ-yi Haftigî-yi Kânân-i âzâdigân [Weekly Lectures at the âzâdigân's Headquarters], Nos. 2 and 3 (1327/1948). About the same time appeared the following: 'Abbâs, lqbal, “Balâ-yi Ta'aṣṣub va Biẕowqi” [The Disaster of Fanaticism and Bad Taste], Yâdgâr, 5 (1327/1948), 15. This article was written in response to a letter from a high school student, one of whose classmates had given a lecture to his class attacking Sa'dî, Ḥâfiẓ, and other poets, under the inspiration of Kasravî's monograph Ḥâfiẓ. To these may be added another Tûdih publication: Ḥamzih, Fatḥi Ḵẖushknâbi, “Dar Bâri-yi Yik Barḵẖurd-i Nâdurust bi Ir@iyyi-yi Adabî-yi îrân” [Concerning an Inaccurate Interpretation of Iran's Literary Legacy], Dunyâ, 8 (1346/1967), 8595;'Abd, al-'Ali Dastgheyb, “Baḥṣ-i lntiqâdî Pîrâmûn-i â@âr-i Adabî, Zabânkhinâsî, Târîḵẖî-yi Aḥmad Kasravî” [A @ūitical Discussion of Aḥmad Kasravī's Literary, Linguistic, and Historical Works], Firdowsî, Mihr 1346/ 0910 1967, pp. 5560.

22 The reference is to the JaKhn-i Kirâbsûzân (Feast of Book Burning) established by Kasravî, to be discussed in the third part of this series of articles.

23 Kasravî quoted Dashtî's statement and answered it in his Dowlat bi-mâ Pâsuḵẖ Dahad [The Government Must Answer Us] (Tehran: 1323/1944), which is in the form of an open letter to recently appointed Prime Minister Bayât.

24 Editorial in Parkham, Mihr 5, 1321/09 27, 1942.

25 Biweekly ParSham, p. 212.

26 Daily ParSham, Tîr 3, 1321/06 24, 1942.

27 Adabiyyât, pp. 6870.

28 Peymân 2 (1313–14/19341935), 481.

29 Adabiyyât, p. 163; chi'r, pp. 7983; Suḵẖanrânî, p. 30.

30 Adabiyyât, pp. 613, 146–153. Kasravi briefly discusses the Onentalists and the activities of European governments in this connection. He finds it most interesting that the Communist government of Russia, which strongly disapproves of the old European policies, should follow the Tsarist government in this respect. The USSR, notes Kasravî, denounces some of the worldfamous Russian men of letters on the grounds that their writings are incompatible with Communism, yet engages in such activities as celebrating the anniversary of the Persian poet Niẖâmî. What good did this poet do for the world, asks Kasravî? What kind of a place can a man who spent his life as an idle parasite and a weaver of nonsense, who demeaned and debased himself even before a mere provincial governor, have in the eyes of a Socialist people? (Ibid., pp. 153–154). On Niẖāmī, see also Farhang @ẓist?, pp. 26–27; Adabîyyār, pp. 30–31.

31 Kasravî based this belief on his own impressions, and on his general knowledge of the West. My own experience in the United States since 1951 has convinced me of the accuracy of his observation. Even now little is known here about Ḵẖayyâm, who is often referred to as “Umar,” and, incidentally, often thought to be an Arab. A few of his quatrains (in Fitzgerald's supposed translation) are known and sometimes cited – mostly the “Moving finger writes” quatrain. Any knowledge beyond this limited and superficial familiarity is limited to a handful of specialists. The exaggerated view of some Iranians about the extent to which Ḵẖhayyâm is known in the United States is illustrated by the claim of an Iranian cabinet minister who said in a speech: “In America everyone has a copy of Ḵẖyyam's rubâ'is in his pocket.” The minister even said that during his visit to the United States, “When people asked me where I was from and I said that I was from Iran, they would delightedly say, ‘from the country of Khayyam?’ and then would take the translation of the rubâ'is out and show it to me. Kasravi called this an outright lie! (Adabiyyât, p. 63).

32 I doubt that Kasravî, who knew English, actually made a detailed analysis of Fitzgerald's translation (which is almost the only one used universally). But, again, his observation was correct. Most of Fitzgerald's quatrains have no connection – or very little – to Ḵẖayyām's quatrains. So true is this that a person who knows the quatrains in the original has some difficulty in recognizing at least some of them in their purported translations.

33 Adabiyyât, pp. 6163.

34 Ibid., pp. 146–154. Kasravī did not disapprove of all Orientalists. He believed that Orientalism had done the East both good and ill. Among the Orientalists for whom he had good words were Joseph Marquart, Theodor Nöldeke, Sir Henry Rawlinson, and Sir John Malcolm. He was unhappy with Arthur Arberry and Margaret Smith because of their work on Ṣûfism. His attitude toward Edward G. Browne is very interesting. He first learned about Browne through the latter's work on the Iranian Revolution, and his criticism of his own (i.e., British) government because of its treatment of Iran. Kasravi mentioned Browne in the preface to the first edition of his own history of the Revolution, expressing gratitude to him. Later, when he saw Browne's four-volume history of Persian literature, he was “astonished that a man such as Browne should sit in a place like London and engage in research on the poetry of the poets [of Iran] and on their lives.”

35 Adabiyyât, pp. 170171. This point was brought up at some length by Ghulâm, @Ali Ra@di-Aẕaraḵẖshî, himself a poet, in his inaugural address to the Farhangistân (Iranian Language Academy), on Isfand 10, 1321/03 1, 1943, and published under the title “Rastâkhîz-i Adabî-yi îrân” [Iran's Literary Resurrection], in AmûziSh va ParvariShh, 12: 811 (âbân-Bahman, 1321/10 1942–Jan. 1943), pp. 120, 20A-20Ṭ. Ra'dî entitled section 2 of his paper “Difâ' az Adabiyyât-i GuzaShti-yi îrân” [In Defense of Iran's Past Literature]. He mentions Stephen Gosson (1554–1624) in England and Houdart de La Motte (1672–1731) in France as two Europeans who, he believes, held views similar to Kasravī's, and goes on to say that they were wrong and misguided, that their arguments were demolished by others, and predicts the same fate for Kasravī's ideas. As a footnote to history, the fact may be mentioned that at least one quatrain by Ra'dî was published in Peymân, 2 (1313–14/19341935), 82. (In the earlier volumes of that journal, Kasravî used to publish what he considered useful or harmless poems, a practice which he later discontinued.)

36 Biweekly ParSham, pp. 123124.

37 Ibid., p. 126–127.

38 Ibid., p. 124.

39 Ibid., pp. 124–125.

40 Peymân, 4 (1316–17/19371938), 537538.

41 Adabiyyât, pp. 104105.

42 Ibid., p. 104. Kasravī completely disapproved of this kind of interpretation (la'vīl in normal Persian, guzâriSh in his language). He put the blame for this practice on the Bâṭiniyya whose stress on the “inward” meaning of sacred texts was extended to poetry and other things. He referred to this as the bîmârî-yi guzâriSh ‘the disease of interpretation’. People who engage in this kind of interpretation are sick in the mind, he said. Speech, he said, is one of the necessities of life with whose help we conduct most of our affairs, and we should therefore not give language anything but its apparent meaning, or else the order of social life will be disturbed. As far as interpreting the sacred texts was concerned, he felt that the prophets said what they said to guide people in their life, and so spoke in simple easy-to-understand language. The Bâṭiniyya, and their followers, had made of the prophets “riddle makers,” who made riddles and left it to others to solve them. Was the prophet of Islam “pulling people's legs, saying one thing and meaning something else? Was the Qur'ân written in anything but the language of the people?” On one occasion, he summarized his views as follows: “Any word should be taken in nothing but its simple meaning, and no word should be uttered except in its simple meaning…. If what is said has no clear meaning, it should be set aside or discarded.” See Bîmdri-yi GuzâriSh [The Disease of Interpretation], Peymân, 3 (1314–15/1935–1937), 15–23.

43 Shi'r, pp. 77–8, 113.

44 Adabiyyâi, pp. 168169; Farhang ẖîst? [What Is Education?] (4th ed.; Tehran, 1324/1945), pp. 3435.

45 Adabiyyât, pp. 167168.

46 Suḵanrânî, pp. 2628.

47 Ibid., pp. 27–28; Adabiyyât, p. 16.

48 Adabiyyât, pp. 6870.

49 See also the first part of this article in IJMES 4 (1973), 197.

50 Suḵẖanrânî, p. 34; Adabiyyât, pp. 14, 4142.

51 Adabiyyât, p. 26.

52 Ibid., p. 166.

53 Farhang Shist?, p. 12.

54 Adabiyyât, pp. 6869; Shi'r, p. 21.

55 Adabiyyâ, pp. 68, 7374, 163164.

56 Shi'r, p. 80.

57 Farhang Shist?, pp. 1112. An example of this kind of advice Kasravî used on one or two occasions was a couplet by the poet 'Urfî (963–99/1555–1590) to the effect that a person should get along with everybody – the good and the bad – so well that, upon his death, the Muslims would wash his body with water from the sacred well of Mecca, Zamzam, while the Hindus would cremate him. This advice teaches a person to be hypocritical, unprincipled, unstable.

58 Peymân, 3 (1314–15/19351937), 480481.

59 Ibid., p. 481.

60 Ibid., p. 483.

61 Peymân, 4 (1316–17/19371938), 1516.

62 Ibid., 6 (1319/1940–41), 404.

63 Ibid., 3 (1314–15/1935–7), 482–483.

64 Ibid., pp. 483–484.

65 Ibid., 4(1316–17/1937–8), 81.

66 Ibid., p. 232.

67 For more on Kasravî's view on poet's habit of flattery, see the first part of this article in IJMES 4(1973), 200201.

68 Shir, pp. 4849; Ṣfigarî, p. 67.

69 Adabiyyât, pp. 164165.

* Continued from “Aḥmad Kasravi and the Controversy over Persian Poetry, I, Kasravî's Analysis of Persian Poetry”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 4 (1973), 190–203. An occasional overlap between the first part and the present one is to be expected, especially because of the long interval between the two. As in the first part, I use the IJMES transliteration system, but I use /ow/ and /ey/ instead of /aw/ and /ay/.

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