(The Great 12th Century Persian Poet) A Project by Kamran Talattof
An excerpt from: The Poetry of Nizami Ganjavi: Knowledge, Love, and Rhetoric, edited, introduction, and major contributions by K. Talattof and J. Clinton. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
The poet Nizami Ganjavi (1140–1202) is one of the giants of the Persian literary tradition. As a narrative poet, he stands between Abolqasem Firdawsi (ca. 940–ca. 1020), the poet of Iran's heroic tradition and the author of Shahnamah (Book of Kings), and Jalaluddin Rumi (1207–1273), whose Divan-i kabir (Great Divan) and Kitab-i Masnavi Ma'navi (Spiritual Couplets) virtually define the forms of mystical lyric and mystical narrative poetry, respectively. Nizami’s narrative poetry is more comprehensive than that of either Firdawsi or Rumi, in that it includes the romantic dimensions of human relations as well the heroic, and plumbs the human psyche with an unprecedented depth and understanding. To be sure, a profound spiritual consciousness pervades his poetry, and to suggest otherwise would be to do him a disservice, but he does not, as does Rumi, make the whole focus of his work the evocation and articulation of the transcendent dimension of existence.
Nizami brought about a comparable expansion of the language of poetry, as well. He was among the first poets in Iran to wed the lyric style of court poetry, with its rhetorical intricacy and metaphoric density, to narrative form, and his language is as much a presence on the narrative stage as are the characters and events it depicts. For him, discourse or eloquent speech (sokhan), or more particularly, the precise, beautiful, and signifying language of the poet, is his dominant concern. For Nizami, poets have a status nearly divine. He repeatedly draws attention to the shaping and educative function of sokhan in his books, and goes so far as to liken his poetry to the Qur'an itself as a source of clear moral guidance, a bold assertion for his time. In The Treasure House of Mysteries, he writes, "The first manifestation of existence was speech….Without speech the world has no voice."
The five long poems, known collectively as the Khamsa (Quintet) or Panj Ganj (Five Treasures), composed by Nizami in the late twelfth century, set new standards in their own time for elegance of expression, richness of characterization, and narrative sophistication. They were widely imitated for centuries by poets writing in Persian, as well as in languages deeply influenced by Persian, like Urdu and Ottoman Turkish.
1 The word sokhan and its derivative and compound forms such as sokhandan, sokhanvar, sokhan afarin, sokhan parvar, sokhan ravan, sokhan shinas, and sokhan gostar, all meaning reffering to poets are abundant in Nizami's work. On the subject of the importance of sokhan in Nizami’s work, see Hamid Dabashi, "Harf-i nakhostin: mafhum-i sokhan dar nazd-i hakim Nizami Ganjavi," Iranshenasi, volume 3, number 4 (Winter 1992), 723-40 and Kamran Talattof's article in this volume.
2.No exhaustive reckoning has ever been made of the poets in Persian, Turkish, Pashto, Kurdish, and Ordu (and other languages of the Persianate tradition) who emulated Nizami's example by imitation, but by all indications the figure must be staggering. The extraordinary dissemination of Nizami's panj ganj throughout Persian and Persianate literature is a remarkable and largely unexplored phenomenon (cf. Jalal Sattari, note 22 below, page 18). In the present volume J. S. Meisami opens up a new approach to this question by examining the impact of Nizami's poetry on the Iranian historian Rāvandī.