For centuries, Iran has been producing some of the world’s most influential and inspiring poets, whose works revolutionized the literature of both the East and the West. Spanning themes of love, divine mysticism and human rights, their poetry is an incredible contribution to Iranian culture, and remains entirely relevant today. Here we profile 10 of the most inspiring Iranian poets.
Abu Abdollah Jafar ibn Mohammad Rudaki (Persian: ابوعبدالله جعفر ابن محمد رودکی, Tajik: Абӯабдуллоҳ Ҷаъфар Ибни Муҳаммад, entitled آدم الشعرا Ādam ul-Shoara or Adam of Poets), also written as Rudagi (858 - c. 941), was a Persian poet, and is regarded as the first great literary genius of the Modern Persian, who composed poems in the "New Persian" alphabet. Rudaki is considered a founder of Persian classical literature. His poetry contains many of the oldest genres of Persian poetry including the quatrain. Only a small percentage of his extensive poetry has survived.
Rudaki was born in 858 in Rudak (Panjrud), a village located in the Samanid Empire which is now Panjakent, located in modern-day Tajikistan. Even though most of his biographers assert that he was completely blind, some early biographers are silent about this or do not mention him as being born blind. His accurate knowledge and description of colors, as evident in his poetry, renders this assertion very doubtful. He was the court poet to the Samanid ruler Nasr II (914–943) in Bukhara, although he eventually fell out of favour; his life ended in poverty.
Abu ʾl-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi (c. 940–1020), or Ferdowsi, was a Persian poet and the author of Shahnameh ("Book of Kings"), which is the world's longest epic poem created by a single poet, and the national epic of Iran and the Greater Iran. Having drafted the Shahnameh under patronage of the Samanid and the Ghaznavid courts of Iran, Ferdowsi is celebrated as the most influential figure in Persian literature and one of the greatest in the history of literature. He is widely regarded as the greatest poet in the Persian language. He was called "The Lord of the Word" and "The Savior of Persian Language".
Except for his kunya (ابوالقاسم - Abu'l-Qāsim) and his laqab (فردوسی - Ferdowsī, meaning "paradisic" in Persian), nothing is known with any certainty about his full name. From an early period on, he has been referred to by different additional names and titles, the most common one being حکیم / Ḥakīm ("philosopher").Based on this, his full name is given in Persian sources as حکیم ابوالقاسم فردوسی توسی / Ḥakīm Abu'l-Qāsim Firdowsī Țusī. Due to the non-standardized transliteration from Persian into English, different spellings of his name are used in English works, including Firdawsi, Firdusi, Firdosi, Firdausi, etc. The Encyclopaedia of Islam uses the spelling Firdawsī, based on the standardized transliteration method of the German Oriental Society.The Encyclopædia Iranica, which uses a modified version of the same method (with a stronger emphasis on Persian intonations), gives the spelling Ferdowsī.In both cases, the -ow and -aw are to be pronounced as a diphthong ([aʊ̯]), reflecting the original Arabic and the early New Persian pronunciation of the name.Ferdowsi was born into a family of Iranian landowners (dehqans) in 940 in the village of Paj, near the city of Tus, in the Khorasan region of the Samanid Empire, which is located in the present-day Razavi Khorasan Province of northeastern Iran.Little is known about Ferdowsi's early life. The poet had a wife, who was probably literate and came from the same dehqan class. He had a son, who died aged 37, and was mourned by the poet in an elegy which he inserted into the Shahnameh.
Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī(Persian: ابومحمد مصلحالدین بن عبدالله شیرازی), better known by his pen-name Saadi (سعدی Saʿdī( Saadi (help·info))), also known as Saadi of Shiraz (سعدی شیرازی Saadi Shirazi), was one of the major Persian poets and literary men of the medieval period. He is not only famous in Persian-speaking countries, but has been quoted in western sources as well. He is recognized for the quality of his writings and for the depth of his social and moral thoughts. Saadi is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets of the classical literary tradition.
Born in Shiraz, Iran, c. 1210, his father died when he was a child. He narrates memories of going out with his father as a child during festivities.
In his youth, Saadi experienced poverty and hardship and left his native town for Baghdad to pursue a better education. As a young man he enrolled at the Nizamiyya University, where he studied in Islamic sciences, law, governance, history, Arabic literature, and Islamic theology.
The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm and Iran led him to wander for thirty years abroad through Anatolia (where he visited the Port of Adana and near Konya met ghazi landlords), Syria (where he mentions the famine in Damascus), Egypt (where he describes its music, bazaars, clerics and elites), and Iraq (where he visits the port of Basra and the Tigris river). In his writings he mentions the qadis, muftis of Al-Azhar, the grand bazaar, music and art. At Halab, Saadi joins a group of Sufis who had fought arduous battles against the Crusaders. Saadi was captured by Crusaders at Acre where he spent seven years as a slave digging trenches outside its fortress. He was later released after the Mamluks paid ransom for Muslim prisoners being held in Crusader dungeons.Saadi visited Jerusalem and then set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.It is believed that he may have also visited Oman and other lands in the south of the Arabian Peninsula.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد رومی), also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (جلالالدین محمد بلخى), Mawlānā/Mevlânâ (مولانا, "our master"), Mevlevî/Mawlawī (مولوی, "my master"), and more popularly simply as Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), was a 13th century PersianSunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufimystic.Rumi's influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries.His poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has been described as the "most popular poet"and the "best selling poet" in the United States.
Rumi's works are written mostly in Persian, but occasionally he also used Turkish, Arabic, and Greek,in his verse.His Mathnawī, composed in Konya, is considered one of the greatest poems of the Persian language.His works are widely read today in their original language across Greater Iran and the Persian-speaking world.Translations of his works are very popular, most notably in Turkey, Azerbaijan, the United States, and South Asia.His poetry has influenced Persian literature, but also Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Azerbaijani, as well as the literature of some other Turkic, Iranian, and Indo-Aryan languages including Chagatai, Urdu, Pashto, and Bengali.
Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī (Persian: خواجه شمسالدین محمد حافظ شیرازی), known by his pen name Hafez (حافظḤāfeẓ; 1325/26–1389/90),was a Persian poet who "lauded the joys of love and wine but also targeted religious hypocrisy."His collected works are regarded as a pinnacle of Persian literature and are to be found in the homes of most people in Iran, who learn his poems by heart and still use them as proverbs and sayings. His life and poems have been the subject of much analysis, commentary and interpretation, influencing post-14th century Persian writing more than any other author.
Hafez, who was a 14th-century poet in Iran, is best known for his poems that can be described as “antinomian”and with the medieval use of the term “theosophical”; this term theosophy in the 13th and 14th centuries was used to indicate mystical work by “authors only inspired by the holy books” (as distinguished from theology). Hafez primarily wrote in the literary genre of lyric poetrythat is the ideal style for expressing the ecstasy of divine inspiration in the mystical form of love poems.
Themes of his ghazals are the beloved, faith, and exposing hypocrisy. In his ghazals, he deals with love, wine and tavern, all presenting the ecstasy and freedom from restraint, whether in actual worldly release or in the voice of the lover speaking of divine love.His influence in the lives of Persian speakers can be found in "Hafez readings" (fāl-e hāfez, Persian: فال حافظ) and the frequent use of his poems in Persian traditional music, visual art, and Persian calligraphy. His tomb is visited often. Adaptations, imitations and translations of his poems exist in all major languages.
Omar Khayyám ; born Ghiyāth ad-Dīn Abu'l-Fatḥ ʿUmar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Khayyām Nīshāpūrī (Persian: غیاثالدین ابوالفتح عمر ابراهیم خیام نیشابورﻯ, pronounced [xæjˈjɑːm]; 18 May 1048 – 4 December 1131), was a Persian Polymath, Scholar, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet, widely considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. He wrote numerous treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy and astronomy.
Born in Nishapur, in northeastern Persia, at a young age he moved to Samarkand and obtained his education there. Afterwards he moved to Bukhara and became established as one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the Islamic Golden Age. He wrote one of the most important treatises on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (1070), which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle.He contributed to a calendar reform.
His significance as a philosopher and teacher, and his few remaining philosophical works, have not received the same attention as his scientific and poetic writings. Al-Zamakhshari referred to him as "the philosopher of the world". He taught the philosophy of Avicenna for decades in Nishapur.
Outside Iran and Persian-speaking countries, Khayyám has influenced literature and societies through the translation of his works and popularization by other scholars. The greatest such effect was in English-speaking countries. The English scholar Thomas Hyde(1636–1703) was the first non-Persian known to have studied his works. The most influential, however, was Edward FitzGerald(1809–83),who made Khayyám famous in the West through his translation and adaptations of Khayyám's quatrains (Persian: رباعیات rubāʿiyāt) in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Khayyám died in 1131, and is buried in the Khayyám Garden in Nishapur. The reconstruction of the tombs of Persian icons like Hafez, Saadi, Attar, Pour Sina and others were built by Reza Shah and in 1963, the Mausoleum of Omar Khayyám was reconstructed on the site by Hooshang Seyhoun.
Nizami Ganjavi (Persian: نظامی گنجوی, translit. Niẓāmī Ganjavī, lit. 'Niẓāmī of Ganja') (1141 to 1209), Nizami Ganje'i,Nizami, or Nezāmi, whose formal name was Jamal ad-Dīn Abū Muḥammad Ilyās ibn-Yūsuf ibn-Zakkī, was a 12th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet. Nezāmi is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, who brought a colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic. His heritage is widely appreciated and shared by Afghanistan,Azerbaijan,Iran,the Kurdistan region and Tajikistan.His personal name was Ilyas and his chosen pen-name was Nezami (also spelled as Nizami and Neẓāmi). He was born of an urbanbackground in Ganja (Great Seljuq empire now present-day Azerbaijan) and is believed to have spent his whole life in South Caucasus. According to De Blois, Ganja was a city which at that time had predominantly an Iranian population. The Armenian historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi (Ca. 1200–1271) mentions that: "This city was densely populated with Iranians and a small number of Christians".
Because Nezami was not a court poet, he does not appear in the annals of the dynasties. Tazkerehs, which are the compilations of literary memoirs that include maxims of the great poets along with biographical information and commentary of styles refer to him briefly. Much of this material in these Tazkerehs are based on legends, anecdotes, and hearsays. Consequently, few facts are known about Nezami's life, the only source being his own work, which does not provide much information on his personal life.
Nezami was orphaned early and was raised by his maternal uncle Khwaja Umar who took responsibility for him and afforded him an excellent education. His mother, named Ra'isa, was of Kurdish background. His father, whose name was Yusuf is mentioned once by Nezami in his poetry. In the same verse, Nezami mentions his grandfather's name as Zakki. In part of the same verse, some have taken the word Mu'ayyad as a title for Zakki while others have interpreted it as the name of his great grandfather. Some sources have stated that his father might be possibly from Qom. Nezami is variously mentioned as a Persian and/or Iranian.
Abusa'id Abolkhayr or Abū-Sa'īd Abul-Khayr (Persian: ابوسعید ابوالخیر) (December 7, 967 - January 12, 1049), also known as Sheikh Abusaeid or Abu Sa'eed, was a famous Persian Sufi and poet who contributed extensively to the evolution of Sufi tradition.
The majority of what is known from his life comes from the book Asrar al-Tawhid (اسرارالتوحید, or "The Mysteries of Unification") written by Mohammad Ibn Monavvar, one of his grandsons, 130 years after his death.
The book, which is an important early Sufi writing in Persian, presents a record of his life in the form of anecdotes from a variety of sources and contains a collection of his words.
During his life his fame spread throughout the Islamic world, even to Spain. He was the first Sufi writer to widely use ordinary love poems as way to express and illuminate mysticism, and as such he played a major role in foundation of Persian Sufi poetry. He spent most of his life in Nishapur.
Abū-Sa'īd was born in the village of Mihne, part of Greater Khorasan, today located near Torbat-e Heydarieh in Khorāsān-e Razavī Province. His father was a herbalist and physician with an interest in Sufism.
He then moved and lived a few years in the city of Nishapur, and subsequently moved back to Meyhaneh after a few years. Abū-Sa'īd’s formal education included Islamic scholarship and Arabic literature that he continued until the age 23 when he left them for Sufism.He also traveled to and spent time in small towns around the same province visiting other Sufis or his teachers.
Nimā Yushij (Persian: نیما یوشیج) (November 12, 1895 – January 6, 1960), also called Nimā (نیما), born Ali Esfandiāri (علی اسفندیاری), was a contemporary Persian and Tabarian poet who started the she’r-e now (شعر نو, "new poetry") also known as she’r-e nimaa'i (شعر نیمایی, "Nimaic poetry") trend in Iran. He is considered as the father of modern Persian poetry.
He died of pneumonia in Shemiran, in the northern part of Tehran and was buried in his native village of Yush, Nur County, Mazandaran, as he had willed.
He was the eldest son of Ibrahim Nuri of Yush (a village in Baladeh, Nur County, Mazandaran province of Iran). He was a Tabarianbut had also Georgian roots. He grew up in Yush, mostly helping his father with the farm and taking care of the cattle. As a boy, he visited many local summer and winter camps and mingled with shepherds and itinerant workers. Images of life around the campfire, especially those emerging from the shepherds' simple and entertaining stories about village and tribal conflicts, impressed him greatly. These images, etched in the young poet's memory waited until his power of diction developed sufficiently to release them.
Parvin E'tesami (Persian: پروین اعتصامی) (March 16, 1907 – April 5, 1941), also Parvin Etesami, was a 20th-century Persian poet of Iran. According to Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, her given name was Rakhshanda (Persian: رخشنده).
Parvin E'tesami was born in 1907 in Tabriz to Mirza Yusuf Etesami Ashtiani (E'tesam-al-Molk), who in turn was the son of Mirza Ebrahim Khan Mostawfi Etesam-al-Molk. Mirza Ebrahim Khan Mostawfi Etesam-al-Molk was originally from Ashtiyan, but moved to Tabriz and was appointed financial controller of the province of Azerbaijan by the Qajar administration. Parvin had four brothers and her mother died in 1973.
Her family moved to Tehran early in her life, and in addition to the formal schooling, she obtained a solid understanding of Arabic and classical Persian literature from her father.
She studied at the American Girls College in Tehran, graduated in 1924 from the Iran Bethel School, an American high school for girls. Afterwards, she taught for a while at that school.
In 1926, she received an invitation to become the tutor of the queen of the new Pahlavi court, but she refused.
In 1934, she was married to a cousin of her father and moved to the city of Kermanshah. But the marriage only lasted for ten weeks and she returned to Tehran.
In 1938-39 she worked for several months at the library of Danesh-Saraay-e 'Aali, today's Tarbiat Moallem University of Tehran. Her father died in 1938, and she died only three years later. She was buried near her father in Qom.
Parvin E'tesami was born in 1907 in Tabriz, Iran. Her formative years were spent in Tehran where her family had moved and where she lived an extraordinarily simple and tranquil life close to her father, Yusif E'tesami (E'tesam al-Mulk). Here she gained her knowledge of the Arabic language and a solid grounding in Arabic and Persian literature. Reportedly, she started composing poetry when she was eight years old. She died in 1941.
Forugh Farrokhzad (Persian: فروغ فرخزاد; January 5, 1935 – February 13, 1967) was an influential Iranian poet and film director.She was a controversial modernist poet and an iconoclast, writing from a female point of view.
Forugh (also spelled Forough) was born in Tehran to career military officer Colonel Mohammad Bagher Farrokhzad (originally from Tafresh city) and his wife Touran Vaziri-Tabar in 1935. The third of seven children (Amir, Massoud, Mehrdad, Fereydoun Farrokhzad, Pooran Farrokhzad, Gloria), she attended school until the ninth grade, then was taught painting and sewing at a girls' school for the manual arts. At age sixteen she was married to Parviz Shapour, a satirist. Farrokhzad continued her education with classes in painting and sewing and moved with her husband to Ahvaz. A year later, she bore her only child, a son named Kamyar Shapour (subject of A Poem for You).
Within two years, in 1954, Farrokhzad and her husband divorced; Parviz won custody of the child. She moved back to Tehran to write poetry and published her first volume, entitled The Captive, in 1955.
Ahmad Shàmlu (Persian: احمد شاملو, Ahmad Šāmlū Persian pronunciation: [æhˈmæd(-e) ʃɒːmˈluː], Azerbaijani: Ahməd Şamlı, also known under his pen name A. Bamdad (Persian: ا. بامداد)) (December 12, 1925 – July 23, 2000) was an Iranian poet, writer, and journalist. Shamloo was arguably the most influential poet of modern Iran.His initial poetry was influenced by and in the tradition of Nima Youshij. Shamlou's poetry is complex, yet his imagery, which contributes significantly to the intensity of his poems, is simple. As the base, he uses the traditional imagery familiar to his Iranian audience through the works of Persian masters like Hafiz and Omar Khayyám. For infrastructure and impact, he uses a kind of everyday imagery in which personified oxymoronic elements are spiked with an unreal combination of the abstract and the concrete thus far unprecedented in Persian poetry, which distressed some of the admirers of more traditional poetry.
Shamlou has translated extensively from French to Persian and his own works are also translated into a number of languages. He has also written a number of plays, edited the works of major classical Persian poets, especially Hafiz. His thirteen-volume Ketab-e Koucheh (The Book of Alley) is a major contribution in understanding the Iranian folklore beliefs and language. He also wrote fiction and screenplays, contributing to children’s literature, and journalism.
Sohrab Sepehri (Persian: سهراب سپهری) (October 7, 1928 – April 21, 1980) was a notable Iranian poet and a painter.
He was born in Kashan, Iran. He is considered to be one of the five most famous Iranian poets who have practiced modern poetry.Other practitioners of this form were Nima Youshij, Ahmad Shamlou, Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, and Forough Farrokhzad.
Sepehri was also one of Iran's foremost modernist painters.
Well-versed in Buddhism, mysticism and Western traditions, he mingled the Western concepts with Eastern ones, thereby creating a kind of poetry unsurpassed in the history of Persian literature. To him, new forms were new means to express his thoughts and feelings.
His poetry has been translated into many languages including English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Swedish, Arabic, Turkishand Russian. An English translation of his selected poems by Ali Salami appeared in 2003.
Sepehri died in Pars hospital in Tehran of leukemia. His poetry is full of humanity and concern for human values. He loved nature and refers to it frequently.