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Shamlou and Persian ‘New Poetry’

8 Nov 2012

■ Kara Abdolmaleki

Without doubt, Ahmad Shamlou is one the most widely debated – and therefore recognized – contemporary poets of the Persian language. Some critics lionize him as a revolutionary figure, who overthrew the scholastic monarchy of classical versification and introduced a novel system while others violently oppose the poet, accusing him of wanting sufficient knowledge and skill to edit and annotate a great poet like Hafez, for instance.

Modern Persian literature in Iran seems to have been divided into two hostile territories: The academic and the non-academic. This distinction, nonetheless, does not place the former higher than the latter. The truth is, the non-academic littérateurs have been surprisingly more avant-garde, initiative, popular, and even universally acclaimed. On the other hand the obstinately classicist academics have been, conservatively, clasping to their static curricula, which even nowadays preclude many great names: Forough Farokhzad (poet), Sadegh Hedayat (writer), Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (writer), Bahram Beizaii (playwright), Zoya Pirzad (writer), and sometimes even Sohrab Sepehri (poet). The hostility between these two camps is so fierce that some literary histories, encyclopedias, and glossaries – which are the prerogative of the academics — do not even include the non-academics.

Part of this opposition can be traced back to political allegiances. Both before and after the Islamic revolution of 1979 the non-academics, in the fashion of almost all intellectuals around the world, were dissidents and critics of the state. In response, the governments prevented them from teaching at universities and banned their works from being published. As a result, they were expelled from universities and were replaced by some, often, professors of literature who were instead, politically passive and socially obscure.

In such turbulent times, Shamlou was always despised and tempestuously attacked by the academics. During the last years of the Shah’s reign, Marxist tendencies were predominant and many intellectuals, poets, and writers were members of the leftist Hezb-e Toodeh, [The Party of the Masses]. Hezb-e toudeh was abhorred by the monarchy and its members were incessantly facing imprisonment and execution. The most striking was perhaps, Khosro Golsorkhi (poet and activist), who was tried in a military court and executed. His name is remembered after all these years because the Pahlavi government, under international pressure, broadcast his defense on television. Shamlou’s early collections, namely, Ahan-ha va Ehsas (Irons and Emotions) (1326-1329 A.H.; 1947-1950 A.D.), 23 (1330 A. H.; 1951 A.D.), and Ghat`nameh (Resolution) (1329-1330 A.H.; 1950-1951 A.D.) are, by and large, products of his leftist sympathies. However, as we keep track of the chronological development of his poetry, we can sense the waning of those tendencies and the emergence of philosophical and existential concerns—a more or less abrupt change. Havaye Taze (Fresh Air) (1947-1956) in Barahani’s view is “a turning point in Shamlou’s poetic life” (319). The reader is taken aback by noticing the rather quick disappearance of leftist sympathies. So is the case with the poetic influences of his mentor, Nima Yooshij. Barahani singles out four influences on Shamlou in “Fresh Air”: Yooshij, the French poet, Paul Eluard (1895-1952), Federico Garcia Lorca, and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), Futurist Russian poet and playwright, among which Youshij’s influence is “the greatest” (ibid.). Nonetheless, as we go on in Shamlou’s literary career, his influence “gradually lessens down to zero” (ibid. 321). “Sher-i ke Zendegi-st” (A Poem which Is Life) (1954) from Fresh Air, is Shamlou’s aesthetic manifesto wherein he defines himself as a poet of life:

The model of today’s poet
We said:
Is life!
It is from life that the poet
With the watermark of poetry
Depicts
A design on another canvas:
He writes poems,
Means
He lays hand on the wound of the old city.

Means
He interprets
His epoch’s honor-list of man.4

In another poem, “Harf-e Akhar” [The Last Word] (1952), which he composed in memory of Mayakovsky’s suicide, he raises a furious attack on classicist poets. At the very beginning, he dedicates the poem “to those who strive to administer old graveyards”, by whom he obviously means the academics and by old graveyards, universities:

At the middle of the gambling table of you magazinary ordainers of pompous cycles.
I cast my poetry’s ace of hearts.
Because you
Obtuse mockers of Nima
And you
Killers of all sorts of Vladimirs
This time have challenged an unruly poet
Who strides on the way to dusty courts.

But if you like
Poets
To throw up to your feet
What you have eaten for years
What can Morn do for his poetry
Is the great sensations of a tomorrow, which is now the seed of meticulousness?

Beyond the nagging of all goggled professors
You joiners to the fossil-houses of Quasidehs and Ruba’is

Doormen at the brothel-magazines on whose threshold I have spat
The cries of this illegitimate child of poetry will crucify you:
— “you servants of old prostitute-poems!
I throw down the gauntlet at you…”

It is unfair, however, to categorize him as a staunch opponent of classicism. He is against some classicists’ considering New Poetry a heresy. He observes that classical poetry in Iran has been insensitive to and ignorant of social and political transitions. He views classical poets vacuumed in an Edenic world of wooing, detached mysticism, sentimentality and idealism. But he, conversely, with a residuum of leftist doctrines in the back of his mind, proclaims that poetry is worthwhile only when it reflects the pangs of the community and the suffering of man. Shamlou’s attack on classicism stems from its incapability to infer ideas he intended to develop in his poetry. Classical poetry is vitally dependant on rhythm and rhyme. This dependence debilitates a large portion of the poet’s energy to fit his ideas in its adamant framework of versification and distracts him from developing other aspects of the poem such as imagism, thematic complexities and symbolic patterns.

Besides, Shamlou’s content was no more devoted to the description of erotic feature of an attractive mistress or the beauty of a natural scenery. He had set off to reflect the harshness and injustice of urban life and needed a new form to do so. Thus, he developed what many later called ‘Shamlouian Blank Verse’. This new form, unprecedented in many ways, is not identical with blank verse in English. It can be rather viewed as a synthesis of sixteenth century blank verse and free verse in English literature. It has, moreover, a somehow lurking inner rhythm, which is very different from the metric system in English blank verse.

Before Shamlou, Nima Yooshij, known as the father of ‘Persian New Poetry’ had begun the poetic revolution. However Shamlou brought this movement to its culmination. ‘New Poetry’ – as an umbrella term covering a wide array of modern poets similar only in being non-classicists – is again different from the poetry of Romanticism in Europe. The New Poet, despite all, is not “a man speaking to men” as William Wordsworth would contend. S/He is an intellectual speaking about men and women. As a result, the poetic style of New Poets – especially that of Shamlou and Akhavan Sales (1928-1990), — was a successful hybridization of archaism and slang.

 
Tehran Review
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    کوچ بنفشه‌ها

    تهران‌ریویو مجله‌ای اینترنتی، چند رسانه‌ای و غیر انتفاعی است. هدف ما به سادگی، افزایش سطح گفتمان عمومی در مورد ایده‌ها، آرمان‌ها و وقایع جهان امروز است. این مشارکت و نوشته‌های شما مخاطبان است که کار چند رسانه‌ای ما را گسترش داده و به آن غنا و طراوت می‌بخشد. رایگان بودن این مجله اینترنتی به ما اجازه می‌دهد تا در گستره بیشتری اهداف خود را پیگیری کرده و تاثیرگذار باشیم. مهم‌تر از همه اینکه سردبیران و دست‌اندرکاران تهران‌ریویو به دور از حب و بغض‌های رایج و با نگاهی بی‌طرفانه سعی دارند به مسایل روز جهان نگاه کرده و بر روی ایده‌های ارزشمند انگشت بگذارند. تهران ریویو برای ادامه فعالیت و نشر مقالات نیازمند یاری و کمک مالی شماست.