Persian Language & Literature

Iranian art and poetry in the works of European poets
By: Farideh Motakef


No nation's language, literature and art can remain isolated ineffectual. Nations influence one another, yet these reciprocal effects become apparent when we compare the art and literature of one nation with another. For instance, a significant part of the French prose and verse has been inspired by the ancient Greek and latin literature, during and after the Renaissance period. English literature, was under the influence of French philosophers and writers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Greek mythology and its famous stories of myths like Prometheus, Oedipus, lphigenia, Antigone, etc, have been great sources of inspiration for the tragedians and have maintained their influence even on the modern literature of Europe so much so that contemporary European writere like Jean Anouilh, Jean Paul Sartre, Andre Gide; Jean Giraudoux, and others were deeply affected by the mythology and literature of the ancient Greece.

After proselyting to Islam, the Iranian thinkers and artists played a significant role in enriching and enhancing the Islamic civilization and culture. The expanse of Islamic territories caused the works of Iranian scholars such as Bu Ali Sina (Aviceinna), Razi and many other Iranian scientists to spread widely through Europe and Islamic lands. However, to ascertain the effect of the Iranian art and literature on European works, the periods of the Middle Ages and Renaissance must be left behind entering the seventeenth (17) century. The persian literaure and the thoughts of the prominent Iranian scholars started their influence in Europe in this century because part of the Persian literary works, like Gulistan of Saadi was translated into French.

The distribution of these translations and travel accounts like those of Chardin and Tavernier developed the interests of the Europeans to Iranian literature and culture and drew their attention to the rich treasures of the art and literature of Persia. This influence was so deep that among the highly valuable works of the individuals like: Corneille, Racine, Volaire, Madeleine Scudery, Montesquieu and others, the influence is clearly noticed in their works such as Sorena, Rodgun, Esther, Khusrow, Mehrdad, and Bayazid and etc. During the 18th and 19th centuries many of the great works of prominent Persian literary figures such as Saadi, Hafiz, Khayyam, Attar, Nezami, Ferdowsi, Jami, Manuchehri, Nasir-Khusrow, Anvari, Asadi-Tousi, Baba Tahir, Hatif, and others were translated into European languages, particulary English, French and German. In this regard, important and interesting works like Persian Letters by Montesquieu, Tulip-Face by Thomas Moore, Goethe's "West-Ostlichen Divan" and Mathew Arnold's Rustam and Suhrab let the people of Europe become, more than before, acquainted with the Persian art and literature.

The translation of the persian language masterpieces like the Divan of Hafiz, the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the Gulistan of Saadi the Rubaiyyat of Khayyam in countries like France, England, Germany, and other European countries astoumded the literary circles there Suddenly, the western literary forum faced extraordinary literary works, Saint - Beuve on seeing the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi said:

"If we could realize that great works such as the Shahnameh exists in the world, we would not become so much proud of our own works in such a silly manner.

Upon knowing Hafiz, Goethe wished to be one of his disciples. He said: "O Hafiz, your word is as great as eternity for it has no begining and no end. Your word, as the canopy of Heaven, solely depends on itself. It is all signs, beauty and excellence". After studying the lyric poems of Hafiz, Nitsche wrote: "O Hafiz, you have created a tavern of philosophy greater than any worldly palace. In it you provided a wine of grace and word beyond the capacity of the world to drink. The highest pinnacle of any mount is but a sign of your greatness and the unfathomable depth of any vortex is just a mark of your perfection, and the excellence of your word."

After studying the Bustan of Saadi, Ernest Renan worte: "Saadi is no stranger among us, he is, in fact, one of us." Barbier de Minaro, translator of Saadi's Bustan, wrote in his preface to the translation: " Saadi is a combination of the delicacy of Horace, the smile of Rabelais and simplicity of La Fontaine. Without any exaggeration, the Iranian poets have contributed to the richness of European literature. Similar to the Greek and Roman literary works, Persian poetry has been beneficial to the literature of Europe. The great German poet, Novalis writes in his ode "The Song of Night": "Wisdom and philosophic contemplation can be found only in the Orient". Schlegel, in the preface to his translation of a part of Ferdowsi's Shanameh into German, writs: "To reach the real fountainhead of romanticism and be satiated with it one must travel to the Orient".

French poetess Comtesse de Noaille writes in her book, "The Enchanting Garden": I read this point in fragrant, pleasent and sad book the reading of which imparted an enchanting intoxication to me and I now know that an enchanting garden realy exists and can be seen by the eyes. It is a garden that extends from the foot of mountainous area named Saadi to Shiraz. O my soul would it be possible for my body to accompany you and fly to this paradise, where the nightingale frenzied with love sings from spring to summer; the tulips blossom; the air becomes fragrant; the evening breeze entrusts the roses to the winds and from atop the aspens, during the fiery summer, the winds twist while panting with burning breath. The town which is all metal, porcelaine and plaster, shines as bright as silver and gold. Every vaulted dome is like a blue fruit and the intertwining arcs are high points that cast their shadows with their enamelled tiles and flowery turquoise design on waters below.

The translation of the ghazals of Hafiz by Hammer in Germany; translation of Gulistan in France and the Rubaiyyat of Khayyam in England by Fitzgerald, also the poems of Shahnameh by Vohl in France created a deep change in European literature. Other countries of Europe also became aware and cognizant of the precedence of the East and the inspiring breeze of the Persian gardens. They came to know extraordinary men whose literary genius equated and surpassed that of Homer, Racine and Achillus.