Between the Strains – Guernica - The JamsPortal
Anthology of Persian Poetry, 17th Century.
“I wouldn’t want being Iranian on my worst enemy,” my buddy Marjan posted on Instagram in mid-January.
Like many Iranians, Marjan is caught in visa limbo. An economics professor in New York, she traveled to Iran in August of final yr, and by the point her return visa was lastly issued, coronavirus restrictions meant she was caught in Iran. However her submit was about extra than simply journey frustrations.
From particular person experiences to our collective story, the previous 9 months have been a painful collection of run-on tragedies for Iranians: November 2019 noticed nation-wide demonstrations the place state safety forces killed 1,500 protesters. In January, the US authorities ordered a focused killing of Iran’s prime navy normal, and Iran responded with a missile strike on a US navy base in Iraq. Days later, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) downed a civilian airliner, killing 176 passengers and crewmembers within the midst of the escalated pressure of struggle. After which in February, the coronavirus disaster.
It’s been all-consuming. I cowl Iran in video for the New York Instances, and spent January monitoring down and interviewing eyewitnesses in Iran who noticed the aircraft crash, whereas coping with the trauma of reporting on a narrative that impacted me deeply, as a member of the Iranian-Canadian neighborhood.
I used to be born in Tehran through the turbulent beginnings of the nascent Islamic Republic. Iran was rebuilding after the 1979 revolution, which ended centuries of monarchy and put in a then-popularly backed Islamic authorities. However the revolution was shortly adopted by a brutal eight-year struggle with Iraq. Each of my sisters had been born throughout this struggle. In 1993, once I was three years previous, my household immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. We had been among the many first Iranian households on the town. I grew up between my two international locations, spending summers in Iran with my many cousins, attempting—and failing—to talk Persian with out my Western accent.
Of all of the latest tragedies, the downing of that civilian airliner in January, Ukrainian Flight 752, stung probably the most. Whereas I didn’t know anybody on the flight personally, like many within the Iranian-Canadian neighborhood, I used to be solely a hyperlink or two faraway from somebody who died: The cousin of a very good buddy was killed in that crash. So had been the spouse and little one of the person who owns my native bakery in North Vancouver. I nonetheless get choked up fascinated with it.
The primary missile that hit the aircraft (which we finally realized was mistakenly fired by the IRGC) set it on hearth. The plane was nonetheless flying intact earlier than it was hit by a second missile and crashed to the bottom. Right here’s the thought that retains flooding my mind when I attempt to sleep: Did the passengers spend the final moments of their lives pondering that struggle between Iran and the US was breaking out?
* * *
For the previous yr, I’ve been researching and learning the works of Hafez, one in all Iran’s most beloved and influential poets. Greater than 600 years after his loss of life, his work continues to be invoked repeatedly, quoted by Iranian politicians to skewer their rivals and by on a regular basis Iranians in informal conversations over dinner. Usually, that is the half the place I'd share a verse of his work, or let you know how advanced and delightful his phrases are. I'd to let you know how Iranians use his poems as a type of divination, like a tarot card studying of kinds. As an alternative, I'm consumed with attempting to know why I’ve been devoting a lot time to learning the verses of a poet from the thirteenth century proper now, when my nation goes by way of each conceivable model of ache. Wouldn’t it make extra sense to deal with present nationwide safety points as a substitute of diving into the artwork of our previous?
Lately I interviewed Afshon Ostovar, a famend Iran knowledgeable who focuses on the IRGC. I used to be speaking to him concerning the Qods Drive, the unit that was commanded by Qassim Soleimani, the final killed by the USA in a drone strike in January. He instructed me he had seen some latest tweets of mine about Persian poetry, and mentioned he discovered it candy to learn one thing like that whereas each of our skilled fields had been coping with an onslaught of miserable information.
After our interview, I saved fascinated with what Ostovar mentioned. Why am I at all times drawn to poetry, even in instances when extra urgent headlines ought to seize my consideration?
Definitely, poetry is central to Iranian identification. The Shahmaneh, an epic poem by Persian poet Ferdowsi, cemented this connection. Ferdowsi started penning this narrative of greater than 50,000 couplets in 977 AD and accomplished the endeavor forty-three years later in 1010. The poem tells the legendary story of the historical past of historical Iran, a narrative stretching again from the creation of the world to the seventh century, when the Arabs conquered Iran. When Ferdowsi was writing, the Arab invasion imposed a brand new language and faith on the individuals of Iran. With Shahnameh, Ferdowsi preserved our language and historical past at a time when it was at risk of being misplaced endlessly.
Since then, poetry has grow to be our nationwide artwork. It’s who we're. Any Iranian, no matter instructional background or class, can recite their favourite verse of Hafez or Rumi from reminiscence. It’s part of our Persian New 12 months celebrations; it’s a centerpiece of our oblique discourse. Our house is in our poetry, and that is very true for these of us who can’t return to Iran simply. I haven’t been again since I used to be an adolescent, and now, with reviews of twin nationals being arrested on doubtful spying costs, it’s unlikely I’ll have the ability to anytime quickly.
Like many New Yorkers, I’ve spent the final months trapped in my condominium, duly following social distancing tips to assist cease the unfold of coronavirus in our petri dish of a densely packed neighborhood. So I’ve had numerous time to consider the questions that got here up after my interview with Afshon. I’m somebody who kinds by way of issues by speaking them out, so it was pure for me to speak to Hafez. Sure, he’s lengthy lifeless—however the fantastic thing about his work means it’s attainable to have a dialog with him even 600 years after his loss of life. We flip to his poems for divination. If I don’t know whether or not up to now a sure man or take a job, I name my mom in Vancouver and beg for a faal-e Hafez: a Hafez divination.
The custom works like this: First, maintain a query in your thoughts. Then open up Hafez’s poetry assortment, Divan-e Hafez, to a random web page. The act of divination is available in studying the poem you’ve landed on and decoding its relationship to your query. As a result of Hafez’s poetry is written in an older dialect of Persian, with vocabulary I’m not used to, I usually want my mom’s assist in decoding it. (Whereas I've labored arduous at sustaining my mom tongue and persevering with to be fluent, I by no means went to highschool in Iran. I wasn’t taught easy methods to learn and write Persian.) Predictably, most of her divinations inform me that if I'm going towards God, issues will work out. After I inform her how annoying it's to get a spiritual studying once I’m asking for recommendation on points that don't have anything to do with faith, my mom’s reply is normally one thing like, “I’m Muslim. I’m non secular. What sort of faal did you anticipate?”
Fortunately, the Web is much much less pious than my mom. I’m an everyday on HafizOnLove.com, a web site by Shahriar Shariari, a scholar primarily based in Los Angeles. The design isn’t very fancy, harking back to an early 2000s weblog with a butter yellow background that has light lavender calligraphy operating by way of it as the bottom design. A translator of a lot of Hafez’s poems, Shahriar posts poems in each English and Persian, and the web site has a digital faal-e Hafez characteristic that picks a poem for you with the clicking of a mouse. Having these translations side-by-side has helped me be taught, memorize, and perceive the meanings of Hafez’s poems—and to have the ability to get divinations on my own.
In my on-line faal-e Hafez, once I requested Hafez what the hell I used to be doing seeking to him at a time the place Iran is below unimaginable stress, that is the poem that appeared:
I lengthy to open up my coronary heart
For my coronary heart do my half.
My story was yesterday’s information
From rivals can't hold aside.
On this holy night time stick with me
Until the morning, don't depart.
On an evening so darkish as this,
My course, how can I chart?
O breath of life, assist me tonight
That within the morn I make a begin.
In my love for you, I'll
My self and ego thwart.
Like Hafiz, being love good;
I lengthy to grasp that artwork.
Of all of the poems on Shahriari’s web site—roughly 500—this is the one which got here by way of to me. It was the poem I used to be studying with one in all my poetry ostads (or “masters”) once I was in Vancouver late final yr. I beloved it a lot that I posted about it on-line. My favourite line is untranslatable, and whereas Shahriar did his greatest, it’s unimaginable to seize the fantastic thing about Hafez in English. In English, Shahriar’s translation is “In my love for you, I'll / My self and ego thwart.” However in its unique Persian, the literal translation is one thing like “I'll make myself so small that I'll comply with the mud of your footsteps with the guidelines of my eyelashes.” Translators usually attempt to hold a poem’s rhyming construction intact, and favor bringing out the that means as a substitute of a phrase for phrase literal translation. Right here, the that means of shrinking your self to your lover stays, however the imagery is captured greatest in its unique language.
I took this faal-e Hafez as an indication to maintain going with my research. The opening traces—“I lengthy to open up my coronary heart / For my coronary heart do my half”—struck me instantly, chatting with the gravitational pull I’ve felt to Hafez’s poetry. Regardless of the language barrier and my emotions of Iranian inadequacy, I’ve at all times been drawn to Hafez, and wished to be taught his work totally. The final line—“I lengthy to grasp that artwork”—bookended the feeling. It felt like a cosmic affirmation, a nudge in the best route. However I wasn’t happy, so I made a decision to name one in all my ostads, Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak.
None of my grandparents reside, so I’ve come to cherish my relationships with my two poetry ostads, my lecturers, much more. As my elder, it’s customized that I name Ahmad to want him Nowruz mobarak, completely happy Persian New 12 months. However my Nowruz greeting got here with ulterior Hafez motives. I instructed Ahmad concerning the questions I used to be preoccupied with. I wished him to reassure me, to clarify why learning poetry mattered.
“The reply is correct there within the query,” Ahmad instructed me over the cellphone. “It’s instances like this that actually take you to the core of your being whenever you ask probably the most important query, ‘what do I need to do in life?’ Irrespective of how lengthy you reside, it’s quick.”
Generally known as one of many foremost specialists in basic Persian literature and poetry, Ahmad has memorized all of Hafez’s poems. He was born and raised in Mashhad, Iran, a deeply non secular metropolis. His father used to encourage him to memorize the Qur’an, giving him cash for each verse he dedicated to reminiscence. Ahmad eagerly collected this mini paycheck so he might watch international movies on the Russian-run cinemas on the town. He began memorizing Hafez when he was about eleven years previous. After many years of instructing Persian research on the College of Washington, the College of Maryland, and at last at UCLA, he retired to Los Angeles—the place these days, like me, he has additionally been considering poetry in quarantine.
Ahmad instructed me he’s been trying again to the phrases of Roudaki, a Persian poet from the ninth and tenth centuries in Bukhara. He’s sure there will need to have been floods, ailments, and different pure disasters in Rouadki’s time, and so studying his poems serves as a reminder that ephemerality is the way in which of our world. “Roudaki stands in contemplation of a fowl, a popak, which is a parakeet or finch, and asks: Have a look at this stunning little creature and take a look at this world. It’s going to die, it’s going to be hunted, it’s not going to be right here in just a few days. What would that imply for me? So possibly I ought to cherish this second,” he defined.
After we spoke, Ahmad was below a fourteen-day voluntary quarantine. At its finish, he deliberate to go for a stroll alone, and ponder the identical issues Roudaki did. “I’ll take a look at the waves, take a look at the sand, take a look at what man has created round it,” he mentioned. “It’s all going to finish ultimately and what stays is bare nature.”
I wished to know if different Iranians had comparable questions. Did anybody else really feel the pull to delve deeper into our cultural traditions throughout this pandemic, or throughout different instances of upheaval?
Naz Deravian, a meals author and cookbook creator additionally primarily based in Los Angeles, was born in Tehran and immigrated to Canada just a few years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, finally touchdown in Vancouver. Naz mentioned that whereas information and occasions surrounding Iran are sometimes tense, these previous couple of months have been one thing notably overwhelming.
“After I noticed your tweet, I had a second of agreeing with you,” Naz instructed me. “I believe on the time I used to be engaged on a recipe or one thing and questioning What the hell? Why will me writing about yet one more polo khoresht change something? Why does it matter? However darkish instances, she mentioned, are exactly once we want artists, poets, and writers to inform tales and join with individuals in a manner that politicians can’t. They assist us dig into the collective psyche, and replicate again how and what persons are feeling. Naz’s mom, Monir Taha, is a well known Iranian poet who has grow to be one in all my ostads. The poem that Shahriar’s digital faal-e Hafez selected for me is definitely one I used to be studying with Monir just a few months in the past.
As a scholar in Iran, Monir was politically energetic when the British and American governments deposed Iran’s widespread Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. On the time, she was a supporter of Mossadegh, and even wrote him poems that had been printed in newspapers and magazines. What adopted the coup was the reinstallation of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a US-friendly however unpopular tyrant. That paved the way in which for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution of 1979.
“I'm reminded that these are arduous days however we’ve had arduous days earlier than. And I do know that a few of my mom’s greatest writing got here out of these very darkish and tough days,” Naz mentioned. “She was fairly younger, however she was energetic in her work then as effectively. And seeing my dad and mom’ technology, and all these courageous Iranians within the nation who're nonetheless preventing, who had been nonetheless hopeful, makes me really feel like all of us have to comply with swimsuit.”
After I spoke to her, Monir agreed. “The blood-soaked historical past of our nation has at all times had instances like this, ups and downs. We haven’t had a quiet historical past, particularly after Islam and after Arabs got here. We had the Monogol invasion, Timur’s invasion,” she mentioned. “For a few years, Iran was not a united nation. It was just like the US, it was federal, each area had its personal king, all of them fought with one another, desirous to occupy each other’s territory or crown.”
Hafez documented a number of the energy struggles he noticed in Shiraz throughout his time, Monir instructed me. However his poetry has lived on for a whole bunch of years as a result of it creates house for the reader to search out not less than one line that speaks to his or her personal query. In commentary concerning the rulers of his time, he spoke not directly, utilizing language stuffed with metaphors. This was partly resulting from his inventive type, but it surely was additionally a method to shield himself.
Take this line, for instance:
No matter he poured in our cup, we drank
Whether or not the wine of paradise or the wine of drunks
“What is supposed by ‘no matter he poured in our glass, we drank’? He's saying that from the start of time we have now drank what's given, whether or not the wine of heaven which doesn’t make you drunk or the drunkard wine,” defined Monir.
Right here, Hafez suggests we don’t have a selection. However he additionally says:
If the wheel of life doesn’t flip to my liking, I’ll cease it!
A slave to future, I'm not
So he'll destroy the world if it doesn’t go based on his needs. “Right here we see willpower, not determinism,” mentioned Monir. “We see him to talk not with one voice however with contradictions. That’s why he's not a dogmatist, he by no means bought his mind to at least one explicit perspective. He's at all times going by way of change.”
Monir lives alone in Vancouver. She was presupposed to go to Los Angeles to be with Naz for Nowruz. However given the coronavirus, they determined it was too dangerous for her to journey. Particularly now, she says, Hafez’s poetry supplies consolation. He’s been her biggest buddy. “A very powerful impact is that for just a few hours, I'm not fascinated with this virus and different issues, and I'm able to dwell for myself.”
Connecting with the previous to search out solutions for our current makes me hopeful, too. In thirteenth-century Shiraz, there have been moments not in contrast to what we’re experiencing now:
The toxic wind wandered by way of the backyard
What a miracle that the purple roses nonetheless odor,
The canine roses nonetheless have their colour
Hafez isn’t speaking about flowers right here, however about individuals—and about widespread resistance. He’s saying that regardless of all of the unrest in his nation, all of the individuals the federal government has killed, we’re nonetheless resisting. Hafez wrote this poem late in his life, in a time the place the area of Fars—which included the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz—was in the midst of an influence wrestle. Timur, a Turkic navy chief, was attacking Iran. He had attacked Fars, committing a mass homicide in Isfahan. Hafez wrote this poem to explain these occasions: one of many final he witnessed earlier than his loss of life.
“This was the worst occasion of his time. He can’t communicate of [Timur] straight as a result of they’d kill him. So he speaks of wind and flowers,” defined Monir.
I don’t need to romanticize the previous, however I can let Hafez’s phrases information me in my current. There's a manner out. I haven’t seen it but, however Hafez did as soon as. It has to indicate up ultimately.
Until in any other case famous, the translations of Hafez that seem listed here are by Arash Azizi.