Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Lamentation and Death of Farhad

Leaf from a dispersed manuscript of the Khamsa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nizami, arguably the greatest romantic Persian poet, wrote Khusraw and Shirin in the 12th century. It is a masnavi, or long epic, of 7,000 couplets written in the hazaj hexameter. Khusraw and Shirin is part of Nizami's Khamsa, or quintet, which also includes the more famous Layla and Majnun.

Unlike other poets of the time, Nizami was well-off enough not to have to follow a panegyric style of composition. Rather he explored a diverse range of philosophical themes. Khusraw and Shirin in particular contains several sufi mystic ideas, such as the manifestation of love for God in love for a person. F.I. Abdullaeva (incidentally my tutor) believes that Shirin, the queen whom the poor sculptor Farhad falls in love with, is simply a vessel for his love of God. She argues that it is not Shirin that he is actually in love with, rather he is in love with God, and his love is simply manifested in this particular form. Similar to sufi songs, which may superficially be interpreted as romantic ballads, Khusraw and Shirin represents a devotion to God that pervades an individual's (or mystic's) entire existence. When Farhad is cruelly told that Shirin has died, his purpose in life also ends. One may interpret Nizami's idea as, "without God, what is man?".

(A small fragment of Khusraw and Shirin)
The Lamentation and Death of Farhad:

"O'er my sad heart the fowls and fishes weep;
For my life's steam doth into darkness creep.
Why am I parted from my mistress dear?
Now Shirin's gone, why should I tarry here?
Without her face should I desire to thrive
It would serve me right if I were boned alive!
Felled to the dust, my cypress quick lies dead:
Shall I remain to cast dust on my head?
My smiling rose is fallen from the tree:
The garden is a prison now to me.
My bird of spring is from the meadow flown,
I, like the thundercloud, will weep and groan.
My world-enkindling lamp is quenched for aye:
Shall not any day be turned to night today?
My lamp is out, and chilly strikes the gale:
My moon is darkened and my sun is pale.
Beyond Death's portals Shirin shall I greet,
So with one leap I hasten Death to meet!'
Thus to the world his mournful tale he cried,
For Shirin kissed the ground, and kissing died"

E.G., Browne, A Literary History of Persia Vol. 2: From Firdawsi to Sa'di, (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1906) 406
(One of my favorite books)