Nima Yushij

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Among the poets who continued their experiments towards a radical modernization of Persian poetry, it was Nima Yushij (1896-1959) who took revolutionary measures to establish a new perspective in Persian poetry. He began writing poetry when he was a high school student, and the person who encouraged him by reading his poems and helping him to improve his versification, was one of his teachers, Nezam Vafa (1883-1960), himself a lyric poet who wrote simple love poems in the classical style, mingled with pieces of romantic poetical prose. Until the age of twelve Nima Yushij had lived in Yush, a village in the northern province of Mazandaran, near the Caspian Sea, where his father was a farmer. In his speech to the First Congress of Iranian Writers, 1946, in Tehran, Nima Yushij said: "My first years of life were spent among the shepherds and horse-herders who, in their seasonal movements from one grassland to another, every evening sat round the fire on the Mountainside for long hours. From my childhood years I remember nothing but savage fights, and other things related to a nomadic life, and the simple amusements of those people in an atmosphere of monotony and ignorance. 

I learned reading and writing from the Akhund [preacher and teacher] of the village where I was born. He used to run after me through the alleyways and, catching me, tied my thin feet to rough, thorny trees and beat me with long canes. He had made a scroll by pasting together some letters which peasants had written to their relatives, and he ordered me to learn the whole scroll by heart."

From his father, a boastful man, skilled in horse riding, hunting and playing the tar (Persian lute), Nima Yushij inherited a naive but strong sense of pride which could be interpreted as arrogance. His mother, mild in nature, born and bred in a family of good education and learning, knew by heart many classical stories, such as Nezami's "Haft Peykar" (The Seven Beauties), and many poems, specially Hafez's ghazals, which she related and recited to him. This was how Nima became so fascinated with Nezami and Hafez and remained an ardent admirer of their work, all his life. In the long years of experimenting with different forms of classical poetry, he tried to imitate Nezami by writing a dramatic long poem, about 1500 couplets, and the result is "Ghal'e-ye Seghrim" (Seghrim Fortress), displaying all the shortcoming of a novice in composition and versification....
His attempts in imitating Abd-dor-Rahman Jami (1414-1492) and Jalal-od-Din Rumi in writing didactic anecdotes in verse, and Omar Khayyam in composing ruba'is (quatrains), did not go beyond the level of crude exercises. Out of his six hundred or so ruba'is, there is only one which is usually quoted as his own impression about his innovative measures in the modernization of Persian poetry and releasing it from the classical prosody:

With my poetry I have driven the people into a great conflict;
Good and bad, they have fallen in confusion;
I myself am sitting in a corner, watching them:
I have flooded the nest of ants.

Nima Yushij continued these experiments until 1937, when he wrote his first symbolist free verse, "The Phoenix", in which he successfully employed what he had learned from some of the French symbolists. Until then his dependence on classical forms had not allowed him to enter a completely new realm of poetry. The only exception was a long lyric poem in a dramatic style, "Fantasy" (Afsaneh) which he had written about fifteen years before "The Phoenix". This poem which, even today, some critics consider as his masterpiece, is not quite new in form. It is in one of the less used classical metres with equal lines throughout the poem, in five-line stanzas, rhymed in the second and fourth lines. But its subject, a romantic dialogue between a "lover" and "Fantasy", in which the poet has expressed his emotional experience of love, and his idealistic interpretation of life, was at the time of its publication (1921) new enough in Persian poetry to be considered "Modern". Manifest in "Fantasy" is a mixture of Hafez's mystical lyricism, Nezami's dramatic observation of life, Khayyam's half epicurean, half fatalistic world view, the French Romantics' preoccupation with self and social justice, and the Symbolists' suggestive expression through metaphors and symbols. All this is reflected in the mirror of simple, clear language, and could have remained as the most fitting poetic persona for Nima Yushij; but his ambition to give Persian poetry a completely new identity, took him too far in learning lessons from some of the French Symbolists, especially the Belgian Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916). Verhaeren had declared: "The old are obedient to general laws of prosody and grammar, while the latter [the young Belgian Symbolists] seek their form in themselves, forging their own order and submitting only to individual rules which spring from their own way of thinking and feeling". His vocabulary bristled with colloquialisms, and in many cases he used nouns as adjectives and adverbs as substantives. His critics said that he cultivated his faults; they accused him of being ignorant of the French language pointing out that grammar and syntax were objects of his derision. Some of the outstanding characteristics of his poetry were the repetition of the first statement throughout the theme of a poem; using rhyme only when and where he felt it would accentuate the rhythm; and his attention to the "gloomier aspects of nature" and, in several of his books, the incessant use in titles of the word soir (night).

While these were all natural and individual characteristics of Verhaeren in his poetry, they were adopted by Nima Yushij as his principles in modernizing his poetry. Nima's native language was Tabari, one of the many Persian dialects, which are spoken but not written in different provinces. This he deliberately allowed to have its effect in the standard Persian language of his poetry. He made a constant virtue in his poetic art of his weakness in versification, which dislocated and confused the order of words to the extent of unnecessary ambiguities. He searched Persian classical poetry for words, which are now obsolete and used them along with some colloquial words. Using local names for birds, trees, flowers, and many other things was for him a way of enriching the texture of his diction. He even zealously avoided using many adverbs and compound verbs as they were.

One of the deepest factors of Verhaeren's influence on Nima Yushij, was in the realm of subject matter. Nima, like him employed the image of night in most of his modern poems; but for Nima Yushij, who lived in a time when a new dictatorship was established in Iran by Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty, "night" became the symbol of the dark situation of society, of tyranny and injustice, of poverty and ignorance, and of everything that people wanted to be ended. In contrast to "night", were ''morning", "dawn", "day" and their herald, "the cock" and its "crow", by which the people who are in sleep of a wretched life might be awakened to welcome the light of freedom and enlightenment. Soon the idea of Nima Yushij's "night" and "morning" were taken up by many of the younger poets with the same symbolic meanings, and expanded with new symbols, such as "tomorrow" (the day of uprising and freedom), "the army of the night" (the government and its army and police), "the vigilant of the night" (the active opposition forces), or "nightingale" and "lark" (those intellectuals who do not remain silent), etc.

What made Nima Yushij a great, powerful guru for the young poets of his time were his innovations in form and style rather than the content of his poetry. He came to the scene of change at a time when all the conservative efforts of the Neo-classicists, Revivalists and others had failed to free Persian poetry from the long decadence which was, to a great extent, the result of the ruling power of prosody over subject matter. The quantitative metres in Persian verse are numerous and they have equal possibilities for being broken and used in making lines of different lengths in a poem; but classical forms did not allow this. The other great obstacle to any innovation in the rhythmic construction of poems, was the fixed pattern of rhymes in different forms. Moreover, the unit for sentences in verse was the "beyt", two equal lines rhymed as their forms permitted. Therefore, a complete thought, the content of a sentence, had to be expressed in the confines of one beyt. In other words, the beyt was the actual stanza in any form of poetry. It was only free verse that could break all these fetters of Persian prosody, and it was Nima Yushij who, by using his knowledge of the vers libre of the French Symbolists, specially in Emile Verhaeren's poems, and adapting it to the Persian poetic language, accomplished this revolutionary work. Lines became the phrases and sentences, and beyts (or stanzas) became the paragraphs of a poem, and the pattern of rhymes in each paragraph of a poem was especially decided and arranged for that paragraph by the poet. Using all these possibilities resulted not only in freedom in form, but also gave a new perspective to Persian poetry. Now a poem, for instance a ghazal, was not to be composed of a number of unrelated, or rather incoherent, thoughts or ideas, connected together by the fixed pattern of rhymes in the equal lines of a certain form. In Nima-esque modern prosody, the subject of a poem attained its right continuity and integrity, as well as the coherence it needed for its parts. Thus one poem, as its subject required, could be completed in only a few lines, and another in pages of lines and paragraphs of different lengths.

In this way Persian Poetry, while maintaining its own independence, gained after a thousand years the unbounded freedom of prose. This was the real achievement of Nima Yushij and the reason for his being acclaimed as, the founder, or the father, of modern Persian poetry.

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