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Persian Poetry Today: A Short History of Sher-e Sepid


14 May 2011 16:47Comments


Every aspect of our literature is in need of change; neither new subjects nor elaborating on an exhausted concept and expressing it differently will suffice. It's not enough to experiment with new forms by making changes to the rhyme and employing other literary devices. The point is to change our approach by bestowing upon poetry the mode of expression that already exists in the intelligent world of human beings -- Nima Yushij

[ spotlight ] Nima's (1896-1960) critical vision modernized Persian poetry in the 1920s by breaking the strict regularity of the rhyme and meter scheme of classical poetry. Prior to Nima, various writers had contributed to the evolution of Persian verse by redefining poetic modes and introducing new concepts into the classical form. Nima's modernization movement was the culmination of these efforts, revolutionizing Persian poetry in terms of both music and form. His emphasis on colloquial language and elimination of cliché literary phraseology associated with a newfound anxiety of tone defined a style that came to be known as sher-e Nimai (Nimaic verse), a poetic voice inescapably cognizant of its own time. Bestowing a new identity on Persian verse, sher-e Nimai became virtually synonymous with "modern poetry."

Nima did not entirely break free from rhyme and meter as much as he redefined their roles, and it was Ahmad Shamlu (1925-2000), an early follower of Nima, who established sher-e sepid (literally, white verse), which removed all limitations from Persian poetry. Sher-e sepid made the role of systematic rhyming obsolete and relied on redefining poetic modes and creating new, evocative images, phrases, and concepts. Meter in sher-e sepid merely emerges from the cadence of these internal elements. Sher-e sepid was also influenced by the concept of free verse in the Western poetic tradition. Following the path blazed by Shamlu, numerous voices have emerged with their own unique qualities.

The concept of sher-e sepid has yet to acquire a consensus definition. Literary critics and cultural analysts have offered widely divergent opinions about its crucial characteristics. The spectrum ranges from identifying it as "free verse" (poems that do not adhere to the strict regularity of rhyme and meter scheme of classical poetry) all the way to "prose-poem" (prose with poetic qualities and elements such as heightened imagery, repetition, assonance, and consonance). In an article, "Free Verse," published by Encyclopædia Iranica in December 2000, Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak asserts that the literary movement that liberated the classical style in the 1920s has been interpreted into myriad tendencies and poetic qualities, of which only a certain scope constitutes sher-e sepid.

The following selection of works by practitioners of sher-e sepid aims to provide readers the opportunity to observe some of the diverse currents of this still-evolving tradition in Persian poetry. Afghan and Tajik poets writing in their local varieties of Persian are included in the selection. While the poetic traditions in Dari, spoken in Afghanistan, and Tajik followed their own trajectories in the transition from sher-e no (modern poetry) to sher-e sepid, they share countless similarities with Iranian poetry.


Bijan Jalali


in the sound

of waves

the sea

for long appears

in uproar

and I am

a pebble

resting on seabed

--Translated by Aria Fani


I set my head

to rest on stone

my lips

by water

my hands

in the winds' hands

I leave to be turned

to ashes somewhere

I do not know

--Translated by Aria Fani


Mohammad Reza Shafi'i Kadkani


like two words, synonymous

two halves

each filled with

the other

having reached

unity's peak

and today

like two parallel lines

along the same path

same town

same horizon

with no meeting point

even at eternity's


--Translated by Aria Fani


Wasef Bakhtari (Afghan poet)

a note written

on poppies

do not pluck the petals

pulling this pampered child

from its mother's embrace


the wind is


--Translated by Aria Fani


patient wayfarers

silent wayfarers

at the juncture of life

I will get off.

--Translated by Aria Fani


Parwin Pajwak (Afghan poet)

there are thousands

of captive birds

in the world

if all were set free

trees will overflow

with songs


yet they are not set free

trees are void of


so are the trees of

my homeland.

--Translated by Aria Fani


Farzaneh Khojandi (Tajik poet)

Where is the real bazaar?

I want to buy an eyeful of kindness.

I want to dress my soul in hyperbole.

There's a merchant who brings me

a whole spectrum of leaping color

from the city of desires.

But here at the bazaar at Khojand,

faces are sour, talk is hot

and I long for the cool sweets of Tabriz.

Where is the real bazaar?

The flute-player tells me:

come with your ears used to insults,

and listen to the light recite a prayer to the dark.

Open your eyes used to pale shame

and see the beauty of Truth.

Where is the real bazaar?

The flute-player is there

calling my heart towards his hat

full of old change, but not a single pearl,

and since I am the jewel in the teardrop

I must go.

--Translated by Narguess Farzad and Jo Shapcott


Partaw Naderi (Afghan poet)

I kissed her --

her whole body shivered

Like a branch of almond blossom in the wind

Like the moon, like a star

trembling on the water

I kissed her --

her whole body shivered

Her cheeks showed one color

her gaze revealed another

And the sun rose from her tender heart

And the thousand-and-one nights of waiting


And on a colorful morning

I shared a bed

with the meaning of love

--Translated by Yama Yari and Sarah Maguire


I am the twin of light

I know the history of the sun


rise from the blisters on my hands

--Translated by Yama Yari and Sarah Maguire


Reza Mohammadi (Afghan poet)

If it rains

my friends will be stuck at home

wearing the shoes of the dead.

The gates to the city are sealed.

Pillar by pillar

its relics

break in their mouth.

--Translated by Moheb Mudessir and Sarah Maguire


We have hidden our dead

in the cellar

until the day of vengeance.

They are buried

under boxes of gunpowder

and ancestral rage.

If it rains

the day of vengeance

will be postponed once again.

Rain is a crime.

Rain ruins dreams.

If it rains

the rain will purge my blood

from the streets.

--Translated by Yama Yari and Sarah Maguire


Selections from Partaw Naderi, Farzaneh Khojandi, and Reza Mohammadi retrieved from Poetry Translation Centre. Selections from Parwin Pajwak and Wasef Bakhtari retrieved from the anthology Hamzabani va Hamdeli (2009), edited by Behrouz Jabari.

Comments af@ariafani.com.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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